Posts Tagged media

My media and Apple TV

No I did not buy an Apple TV — but seeing them on the shelves at the local Hardly Normal has got me thinking about the dilemma-in-the-making that is my media centre dream.  It all comes down to bandwidth, or lack of it to be specific.  Of the two locations at the Crossed Wires campus that ideally need access to the MythTV backend (or would be good spots to put a backend instead of where it currently is, in our bedroom) neither have wired network access.  My days of streaming low-bitrate MPEG4 and MP3 to XBox Media Centre over 802.11g spoilt me into thinking that all video will stream over 54Mbps…  Not so television!

So, points in favour of Apple TV:
* It has convenient TV-out capability
* It should stream content from the Slug, since I installed mt-daapd/Firefly on there
* Inbuilt 802.11n, so I would just have to upgrade to N-capable Wi-Fi to solve a little of my no-wired-network woe
* It seems to be hackable, so a MythTV frontend might not be out of the question
* It’s not an XBox 360, nor is it a Playstation 3

Points against however:
* The hackability is a bit of a question mark, and not really something to rely upon (as Apple may shut the gate on any of it with a software update)
* Like I need another timewasting hardware device in the house
* Without a MythTV frontend, it doesn’t really solve any problems w.r.t the TV-watching problem (even if video can be automatically exported from MythTV in a iTunes/DAAP-friendly format, I’d need to use another interface like MythWeb or a different MythTV frontend to program the MythTV backend)
* Where’s the “TV” in “Apple TV” anyway?  ūüôā  (oh yeah, you plug it into one, of course… ūüôĀ )

In a like vein, I’m trying to get LinuxMCE running (so far in a VMware guest) to see if it solves any of my backend troubles.  It looks very promising, but the installer seems to be a bit crumbly — my first install attempt was without sufficient disk space; even after increasing the space the installer just couldn’t get going again.  Lesson learnt, I’m doing the install again with more disk behind it to see what happens.

Tags: , , ,

Experiences with MythTV – part 1

Okay, I’m an ungrateful whinger.¬†¬†MythTV so far has been an exercise in lost sleep and disappointment.¬†¬†Don’t know if it’s my TV card, the card’s drivers, DVB (particularly HDTV) support in MythTV, or just the general stability of MythTV itself, but I’m far from happy.

I’ve been holding off on buying a TV card for years, partly because of my perception of poor support in Linux, but also because of the state-of-flux that TV in Australia is in (probably in other parts of the world too) regarding Digital TV.¬†¬†But, XBMC made me take the plunge and I’m thinking it was not a good move.

I wanted to get TV going via XBMC.¬†¬†There’s built-in support for ReplayTV, but since we don’t have and can’t get that over here I went a-browsing.¬†¬†There’s a Python XBMC script that hooks XBMC into MythTV — cool, I thought.¬†¬†I bought a card (supported by drivers written by a local guy, so I figured it would work well and be proven in the local area).

Getting the drivers to build and install was a trial.¬†¬†Running a 2.6 kernel as I am, the way this guy’s package builds it basically toasts a large portion of my kernel tree and replaces it with symlinks to his code (which looks like a snapshot of the LinuxTV code).¬†¬†There’s probably a lot of folk out there that don’t know any better, but IMHO you just don’t do that!¬†¬†On account of how I don’t know a better way to do it though, I’ll shut up.

So I finally got the drivers built.¬†¬†Where are the dvb-utils?¬†¬†Ah, good question…¬†¬†You see on Gentoo, the dvb-utils package builds NOTHING.¬†¬†The maintainers of this package realise that if you are running a 2.6 kernel you’ll have fairly complete LinuxTV support in your kernel, so they tell you that they are doing nothing.¬†¬†But what about the user-space utilites?¬†¬†scan?¬†¬†tzap?¬†¬†Grrr…¬†¬†Watch out for my flaming bug report…

So in the background while a lot of this was happening I was building MythTV.¬†¬†When it finished, I was itching to watch TV!¬†¬†BANG — nothing but an error from mythsetup saying that I had to add dvb support if I want to use a DVB card…¬†¬†Seems there’s a USE flag I was missing.¬†¬†I like Gentoo, but sometimes…¬†¬†So I remerge MythTV…

So now I have a working MythTV, and a working card and drivers.¬†¬†But how do I tune it in?¬†¬†As they say, nothing worth having is easy to obtain.¬†¬†This part of MythTV is probably one of its poorest-documented — how to find out the magic stuff you need to plug in to get going with DVB.¬†¬†After two days of fiddling, I finally Googled a moderately simple method, but it still requires me to key in arcane little numbers and setting for every stream (not just each channel).

So finally I get to watch some TV!¬†¬†But don’t make it high definition, oh no…¬†¬†Seems that something in the chain (driver or MythTV) can’t do HDTV on this HDTV-capable card.¬†¬†And if one of the arcane little numbers is not quite right, the whole things locks up.¬†¬†Still, it could be worse, I’ve only had a couple of kernel freezes on what was previously a rock-solid machine — I’m just glad that I’m using a desktop machine to test with rather than going with my original plan, which was to put the TV card straight into my server.

It’s no wonder that “people” don’t like Linux.¬†¬†Almost every endeavour I have undertaken using Linux has required that I undertake an exhaustive course of self-instruction to become aware of almost every facet of the mechanics of what I’m trying to do.¬†¬†It happened with telephony, with DVD authoring, with TV.¬†¬†How many people that run DVB cards on Windows would even know what PIDs are?¬†¬†I have to know, though, because I run Linux.

Lucky I’m such a fucking geek.

Tags: ,

More on XBMC — ‘Lets go to the movies!’

My experiences with XBMC are still happy ones.¬†¬†I’m learning to live with its lockups (usually caused by me making vicious, unprovoked attacks on it by doing things like pressing buttons on the remote)…¬†¬†No, that’s too harsh ūüôā¬†¬†In seriousness, I’m very impressed — almost as impressed with it as I am with how much disk space I’m going to have to buy if I want to rip my DVD collection to play on it!¬†¬†(I’m beginning to wonder why I’m entering this in the Fun topic…)

I was explaining to a friend just the other day about how DVD was different to CD.¬†¬†“Audio CDs,” I said, “are a completely different format to data CDs, which meant that the first CD drives for computrs could not even read music CDs.¬†¬†With DVDs it’s easier because all DVDs are basically data discs — the ones with movies on just have a special directory layout, and the movie is just simple computer files on the disc.”

What an idiot.  How I regret ever saying anything so stupid!

Over the last week I have tried more than a dozen combinations of software on Mac OS X, Linux and Windows to do the job of getting thosse “simple conputer files” off the DVD and onto my server so that we can view them on XBMC.¬†¬†First complication is the fact that XBMC currently does not understand DVD menus, and only understands how to read a VIDEO_TS directory if it’s on a physical DVD.¬†¬†So my first grand plan of simply copying VIDEO_TS to my server was a failure.

Here started my journey into ripping and transcoding.  A journey that has taken me from Mac the Ripper and Handbrake, through drip and quickrip, past countless forum pages and mailing list archives and a side-trip into Forty-Two, to arrive at ffmpegX (Mac) and dvd::rip (Linux).

I almost gave up on dvd::rip when I first set it up.  It has a cluster mode, and I naturally assumed that my Pentium-4 2.4GHz-HT clustered with my dual-Opteron server would make mincemeat of my DVDs (figuratively of course).  Unfortunately the Opteron is not strong on this sort of work (or perhaps the Gentoo ebuilds for the transcode package are not well optimised for AMD64), and the Pentium-4 was held back because it accessed the files over NFS.  That, combined with the fact that I had repeated errors and failed transcodes, drove me back to the Mac.

Not that that’s a bad thing.¬†¬†Most of the software around is optimised for and benefits greatly from the Altivec engine.¬†¬†Having a w00ty dual-G5 Power Mac is also a help ūüėȬ†¬†Mac the Ripper takes no time at all (well, okay, about 5 minutes) to rip a DVD — maybe a bit longer for a hefty DVD9 — although I do only rip the main feature to save a little time.¬†¬†Then, using either Handbrake (for simple jobs) or ffmpegX (for better access to tweaking knobs) I make an AVI or MPG out of it.

There are two costs to all of this: 1) time, and 2) storage.

Time: this is actually a double-edged sword.¬†¬†Not only does it take a sodding-long time to actually do the transcode (luckily you don’t have to sit by it) but I then have to transfer the file to the server, then light up XBMC and give it a test.¬†¬†Not necessary to watch the whole thing (usually the first minute or so is enough to tell you how far out of sync the audio is).

Storage: I thought that editing Mini-DV and mastering that to DVD takes storage…¬†¬†There is no way I will rip my whole DVD collection.¬†¬†Apart from the fact that there are some movies that you just have to watch in original quality (oh, didn’t I mention that?¬†¬†Yes, transcoding does require you to sacrifice some picture quality, although you do have a little control over just how much you do lose), I can’t justify putting more storage in the server just to watch the occasional movie.

So what will I use this for?¬†¬†Some things are ideal — I can see the kids videos that get played on endless repeat being done this way.¬†¬†Nicholas will be able to do it himself without us worrying about DVD drawers and smudges on discs (just have to make sure I can lock out the “educational videos” from his set ūüėȬ†¬†And, some things like the Bottom stage shows and episodes that we put on just for a laugh sometimes.¬†¬†But not Matrix — not in MPEG4, anyways ūüėČ

Tags: , ,