MyCheapPVR (part 2)

When last I posted (part 1), I was ready to throw everything into that little case and get it up and running using the Myth Knoppix install. My reasoning was this: if it really was just a matter of sticking a CD-ROM in the drive and moving forward, it was worth the try.

The hardware installation was trivial, a word I don’t use lightly. Despite the small case, everything fit together fine. The only surprise was that the CD drive didn’t have one of those holdy-on thingies that allows it to be used vertically, so the machine will need to be laid flat.

The knoppix CD started up, and did the quickest and easiest Linux install I’ve ever encountered. The setup program asked me some simple questions and then dumped me into the MythTV GUI — all good.

Only, it didn’t know what to do with the wireless card, of course. I shuddered a bit. But I figured out the chipset used on my wireless card (and — note to Linux boosters — although this wasn’t too hard, it’s not something end users should have to do) and then googled my way to a very nice baby-step walkthrough. After half an hour my wireless card was working, but I still couldn’t figure out how to tell MythTV where its back- and front- ends were. Should be easy right? A config file somewhere? And I happened across a note on one of the forums that suggested that MythTV might, after a lot of poking and prodding, actually put out a TV signal via the PVR-350, but don’t count on it. And then it hit me. My 10 minutes were up.

I pulled out an old Win2K Pro CD. It wouldn’t boot. I unloaded LILO and cleaned up the boot sector, still no luck. Unfortunately, I don’t have floppy drives on any of my computers. I made a bootable DOS CD, and tried to copy the Win2K disk to a new bootable CD, but to no avail.

After digging through the closet for a while I found a floppy drive and wired it in. But it wouldn’t boot. Turned out my boot disks were old and dead. I was about to wire another floppy drive into my main machine in order to write out a new set of setup disks, when Jamie stopped by, asked what I was doing, and reminded me that her laptop had a floppy drive. Made the new floppies, installed Win2K, and set it up to download all the patches over the next few hours. The drivers all installed great, and I was good to go.

While the PVR-350 comes with some basic software (WinTV2000), it’s not really set up to be a real PVR. That is to say, I want the machine to power up and act like a super set top box. It shouldn’t need a keyboard, monitor, or mouse. So, I go ahead with the GB-PVR install.

Nothing in GB-PVR will work without downloading the TV schedule. I had already set up a Zap2It account for the MythTV install, and so I tried to make it talk to Zap2It. It froze when I tried to do the download. It just wouldn’t bring it down. After pouring through the forums, I found that Zap2It had recently changed their XML format, and GB-PVR hadn’t caught up yet. Someone posted a workaround using another piece of software to get the schedule data. I get it working, I can change channels (though it takes forever), and the guide is up. After a day of use, it turns out the GB-PVR is super-crashy. Not a good thing.

I spent a bit of time on the Web trying to find out what else supports the PVR-350, and realized that because it requires a bit more work for onscreen displays (it has to encode to MPEG2 to run through the hardware decoder), many systems do not support it. Some of them that do require XP or much faster systems than are running. I had a quick abortive attempt at running the SageTV trial that came with the card — it didn’t seem to work. After spending some time running through materials on the web, I find that the latest version of SageTV should work and install it. The install is simple and works “out of the box.” Unfortunately, it costs almost as much as the barebones computer did, but at this point, it feels like “you get what you pay for.” Myth TV version 0.14 has been released, and it looks like some people are having success with it and the 350, but when I consider how many hours it would take me to reinstall, it’s just not time I have right now.

Had a little bit of a hickup when it came to making the blaster work with my set-top box. I could “teach” the blaster the commands for the box, but it went too quick, and missed numbers. While it’s easy to discover, online, that there is a line in one of the files that determines a delay, which number in that line does so is not so clear. So, I copied over the “header” portion of one of the default files and it was fine.

I ran into an early difficulty: neither Sage nor GB-PVR would play DVDs. After banging my head against the wall for a while trying to figure out how to get windows to recognize DVDs in the drive, I realized what was wrong: the drive is a CD-RW, but not designed to read DVDs. Doh! Didn’t even think to check, since pretty much anything reads DVDs these days. Oh well, I’ll keep an eye out for a DVD drive to scavange at some point, for now, I just run our old DVD player through the S-video port and call it channel 1.

The only thing left was to intstall a vnc server so that I can make changes using a wireless laptop or one of the other computers in the house.

I’ll report back after the 15-day trial is over how the PVR does.

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6 Comments

  1. Xsecrets
    Posted 3/1/2005 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    Just curious why you say in a blog posted on Feb 7 2005 that Mythtv 0.14 has just been released when 0.17 was announced on Feb 11 2005 meaning 0.16 had been out for months.

    Not that this makes much difference with the pvr350 as those will most likely always be a bear to configure on linux.

  2. Posted 3/1/2005 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    I think because my brain was addled. I was installing KnoppMyth R4V5, with is 0.16 of MythTV. It was only after I had given up that I realized others had success with PVR-350 setups. But I really was looking for something that wasn’t going to leave me spending 12 hours at a pop trying to get it working only to have it “sorta” work at the end. As it stands, fast-forwarding appears to black out the screen even in the rare cases where people have managed to get it working.

  3. Ed
    Posted 3/8/2005 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    If you get stuck loading the software then try the
    PVR Guide – How to guides and help for setting up PVR software like mythtv

  4. Posted 3/29/2005 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    I have followed through your little adventure here, and I must applaud you for at least going through with it. I was going to do what you were, but then just gave up since I could never really find enough free time to work on this (or maybe I’m just a procrastinator? Anyways…) Now that you have open the doors for people like me, I am happy to say that I… hopefully will have my PVR up and running in a few weeks.

  5. johnny-windows-ireland-
    Posted 3/3/2006 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    i think that linux is absoulute (cough) shit i would rather fork out an extra feww hundred for a computer with windows than be a cheapskate.(no-offence) but the hassel it takes to comfigure anything to linux is not worth a dam

  6. Posted 3/4/2006 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Sorry, but your view of Linux is ill-informed. I think there is a place for multiple operating systems (I’m writing this on a Windows box now), but there is a reason people prefer Linux for a number of tasks: it simply works better.

    I’ve been running W2K on this machine, and the hassel it has taken to configure, and continual crashing, has led me back to linux. The configuration there takes longer, but at least it works.

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