Introduction to MythTV
Install MythTV Screencast
- Open source software for Linux that turns your computer into PVR (Personal Video Recorder), which may also be referred to as a DVR (Digital Video Recorder.) Basically, it's a smart digital VCR, similar in many ways to Tivo.
It's not produced by a company, but rather a group of users who created and maintain it on a volunteer basis because it's something they care about and have a personal interest in. Being open source, it has some features that PVR users want than commercial companies won't include, such as the ability to automatically detect and skip commercials.
Being an Open Source and Linux based product, many aspects of the operation and functionality can be modified by users with Linux and either programming or scripting experience.
At a very basic level you tell MythTV to record a show which you then watch later, similar to a VCR, although MythTV is really much more than that.
I've heard some people say that the current state of MythTV from an end user perspective is actually better than a Tivo. I use to be sceptical, but the more I use it the more I agree.
From the "programming the VCR" side of things, it downloads TV listings from the Internet and lets you browse the listings. More interestingly, it has a built in webserver where you can browse and even search the TV listings from any other computer in your home. This is usually a much more efficient method of interacting with the scheduling and management side of things.
Like a Tivo, you can setup a show to record on a regular basis. You can choose from eight different sets of rules like "Record at any time on channel 62" and "Record this program in this timeslot every day" that cover most types of TV show schedules. MythTV is smart enough to detect if it has previously recorded a specific TV episode and not re-record it unless otherwise told to.
In the US, the TV listings are provided by Schedules Direct, a non-profit started by members of the core MythTV development team to purchase and distribute TV schedule information to MythTV users. There is a nominal fee for the listings (a 7 day free trial is offered) to cover the costs of purchasing and distributing the data.
Rip and Store DVD's
Another great piece of feature is the ability to RIP DVD's for later playback, complete with their menus and other extra content features.
You can digitize your entire DVD library, and play the titles back without have to go find or switch discs. Commercial products to do this can cost thousands of dollars.
Once MythTV has recorded something you need to watch it, right? Well, MythTV offers one nice feature that the commercial products wouldn't dare include. Commercial detection and flagging. We're not just talking a 30-second skip button (which MythTV does have), but it actually detects and flags commercial breaks. If enabled, after a show is recorded, it is analyzed using a few different methods to try and figure out where the commercial breaks begin and end. When a commercial break comes on when watching a commercial flagged show, you are one button press away from skipping right to where the show begins again. Although not perfect all the time, this feature works suprisingly well and can greatly reduce the amount of time it takes to watch a show.
See my Commercial skip demo for a short video of it in action.
Centralized or Distributed Media Server
One of the more powerful features of MythTV is its' client server nature. Basically that means you can have one MythTV server in your basement or office, and more than one MythTV Frontend (client) throughout your house for every place you want to watch MythTV recorded content. What this gives you is a central place in your house for all of your media storage.
The MythTV Backend is the software that acts as the server. The TV Tuner(s) and storage are here, as well as the scheduling and recording related brains. In complicated setups, it's possible to have more than one mythtv frontend distributed in different physical locations all acting as a single system.
The MythTV Frontend is the software similar to a set-top box your cable company might provide. It plays back media from other sources (even in that other source is on the same computer.)
Any program recorded on the server, or any other media for that matter, can be instantly watched at any MythTV frontend on the local network. Of course, it's also possible (and most common for new users) to install and run both the "frontend" and "backend" on a single machine that is only connected to one TV or monitor.
Similar to a traditional commercial DVR, it's possible (and common) to install everything on one computer and have it act like a dedicated appliance, which won't even act like or appear to be a standard computer.
The MythTV hardware you need is a somewhat recent PC and a TV Tuner card. This site has a MythTV Hardware section, mainly related to hardware I have used myself.
Getting started with MythTV
If you've read this far, you probably want to move on to the Getting Started with MythTV guide. Welcome to the world of MythTV!