13 June 2010

Plug Computer DVR

As some of you may already be aware, we run a homebuilt DVR (Digital Video Recorder) which records TV shows from our rooftop antenna, stores them, and then plays them back on our TV. The name of the software that does this is MythTV, and I used a spare old desktop computer for the MythTV server to run on.

It's an great system, but has a couple of issues. One is power -- that desktop PC sucks a lot of power 24/7 to record our shows. The other is maintenance -- the CPU cooler clogs up with dust and about once a month the overheat alarm beeps and I have to pull the cover and blow out the heat sink with canned air. Annoying.

The solution is a Plug Computer. You know those annoying wall warts or power bricks that every electronic device seems to come with these days? Well, they made one with a computer built right into it. Called a SheevaPlug, it draws about 10 watts (I estimate it to be about 1/10th the power draw of the old desktop server) and has no heatsinks, fans, or other moving parts. Best of all, it was only $100 which is less than you'd spend on a traditional desktop or server.

Here it is installed on my computer desk. The green-arrowed item is the digital tuner, which captures the signals from our antenna and sends the data over the network to the red-arrowed plug computer. This computer saves the data to the purple-arrowed low-power, low-noise, laptop hard drive. When we want to watch TV, we will use our existing set-top box (arrowed red below) to stream the data back off the hard drive via the plug computer, over the network, and display it on our TV:

I only just received the SheevaPlug the other day, so this will be an ongoing project. I installed Linux already, which went remarkably easily, but MythTV has always been a bit of a bear to get installed so it will be some time before it's ready for prime time (pun intentional).

Oh, and in unrelated news, all my gravevines were apparently DOA. Dunno if Home Depot left them outside and they froze, or I did something stupid, but none of them show the least sign of life, even the cutting I brought in and stuck in some water. So... next year. :(


Titus Todd said...

Which digital tuner and SheevaPlug are you using? Your setup is interesting and I need to get a DVR setup but I haven't found workable solution for us yet.

Corwin said...

The tuner is a SiliconDust HD HomeRun which communicates over Ethernet. In theory you can also use a USB tuner but these are not well tested on SheevaPlug.

My Plug is the classic SheevaPlug from GlobalScale. It's great because it is inexpensive and has an SD card slot and built-in USB-serial/JTAG, but GlobalScale is slow to ship (2 MONTHS) and uses generally slimy business practices so you may wish to consider Ionics, TonidoPlug, PogoPlug, or the Seagate FreeAgent DockStar (the latter is quite cheap but limited to 128MB RAM).