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


View All Comments

  • - Saturday, October 24, 2009 - link

    sell:nike shoes$32,ed hardy(items),jean$30,handbag$35,polo shirt$13,shox$34 Reply
  • unnefer - Thursday, May 12, 2005 - link

    Actually, there is a mythTV frontend for Windows, called (of all names) winMyth. I haven't used it so I can't comment on it's use. It can be found here:

    As for the article, it was pretty even IMO - just one issue.

    Why use knoppmyth to compare to MCE? They don't even come close to being similar.
    Knopmyth is basically a gloryfied "LiveCD" and only supports what the developers think should be supported.
    Why not install Fedora (or another distro) and then install mythTV and anything else required to get it fully-functional to the same extent as the MCE install.
    Remember, MCE is on 2 cds and takes just as much effort to install and setup correctly.
  • Brazen - Tuesday, October 05, 2004 - link

    I'd like to see an article on setting up a linux pvr server and then be able to access the server adn watch tv from a client running on Windows. Reply
  • gimper48 - Wednesday, September 22, 2004 - link

    Ok so I will ask again where are you finding that Case for that price?!!! I want to build one but I am having a tough time finding a couple parts for those prices.

  • TrogdorJW - Saturday, September 18, 2004 - link

    I'm not sure I get the point of the detractors of this article. For one, the conclusion is that KnoppMyth/MythTV is the overall winner due to flexibility (at least if you're competent enough to configure some additional options). Second, the software vs. hardware encoding was clearly stated, and there were good reasons for going with the cheaper software encoding cards (price, more flexibility on encoding choice, and you get two cards as well). Are there features that do not get addressed? Yes. Would you all spend the time to read four more pages of commentary on features that 95% of people probably don't care about? Hmmmm.....

    Now, all I need to do is resist the urge to spend money on building my own PVR. Or maybe not? I wonder how well an old P3 1.4 GHz would do with PVR duties if I get a TV card?
  • JKolstad - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    #17: Fair enough, but my point is that if legal restrictions prevent DVD playback from working, it either (a) simply shouldn't be an option for the user to select in the first place or (b) a dialog should be displayed mentioning as much (You can word things pretty generically... just say, "DVD playback is unavailable due to the lack of a DeCss plug-in. According to the DMCA, such software cannot be legally distributed with this application, nor can information be provided on where such software could be obtained. Please search the Internet for further information.")

    But letting a use choose an option that then just leads to a blank screen frustrates both novice AND expert users.

    #20: Granny isn't going to come within 10 feet of a PVR? Hmm... maybe, but I'd bet you plenty of TiVos are sold to the 60+ crowd, and PVRs aren't far behind.

  • Daita - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    What about comparing something like Snapstream or SageTV to MythTV for the windows platform as they're more comparable to what MythTV offers. Snapstream with the new 3.5 version thats in beta right now offers multi-tuner support, web scheduling, client server operation, transcoding, and with the new plugin system will allow users to implement many more features. While this is a 3rd part addon for windows I still think something along these lines is much more comparable than Windowa MCE. Reply
  • frizzlebiscuit - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    Xsecrets, you read my mind. I noticed the same errors in the article regarding KnoppMyth and MythTV, and had the same reactions. Thanks for saving me some typing.

    On MCE: I have not spent any time with MCE, but it looks similar to UltimateTV, which is in some respects a good thing.

    On grandmas: No elderly person on earth is coming within 10 feet of a PVR. Therefore it's a fallacy to base evaluations of these systems on such a standard of usability. That being said, Supernerd shouldn't be the standard either, but I don't think that is the case here.

    On user interfaces: Interfaces should be optimized for a TV and a remote control. MCE looks like it's designed for a monitor and mouse. Supernerd may watch TV at his computer, but I don't. Myth gets it right.
  • rjbAnandtech - Thursday, September 16, 2004 - link

    So will ether of these directly connect to a Cable TV or Satellite TV feed? How about a version that does HDTV? What card can be used to support HDTV from Satellite?

  • cesman - Thursday, September 16, 2004 - link

    "KnoppMyth installs cleanly and easily, but does not offer as much support as getting your hands dirty with a "from scratch" install." As one of the developers behind KnoppMyth, that is the point. KnoppMyth was/is designed to get a set-top box running in the quickest and easiest manner. What sort of "support" are you looking for?

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now