For my MythTV box, I decided to have a single frontend/backend system. Here's my system specs:
CPU: 1.8 Ghz AMD Duron
Memory: 512 MB DDR 3200 SDRAM
Storage: 1 160 GB Hard drive used for booting the OS and running MythTV and 2 200 GB drives in RAID-0 for video storage.
Video: nVidia GeForce 4 MX, 64 MB memory and TV-out.
Capture Card: Hauppauge PVR-250 w/hardware MPEG-2 encoder.
Sound: Cheap Sound Blaster PCI 128.
Case: Ahanix D.Vine D4 Media Center Enclosure
Fedora Core 3 (Kernel 2.6.12-1.1376_FC3)
Already you can see that this configuration blows away the best TiVo you can buy and doesn't cost much more. You could get away with a slower processor (since the capture card has a hardware encoder), less memory, or even less drive space if you wanted, but I wanted to build a pretty high spec machine. You gamers out there will probably laugh at that last statement, but you have to realize that the HTPC world is significantly different than the gaming world.
In the gaming world, the higher the specs, the better the experience is a general rule. As far as a HTPC is concerned, the particular capture card you choose will make or break the experience. Why? Because not only will a hardware encoder look better, it also won't drop frames. Your CPU will be busy at any given moment doing other tasks such as commercial flagging, transcoding, watching recordings, watching/ripping DVDs and so on. This doesn't leave a lot of room for encoding new recordings. So in short, get a capture card with a hardware encoder!
As far as installing MythTV and getting it up and running, definitely use this guide ( so long as you wish to use Fedora Core ) :
Depending upon your level of experience with Linux, completing the setup could take from an hour to several hours. Also, if you have to control an external box (known as a set top box, or STB), this can add to the time it takes for completion.
Once all the software is installed, all that is left is to configure MythTV. Here's where you make the distinction between a local frontend and remote one. Since I have a single box, I opt for a local frontend. As you can see from the features listed above, you certainly aren't limited to that.
With MythTV configured and your program guide data downloaded, all that's left to do is schedule recordings and watch TV! I usually make a few tweaks at this point, such as the Power Button tweak listed in the Fedora Core guide, and most recently, I switched from using KDE to WindowMaker. What a difference in load time!
Another tweak I've been looking into is enabling the use of the VFD, or Vacuum Florescent Display (the little screen thingy on the front of the case ). Like most computer-related problems, there is an open source answer for it: LCDproc. LCDproc, like MythTV, is a client/server application. The server feeds character data to the client which then displays that data on the VFD (or LCD if you have one). This program is kind of a beast to wrestle with though. I've spent countless hours tweaking configs, recompiling, and changing my LPT settings in my BIOS just to see garbage displayed on the screen. If anybody has gotten this to work on the Ahanix D4 Media Center's VFD (a Samsung 2x16 character display), let me know!
In the future, when space allows, I have some further tweaks to work on:
- Build a dedicated NAS unit located in another room (preferably a basement) to remove the somewhat noisy drives from the frontend. This also allows for multi-terabyte storage.
- Find a good set of silent 60mm fans (90%+ of what I see in computer stores are 80mm) for the back of the Ahanix case.
- Find a silent CPU cooler.
- Migrate to Fedora Core 4.
- When space allows, put in a better sound system. I've got a nice Dolby receiver, just need some decent speakers.
- Anything else I haven't thought of. =)
As you can see, ambient noise is a high priority (contrast that with your typical gaming rig, which has at least 8 loud fans to keep the thing cool), so keep that in mind when choosing components. Happy HTPC'ing!