Comparing MythTV and XBMC

MythTV and XBMC can turn your Linux system into a video playback device with all the options you've ever dreamed of.

The Linux desktop is a place to work and a place to play. People fortunate enough to have time to play have many distractions to amuse them. Audio fun abounds with programs like Amarok and Rhythmbox. Video enthusiasts will find a plethora of options, from standalone video players (like MPlayer, Xine and VLC) to comprehensive multimedia environments (like Freevo and Moovida). Being a video enthusiast, I find myself drawn to two of the most popular open-source entertainment tools: MythTV and XBMC.

MythTV (www.mythtv.org) is a full-featured digital video recorder built for the Linux desktop yet perfectly suited to running as a home-theater system. It includes support for live TV and recordings, video file and DVD playback, photo galleries, music collections, weather forecasts, movie rentals via Netflix and even home video surveillance.

Figure 1. MythTV can be run as a distributed system, with front and back ends on different computers.

XBMC (xbmc.org) is a media player that also supports DVD and video file playback, music collections, photo galleries and weather forecasts. Unlike MythTV, XBMC was not originally developed for the Linux desktop. Instead, it was built to run on modified Xbox hardware, and later it was modified to be a general-purpose media tool and ported to the Linux desktop. Because of this, some of XBMC's features are geared toward the use of Xbox features, such as running games and dashboards. Even so, XBMC has evolved into an excellent desktop Linux media player in its own right.

Figure 2. XBMC is a media player on steroids.

MythTV and XBMC are similar tools but have different designs and target audiences. This article doesn't attempt to compare them side by side, apples to apples. Instead, the intention is to examine each from a user perspective and discover what features have meaning to different types of users. Because these applications are so feature-rich, the primary focus here is limited to video services—playing movies and watching TV. Although both systems have been designed to work well when displayed on a TV, this article is written from the point of view of using the applications on a desktop.

Installation and Requirements

MythTV is a well established project and, as such, is easily installed on most major Linux distributions using desktop package management tools. Ready-made packages are available for Fedora/Red Hat/CentOS, Ubuntu, Debian, OpenSUSE, Mandriva and Arch Linux. There also are live CD distributions, such as MythBuntu, MythDora and LinHES (formerly KnoppMyth), which allow you to run MythTV without installing it. Building from source is possible, but it can be complex, and there are many prerequisites. Using prepackaged versions is the preferred installation mechanism.

MythTV can be used without TV capture cards. The MythVideo plugin can be used to view and manage video files that have been ripped from DVDs or other sources. However, MythTV requires a supported TV capture card to allow watching live TV. It currently does not provide direct support for external TV sources, such as Hulu or Veoh.

MythTV back ends start automatically when installed from distribution packages. To start front ends, use the mythfrontend command. You can run other command-line tools, such as mythfilldatabase, although these often run automatically once MythTV is configured.

XBMC is built specifically for the Ubuntu distribution, and packages are available from the Ubuntu repositories. Other Linux distributions must build from source. Fortunately, doing so isn't hard, at least for Fedora. As with MythTV, you need to install many prerequisite packages. The XBMC Wiki provides copy-and-paste commands for installing them. Some distributions may require setting some environment variables, but building the package is the same for all listed distributions:

./bootstrap
./configure
make
make install

To install to a program-specific directory, specify a prefix. A prefix allows installation to a directory that can be removed easily later:

./configure --prefix=/opt/xbmc

To start the program, run bin/xbmc from the installation directory, such as /opt/xbmc/bin/xbmc.

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XBMC as MythTV frontend

AdamHr's picture

I wrote an article about how to best configure XMBC as a MythTV frontend: http://adamhaeder.com/wordpress/2010/01/19/how-to-configure-xbmc-as-a-mythtv-frontend/

XBMC has supported video streaming for years

hyc's picture

Dunno where you got the idea that XBMC doesn't support Internet video streaming, it's been supported for ages. Of course, the support for RTMP in the new XBMC 10.x is far better than the old 9.x code. But either way, stating it's not supported is flat wrong.

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