MythTV vs. MCE 2005 : A fight to the death

I have been running MythTV (knoppmyth) since June 2005. It rules. It was tricky to get set up, I was rusty on my Linux admin skills, its been years since I really used it. There were a few things about myth that I wasn’t really into, but I lived with.

  • couldn’t get my 802.11g nic card to work in Linux
  • I had a hard time playing video files over the network from my windows 2000 computer up stairs
  • Couldn’t get the build in media player to play work that well (mplayer)
  • NES emulation wasn’t that great
  • Hard to get the Hauppauge 350 remote to work
  • I had to hard time redirecting the output of the media player to the Hauppauge 350 audio out
  • Difficult redirecting the output of the computer to always go to the TV

I’m not complaining, it was fun to figure this stuff out. It took a really long time, and some of it I never
really figured out. My MythTv setup was awesome for recording TV. I’m proud of it, and I love it.

Earlier this month a guy at my work is a Microsoft die hard (he runs a .Net developers group) he got me a demo copy of windows media center 2005 to check out. I figured what the hell, I had some extra money (my wife just started working as a registered nur$e), I'll build a fairly simple MCE box and put it up against my mythTV.

To make this interesting, I decided to make this interesting, After install and testing, the winner computer stays, the losers OS gets flipped. I was willing to put my myth system on the line and check it out against "windows media center 2005 roll up 2" (damn that’s a long name).

Here is the cheap machine that I built for the MCE

  • ECS P4M800-M7 Motherboard
  • Intel Pentium 4 511 Processor (2.8 ghz)
  • 1 gig DDR400
  • pny GeForce 6200 (crt, dvi, s-video, component)
  • Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-150 MCE-Kit (tv tuner + MS remote)
  • A random left over 20 gig IDE Maxtor hard drive
  • A stray IDE-to-SATA adaptor
  • A spare dvd drive rom drive
  • A dusty old computer case in my garage

So for about $400 and some old parts I hacked together an ugly machine, but hey it booted, and that’s what counts.

Installing:

Windows MCE 2005 is a full install of windows, so it took a while. Much slower then installing knoppMyth (it took me 15 minutes to get knoppMyth installed the first time). WINNER knoppMyth

Set Up:

knoppMyth required me to signup with a company called zaptoit.com to get a channel listing. The software didn’t tell me to do this, I had to find out about it through message boards and a wiki. MCE asked me my zip code, then it asked what cable company I had. Then it programmed my tuner, and downloaded the TV listing guide.
WINNER MCE

Remote Control:

remotes MythTV vs. MCE 2005 : A fight to the death

The mythTV uses a Hauppauge 350 remote, which isn’t bad. The MCE uses the Microsoft 2005 remote. The Microsoft controller wins hands down. The shape of it is much nicer, its balance is good. The mce receiver seems better then the 350 receiver. The mce remote also has dedicated buttons for jumping around in the mce application, there is also a button to launch the mce application if its not running or is minimized. I wish all my remotes were this nice.

WINNER MCE

Live TV:

I’m going to give this one to myth for ease of set up, but overall go with a tie. To get the MCE running, I had to download a mpeg 2 decoder. That was pretty painless, but I had to dig through some websites to figure out why the hell it wasn’t showing TV. The mythTV was great because I was using hardware based decoding that came with the pvr-350 TV tuner. Once I got MCE up and running, there was little difference between them. MCE did change channels faster then the myth though.
TIE

Recorded TV:

I like the myth interface for showing what shows I have recorded, but I like MCE better for setting up recordings. MCE has an option that allows you to start the recording a few minutes early and end it a few minutes late, WHEN AVALIABLE, just to make sure that you get the whole show (some times channels don’t start and stop exactly on time). If you have 2 shows back to back, it won’t record the overhang. If you have any overhang on the myth, it will report a conflict, and not record the second show. This has bitten me several times with the myth
WINNER MCE

Video Files:

I’m going with MCE on this one. It plays wmv, mpg, and avi files without any trouble. To get QuickTime working, all I had to do was download the QuickTime alternative and change one registry key. Now basically any video file I throw at it plays full screen and looks great. Myth on the other hand, I had a hard time getting videos to play. wmv files and avi still look like garbage. I had to modify a bunch of things to get the video and audio to play through the pvr-350, only to marginal satisfaction.
WINNER MCE

Audio player:

If you’ve seen one, you’ve scene them all. There isn’t a huge difference in these.
TIE

Interface:

MCE looks a lot cleaner then myth. If anything, Myth tries to copy MCE in many aspects but falls short. Something that MCE has that myth does not is the ability to shrink down the video that is currently playing, and continue to navigate through MCE, until you select something else to watch. Its just more polished and refined. It looks better when its up on your screen.
WINNER MCE

MCE Bonus Features:

"movies": MCE will look at the guide and see what movies are currently playing across all the channels that you get. It goes out to the internet and pulls down artwork and a synopsis of the movie. This is an awesome and impressive feature in my opinion. You can then watch, record, or drill deeper into information on the movie. You can see what actors are in the movie, you can see what other movies they were in, you can see when those movies come on, and set up a recording for them.

MythTV Bonus Features:

"games emulation": I loved the fact that I could play all of my old NES roms. The emulation was a bit slow and laggy, but it was awesome to play them again. I didn’t use this feature as much as I anticipated.

The Winner in My Eyes:

OVER ALL WINNER : MCE

Based on my experience of running knoppmyth next to MCE 2005, I'm going to have to go with the MCE as the over all winner. It’s not often that I back a Microsoft product over an open source project. What can I say though? Microsoft has done their homework and has put out a pretty solid application that does what I want it to, in a clean way that even my wife can use. Hopefully in time as mythTV matures and grows, I will switch back to it. Until then I'm going to run stick with my Windows MCE 2005

25 Comments

  1. Not to look to much like a myth fan boy but here is my rebutal:

    Remote Control:
    With MythTV you are not limited to just the windows controller. I have a StreamZap controller. Its cheap but I can use any universal remote to learn from it. The point is you have variety. If you don’t like the controller, you can replace it.

    Recorded TV:
    I have the same problem from time to time with the overlap in schedules. Its very easy to resolve. Adjust all recordings to start early and end late. Solved all my problems.

    Video Files:
    Mplayer can play any video file you throw at it, you just need to spend some time getting all the features enabled. If you installed a full linux distro (ie. Gentoo or Red Hat), you might have a more featureful mplayer.

    Interface:
    Mythtv has many themese that you can pick and choose. MCE does not. I personally have used both MCE and Mythtv with the default theme and liked MCE’s theme better. I then installed the G.A.N.T theme and mythtv is now much easier to use.

    MCE Bonus feature:
    MCE cost $$$$. Not sure how much but I would guess about $100. I think I would rather spend the money on better hardware and spend some time getting it to work with mythtv.

    MythTV Bonus Features:
    DVD playback/rip, Weather information, Simple web browsing, transcoding from mpeg2 -> mpeg4 to save space are just a few features that I would call very useful. They are free by the way. Oh did I mention that MythTV works much better that MCE for recording satellite telivion. I have read about serious issues with MCE and recording satellite telvision.

    Just my .02

  2. The MCE remote is a learning remote, so it can be used to control other devices. You can use other all-in-one remotes with MCE too, I’ve heard good things about the Harmony remotes (Harmony make an MCE remote, the 360).

    So, its a tie on remotes I think.

    For me, the big selling point for MCE is the Extenders, using your MCE as a server providing TV to the whole house is fantastic. You can do this with Myth on a chipped Xbox with XBMC, bit its really hard!

    Some other things
    – MCE works out of the box (nearly); I’d rather watch TV that be tweaking the set-up all the time
    – Cablecard; Myth will never get access to pay-HDTV without coming back to SD first (although I’d really like the open-source community to prove me wrong….)

  3. You say ‘”movies”: MCE will look at the guide and see what movies are currently playing across all the channels that you get. It goes out to the internet and pulls down artwork and a synopsis of the movie. This is an awesome and impressive feature in my opinion.’

    I get the synopsis, but I don’t get movie artwork automatically. Do you? If so, how?

  4. What about automatically removing commercials from your TV recordings? I am personally on the fence in terms of MCE vs. MythTv, and I remember reading somewhere that MCE does not automatically remove commercials whereas MythTv does. Since I do not have any experience with either, I’m not sure if this functionality now exists in MCE or not.

  5. All due respect I don’t get this review. The MCE audio player is very nice, the myth one is terrible. As another commenter points out to judge remotes using one of the 1000s you can use (including the MCE remote) is judging Myth unfairly, it’s not responsible for one of the Hauppauge remotes. Myth uses mplayer or xine to play back video and is unbelievably flexible, I have never come across a video file I couldn’t play in Myth. You don’t mention mythweb which is outstanding. You don’t mention having one myth backend and multiple frontends. Myth connects with IMDB to get details, artwork for movies. Myth automatically deletes commercials. My myth box pulls HD off a Comcast cable box, works great, not possible with mce.

    If you prefer mce to myth that is fine but the reasons you cite in this review don’t make a lot of sense.

  6. Some points:
    Installing / setup: You never mentioned what version of Knoppmyth you used. The newest, version and the upcoming version that is undergoing testing based on Myth .19-fixes, is awesome. On supported hardware, there is literally nothing to do but install. This has never been easier. 4 pvr cards in my setup and it is painless.
    Remote Control: You choose, I use a Harmony learning remote, that blows any of the MS one away. Plus I can program IR keyboard commands and send those too. The thing here is you have lots of choices. But to be fair, I think you do with MCE as well.
    Live TV: Try the new Live TV features with the .19 release of Myth. You will never want to go back.
    Recorded TV: If you are basing the winner on the overlap issue, then you need to revisit myth. There is a global record before and after setting that will prevent your problem from occurring. Set it for 2 min before and 2 after, and it will make adjustments so you don’t loose anything. Never failed me unless the network did something, and then even MCE would miss it.
    Video Files: mplayer in Knoppmyth by default does not come with all the codecs to for the different video formats. There are legal reasons for this, as many of the codecs could be questionable in some countries. It takes about 6 min to resolve this following posted step by step directions. From Quicktime, to h.264, AVI, WMV.. you name it. Just not MS DRMed WM stuff. But who wants that anyway?
    Audio player: This is not a tie. MCE wins this, but MythMusic is being worked on. I network mounted my iTunes content, and in Myth I can browse and listen to any of it without issue. But it could be better. Again, this requires adding one line to one text file to setup.
    Interface: Yea MCE is nice, but MS has spent a lot of money doing this. Themes for Myth are getting better, and a lot of eyecandy is being developed for the UI. But for now, try a theme you think is pretty. There are new ones all the time.
    MCE Bonus Features: This is nice, with Myth you can browse the guide by category, so change it to movies, and you will see all the movies on all the channels. Or sports… etc.. Right now it uses the guide data, not the internet, but this doesn’t seem hard to add. Umm, another project maybe….
    MythTV Bonus Features: How about transcoding, for HD content, or scripts like Myth2Ipod to auto generate iPod video feeds for your recorded shows automatically per scheduled recording, or at the press of the remote button. Commercial flagging with auto skip, or use the new loss-less mpeg2 to mpeg2 to cut them out.
    The key thing is what is right for you. I would never put someone down for choosing MCE or Myth, or anything else. I love the way many of the Windows PVR tools look, but they have a lot of room for improvement too. Myth is great, free, and always getting better. Long live Knoppmyth.

  7. Thanks Ted. So Myth does automatically delete commercials. I wonder if MCE is working on this feature? Anybody know?

  8. I’m not familiar with MythTV, but I have an old ReplayTV DVR. It deletes commercials automatically. The company got sued by the TV networks and had to remove the feature from all newer models. I keep that machine specifically for that wonderful feature.

    Don’t count on “commercial skip” from any commercial product (sorry for the double entendre).

  9. Nicely done, you compared the basic points…

    I agree with most of the other comments, but bear in mind that most novice to average users will have trouble configuring anything but the most standard things under linux…

    Anyway.. why don’t you do a shootout with another great HTPC software, that is MediaPortal
    http://www.team-mediaportal.com/
    Free, under Windows, and also supports your roms, HD tv and any remote under the planet…

    just my 2c

  10. “Microsoft has done their homework and has put out a pretty solid application that does what I want it to, in a clean way that even my wife can use.”

    Did your wife try MythTV? Just curious to hear her observations on it. Did she find the menu system intuitive?

    Also, I’m now waiting for your wife to review something and conclude that it’s so easy that even her husband can use it.

  11. So in the 15 minutes that it took you to install MythTv you:

    couldn’t get my 802.11g nic card to work in Linux
    I had a hard time playing video files over the network from my windows 2000 computer up stairs
    Couldn’t get the build in media player to play work that well (mplayer)
    NES emulation wasn’t that great
    Hard to get the Hauppauge 350 remote to work
    I had to hard time redirecting the output of the media player to the Hauppauge 350 audio out
    Difficult redirecting the output of the computer to always go to the TV
    knoppMyth required me to signup with a company called zaptoit.com to get a channel listing. The software didn’t tell me to do this, I had to find out about it through message boards and a wiki.

    Myth on the other hand, I had a hard time getting videos to play. wmv files and avi still look like garbage. I had to modify a bunch of things to get the video and audio to play through the pvr-350, only to marginal satisfaction.

    I am bailing out of MythTV after a month of fighting it.

    MP3 player = XMMS = WinAmp 1.0 beta, Standard store bought DVD’s some play some do not. Screen changes size after bringing up the guide.

    ATRMS Repo is about as stable as a bowl of ashes.

    IVTV drivers in the Kernel but how to has you screw them up.

    Must you three year old nVidia drivers or no acceleration.

    Screen flickers.

    SATA is NOT fully supported in any distro of Linux. Either you drivers/ide XOR libata neither supports all chipsets.

    Had to force DMA to work.

    “games emulation”: MingW + Mame = same on Windows as Linux.

    APM wakeup events triggered only 80% of the time.

    ACPI causes lock ups — Disable it.

    Mplayer rebuild # 6 and still no support for all DVD’s

    Must disable KDE’s audio or else mythfrontend reports /dev/dsp in use.

    Eli wrote “If you installed a full linux distro (ie. Gentoo or Red Hat)” Last time I checked Red Hat wasn’t free. Perhaps he meant Fedora. No that can’t be because it doesn’t support DVD’s or MP3 without hours of tweeking.

    Must edit .htaccess or no database access.

    Commercial skip works most of the time but will sometimes leave you 40 minutes ahead of where you should be. Or leave you with a file missing huge sections of the show.

    Paul wrote “You can do this with Myth on a chipped Xbox with XBMC, bit its really hard!”
    You can also run Mythfrontend on a flex atx based system and even fit it into an old DVD or VCR case.

    Or even better use CF to IDE connector instead of a hard drive and make a small fanless device with no moving parts what so ever for running mythfrontend.

    In terms of extension Myth clearly wins.

    For me I want an appliance not a hobby.

    With the time I wasted on Myth I could easily have taken a small DB/Dev project and made about $2,000. So for the cost of MCE it’s actually $1,870 cheaper.

  12. Oh and as for MythNews. Many of the links are dead. I removed the dead ones and I also edited the XML file to include RSS for Fox News and remove the communist news network which was included on every tab.

  13. Im really loving my MCE. Im bidding on an MCE keyboard on ebay right now. Its expensive, but ti think it will really round out my set up. I hate having a mouse and a keyboard hooked up to the computer.

  14. MythTV in 15 minutes… Bullsh***t… I finally got MythTV working after a MONTH of working with it and the contrast still is to high on my pcHDTV card. I have heard about problems with MCE and HD, I havent tried it yet, but I am close to bailing on myth, the menus for scheduling shows are horrible, Tivo is 1000 times better. myth looks good unless you use a high res setting.. then the font is so small you need glasses up close and I have 20/20 vision. I am not saying dont go with Myth, but it is A LONG WAY from easy or straightforward to use, and I am an Engineer.

  15. I agree with most of the other comments, but bear in mind that most novice to average users will have trouble configuring anything but the most standard things under linux.

  16. It goes out to the internet and pulls down artwork and a synopsis of the movie. This is an awesome and impressive feature in my opinion.

  17. Hmm, as a Myth user (for several years) and having a bit of MCE experience too I wonder:
    How did you get recording and playback working with the Hauppage card ? You need a MPEG2 codec which isn’t part of the MCE package (nor is it part of the Hauppage package) A friend of mine which is an avid MCE user/installer installs a version of PowerDVD just to get the MPEG2 codecs in place. Without these you can’t record and/or view anything with MCE… This adds further costs.
    Further great disadvantage is the huge amount of CPU power needed to use MCE whereas MythTV happily chugs along on much leaner hardware. The large amount of CPU power needed for MCE is due to that it not simply records in plain MPEG2 but in a vague MCE propriarty format which can only be played by the latest MediaPlayer. Also all the recordings are kind of ‘fuzzy’ compared to the raw recordings made by MythTV.
    Furthermore with MCE you can have only two tuners, no satellitecard or HDTVcard support yet. No frontend/backend split etc etc etc. The music player completely chokes on an mp3/wma libraries with more than a thousand files. You need to have antivirus/spyware/firewall software running to keep your system a bit safe.

    I agree MythTV is not easy to get working but once it does.. The possibilities are endless..

  18. you bring up some really good points that I didnt really address fully in my blog post.

    Yes, I had to buy an encoder. It was $20. IT works well, but it adds more money to the price.

    I havent found a diference between the mce tv playback and myth tv play back. The encoder software will have a lot to do with how it looks, along with the tv output that you are using.

    ok, so you have a point about the windows security issues also. I run behind a firewall, and keep my machine patched.

    I still stand by MCE. MythTV was a huge bitch to get working. MCE worked like a charm. I want an applience to record my tv, and thats what MCE is for me.

  19. Just wanted to put a good word in for Knoppmyth (and MythTV). I’ve run the latest or near the latest versions since 2004. I originally used Gentoo Linux, which I got working just fine but required a lot more technical knowhow. Some package would always seem to not compile correctly whenever I tried to upgrade. I used Gentoo for about a year and then moved to Knoppmyth. It has been great and the only thing that I needed to “fix” was to use apt-get to install libdvdcss2 inn order to get dvds to play. Besides that, everything worked perfectly out of the box, including my 2 hard disk LVM setup. Granted, it may still take a little more work then MCE when you are initially installing it, the actual day to day use is very easy…Everyone that comes over can pick up the remote and just start using it. (Also, I just upgraded to the latest Knoppmyth and am very impressed with the Internal video/dvd player.)

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  21. I am currently running MythTV on Fedora 8 with a Hauppauge PVR-150. I am running digital cable and even have the IRBlaster working. It rocks. Everything works perfectly and I have not had any problems with it. Channel changing is slightly slow, but this is because MythTV by default starts recording before playback so there is always a 5 to 10 second delay while watching LiveTV. This was slightly annoying at first, but a very minor detail. Myth still changes channels faster than a satellite dish. Granted, the setup is a little more intensive than any windows products, but I like it that way. With Linux, you have to know something to make things work…which gives me a sense of pride once the project is completed. I built this system and it works. As for the wife aspect, my wife uses mythtv and loves it. She can schedule her own shows, view guide, watch videos, delete recordings and pretty much everything else necessary. She finds it very intuitive and doesn’t understand why I didn’t build the device long ago.

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