in Follow-Up, MythTV, X-Geek

Wrestling MythTV into submission


As the All Your Base video meme said, “main screen turn on!”

I got my MythTV frontend working with my HDTV again after a ridiculously tough set of issues to resolve. First, the PC in question is my old Thinkpad laptop and is barely functional to begin with. If you touch it ever so lightly, for instance, the display and keyboard will cease to function. I had to carefully position it through trial and error before I got it to keep its video alive.

Once that was done I was happy to see mplayer doing something on my big screen, only it wasn’t showing any video. GNOME would dutifully draw a border around where my video was supposed to be showing but all there was was an empty box. Instead, the ATI Radeon video driver was showing my video on the laptop screen – the booby-trapped one, remember? No good. No good at all.

I pored through many forum posts before I discovered the xvattr applet, which is used to tell XV what monitor to use when displaying video. After running that at the start of my X/GNOME session I finally had video rendering on my big screen.

Alas, I was still not done. My GNOME desktop was set for 1024×768 – the maximum size of laptop display would show. I cranked the resolution up to 1280×768 and was pleased to see my big screen filled out. The only problem with this was that the menu was still sized for 1024×768. I had to go into Ubuntu’s screen resolution menu item to completely turn off the laptop monitor. Only when I did this did the desktop size itself properly.

Now that all of that has been done, where am I left? The frontend PC I pressed into service renders SD-resolution video perfectly. Beautifully, even. But for any HD channels I display, the old laptop is just barely not keeping up. It’s so close that I’m tempted to look for some impossible-to-find setting, like a cache setting somewhere, that might push it over the edge to perfection. It’s so close it will likely drive me crazy.

The good news is that most of the kids’ shows are in SD, so they’ll be fine with the current setup. One day, though, I hope to get a PS3, Xbox, or other inexpensive, accelerated box I can use to watch HD shows on the big screen. That’s a battle for another day, however.

Is this a reflection of how easy MythTV is to use? I wouldn’t say so. All of my tinkering above was just to get a laptop working that by all rights should by now be in a landfill somewhere. And hey, I like a challenge.

  1. A regular XBox won’t work for HD video. I’ve got one (picked it up for about $30 last Christmas) and while it works with MythTV, it’s fairly slow. SD video works ok (but looks like crap on my SDTV) but there’s no way at all it could handle HD video. You’d need at least an XBox 360 for that.

    Alternatively, you could try the desktop computer we recently bought: an Acer Aspire (the desktop version, not the laptop). It comes standard with HDMI out, is fairly small, very quiet, and has plenty of power for HD video. If we had an HDTV I’d definitely look into getting another to act as a Myth front end.

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