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Dawn of the HTPC blog

December 26, 2009

A HTPC (Home Theater PC for the uninitiated) is a pretty useful thing to have around – especially since it can replace the DVD player/recorder, provide a single place to manage your entire music, movies, CD and DVD collection and provide a new great way to watch the old cable/broadcast TV. It can have many more features depending on the hardware/software used (access your movie collection from any other PC in the world…).

Unfortunately, such a beast of a machine is not yet ready-incarnated – it has to be home brewed with your own hands and wit, piecing together arcane and diverse bits of technology, software and hardware into the wee hours of the morning… not very unlike what Dr.Frankenstein ventured out to do. The end-result sometimes would be just as harrowing as Dr.Frankenstein’s.. but fear not – this is the raison d’etre of this blog – to try and save you from just such an experience and instead turn it into a fruitful and rewarding activity.

I will recount the pieces of info I picked up in my foray into this HTPC world, provide sage advice and try to separate the wheat from the chaff, and try to help you setup a HTPC of your own without the accompanying headaches and aspirins.

Every person has an own unique mindset.. what can illustrate this more resoundingly than the difference between the maniacal “Open source” zealots at one end and the who-cares-a-damn Microsoft/Apple users on the other. Mind you, the articles in here will tilt towards any of the above two philosophies which at that point of time meets the basic principles that I believe in –

1. Any activity into which we invest our time should be free from vendor lock-in’s and provide sustainability and scalability

2. A bit of time and effort can be compromised for a highly enhanced experience and perfection

3. We must have at any point of time, ability to customize the product fully add/remove features and functionality at our will

Naturally, going from the above, open source wins out most of the times. That means, mostly, MythTV on a Linuxbox.. a Mythbuntu! A packaged Microsoft solution with a pre-tested hardware may not need this blog anyway!!

I have felt the lack of a single authoritarian and exhaustive source of information on setting up HTPC using open source software such as MythTV on Linux. The MythTV site does have decent documentation, but a HTPC is much more than just MythTV – it would include IR remote control software, program listings grabbers, server utilities, video card drivers etc. The documentation for all these is spotty at best, outdated most times and more often than not plain wrong!

The Linux world is a nightmare for a newbie trying to step out of the trodden paths or stuck in a trouble spot. Help forums are littered with quickfix advices rather than attacking the issue from the root – we often see advices to the effect of editing a config file without even bothering to first find out what exactly went wrong – such foolhardy practices put the newbie in trouble and paint a pretty bad picture of Linux in the eyes of the world. Here I will try to avoid all such practices – whatever we do will be sustainable and in line with the intent by which tools are supposed to work. So hopefully nothing that is fragile, breaks with the next update or interferes with other functionality, will be presented here on this blog.

Happy reading!

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