The Myth of MythTV

After nearly 3 years of being a MythTV user, I have finally had to settle on the fact that it isn’t very good. Ironically, it was named “MythTV” because it was supposed to be the solution to the “mythical convergence box.” That box is still a myth.

I’ve been through painful upgrade after painful upgrade. I’ve rebuilt it a few times, and think I’m generally pretty good at troubleshooting it. At no point was I ever really happy with it. Even when it was working perfectly, I could never switch over to it and use it for primary TV viewing. One of it’s fatal flaws was that channel changing is too slow. But, I looked past that because it had so many other strengths.

My favorite features (that I will miss if I drop it):

  1. No subscription fee for TV listings
  2. Ability to schedule recordings over the web
  3. Ability to automatically record a program, transcode it, and spit it out commercial free for the ipod
  4. It supports recording HD out of your cable box, and it even works sometimes.
  5. The ability to have all of your movies in one place, with imdb data automatically downloaded for you is great. The UI is a little clunky and playback is covered below, but the idea is great.

Those things work great (most of the time) and I’m happy with them. What I can’t stand:

  1. MythMusic is useless – you can’t realistically navigate/listen to your music with that horrible UI
  2. Firewire integration support is finicky – for a while I had to reboot my computer once or twice a week because of lockups. It has been much better lately.
  3. Sound is finicky, especially when trying to pass digital sound out to a receiver. Lately everything on my box has been muted, although a release ago it wasn’t. For a while, every new release of ALSA would break sound and require tinkering. I’m tired of it.
  4. Transcoding DVDs is hit or miss. I eventually gave up on using any Myth utilities for transcoding DVDs and just use mplayer from the command line.
  5. The attitude of the developer community is quite defensive. Search through the posts for people who wanted a myth “watchdog” feature to restart it when it crashes (because, for many people it’s terribly unreliable) and you’ll find remarks like this from the creator of Myth, insisting that everyone should submit backtraces and open debuggers. The project has an attitude that all users are beta testers, and the user experience is far less important than the code.
  6. The DVD player never supported menus, unless you reconfigured it to use vlc which did support menus, then they started building their own internal dvd player, and at no point in the various changes was it ever as easy to use as a plain old standalone DVD player. So, I still have one.
  7. Browsing pictures is okay I guess. After you’ve used iPhoto or Picassa though, the whole experience feels kind of crappy and the screen space is not well used. I stopped using this feature altogether, but I feel like if it were better implemented I’d use it more often.

The project is quite ambitious. I’m not trivializing the amount of work it takes to support so much hardware, and do so much with multimedia. Perhaps that’s the problem, maybe it’s too ambitious. Maybe if developers spent less time making sure I can get the weather on my TV (as if we don’t get enough weather on TV already, and as if every OS and browser has more “weather widgets” then I can stand) and more time making sure the user experience of the primary functionality was better, then the project would be more successful.

The position I’m in now is that I’m wondering what a viable alternative is. Maybe I should just give up on LiveTV and for shows I really want to record, I’ll download via torrents.

If I were to drop LiveTV altogether, my options would widen considerably. I think I’d love the Apple TV‘s UI, but it really doesn’t cover a whole lot of video formats, and I’m worried that they have no incentive to, since their solution to everything will be iTunes. Then there are a ton of “Media Adapters” but it seems to be a crowded space without a clear leader.

Part of me would love to build a MythTV competitor, but I have no time for that. Currently it almost feels like the best option is BeyondTV, but I’d have to switch to Windows, and I don’t know anyone who’s ever even used it. My dad has a Windows Media Center PC and he hates it and gave up on it. Near as I can tell, what I’m looking for is still a myth.

6 thoughts on “The Myth of MythTV

  1. Im a long time mythtv user and it took me 6 months to get my setup running well. Most of it was learning linux commands which was completely new to me. Another time consuming part was buying myth compatible hardware. I tell others that there will be months of pain involved in getting it working but once it works, it wont stop. Every few months my xp machine get infected, locks up or needs a reinstall but all the while my mythbox never stops. My setup is a simple as can be. S-video out, analog audio out and no dvd player installed. Sometimes I think about getting the digital sounds working of watching dvds on it if I buy the hardware but I know I’ll break something.

  2. Yeah, I really think that this “mythical box” should be exactly that – it should be a box. It would save a TON of work if it were a pre-configured box that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. I know people have tried to productize Myth boxes, but they are expensive. TiVo Series 3 is absurdly expensive as well. I’m so disappointed that this problem hasn’t been solved at a reasonable price point.

  3. I have used both mythtv and beyondtv. If you can get over windows and the price, beyondtv is a winner for the average user. Myth is hard to set up. Hard to maintain, but nicely free. Myth does give you some options beyondtv doesn’t, but after spending a few weeks getting your mythbox working, $100 on beyondtv looks a little nicer.

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