MythTV vs. MCE 2005 : A fight to the death

by Josh Highland on February 25, 2006

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


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