With the arrival of Freesat in the UK, there has never been a better time to build your own digital video recorder. Freesat uses the same satellite and dish setup as Sky, but the contents of the broadcast are free to receive.
MythTV is a digital video recorder on steroids. It can pause, rewind and fast forward while you're watching live TV, and it's also a curiosity shop of plug-ins and extensions. You can listen to music, watch videos and DVDs, view photos, play arcade games, make phone calls, read the news, stream everything to everywhere, burn discs, watch iPlayer broadcasts in the integrated web browser, schedule recordings across the web and watch them in the kitchen. The whole system is extensible and it's free.
MythTV is one of the most important open-source projects being developed. In the monetised and proprietary world of commercial television, MythTV plants a stake for freedom of choice, showing that community-developed alternatives can compete with multi-million dollar enterprise. On the other hand, the price of that freedom is complexity.
Free software developers seldom have the resources to fine tune the user-interface, or write a book's worth of documentation. And MythTV takes this to the extreme. Since its inception in April 2002, MythTV installation has always been considered singularly complex and unforgiving, even for the world of open source.
However, things have changed. It's no longer impossible. In fact, it's quite straightforward if you stick to a few well-trodden paths It's not that MythTV is any easier, it's just that it's now bundled by several excellent, custom-built Linux distributions.
The most popular of these is called Mythbuntu, and is unsurprisingly built around the latest release of Ubuntu. Mythbuntu will configure your hardware, map buttons on your remote control and set up the TV guide. When you've finished with the installation disc, slot it into a spare PC on the same network and you'll be able to use the disc as a Live CD that accesses all the content on your Mythbox (as they're affectionately called).
The first thing you need to consider is how you're going to record a television broadcast. Five years ago, most people were condemned to recording an analog signal received through an aerial connected to a PCI tuner.
This method suffered from interference and you were restricted to a handful of channels. With the advent of digital television, the number of channels has improved, as has the quality. In the UK, you can freely receive digital television through your terrestrial aerial (a service known as Freeview), or through a satellite dish aligned to the same satellite used by Sky (the recently launched Freesat). To grab the raw stream of data, you'll need either a Linux-compatible DVB-T or DVB-S receiver for terrestrial and satellite services respectively.
In the UK, most channels are broadcast as 'Free To Air' (FTA). This means the raw channel data needs no decryption for direct playback. Exceptions are Channel 4 and 5 on satellite. Both are currently 'Free To View', which means they're only freely available to viewers with a Sky Digital receiver and viewing card. However, both Channel 4 and Channel 5 plan to switch their broadcasts to Free To Air before the end of the year to take advantage of the momentum behind Freesat.
Commercial services – such as those offered by Sky and Setanta Sports – areencrypted and locked to a subscription. These channels can't be decoded without wading into a complex legal and usability quagmire. If you need to record these services, your only option is to record the output from the vendor's digital receiver.
Mythbuntu, like Ubuntu, is a self-contained CD. Boot off the disc and choose your language. From the boot menu, select 'Install Mythbuntu'. The first part of the installation routine is a modified version of the Ubuntu installer using an altered livery.