Media centre

So, I’ve been running mythtv for about 7 years as my media centre, with the focus on recording and playing tv and playing music.  Over the years this has evolved somewhat, and mythtv itself has improved immensely.  There’ll no doubt be a few posts on myth, I thought I’d start off with the question as to why.

I really wanted something that would play media for me, that would record tv, and that I had a reasonable amount of control over.  When I started there were very few useful set top boxes out there, and myth did most of what I wanted.  Today, there are a lot of other options in the market, so I thought I’d run down a few of them.

The functionality I’m looking for these days is:

  • Play downloaded media (so lots of file formats)
  • Play ripped media (my preference for ripped my CDs is .flac, for ripping DVDs is .iso.  These are both lossless, but many media players won’t play them)
  • Record TV and play it.  This is getting less important, but we still record a fair bit of TV
  • Allow playlists and other general music playing functionality, and support high quality audio output
  • Ideally, work on commodity hardware, and be a free install.  I kind of like open source, so this is important to me.

Firstly, there are the media players (ignoring the apple devices).  My experience with them is average – they tend to have difficult interfaces that are very file based, and relatively limited functionality.  The upside is that they’re cheap and they work well once going.  They generally don’t record TV, so they’re mostly for downloaded or ripped media.

Secondly, there are the apple devices, particularly AppleTV.  These are basically a media player with a better UI.  They are limited in functionality again, and don’t record, but they offer a lot of potential as a front-end to something else on the backend.

That kind of crosses off most of the pre-built devices for me, so we move on to software players.

Firstly Windows Media Centre.  I’ve never liked it, and I’m not a big windows fan.  I find it quite limited in operation, in particular it used to have problems with digital and analogue tuners running at the same time.  It just isn’t as scalable as I’d like, and Microsoft seem to have gone quiet about it.

Then we get the free applications.

XBMC runs on Linux and is open source.  It’s good, but no recording.  Otherwise I’d be using it.  You can apparently use it with a myth backend for recording duties, but I’ve not gone there as yet.

Mythtv – ticks all my objectives.

Plex – I have a friend with Plex, and it seems pretty good.  It does/can record, but it’s a bit more limited on platforms, and seems to be headed down a closed source path.  I’m not going there at the moment.

So, what are the good, the bad and the ugly about mythtv?

The good

  • Powerful, lots of functionality
  • Now with Apple Airplay so I can stream from iPads and iPhones
  • Still actively maintained and extended
  • Since I got an HDHomeRun tuner, very stable recording
  • Runs on relatively low end frontend hardware
  • Plays all my formats

The bad

  • Mythmusic is now prettier than it was, but also harder to use.  Needs a brush over, I’ll do a post on that one day
  • Playback of .iso is a bit flaky, some just don’t play on some revisions
  • Takes a bit of maintenance if you don’t just set and forget (and I tend not to)

So, for now, looks like mythtv is the go for me.




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