Monthly Archives: May 2013

Choosing a Frontend PC

XBMC is a really great piece of frontend software – that is to say, the PVR software with which the user will directly interact – which is available on many platforms, including windows, linux, and android. It’s what we use in my household, and it’s what I’m going to use in this instructional.

Along with the different OS options for XBMC, we have a plethora of hardware platforms, ranging  from basic and inexpensive, to fully-featured mini-PCs that cost upwards of $250. To simplify these choices, I will group some common options into categories, and also go over my own set-up.

  1. Decide on What’s Needed:
  • Ethernet or WiFi?
  • Will you use Hulu, Netflix or other plugins?
  • Do you need multi-purpose TV computer?
  • How important is power consumption?
  • Budget?
  • Will it be connected to a stereo/sound system?

Ethernet vs. WiFi
There are many ways to set up a mythtv system.

  1. If the server computer has built-in WiFi, it may be worth it to set it up as a hotspot and connect directly with client computers. This is a good option if your frontend computers won’t be located far from the TV, and if you have only a few frontend connections, as bandwidth is relatively limited.
  2. Alternatively, an ethernet connection to a router or switch will allow the server to connect clients directly from a wired connection, OR through any WiFi routers connected throughout your home. 

For our setup, we opted for the second choice, as we need to serve up to 3 TVs placed far apart. If we want to use our laptops to watch, WiFi also lets us watch anywhere in our house.

Hulu, Netflix and Other Plugins
These require extra computing power, and as such, only really work well on the moderate or higher-priced frontend PCs. That being said, they can be run on even a Raspberry Pi device, if you are willing to put up with a bit of lag.

Multi-Purpose PC
Of course, for this area, you’ll need to fork out some extra cash – you’ll be limited to higher-priced frontends, which don’t run Android, but instead are capable of running full versions of Linux (or Windows).

Power Consumption
Power consumption is typically affected by:

  • The number of hours per day you watch TV
  • The computing power of your frontend

Low-price and small Linux/Android boxes are a good choice if you will be watching a lot of TV, as they don’t usually require more than 5-8 watts of power. However, more powerful PCs such as Zotac’s Z-Box or the Aspire Revo draw upwards of 20 watts. Do some math to figure out how many killowatt-hours you’ll use in a year, and how much it will cost to run.

Note: it costs us approx. $32/year to run our myth server: 40 watts @ 24/7/52 = 350.4 kWh/year

This is pretty self-explanatory. Count your pennies and decide what you can afford! Check out Power Consumption to decide what a device will cost you to run in the long term.

Stereo and Sound System Connections
Most cheap frontends won’t support more than 2.1 sound out via HDMI, and may have a simple 3.5mm audio jack for sound output in stereo format. If you plan on connecting to a stereo system, having more than HDMI is a must – otherwise the stereo set must be always on in order to ‘pass-through’ the HDMI signal, even if surround-sound isn’t needed.

SP/DIF optical output can be found on most high-end machines, and also on a few medium-price machines. The MyGica box is a notable exception, which includes this in the low-price range.

Inexpensive (<$50)

  • Raspberry Pi Model A – $25
  • Raspberry Pi Model B – $35
  • Your Android cellphone! – Free, if you have a mini-HDMI
  • Rikomagic MK802 – $60
  • *802 copies/clones – $50-90 (check them specs!)
  • MyGica Android Box – $70
  • Pivos Android Media Centre – $120
  • JynxBox – $120
High-Priced (>$200)
  • Zotac Z-Box (Nvidia) – $260 to $300
  • Acer AspireRevo (Nvidia ION) – $290 to $320