VDR & Media PC Stuff

As an on-going project, I’ve been working on a media setup that will hopefully integrate all music and video needs. At the moment things are a bit fragmented, but the general setup is:

  • 24/7 server running Ubuntu 7.10 (dadoo). Also runs MPD for music playback and MTPCenter
  • Headless PC with 2 DVB-S cards, boots via NFS (Debian Etch with custom kernel), runs VDR and suspends to RAM when not in use. Wakes on timers to record TV shows or when streaming client boots
  • Streaming client (see below)
  • Roku Soundbridge 1000 for music streaming
  • LinkStation with Firefly (aka mt-daapd) serving the Soundbridge and as music file repository
  • Nokia N800 to control Soundbridge (not great, but works) and MPD (excellent!)
  • Pinnacle ShowCenter 200 for playback of TV recordings (pretty good hardware, too bad about the GUI)

TV-Server VDR

tvservdr1_thumb.jpg Every so often, every company needs to clear out the storeroom, and one of the perks of working for a consumer electronics company is that you have first dibs on the leftovers. And never being one to let such an opportunity pass, I scored a prototype case from a never-released generation of TV-Server (one of the first consumer disk-based video recording systems), complete with ATX-compatible PSU and Mini-ITX mounting points. After a bit of drilling and mangling of metal, the system was equipped temporarily with an Epia mainboard, but I eventually gave up on this path due to the lack of decent driver support. Yes, it is possible to get semi-accelerated decoding going, and it was working under X with Xine, but a) took way too long to boot and b) using the framebuffer, well the CPU alone was too slow to play back even lowly MPEG2. The picture quality via S-Video was also sub-optimal, so that’s three strikes and out it went. Eventually, the system was upgraded to:

  • Siemens D1215 motherboard, originally from a Scovery XS PC
  • 1GHz Pentium III
  • 512 MB RAM
  • DXR3 MPEG2 decoder card with S-Video out (excellent picture quality on standard TVs!)
  • Noritake GU140x32 VF-Display attached to parallel port. Unfortunately, I was never able to get the original colour front panel LCD to work so the VFD is still sort of temporarily bolted to the front
  • Homebrew LIRC-compatible IR receiver on COM1
  • Mahlzeit ISO for VDR, running as a pure streamdev-client system (i.e. no tuner, all channels received from the headless server)
  • Diskless, network boot via NFS (custom Linux kernel)
  • All transient data stored in ramdisk and saved at shutdown
  • Shared video directory with headless recording server

tvservdr2_thumb.jpgAside from a weird delay at boot time (pauses for 20 seconds just before starting init), the system works fairly well. Surprisingly, the picture quality wasn’t half bad even when it was hooked up to a 42″ plasma via S-Video, and could be possibly even better since the adv717x module for the DXR3 card supports YUV output. I’m not sure how much effort to put into that since – unfortunately – the DXR3 solution for VDR still suffers some instabilities and glitches. Some things left to complete are:

  • Semi-transparent plexiglas cover for the VFD
  • Quieter PSU fan
  • Clean up the internals, they are still very temporary…
  • Update the VDR installation, maybe get em8300 widescreen signalling to work
  • Possibly boot from solid-state disk, I have an IDE/compactFlash adapter here somewhere
  • Test SPDIF output, but the current receiver only has one coax digital input and that’s taken by the DVD player, which doesn’t offer an optical output