Getting Started

The first thing that we need to do is get our hardware list ready. Obviously, all of our hardware has to work with Linux and Windows Media Center Edition (WinMCE), and we have to watch out for some "gotchas" with lirc (our remote control program) and MythTV. Although not the best distribution on which to install MythTV, we will use SuSE 9.1 for our base Linux install, since we are familiar with it and we use it for all of our other Linux benchmark testbeds. As a result, we first make sure any hardware that we use works with SuSE; listed in the hardwaredb. If a particular hardware that we pick out requires a bit more extensive installation, we can live with that as well, just so long as we can compile our own drivers.

Determining what hardware is supported on Win MCE is a bit more difficult, although there are some resources to help. Fortunately for us, we do not have to determine specifically which hardware MCE runs, since it only ships pre-installed on devices such as our whitebox Media Center. We will try to keep the components of both machines as similar as possible.

Below, we calculate the cost of the whitebox and Linux device:

Whitebox Windows MCE Device Price
CPU Sempron 3100+ -
MOBO Undisclosed -
Audio Integrated (VIA) -
Ethernet Integrated (Realtek 10/100) -
VGA GeForce 4 MX440 128MB -
Tuner Hauppauge WinTV PVR-250MCE -
HDD Western Digital 80GB WD800JB -
RAM 512MB Micron DDR400 -
Optical Sony DDU-1613 -
Remote Undisclosed -
Case Undisclosed -
OS Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 -
Total $699

AnandTech Linux Device Price
CPU Sempron 3100+ $125
Audio Integrated (VIA) -
Ethernet Integrated (Realtek 10/100) -
VGA GeForce 4 MX440 64MB $40
Tuner Hauppauge WinTV PVR-250 $130
HDD Western Digital 80GB WD800JB $60
RAM 512MB Corsair DDR400 $75
Optical BenQ 16X OPAL-OC1 $24
Remote Included with PVR-250 -
Case Opus TT-501 $100
OS SuSE Linux 9.1 -
Total $635

As you can see, our Linux device is priced out cheaper and we even went fairly frivolous on a lot of items. Another SFF case favorite of ours, the SuperFlower SF-101, sells for $40 with power supply and looks just as good, if not better. We threw a Sempron 3100+ in our test rig for easier comparison between the MCE device and our own, but as you will see later in the analysis, there are some other benefits to using the additional computing power, such as background encoding to Xvid.

Going with a Tuner card for the Linux machine gives us many options. Originally, we had scheduled to run all of our tests with the Hauppage WinTV Go card, which does not have any hardware encoding at all - this card is actually better supported by SuSE as well. However, since we would later be comparing our test rig to a MCE unit that relies mainly on hardware encoding, we thought it best to keep the playing field level on both machines. The MCE unit uses a slightly better version of the PVR-250 card (it has onboard FM support), but for our purposes, the vanilla PVR-250 works just fine (and it comes with a remote).

If you intend to replicate our hardware setup for your own MythTV machine, choosing a WinTV Go card may save you additional cash, but you will definitely need as much crunching power as possible. Combining a software encoding with a slower processor is a recipe for disaster.

Putting all the hardware together only took about 15 minutes; our total time for installation is right now at 15 minutes.

Index Installing the OS and Drivers
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  • sprockkets - Monday, September 6, 2004 - link

    Don't forget with TiVo can only do what it does and nothing else, unlike your computer which can do much more.

    Here are some of my thoughts on that program:
    Using a LeadTek Win Fast 200XP Deluxe

    Needing to setup an MySQL server just to get it to work right is downright gay. And it seems that the tv listings program was only properly installed ironically due to using apt-get by trying Freevo's installation which automatically downloaded all the necessary dependancies from people who automatically package the program for certain distros. Perhaps this has changed but when I tried doing it I got the "well I'm missing one of a few hundred sub program dependacies."

    Next, using the composite or s-video in was frustrating, the only way I got it to work was to assign on the one of the config pages that s-video was for the same as TV or something. Then, since it only works by always time shifting, using the program to play games is useless due to the lag it introduces.

    Then you can watch the massive files it makes when making video recordings, which them means you must transcode later. I checked off the options to do so but found it never compressed them anyhow. I'm sure it was user error for this and other stuff.

    Running LeadTek's own program for recording is so painfully easy compared to using mythtv or freevo, and does it directly to Divx5/mp3 format as well, on the fly and never skips (only works at low res though but an hour gives you a 700MB file) but of course requires windows. Using motv/xawtv is just as good for tunning, but it's recording sucks (not to mention I had to toy with the tuner setting in my /etc/config stuff to get it to tune right).

    Then if you can use mplayer to tune to the right frequency, read 15k lines of documentation to word the right command with xvid, then doing the same thing with Leadtek's program is great, since the main bottleneck with Leadtek's program is that since it has to encode and decode at the same time to let you see what you are recording, it prevents you from doing a higher res recording. If it allowed you to not see it while recording then it would be perfect.

    Bottom line:
    Mythtv:Has the Linux theme of being very configurable, works, looks great, free, and can use multiple computers and network them for remote watching. But getting all the deps to install, and running all the backend and crap makes it clumsy and frustrating at times.
    Freevo: Works with python and works if you can. Using apt get makes an easy install. Uses mplayer to record so setting it to encode on the fly is great and for small files sizes that don't need transcoding later.
    Xawtv: Using in SuSE 9.1 is easy and built in for BTTV cards, but recording sucks.
    Windows/Leaktek software: Like anything else Windows, easy. Only flaw is the low res divx encoding (and Microsoft's constant bs tricks into making the mp3 codec on the system work only at 22khz and low bitrates to make it look crappy).
    Mythtv prepackaged with Knoppix: Have downloaded it but haven't tried it.

    Oh, and for the #1, I know all about TV out issues with Linux and getting it to work. But unlike previous versions of Linux, I found that SuSE 9.1 can easily switch from S-Video to normal video out on my SS40G system, using the built in SiS300 graphics and it's built in video out chip. I set the resolution easily with the Control Center in KDE.
  • NogginBoink - Sunday, September 5, 2004 - link


    While you're correct on the upfront costs, MythTV has a longterm advantage. You can upgrade your hard drive at will. And, as I suspect we'll read in the second installment, MythTV supports unlimited tuners, AND HDTV tuners.

    The HD part is what's motivating me to put together my first-ever Linux box.
  • KristopherKubicki - Sunday, September 5, 2004 - link

    trikster2: We actually do the final testing (Part II) with MCE versus knoppmyth. I just wanted to show the though process in the meantime

  • KristopherKubicki - Sunday, September 5, 2004 - link

    NogginBoink: Yes.

  • Danj2K - Sunday, September 5, 2004 - link

    Something this article doesn't mention is that users outside the US and Canada can't use the Zap2it option and instead are required to use XMLTV. This is worth mentioning since XMLTV does not appear to automatically tune in channels, it just downloads schedule data for them - which makes sense, because in the UK (for example) the frequency of the various channels is dependent on where in the country you are and which transmitter you are receiving them from. When I tried to build a MythTV box that was as far as I got, since I was unable to find out how to tune it in.
  • Quink - Sunday, September 5, 2004 - link

    You don't use mythtv to save money. You use it because you like to tinker, like a challenge or anything along those lines.
    Secondly making use of valuable tools like #mythtv-users cuts down a lot on time.
    Also, why would you not use a SFF or mATX system? Who in their right mind would spend $600+ and not make size a focus too.
    Plus, from experience, its easier to go with a via mobo, NOT kt400 of any type, preferablly a kt333. ATI 9200 or thereabouts works a lot easier to IMHO. Do that, have some general linux knowledge, and get things done very quickly.
  • trikster2 - Sunday, September 5, 2004 - link

    It's been said 10 times above, but I can't help it, I have to say it again: Shame, shame on you for not using knoppmyth!!!!!

    Also your linux box should be $100 cheaper:

    The case you picked is available from silverstontek under the name GD98.

    It's available at and sundialmicro for $29

    To make all things equal you should have used the Hauppauge WinTV PVR-250MCE in both computers. It is available at fo r $99.

    It's very common for people to throw together HTPC's out of spare parts. It would be cool to compare both machines with low end CPU's, like a 1 gig duron.......

  • mcdrama - Sunday, September 5, 2004 - link

    I have been using KnoppMyth ( ) for almost a year now and would never buy a TiVo now. ;)

    My box is an AthlonXP 1.6GHz, 768MB PC2700 DDR, 120GB IDE hard drive, Hauppauge PVR-250, Netgear USB 802.11b adapter, all inside a Shuttle XPC box that sits next to my TV. ;) I built my system for $450, after BIOS update, no problems with watching a recording at the same time as recording a TV show.
    If you build one of these boxes, just make sure to NOT get a VIA based chipset. The VIA south bridge chipsets have a PCI?/IDE? bug which causes recordings to stop recording when you try to watch a different recording.
    Upgrading the BIOS, and upgrading the RAM from 256MB to 768MB seems to have fixed this problem with my Shuttle XPC SK41G. has XPC barebones from $148 up to $300+, check for other parts prices.
  • Snuffaluffaguss - Sunday, September 5, 2004 - link

    "Considering the cost of a TiVo, service runs anywhere from $100 to $600 per year depending on what DVR and subscription you buy."

    That is pretty false info. An 40 hour tivo is 199 -a 100 dollar rebate, so $99 and the lifetime subscription is $299. So its its only 500 pre rebate, 400 after rebate for LIFE, not year. An 80 hour would be $100 bucks more. Its really not that much cheaper.
  • NogginBoink - Sunday, September 5, 2004 - link

    I'm confused.

    The sempron is a 32-bit chip, right?

    DFI's website says that the K8M800-MLVF motherboard is an AMD-64 motherboard.

    Can you put a 32 bit Sempron in a socket for a 64-bit chip?

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