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.
Design Overview

MythTV is designed as a personal video recorder (PVR) application. It is a network-based system with back ends used to acquire and serve TV and other media to front ends that handle display and playback. It supports a wide variety of hardware for both analog and video capture (Figure 3). The core recording and playback system is extended with plugins that provide additional features. The MythVideo plugin handles management and playback of video files, such as DVD rips. MythTV is best known for its wide support of TV tuner hardware and ability to play and record both analog and digital TV.

Figure 3. MythTV back ends support both analog and digital (HDTV) video capture cards.

MythTV's core focuses on watching and recording TV as well as providing extensive program guide and scheduling support. Some plugins extend this feature, such as the Archive plugin, which allows saving recorded programs to DVDs or other files.

Because of XBMC's Xbox roots, it focuses on being a multifunction media player, capable of many types of media playback from local or remote sources. This focus also allows the development team to emphasize the user experience. XBMC is best known for its well designed and sophisticated user interface and skins (Figure 4).

Figure 4. XBMC skins are plentiful and impressive.

XBMC's core focuses on video playback, but it also is extensible through the use of Python plugins. Currently, plugins are available that add support for TV and movie guides, instant messaging and front ends to other hardware like a TiVo. And, XBMC forms the basis of at least one commercial venture, Boxee.

Video Management

Browsing and playback of video files, such as ripped DVDs, in MythTV is handled by the MythVideo plugin. MythVideo manages video files under a single configurable folder. Folders under the top-level folder can be mountpoints for multiple hard drives. Each folder can have its own icon (folder.png) that is displayed while browsing the collection (Figure 5). Videos can be streamed from the back end or played by the front end from an NFS mount. Over an 802.11g wireless connection, streamed files play with fewer pauses/skips.

Figure 5. The MythVideo gallery view shows folder icons and is the easiest way to browse a large video collection.

Using mountpoints under the top-level directory offers multiple options on how to manage your hard drives. RAID configurations can be used to create one large storage space. Alternatively, multiple drives can be used for different genres.

Unlike MythVideo, XBMC is based entirely on the concept of sources. A source can be a local hard drive or NFS mountpoint or a remote server providing streamed data (Figure 6). XBMC supports multiple streaming formats and actually can be used to connect to a MythTV back end to watch TV and stream video.

Figure 6. The movies source is an NFS drive, but the MythTV source is a network connection.

To add videos to a MythVideo collection, copy files to the appropriate folder. MythVideo can play AVI, MPEG and even DVD ISO files (including menus). To reduce disk usage, 7GB DVDs often are ripped to AVI files, which can be as small 2GB without loss of quality. However, ripping like this typically loses the DVD menu options and possibly the subtitles. If you have the disk space, a DVD ISO copy is faster to create, and you won't lose any DVD features.

Videos can be added to local or network sources for XBMC. However, XBMC cannot stream MythTV movies. Instead, the MythTV movie folders must be mounted via NFS on the XBMC system, and the local mountpoint added as a video source to XBMC. Like MythTV, XBMC can play a large number of video file formats.

Organization and Browsing

MythTV provides three methods for video collection browsing. The first is Browse mode, and it allows you to browse the entire collection front to back. The page up and down keys make jumping through the list easy enough, although this method doesn't remember your last location. The second method is List mode, and it uses a tree listing to display entries. This listing benefits from a well structured hierarchy under the top-level video directory. Gallery mode is the last mode, and it uses icons for folders and movie posters for individual entries. This is visually appealing and also benefits from a well structured hierarchy for the video collection, although the number of entries in each folder displayed over the icons is rather distracting (Figure 7).

Figure 7. MythTV can browse sequentially or through a hierarchy.

You can give custom icons to folders in MythTV by creating a JPEG or PNG image in each directory. The size doesn't matter, although making them large enough to be displayed in high quality on the front end with the highest resolution may offer the best overall results. MythTV scales the image as appropriate.

XBMC approaches video organization a little differently. First, it provides two browsing modes: file and library. File browsing starts by showing the available configured sources. Choosing one of those then presents a listing of options relevant to that source. For example, if one source is a set of videos on a local hard drive and another is a remote MythTV back end, the former lists the movies in a typical tree hierarchy and the latter shows features available from the server, such as live TV or recordings.

In file mode, the listings are similar in structure to a directory listing. The typical “..” parent directory lets you back up through the hierarchy. Library mode allows you to browse only recordings. It won't show sources. Instead, it shows you the list of scanned recordings. Moving up through the hierarchy typically involves selecting an up-arrow icon (Figure 8).

Figure 8. XBMC's Library mode displays scanned recordings, but File mode can access any remote source.

Like MythTV, folders under XBMC can have custom icons. Place a folder.jpg file in each directory that requires a custom icon, and it will be displayed in either mode. If you share the directories between MythTV and XBMC, using JPEG will mean only one icon is needed. However, JPEG images don't support transparency, which means converting a PNG folder icon with transparency from MythTV to a JPEG for XBMC will lose the transparent effect (Figure 9).

Figure 9. Transparent PNG folder icons are supported by MythTV, while XBMC uses JPEG format icons.

In either mode, the listings can have multiple views. Library mode offers List, Full List and Thumbnail views. File mode adds Wide Icons and DVD Thumbs.

Both applications allow browsing by genre. Genre information is set automatically when metadata is retrieved for a video. Both systems can stack files. Stacking associates multipart movie files as a single movie.

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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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