MythTV and TiVo Series 3 Comparison: Battle of Open Source and Proprietary DVRs - Part 2

Introduction
High Definition Recording Comparison
Remote Control Comparison
Interface and Ease of Use Comparison
Software Feature Set Comparison
Comparable Products
Summary

 

After releasing the initial comparison of MythTV and TiVo Series 3, there were just a few (hundred) comments about the article complaining that the original article lacked some comparison information. Also, some comments mentioned the author was biased towards MythTV while the following comment said that TiVo Series 3 was the author’s choice! Overall though, the comments were excellent and I felt like a couple reoccurring themes in the comments could be added to the article to help make someone's decision of homebrew verse Series 3 decision a little easier.

So, back to the question:

“Does an open source solution like MythTV stand a chance against the marketing power and research behind the TiVo Series 3? We decided to pit these two completely different DVR solutions against each other and compare in a non-biased way.”

For more information on MythTV and TiVo Series 3, please read through the original article as I will attempt to answer some of the very valid comments people on Digg and DVRPG left. This article is meant to be a supplemental document to the original article.

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Introduction
High Definition Recording Comparison
Remote Control Comparison
Interface and Ease of Use Comparison
Software Feature Set Comparison
Comparable Products
Summary

High Definition Recording Comparison

While part one of the article briefly mentioned HD recording, the important fact when determining which solution would work best with you is how you obtain your HD source.

For instance, if you use a CableCARD to obtain your HD programming, you cannot use MythTV as there are no PC TV Tuners that accept CableCARDs while the Series 3 supports two CableCARDs for dual-tuner functionality. If you are able to watch HD programming on your cable system without needing a CableCARD or other Digital Cable Tuner, Series 3 and MythTV will work fine provided you get a PC TV Tuner that supports QAM. Finally, FCC has passed a regulation in the US that if you have a HD subscription and a HD cable box that at your request you can get a cable box with working firewire and you can setup up the firewire connection as a tuner for MythTV. The cable company can encrypt your HD broadcasts rendering this method of recording HD through MythTV useless by saying that all HD broadcasts are premium services and therefore can be encrypted.

If you use satellite for your HD source, neither solution is a perfect fit, but MythTV could support a satellite box that has a working firewire port or a modified STB through a company like 169time.com. Of course since channels are starting to be encrypted (DirecTV locals for example), this option is becoming less viable.

The final method to obtain HD broadcasts is over-the-air (OTA). Both Series 3 and MythTV can record HD broadcasts OTA. With MythTV you need to make sure your PC TV Tuner card supports ATSC broadcasts (such as AverMedia’s AVerTVHD MCE A180). You can also use a product like the HDHomeRun as a virtual tuner to record ATSC signals so you don’t even have to install a PC TV Tuner card. Series 3 can record up to two channels OTA while the MythTV box will record as many channels as you have ATSC tuners.

Therefore, depending on how you obtain HD source, your decision will be heavily weighted. It you use a CableCARD, your obvious choice is a Series 3 while if you retrieve your HD content OTA, MythTV provides for the ability to record more channels at the same time and costs less in the long run. If you are a satellite viewer you are stuck with the providers HD DVR.

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Introduction
High Definition Recording Comparison
Remote Control Comparison
Interface and Ease of Use Comparison
Software Feature Set Comparison
Comparable Products
Summary

Remote Control Comparison

One comment revolved around the lack of comparing the remotes available for the MythTV and TiVo Series 3. Here is the paragraph in the original article that mentioned remotes:

The first feature that must be compared between the TiVo Series 3 and a MythTV box is operation. If no one in your family can operate or figure out the DVR, it’s useless! The TiVo remote is standard and well designed. For instance, anyone that has a TiVo can pick up the remote of another TiVo and instantly be able to use. Also, TiVo remotes are universal remotes and can easily be programmed using the TiVo software as help to determine the correct programming for other devices. MythTV obviously does not have a standard remote so you need to get a universal remote and program it. Since I use a Logitech Harmony remote and not a standard universal or even the TiVo remote, the debate over remote control operation does not matter to me; however, if you do not have such a remote, TiVo has an easy to use remote.

Series 3 Remote

Actually the ease of use of the remote control is my number one concern as I will not be the only person using the system. A remote control is the input interface for the system, and therefore should be as easy to use even for a guest or the youngest/oldest person in the household. I have seen multiple times where someone might have the most expensive setup only to have a horrible remote control rendering the system useless, or, at the very least, crippled of all the great features. With this said, if you use the remotes out of the box, TiVo Series 3 will win hands down because some tuner cards do not even come with a remote requiring you to add-on an IR Receiver and Remote. If the tuner card does not come with a remote, you need to spend between $25-$100 for the IR Receiver and Remote. One of the more popular remotes is called the SnapStream Firefly Mini PC Remote and runs $28.95 including the IR Receiver. While not a bad remote, the Firefly Mini PC Remote is not nearly as good as the Series 3 Remote.

Minifly Remote

Personally, I want a “mother-in-law friendly” remote and the Logitech Harmony remotes fill that need. I highly recommend anyone with a complex entertainment system (more than just a TV) with multiple users to purchase a simple-to-program and easy-to-use Harmony remote.

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Introduction
High Definition Recording Comparison
Remote Control Comparison
Interface and Ease of Use Comparison
Software Feature Set Comparison
Comparable Products
Summary

Interface and Ease of Use Comparison

Both TiVo and MythTV provide nice, user-friendly interfaces and once everything is setup, both systems enjoy ease of use.

The Series 3 provides the typical TiVo interface that all TiVo users have come to know and love. The box is simple to setup and simple to use.

MythTV takes some setup, but once the box is running, the user interface is simple to understand and navigate. What is nice about the MythTV interface is that it is themeable meaning you can make the menus look differently. I like the semi-transparent on-screen display while displaying programming information during channel changes and still cannot figure out why TiVo has not implemented something similar. All of the various Program Guide screens and scheduled recordings screens are also themeable.

This is a hard category to judge, but I’ll give the interface and ease of use award to TiVo’s Series 3. Really, the category is almost too tight to call. While MythTV has some better UI choices and abilities, TiVo’s standard interface is more simple to setup (turn on the box) and more people are use to it.

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Introduction
High Definition Recording Comparison
Remote Control Comparison
Interface and Ease of Use Comparison
Software Feature Set Comparison
Comparable Products
Summary

Software Feature Set Comparison

The heart of both the Series 3 and MythTV is software. Because both products are software-based, updates can be made to each system; therefore, the comparison of each product’s software feature set will probably change within the year. With that in mind, I’ve included a fairly exhaustive list of the various software feature set of each product in this section.

The TiVo Series 3 definitely includes more features than your basic DVR with trick mode functionality for “live” TV. The Emmy award winning service provides a standard TiVo interface and features such as SeasonPass and WishLists. TiVo has added several features to their service such as KidZone (total control over what your kids see on TV) and TiVoCast (service that offers advanced features that make it effortless to enjoy your favorite entertainment any time). While the Home Media options of MultiRoom Viewing and TiVoToGo are not yet implemented in the Series 3, it is only a matter of time before the software is pushed out to the units. Working with partners like Amazon, Yahoo! And Fandango, the TiVo service also allows you to pull up weather, traffic, Live365 Radio Network, podcasts, movie times (and purchasing of movie tickets) and soon Amazon unbox on TiVo. Product Watch is one of the latest features to be added to the TiVo service allowing you to choose the products, services or even brands that interest you and the Product Watch software will automatically find and deliver relevant video clips straight to your Now Playing List. Finally, the TiVo software-enabled service provides Online Scheduling so you can schedule a recording over the web.

MythTV was named after the “Mythical” convergence box that pundits have been predicting since the late 90s. Using a plug-in system, MythTV is quite extensible while also having several of the same features found in most DVRs. In addition to the plug-in system, MythTV has a distributed architecture which allows multiple recording machines and multiple playback machines on the same network which are completely transparent to the user. Using a distributed architecture you can really start to have a home entertainment server that has multiple tuners recording TV shows as well as a place to store your MAME games, music and DVD movies.

The standard MythTV setup includes automatic commercial detection/skipping, fully themeable menu system tying all of your plug-ins together, basic video editing abilities that can optionally remove the commercials from the video file to save space when recording and picture in picture with multiple tuners. Moving on from the standard setup, the plug-ins provide the ability to rip, categorize, play and visualize MP3/Ogg/FLAC/CD Audio files, create complex playlists (and playlists that contain playlists), an emulator frontend for MAME, NES, SNES and generic PC games, an image viewer and slideshow application, a weather module, a generic video player with automatic metadata lookups, a DVD ripper and player and an RSS news feed reader.

MythTV is the clear winner with regards to whole-house architecture and extensibility when it comes to software features. These features do come at a price through with extra hardware for the distributed architecture and simply getting all the software to work right. TiVo gives up some of the options available to MythTV users for ease-of-use and maintenance.

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Introduction
High Definition Recording Comparison
Remote Control Comparison
Interface and Ease of Use Comparison
Software Feature Set Comparison
Comparable Products
Summary

Comparable Products?

Yes. I disagree with comments stating the products are not as the products both provide live TV, trick modes and DVR capabilities. Granted the products have different tuner interfaces to capture the content, different video interfaces for user to interact with and different features as noted above, but the core DVR functionality of the products is the same.

In addition, I compared MythTV and TiVo Series 3 because that is what I happen to be working with at the moment and I find it hard to compare products I’m not currently working with. There are many other great DIY or homebrew DVRs such a BeyondTV and SageTV that provide many of the same features as MythTV. On the commercial side there are quite a few other competitors since just about every cable and satellite provider has their own DVR which makes a comparison article virtually impossible comparing all the different DVRs in the marketplace today.

Since MythTV is the poster child of the open source DVR software and TiVo is the undisputed king of DVRs, the article focused on those products.

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Introduction
High Definition Recording Comparison
Remote Control Comparison
Interface and Ease of Use Comparison
Software Feature Set Comparison
Comparable Products
Summary

Summary

The verdict of the original article may have simplified the article a bit too much, but generally the verdict still stands once you include some caveats such as how you obtain your HD content. Basically a consumer has to get the product that works best in their environment so if you use CableCARDs to pull down your HD content, MythTV is not an option as your main DVR. With that said if you are concerned about the monthly and up-front costs of the Series 3 and watch OTA HD content, MythTV provides a wonderful and themeable menu system with additional features that you will never find on a TiVo.

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