Going to preface this by stating this will be a multi-part blog post, and I have no idea how many parts there will be when I’m all finished. Oh, and like most other things I write, it will probably be really verbose. Sorry ’bout that, its just the way I tend to write.
So, lets begin then.
This all started a couple months ago, some time in early February, I would say. I started looking at MythTV to possibly replace our D-Link DSM-520 MediaLounge with something a bit more capable. I set up an older box we had been using in our entertainment room as a workstation and re-tasked it to handle MythTV. This involved quite a bit, actually. The video card in it was an old ATI AGP card and MythTV really only works well with nVidia cards. As luck would have it, I had an nVidia 7200 AGP card that a friend had given me a few months ago. Perfect. I installed MythBuntu on it and connected it to the TV. So far so good. I installed MythBackend on the server that is running the uPNP server and we’re off and running. Point it at the video directories and we’re good to play videos.
Now, granted, this was all very, very, very (did I mention very?) simplified. The whole process of the above actually took two or three weekends to get everything just right.
I managed to get an ATI remote control that I had working, but wasn’t happy with it at all. Then I went with the Sony BD Remote for the Playstation 3 and that was okay for a couple weeks, until…..
Now, here’s the part where I break from simply the steps I took and divulge the real motivation behind the last few months of working with MythTV….
DirecTV took away our TiVo.
Allow me to repeat that. DirecTV took away our TiVo. Give that a moment to sink in. If you have a TiVo now, imagine how you would watch TV without it. Not a happy thought is it.
After being a TiVo early adopter and being a happy TiVo user for the last 10 or so years, DirecTV decided they wanted to dissolve their relationship with TiVo. Apparently, TiVo’s grahpics hardware can’t handle the MPEG-4 stream that DirecTV decided to use for their HD, so if we wanted to keep our HD programming, we needed to “upgrade” our equipment to DirecTV’s own DVR “solution”. To be fair, DirecTV did this for “free”, which I suppose they pretty much had to do to prevent backlash from forcing an additional expense on customers without notification. I guess that makes it a wash on the good/bad scale.
That did free up the TiVo “peanut” remote, which I ordered an IR receiver cable for and got working with the MythTV frontend with very few difficulties. So, part one, we have videos (I’ve ripped most of our DVD’s now), and a good remote control on the myth box.
Back to DirecTV. The DVR they installed is, how shall I put this…. I know. A total piece of shit. That about sums it up.
Its not that it doesn’t work, or that the picture isn’t great, its that the user interface looks like it was put together by programmers only, with no thought to usability. Now, I’m a programmer, and I know how much trouble we can get into when left unsupervised. But even I though this was a particular bit of nastiness. Its laggy at best (2-3 seconds after pressing a button on the remote before it reacts sometimes), its overloaded with information on every screen, you have to drill down at least 3-5 menu options for even the simplest of tasks, buttons have multiple functions depending on what screen you’re on, there is no way to turn off the picture-in-picture when in your list of recorded shows, the remote isn’t ergonomic and the buttons aren’t well laid out, in fact you have to slide a lever to turn the TV off without turning off the DVR itself. Coming from a TiVo’s very elegant menu system, and extremely comfort remote control, its a huge step down.
The installer even commented “you’ll hate it for the first two weeks, and then you’ll love it.” Well that didn’t happen. Its been about six weeks now and we still hate it.
MythTV to the rescue?
Well, not quite. The problem with all TV providers these days is they’re worried about their content being pirated. Well, they shouldn’t be. My uninformed opinion is that 95% of their subscribers have no desire to, nor will they ever pirate a show. So, why make it so hard for people like me (and all the other geeks out there) to build their own DVR? I don’t have the answer to that.
The problem is getting the content from DirecTV into my file server in a format that my MythTV front end can deal with. Easier said than done. Lots of research later, I determined that to use DirecTV with MythTV, the best option is the Hauppauge HD PVR. It takes a component input and does a real-time encoding to h.264 and allows it to be saved via a USB port. Add a $35 serial to USB cable designed to control the DirecTV tuner and we’re golden. In theory.
So, Jessica called DirecTV today to tell them that their DVR sucks and that we’re building our own and to convince them to send us an HD receiver, gratis. In about two weeks, we would send them back their DVR and we would be happy DirecTV customers again. Well, after two calls and nearly an hour of total time on the phone, DirecTV tells us that they will give us a receiver for free, but not without a technician installing it for $40-$60. WTF?!? I think that somehow we could manage to pull a DirecTV card out of the slot in one box and put it in the slot in the new box and plug in a couple cables. Nope. They weren’t going to budge on this. Keep in mind, we’ve been DirecTV customers for the last 10-12 years. We dropped Comcast after 5 years because they kept raising their rates every year and we got sick of it. We’ve been pretty happy with DirecTV up until the last 2 months or so….
Soooo, we ordered Comcast this afternoon. DirecTV can shove their DVR and customer loyalty up their ass. Comcast is giving us a similar channel lineup compared to DirecTV, except we’ll be getting it at about $30/month less — regular price.
As a bonus, I now have more options for the MythTV backend. I’ll probably be ordering a Hauppauge HVR-1250 in addition to the PVR. That will give me two tuners, one for recording the local channels (and any other that isn’t encrypted) and one for recording the basic cable channels that are encrypted. I’ll still be able to record two things at once and watch a third…
I’ll post again once the final hardware is in place and I start recording things with MythTV. I’ll also try to post my configurations for the TiVo remote control and a final setup. I should have most of the necessary hardware within the next two weeks.