New Myth Frontend – Almost Perfect

By | October 29, 2013

A few months ago we moved into a new place with a much smaller living room, it didn’t have nearly enough room for a full size computer case in the room. So it was time for a new, much smaller frontend for our MythTV setup.

Size, noise, and being able to “hide” it are the primary concerns with this new setup. The backend box is elsewhere and connected to the house network via a ZyXel 500Mbit powerline ethernet adapter. The new frontend is also connected via a ZyXel powerline ethernet switch. Wireless is an option, but its not stable enough or fast enough for me. There was another problem with wireless that I’ll mention later.

So, with the requirements set out, I started to spec out what we needed.

Staring with a Zotac ZBox ID84 box that I picked up at the local Fry’s when it was on sale, it is just about the perfect starting point. The main reason I chose that one was that it has nVidia GT 520M graphics. This is powerful enough to run full 1080p using VDPAU with no real processor load.

I didn’t want a spinning disk in this box, since its only going to be a front-end and not do any storage.  I also didn’t want the added heat or power consumption of a disk.  I ended up putting in a 32GB SSD into it.  I could have gone with something as small as an 8GB, but the 32GB was the smallest one I could find with TRIM support, which should extend the drive’s life.

As an optional step, I purchased an additional 2GB of RAM for ID84, but it didn’t seem to like the mixing of the two types, even though I matched specs completely.  So I picked up a second matching 2GB stick and replaced the stock 2GB with the newly purchased 4GB of RAM.  You don’t really need more than 2GB of RAM to run a frontend, but I didn’t want any swapping to happen.

The last part was the remote control.  The ID84 included its own MCE receiver and remote, but it just wasn’t up for the task.  Not all of the keys worked, and because it installs itself as an HID, it doesn’t lend itself to remapping things with LIRC.

On all of my previous Myth boxes, I’d been using serial port receivers that I purchased from  Since the ID84 doesn’t have a serial port, this was no longer an option.

I tried a budget Sanoxy receiver that sort of worked after that.  After a couple of days of using it, though, I really didn’t like it.  Missed commands, not all the buttons worked, etc.  I did a bit more research and bought a StreamZap USB receiver.  This one has been working very well.

For the remote, we’re using a Logitech Harmony 650.  When programming it, I chose MythTV and I believe I used the MythBuntu 808 profile and used irw to get all the keys I wanted mapped.

This setup works almost as well as the serial port receiver.  There is occasional lag when pressing remote buttons, but I’m not sure if they’re caused by the harmony or by the receiver.  Its noticeable, but certainly something we can live with.

So, the final specs:

And of course MythBuntu 12.04.  If anyone is interested, I’ll post the lirc configs I used.  Overall, I’m very, very happy with this setup.

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