Computers, Entertainment, Technology

The Movie DB

I found a new website through the MythTV mailing list a few days called The Movie DB. It’s essentially aiming to be an open version of IMDB.

Many projects (such as MythTV and XBMC) have depended IMDB for a long time to provide metadata. Unfortunately this has usually been against the rules and was often difficult any since it relies on rather fragile screen scraping.

So in steps the Movie DB. From what I can tell from reading around the forums and stuff (and apologies if any of this isn’t accurate) it was started by the guy who wrote Meligrove, a database of fan made movie posters to replace a similar effort called Movie XML. The content is a little limited right now (about 8000 movies apparently) but the database from Movie XML is soon to be imported adding another 150,000.

Of course the important point is that the Move DB is an open database – all the entries are editable wiki style. It also has high level support for TV series (with seasons and episodes etc) as well and a not-quite-ready public API.

Computers, Entertainment, Technology

Introducing Elisa

I’ve keeping my eye on a project called Elisa a lot recently. It’s basically another attempt to produce a cross platform* media centre solution. At the moment its features are fairly limited, it’s essentially just some nice media playing software. It does have plugins to handle Youtube and Flickr though with lots of other stuff planned.

The main reason I’m interested in it though is that it feels likes it’s constantly making progress (and they make the progress very visible). They have weekly releases and every one actually has some cool new feature. It’s also written in Python which I think lowers the bar a little for community contributions (as opposed to C++/Qt required for MythTV).

For it to replace MythTV for me the obvious missing feature is, well, TV. Reading the forum suggests it’s quite low on the priority list for the moment (since it obviously requires a lot of work and other features are less likely to be released in the meantime just because the developers are busy). But, as I said at the beginning, it’s worth keeping an eye on.

* Not so long ago it only worked on Linux, now it supports Windows. It technically supports MacOS with some messing around but they’re aiming for proper support soon.

Computers, Entertainment, Technology

Mythbuntu is even simpler

One of the newest developments in MythTV land is the development of “multirec”. Multirec is the name of the SVN branch of Myth where code to handle the recording of multiple DVB streams from a single tuner (providing the streams are on the same multiplex). This means any DVB users (in the UK this essentially means Freeview users) have the possibility of recording many more channels at once. In fact if you had six tuners (three Nova-T 500s for instance) you’d be able to record the whole of Freeview (if you had enough hard drive throughput at least).

Unfortunately using this wonderful feature requires you to run the latest SVN version of MythTV. Since I didn’t fancy compiling Myth from souce I looked for a simpelr way – the answer is Mythbuntu. Mythbuntu is basically Ubuntu (7.10 – Gutsy) with MythTV installed. It’s basically the same idea as the other MythTV distributions. The big difference is that they also provide weekly packages built from trunk – i.e. if you’re willing to accept the small chance of instability you can have bleeding edge MythTV installed without having to leave your package manager (well within a week of bleeding edge at least).

PS – You can also add MythTV to an existing Ubuntu 7.10 installation by clicking the relevant link on the Mythbuntu page. This also comes with a nifty called Mythbuntu Control Center which lets you choose whether to install a frontend, backend or both as well as choose which desktop to use (Gnome, KDE or XFCE) and enable/disable various useful services (VNC, MySQL etc.) all in one place.

Computers, Entertainment, Technology

Back to vanilla MythTV – Part 2: Fiddling

After installing MythDora, there were a few extra things I had to do that took a while to figure out.

Upgrade to mythtv-trunk from ATrpms

I figured I just enable the “bleeding” repository and then do yum install mythtv. This worked fine. But nothing was different. It seems that “mythtv” is a meta package that just says you have Myth installed without actually containing anything. So then I tried yum install mythtv-frontend mythtv-backend mythtv-setup mythweb mythplugins. This worked up until a point bu then failed a transaction test. The actual failure was a mismatch between themes that different parts provided. I decided this was unimportant but couldn’t force yum to install. So I installed apt (yum install apt) and used that (apt-get install mythtv-frontend mythtv-backend mythtv-setup mythweb mythplugins and it all went fine.

Import old recordings

This was easy than I expected. Simply replace the database with your old one (make sure you stop mythbackend before you do). I had previously copied all my old recordings to my FreeNAS box and dumped the database (mysqldump -u username -p mythconverg > mythconverg.sql). So I deleted the mythconverg database and imported the SQL file (mysql -u username -p < mythconverg.sql. You could also just copy the mythconverg directory in the MySQL data directory directly.

The next time you start mythbackend it will update the database schema (if necessary) and everything will work. Apparently if you had slave backends on your old system you might have problems but I didn’t so I’m not entirely sure what they are…

Automatically mount a remote file system

To get MythTV to save on my FreeNAS server I obviously needed to mount it at start up. This was simpler than I expected (although I did it using a terminal). Open the file /etc/fstab and add the line:
server:/share mount_point cifs defaults 0 0.
server is the IP address of the FreeNAS server, /share is the folder on the server mount_point is the name you want to access it with locally (this directory should already exist – you normally make a sub directory of /mnt. After adding this run the command mount -a to force the system to mount all the file systems (it does this automatically at start up).

Then run MythTV Setup, select storage groups and add the mount point you chose as a directory.

Computers, Entertainment, Technology

Back to vanilla MythTV – Part 1: MythDora Rocks

Well I tried LinuxMCE but didn’t really get very far. After deciding everything was too much of a hassle, I downloaded MythDora 4.0 and installed it.

I have to say that unless you have a specific reason otherwise, MythDora is definitely the way to go for a MythTV installation. It was really easy and actually worked (something that seems not to have happened a lot when I’ve tried Linux).

One of the big advantages of using MythDora is since it’s Fedora based you can update (usually) painlessly from ATrpms. It has MythTV packages based on regular SVN checkouts. Importantly for me it also has packages from from mythtv-trunk (the latest version). Although they’re marked as “bleeding” they are usually stable.

The reason I needed the latest version is for storage group support. Without storage groups MythTV is limited to storing recordings in a single directory, storage groups allows you to specify multiple storage groups, each containing several directories. MythTV then use some clever load balancing to spread things out across available drives. This is important for me since I was planning on keeping most of my recordings on my new FreeNAS server, at least in the long term. The recordings aren’t tied to a specific storage group by the way – you can move them around freely (so I record to the local hard drive and then move them to the FreeNAS server later).

Once it was installed I did have to do a bit of fiddling, and it’s the sort of fiddling other people may have to do, so I’ll explain in part 2.

Computers, Entertainment, Technology

LinuxMCE 0704

A new version of LinuxMCE is out. And from what I’ve read (I haven’t installed it yet) it looks like a big improvement.

The biggest factor is improved MythTV support (which to be honest I feel is the most important part of it). They also claim the DVD quick install only requires three keypresses (but that’s only for the install, no setup). There is thankfully a new video as well that is considerably less annoying than the previous one – complete with disclaimers about things that may only work on specific hardware.

On the subject of specific hardware, there is a company called Fiire offering some pretty affordable computers with LinuxMCE already installed. Personally I’d build the core myself but maybe buy their thin clients.. They also a do a cool remote with built in gyro (like a remote/gyro-mouse combo) but it’s a $150…

Computers, Entertainment, Technology

I Finally have MythTV

After talking about for quite a bit, I finally have a computer setup running MythTV 🙂

I decided to go for MythDora. It has the advantage of being straight forward to use and still leaves me with a fully functional desktop computer (which KnoppMyth doesn’t really do. It did leave me one slight headache – I didn’t have a spare DVD drive (MythDora is 1.2GB) so I had to borrow the one from Windows desktop).

The hardware I have is pretty moderate (well, really low end for most applications – a Sempron 3200 and on board GeForce 6100 with a Hauppauge HVR 1300) but it runs as a combined backend/frontend without any problems, even when recording, transcoding and viewing TV (an “advantage” of living in a country where HDTV is still not an issue).

On the subject of transcoding, there was one stumbling point – specifically it just didn’t work at first (I got the illuminating error message “Failed with error code 0”). After posting the output to the MythTV-Users mailing list someone pointed out it was a MythDora packaging problem – libmp3lame hadn’t been installed.

The only thing that isn’t working now is the MCE IR blaster for controlling my Sky box (I’m just using Freeview though the DVB tuner on HVR 1300). lirc seems to be setup right since when I run irw and press buttons on my remotes (either the MCE remote that came with the HVR or the Sky remote) it detects them properly. Running irsend doesn’t do anything though (there’s not even an error). But at the moment I’m recording more than I can watch with just Freeview anyway…

Next time, less rambly 😛

Computers, Entertainment, Technology

Ripping DVDs

Since I’ve decided to try and set up a MythTV system I figured getting my DVD collection on to hard drive(s) would be a good move for convenience.

There’s a lot of information on the Internet about copying DVDs, whether to other DVDs, to CDs or to a hard drive in their original format or transcoded. I wanted to get the main movie only from a disk and transcode it to XviD for space saving. Here are the steps I have that worked (for Windows incidentally):

The first step is to get the main movie from the disc. This isn’t straightforward since most movies are put on DVDs in a way to deliberately make it confusing to get them off. I used a program called DVDDecrypter (getting a hold of this might be a problem since the original author doesn’t make it available any more due to a recent change in his local laws). DVDDecrypter has a mode called “IFO Mode”. IFO files are the files on a DVD that contain information about how the chapters and program streams go together. The basic idea is to find the program stream that “looks right”. In the case of a movie, the one that’s about an hour and a half long (or two hours -whatever) should be the right one.

This process is pretty quick, about 8 minutes on my Athlon 64 3000 for a movie 100 minutes long. The result is a .VOB file with just the section you selected. A .VOB is really just an MPEG file with specific encoding setting and possible subtitle information. Many media players can play these directly.

In the next part, I’ll deal with transcoding the VOB files.

It should be noted that there may be legal considerations with this sort of thing. A lot of DVDs are encrypted and bypassing the encrpytion may or may not be illegal where you live (for example it’s skirting on the edge of the DMCA). In my case I own all the DVDs I rip and the rips are of a (marginally) lower quality than the originals, don’t have 5.1 sound and are missing all the extra features. As such I feel any concept of fair use covers me morally. You have been warned however and follow any of this advice at your own risk.

Computers, Entertainment, Technology

A plethora of Myth distributions

Like Linux in general, there are few MythTV distributions you can get. Unlike Linux in general, most of them have specific purposes they work best for. The three popular ones I know of are:

MythDora is just Fedora with MythTV (and its dependencies). This is intended to leave you with a completely usable Linux installation that includes MythTV. It comes on DVD and is certainly the largest of the three.

KnoppMyth is either based on Knoppix or Debian (or really both) depending on how you look at it. Knoppix is a slimline distribution based on Debian and KnoppMyth was originally based on Knoppix. But I’m sure I read somewhere that the latest is version is just based on Debian but in the same way Knoppix is. Whatever the situation is, all you really need to know is that it is a minimal installation that leaves you with a fully functional MythTV installation but relatively little else.

MiniMyth is the smallest of the three and the most specialised. It only runs the frontend software and only the EPIA mini-ITX motherboards. Furthermore it is designed to run disklessly booting over a network – mainly as a silent set top box in your living room.

The only one I’ve actually tried is KnoppMyth which was easy enough to install. From what I’ve been reading they all seem easier than installing MythTV into an existing installation.