Or- how to make TV worthwhile if you happen to have a leftover Sky dish on your house.
So when I moved in to my current university digs, the previous tenants had left a few things behind. Notably, they’d had Sky. So we had a Sky box in the living room and a dish on the wall. In the UK, if you want fast internet these days, you need Virgin Media. VM gives you cable TV in the bundle, so I didn’t want to pay for Sky. But Freesat’s got some nice stuff on it, including BBC HD and that sort of thing. So how about we get ourselves some free TV?
Now, Sky uses the same satellite for the UK as a lot of Freesat stuff. So ignore the dish- all you need is to leave that bit alone, and make sure that you’ve got a cable from the dish LNB to somewhere you can put your PC. Where it’s pointed is probably 28.2 East, which has a bunch of appropriate satellites.
What you then need is a capture card. DVB-S is the standard for satellite, though DVB-S2 is used for some HD encoding (specifically, BBC HD is now on DVB-S2). DVB-T is for terrestrial stuff, and comes in on coax from a standard TV aerial – you can get combo cards, which will let you pull down extra stuff if you’ve got the coax feed. Stuff from your LNB typically comes on F-type cables/connectors, down 75 ohm cable. I have yet to find a decent UK supplier for patch or extension leads – if you know one, let me know.
The LinuxTV wiki maintains a huge list of hardware compatibility with Linux and capture cards, so check there before you go buy anything. I got a Compro S350 card, which works great for DVB-S – I’ve also ordered a Technisat S2 HD card, which should do DVB-S2, and I’m going to look out for a DVB-T card.
Now, we need to tie all this together next. So we need some software and a PC. The PC wants to be a decent spec – I’m using a Pentium 4 box with 768MB of RAM as my server, which is on the low end of things. A faster machine would be better, obviously, but it’s all I have to hand. I stuck a decent (GeForce 6600) graphics card in there, too. Fast CPU is the priority, really- we’re talking high definition decoding, encoding, transcoding and playback. If you’re on a budget, look into Intel quad-core chips (Q6600s, that sort of thing). Intel is the way to go wherever possible. If you’re doing this properly, high-end i7 would be my choice- that or a Xeon or similar. 6-12 core chips would be just the ticket. High-end (newer 8800 series and above) nVidia cards support VPDAU, which lets you offload video decoding and processing to the GPU.
The software to use is MythTV. I’m using a standard Ubuntu 10.04/11.04 (‘Classic’ mode on 11.04) install, and then installing MythTV atop that. On the server, just install the mythtv, mythtv-themes, xmltv and mythweb packages. On any other clients you can install the mythtv-frontend package, and optionally the mythtv-themes package. The client-server model of MythTV means you can combine backends and frontends to build your system. It’s crazy powerful in terms of flexibility. But the short story is, you can have a very nice TV system in very little configuration.
See this excellent guide for more information on how to set up MythTV with Freesat. Basically you just need to tune it in to the right satellite and set up the input properly so it’ll get the channel list. MythTV’s config options take some getting used to, but it’s eminently doable. And once you’ve gotten everything talking, you have a -very- capable system.
So, well done to the MythTV team. One hell of a package, that’s for sure. And Linux DVRs are now in my mind far, far more capable than any other potential choice for DVRs. With MythWeb, I essentially have my own private little iPlayer- but for every single bit of Freesat’s programming. What’s not to like?