Saturday, 5 May 2012

XBMC, TVHeadend, MythTV, streaming to your TV

 I thought it was about time I wrote a bit more about what I've been up to with our TV setup at home. Firstly a bit of background, take a look at the previous posts on my XBMC setup, but that is now a bit out of date as I've found this isn't a set and forget sort of setup, so I can see why a lot of people won't bother with this day-to-day. But I'm persistant and wanted to get my setup as good as possible so we've got the best of several options.

Firstly FreeSat with the superior HD channels, then Freeview (via Aerial) as this still has some channels not on FreeSat, then PVR functionality for pause/rewind of live tv, finally playback from the network media drive. In addition I've also got a want to stream iPlayer, ITV, 4od and 5 via their online stream facilities.

So originally I had TVHeadend running (via their git repository) with a custom patch for adapter priorities. That patch allows me to 'weight' which adapter I want to be used, so the rule was, use the Freesat adapters, unless the channel wasn't available (or signal was too low). This worked great, but there are problems with the integration to XBMC (The frontend). The biggest problem was that the PVR functionality of pause/rewind didn't work, and the author of TVHeadend/XBMC PVR plug-in really doesn't have any interest in developing this as he has no need for it. That causes me a bit of a headache, as that component lets the system down quite a bit. There are also problems with TVHeadend in that it relies on XMLTV to grab TV listings, as the EIT grabber (Over the air/satellite) barely works at all, and again nobody can see to improve that at the moment. So these two items let it down quite a bit as it means we get dodgy entries in our TV Guide, so its not reliable, and we can't pause. Another huge bug, and I believe this is an XBMC problem, is that if a channel doesn't have an EPG entry, or the entry is deemed as 'invalid' by XBMC it actually hides the channel. Now this causes channels to disappear and re-appear due to bad EPG data, this is something I've asked numerous times on the forums on how to correct myself in the code and re-compile but nobody seemed to know the definitive answer, or didn't want to help. This also frustrated me!

So I thought, time to move to MythTV using XBMC as the front-end. Myth does have pause/rewind functions, has EIT working fully and a few other nice things so this seemed a good option to switch to. Installing Myth-backend is a pain as although they have debian/ubuntu packages, you have to guess which ones you need to run the backend (mythtv-backend, mythtv-web and a few others). Once installed onto my headless server that has my 2 FreeSat and 1 Freeview cards in it I needed to set it up. Here was the first problem, its a GUI that you run within an Xserver (a desktop). This is a headless server so I can't do that, so have to run it over an X forwarder to my laptop, so its a bit laggy but works. The mythtv-setup is HORRIBLE! It's clunky, and looks like its been designed to be used from a TV remote, but even that it would be horrible to use, so I didn't have a good experience there. The logic of channels, channel inputs, hardware adapters and channels is also a little confusing. So you first setup your capture card, thats pretty straight forward, the system finds my 3, you have to setup Diseqc and tell it just to use an LNB (even for the Freeview) which is weird as it seems to be a requirement rather than an option. Once they're all setup you have to create a video source. This is straight forward as I want to use EIT, so select that, and thats done. Now the bit that I've still not fully got my head around, Input Connections. You set these to match your channels, so on mine I've created 2, one for FreeSat and one for Freeview (I have no idea if this is right, as it doesn't seem 100% correct!), so I went in, scanned for FreeSat DVB-S first (this takes about 10 minutes), then for DVB-S2 (another 10 minutes). Then create another Input Connection for Freeview, and scan for channels on there (About 10 minutes again). Wow that takes a long time! Now you can go into channel listings. This is mostly pointless, as the interface is so unusable you have about 200 entries in a list and it expects you to click into them one-by-one and disable the ones you don't want, correct incorrect text, etc. I would be on forever with that, so opted to leave that as it is for now and just have a stupid number of channels visible. At this point you can save and exit.

Now you need to compile cmyth with XBMC. cmyth is a fork of XBMC as the developer has re-written some parts of XBMC to handle the Myth setup correctly. So I grabbed his sources and started compiling, hitting many incompatability problems along the way as debian packages were missing, I was running an old version of Ubuntu, so had to upgrade the distribution first. That took longer than I hoped, and if you do a custom compile, don't forget to put your ./configure command options in to make all your add-ons work. My line ended up as './configure --prefix=/usr --enable-vdpau --enable-static --disable-shared --enable-sdl --enable-rtmp' Doing this, a make and install got us up and running and I could see the EPG loading. Going in however I had about 10 BBC1's, 10 BBC2, etc. Basically what it had done is found each copy of the channel on the FreeSat devices, Freeview channels and just put each one into the listing, it didn't merge any! So that meant back to the MythTV listing setup (Also each time you go into myth-setup you have to shutdown the daemon, which disconnects all clients stopping TV from working again!). I tried again but found the channel editor impossible. Luckily I spotted the MythWeb add-on, went into that and found you can edit the channels through the web interface, so I went through removing channels I didnt want. But what to do about the duplicate BBC1? A bit more reading revealed that you should give these the same channel number. So find all the BBC1's in your listing and set them to a channel number (e.g. I used 101 to mirror the Sky numbering system). I've done that and sure enough it looks much better.

The main problems I have now (and not solved):

  • EPG loading time in XBMC is very slow. It can be up to 5 minutes and its not a good idea so start watching TV till this is finished as if you do that it seems to corrupt a lot of EPG entries. This is a pain as we all have to sit watching a loading bar before we watch TV now!
  • After selecting a channel, it takes almost a minute before the channel engages and starts streaming
  • Pressing anything like EPG, pause, etc, also freezes the playback for a few seconds as the box 'thinks'
  • Channels without proper EPG still don't appear in the EPG line-up, so again this is a big problem!

So after all of these, I'm unsure if I should revert back to TVHeadend, as there are a few too many bugs and problems that are frustrating, and I'm not sure if the gains (Pause TV) is enough to warrant it. I may re-do all of it over the weekend back to TVHeadend and see if I can correct the few bugs remaining there myself!

 

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