Monday, July 21, 2008

Review: Hacking MythTV

I hate trashing books, really--another reason I don't review them often, but below is a review of a book on MythTV that I wrote for Amazon.

I used to write a lot of reviews for Amazon. I was, at one brief point, in the top 500. I was in the top 1000 for a long time, which is pretty good for someone who just did it casually for the weird niche products. (Lots of folks are seriously hardcore.) But I noticed when doing a review for the dreadful "Heroes of Might and Magic 4" that the review didn't appear. Multiple times I wrote that review and it went into the bit bucket.

That kind of pissed me off. No explanation or nothin'. (Actually, I was just reading...Amba?...where she had a sort of mini-Jihad because her review had been rejected for nebulous readings.) So I stopped writing reviews for 'em. But I figure with the blog, I'll just put the reviews here along with the Amazon ones, and add stuff that Amazon won't let me add, like if I know a particular author is a real *****CONNECTION LOST~~~~~~


Also, I should note that you may not know what MythTV is. MythTV is a software package (a set of computer programs) that turn your computer into a super-powered PVR--like TiVo on steroids.

Like TiVo, you can time shift, set up complex recording schemes, and do things like rewind "live"TV". Unlike TiVo, you can archive those recordings. You can also rip, play and archive DVDs. (None of my DVDs last very long, so this is a big deal for me.) And you can fairly casually extend the disk storage.

It also does a shedload of other things, like play music, allow you to watch streaming TV (there's not much worth watching yet, though), record one (or more) things while watching another, provide you with weather reports, play video games, etc. etc. etc.

It's amazing. But it ain't easy to set up. And it's not really cheap. (I mean, it can be. You could probably run a non-high-def edition on $50 worth of hardware + a hundred or so more in tuners. But you're going to want more storage, and probably high-def, and so on.) And if anything goes wrong, you need to be somewhat high tech to deal with that.

This book would purportedly help you setting up MythTV but I didn't find it helpful.

Look, I'm not going to say that these guys didn't try, or that this is a cynically written attempt to cash in on something, but this book is as close to worthless as I can imagine.

Now, again, this is not entirely the authors' fault. MythTV is highly dynamic. What's true today isn't true tomorrow. I'm a journeyman MythTV builder, and a lot of what I've learned in the painful progress I've made simply does not apply any more.

That said, a lot of stuff =hasn't= changed, and it's here where the book falls apart. They should have started with the basics of content flow, i.e., where is the media coming from? Because that's the first thing you need to know before you even decide if MythTV is right for you. (Over the air content, for example, is easily handled by Myth, while controlling a set-top box from a cable, satellite or fiber optic company is a whole 'nother kettle of fish.)

While support has been added since this book was written, the stuff mentioned is not well covered. For example, to set up your MythTV backend, you have to select from various capture card types. There are V4L, MPEG2, DVB, etc.--how about explaining what these are? No explanations is the norm, and when there is an explanation it's often simply restating the on-screen text without actually clarifying.

Six months of having this book and I've never once found an answer to a question I had. Now, I don't go looking for product specific stuff, because (as I said) there's no way they could cover that, but just basic joints and cogs and so on.

See, the thing about MythTV is that if you have just the right hardware and a simple enough setup, it might take you fifteen minutes to set up. If you don't, it could take you weeks to set up, or you might never be able to do it.

To be useful, this book really should have explored =how= to troubleshoot. They couldn't do the actual troubleshooting for you--there are too many things that can go wrong--but they could tell you about the utlities and hardware settings that allow you see where your problems lie.

Maybe they just didn't have the space. But, as I say above, it makes the book almost completely worthless.


  1. Wow, I forget that you could write a review on Amazon. I am going right over there and write one on my favorite books, "The Wind in the Willows" and "I the Jury."

  2. That TV thing sounds great. Especially that thing about going back in time to record stuff. I want to back to 1972 to record that Police Story where Angie Dickinsen went undercover as a hooker to bust a prostitution ring run by Elizabeth Ashley. It was the pilot/prototype for her own series Policewoman. Pepper Anderson. Seventies halters and minis. Man I had a hard on through that whole episode.

  3. Well, unfortunately, you can only go back in time a few minutes. So we'll keep working on one to let you go back 35 years....

    Need to implement that 10000000x rewind.


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