Final Thoughts

There you have it, folks! Our comparison showed in detail what each alternative to set top box PVR's was capable of and we were excited by our results. Each package had the basic TV tuner, video capture/playback, and guide functionality, but each differed in its own way.

Although the DVR-MS codec is certainly capable, it consumes far too much space. Transcoding is clearly something that MCE lacks in comparison to MythTV; fundamentally, MythTV has a more user-friendly model. Issues with legality may crop up in the future for KnoppMyth (due to its DVD Rip plugin), but as of right now, we can declare Myth the friendlier, more powerful recorder. Additional features like commercial skip, background transcoding and multiple tuner input for multiple channel recording only sweeten the deal.

As far as setup and configuration goes, MCE 2004 won this round. To be able to work with anything on Linux, especially a package like MythTV, one needs to know the ins and outs of the OS, which could become a hassle if you have incompatible hardware or buggy software/drivers. Since MCE 2004 is proprietary, there are only so many hardware configurations to deal with and all are supported if they are certified to run on the OS. If or when MCE becomes a retail operating system addition for Joe Consumer, similar install issues that plague Myth may crop up.



Click to enlarge.
Hold your mouse over to view the MythTV setup screens.



Click to enlarge.
Hold your mouse over to view the MCE 2004 setup screens.


With that, there is the hardware compatibility issue. MCE 2004 requires hardware certified by Microsoft to run successfully. This means that there is a very short, yet slowly growing, list of hardware which the package supports. One piece of hardware is the TV tuner card; MCE requires a hardware-based capture card, like the PVR-250MCE; otherwise, TV functionality will be disabled. MythTV, on the other hand, will accept various hardware as well as software-based TV tuner/capture cards if drivers are provided or even written by the user, hence the open-source status. Hopefully, when MCE2005 debuts next month, we will see even more increasing features and hardware support.

Media Center Edition 2004 MythTV
Hardware Limited compatibility of hardware. All hardware must be certified by Microsoft to be used in MCE, which means it is guaranteed to work. Long list of compatible hardware. Hardware and software-based capture cards can be used. Also supports multiple tuners for simultaneous recording of two programs. Sempron 3100+ can handle multiple streams at once (recording, playing, transcoding).
Interface Clean look with refined style. Full featured program guide that shows feed of current video source. Cannot be skinned. Fully skinnable. Programming guide lacks live display of current channel/video source.
Codecs Supports only MPEG2 streams with a proprietary DVR-MS wrapper. Supports various codecs, namely MPEG4 background transcoding on previously recorded programs.
Recording Quality High to low quality recordings with single MPEG2 codec. High to low quality recordings through various codecs.
Playback Can be played back on software supporting .dvr-ms file extension. Copy-protected media can be played back only on originating MCE PC. Depending on which codecs are used, programs can be played back on any machine with the right codecs. Multiple tuner support means multiple programs viewable at once.
Other Features On-Demand programming feature.
Fully implemented Caller ID feature.
Integrated radio support.
Support for extra features can be readily implemented using plug-ins (weather, DVD playback/transcoding, RSS news feeds)
Installation and Settings Out-of-the-box package. Easy to install and configure. Requires minimal setup. Open source package. Requires knowledge of Linux and may require additional modification/configuration of drivers and other source code.

We were extremely impressed by how much we could do with such relatively weak hardware on the MythTV machine. We were able to capture multiple software encodes via the WinTV GO cards and transcode our high quality rips down to MPEG1 in the background on very modest hardware.

Our analysis has proved that though Media Center Edition 2004 is a boxed package that is easy to set up and configure, it looks amazingly beautiful, has great features such as On-Demand content, and is fully supported by Microsoft. However, for the enthusiast, MythTV takes the gold for its greater support for a variety of hardware and software codecs.

We all know an open source package is not fully supported by a single company that will guarantee compatibility with certified hardware, but Linux enthusiasts are promised a product with no limits regarding features and customization. The sky is the limit for MythTV's use of plug-ins and codecs, and even though it is already an amazing piece of software, we have yet to see its extreme possibilities and ultimate potential.

More Features
POST A COMMENT

27 Comments

View All Comments

  • Xsecrets - Thursday, September 16, 2004 - link

    --> I don't think they would have been 'dinged' for this problem if KnoppMyth had, for instance, put up a dialog box TELLING THEM that the problem is that they need to install a DVD ripper (or whatever). But the fact that KnoppMyth gives no on-screen indication of this to the end user means that it fails the 'grandma' test, at which point it doesn't really matter _why_ it didn't work.

    If you'll take a second to look at the DMCA and the history behind decss it is illegal to even tell anyone where to get decss so knoppmyth sort of has it's hands tied. We can't tell grandma go click here and it will enable dvd playback and ripping, or the MPAA can come after the project, and shut it down. This sucks it's not right, but it's the law in the us. If people like grandma paid more attention to the government taking away all of their rights this would not be an issue. I suppose the knoppmyth developers could have a pop up telling why dvd playing and ripping don't work, and just say go scour the internet, but that's about as user friendly as they can legally be.

    Reply
  • KristopherKubicki - Thursday, September 16, 2004 - link

    thedude666:

    All of the topics you addressed were in the article.

    >for instance, it is practically impossible to compile MythTV in 20 minutes


    We used knoppmyth for part II of this analysis.

    >Firstly, they try and compare software encoding offof any old bttv card to hardware encoding on a card like the PVR-250 (which Myth is more than capable of handling adequately). Apples and oranges.

    Not really; not that it matters anyway since we used both setups in this analysis.

    Kristopher
    Reply
  • JKolstad - Thursday, September 16, 2004 - link

    A few comments:

    "As a mater of fact all of it has to do with copy protection, as it is illegal to distribute decss in the US where knoppmyth is developed. They go on to say "In either case, we can't watch "Nip Tuck" on the KnoppMyth machine without some serious changes to the install", but fail to mention that the serious changes to the install involve running one command as root."

    --> I don't think they would have been 'dinged' for this problem if KnoppMyth had, for instance, put up a dialog box TELLING THEM that the problem is that they need to install a DVD ripper (or whatever). But the fact that KnoppMyth gives no on-screen indiciation of this to the end user means that it fails the 'grandma' test, at which point it doesn't really matter _why_ it didn't work.

    "Firstly, they try and compare software encoding offof any old bttv card to hardware encoding on a card like the PVR-250 (which Myth is more than capable of handling adequately). Apples and oranges."

    --> How so? If anything, I'd expect the software encoding to be better in that it's usually a lot easier to build 'adaptive' software than hardware.

    I personally kinda prefer the hardware approach though...

    "And they also ignore MythTV's *real* strength in that you can cluster as many computers and TV cards as you want into a single cohesive entertainment system spanning your entire house, thanks to it's funky client/server architecture."

    --> I agree it deserves a mention, but I suspect the reason they neglected it is due to the fact that realistically not many people are going to make use of such a feature I.e., it's great for hardware computer junkies, but granny probably isn't going to be that excited about having a LAN party box in her bathroom. Although grandpa might like the second tuner, I'd grant you, so that he can record football while grandma watchs the world poker championships or something.

    ---Joel

    Reply
  • thedude666 - Thursday, September 16, 2004 - link

    I'm sorry to say but I believe anandtech is losing their technical edge when it comes to subjects such as this or at least where linux is concerned.

    I'll quote someone who just posted this on /.

    quote:
    ..there are alot of problems with this review.

    Firstly, they try and compare software encoding offof any old bttv card to hardware encoding on a card like the PVR-250 (which Myth is more than capable of handling adequately). Apples and oranges.

    They make almost no mention of the many plugins Myth has available, such as the web browser, RSS syndication, weather, music, every kind of video ever (through mPlayer and/or Xine)...

    Almost complete non-mention of the way MythWeb (web-based MythTV control and viewing system) seamlessly integrates with the system, and allows you to do funky things with your Mythbox from work

    And they also ignore MythTV's *real* strength in that you can cluster as many computers and TV cards as you want into a single cohesive entertainment system spanning your entire house, thanks to it's funky client/server architecture.

    Very little objective/subjective comment on the relative merits of the interfaces

    Frankly, I find it rather difficult that they could put an entire Myth system together in little under 4 hours, especially since they seem to know little about Linux (for instance, it is practically impossible to compile MythTV in 20 minutes - it takes aaaaaggggggeeeeessss. Methinks they meant download and install rather than compile).

    endquote.

    My 2 cents, myth is much easier to install in a debian based system. It's just apt-get mythtv and everything was set up.

    C'mon anandtech get a little more of a clue on subjects such as this before your write up.
    Reply
  • Xsecrets - Thursday, September 16, 2004 - link

    I have a few corrections for the article.

    1) The article claims that "the feature that puts MCE on top in this screen is the live display on the bottom left." without stating that mythtv also has this feature on it's program guide when accessed from livetv.

    2) The reviewer doesn't bother to research why dvd playback doesn't work on knoppmyth, stating "Part of this may have to do with copy-protection, part of it may have to do with poorly constructed code." As a mater of fact all of it has to do with copy protection, as it is illegal to distribute decss in the US where knoppmyth is developed. They go on to say "In either case, we can't watch "Nip Tuck" on the KnoppMyth machine without some serious changes to the install", but fail to mention that the serious changes to the install involve running one command as root.(granted this is a bit more of a pain than mce, but Microsoft can afford to pay for you to be able to play the movies you have already purchased where the knoppmyth development team cannot, blame the DMCA) To add insult to injury towards the end of that article they talk about legal issues with knoppmyth because of the ability to rip dvd's. Obviously they did not test this feature, as this feature no more works "out of the box" on knoppmyth than playing dvd's, for the same legal reasons, and getting it to work requires the same one command.

    3)the article states that "The ability to make changes to KnoppMyth after it has already been installed is one quality that it severely lacks." Knoppmyth is no more difficult to make changes to once installed than any other linux distribution with mythtv installed on it. It is just less likely that you will need to, and less likely that a new user will know how to, since they didn't have to spend hours figuring everything out just to get mythtv installed.

    on a final note I am just correcting the mistakes I saw with mythtv, and do not really mean to be biased, but I have never use mce more than playing with it in the store for a few minutes and use mythtv in the form of knoppmyth on a daily basis.
    Reply
  • Cygni - Thursday, September 16, 2004 - link

    Im kinda with Nintari in one respect. There are plenty of tools and 3rd party progs for MCE which fix the problems mentioned. If your going to use third party/skins/plug ins for Myth, it would only be fair to mention the third party plug ins for MCE. Overall though, a good review. Reply
  • Nintari - Thursday, September 16, 2004 - link

    I have many problems with the review...

    Codecs.. the DVR-MS file is just that.. a file that is recorded t oyour machine. It utilizes the PVRs hardware encoding features to crate this file. As for Codecs you use a DVD Codec to decode the video file. NVDVD is preffered as it is the most reliable and stable codec for use in MCE.

    Software encoders.. the reason for using hardware based PVR cards and not software ones is the obious advantage of recording in the backround with little to no cpu use. Als owhile viewing TV there is hardly any CPU used. There is software based encoding availible to MCE. ATI has a special encdoer for thier AIW line to allow software encoding.

    There also is a FREE third party application for MCE to allow for web based scheduling of recordings. There are many other FREE third party applications availible to do things such as edit hte DVR-MS files to get rid of commercials and convert the video for archiving or file storage. Even newer versions of Nero support converting the recorded content in MCE to DVD.

    Reply
  • gimper48 - Thursday, September 16, 2004 - link

    oops it would help if I read. Ok I know it is sff where did they find it for that price? Peace,
    Reply
  • gimper48 - Thursday, September 16, 2004 - link

    where do you find that case. IS is a mid-tower? Reply
  • evelhakur - Thursday, September 16, 2004 - link

    Hey what about Remote Controllers on each of the systems? Who's works better/worse? I need to sit back on the couch with the remote, I don't want to fool around with the mouse (Tivo's remote works wonderfully).

    Also, if you go with the WinTV Go cards you don't get a remote! Which 3rd party remote control will substitute?

    George
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now