Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Using an older Mac Mini as a DVR

I'm not a cable TV subscriber, but we occasionally watch shows on broadcast TV that come in over the antenna. Recently, I decided to enhance our setup with DVR functionality using an older Mac Mini (from 2009) that was already connected to the TV. Long story short, I went with the combination of an HDHomeRun tuner, MythTV 0.27, and a Schedules Direct subscription, and things are working great. Some notes on the process:
  • Web searches for "mac dvr" and related terms often lead to EyeTV products and software. I went with the HDHomeRun instead of EyeTV hardware since EyeTV doesn't seem to have anything available in the US that can pull signals directly from a coaxial cable (instead there are analog RCA inputs to get signals from a cable box). I skipped the EyeTV software since MythTV is free and I could deal with the painful setup process.
  • I set up MythTV following the instructions here and here. One issue I ran into was that the setup program would crash on opening for me until I addressed the issue with MySQL time zone tables. Otherwise, things went smoothly, though the process was quite tedious.
  • It took some tinkering to find an appropriate playback profile for my older hardware. Right now, I'm using the VDA Slim profile, which doesn't drop any frames but leaves some interlacing artifacts.
Overall, I'm quite happy with the setup. The MythTV front end interface has some rough edges, but the underlying features are rock solid so far, and you can't argue with the price. It's great to finally have basic DVR functionality; watching TV "live" now seems very primitive.