Comparing MythTV and XBMC
Both systems support the VDPAU extensions for NVIDIA, which provides high-quality playback. Because both support OpenGL, they also provide video controls, such as brightness, contrast and color controls (Figure 14). The actual features available under MythTV depend on various configuration options for both video and TV features. XBMC always has the same options available from any video playback, be it video files or live TV. These controls were available for an NVIDIA-based display. Other video hardware may present different options.
MythTV uses upfront configuration of window sizes and doesn't allow scaling the display while you watch. This isn't a problem once you're set up to display on a real TV, but if you watch on a desktop while you work, it's more of an issue. XBMC can display full screen, as does MythTV, but it also allows playing in a window that can be scaled while video is playing.
Neither system will stream Internet video, so you can't get to Hulu or Veoh from them. There are hacks for doing this, but they mostly just launch the Hulu player as an external application.
Both systems are fairly stable. XBMC crashed a few times during my research, and I experienced a few lockups, although the latter may have been due to some interaction with the MythTV back end. MythTV crashes are very seldom. During my research, it crashed once while experimenting with the use of subtitles while playing a DVD ISO file.
The XBMC experience with its polished skins is very entertaining. But, without a TV source, you still need a MythTV back end to watch TV. If you watch TV while you work, using XBMC as a TV front end to a MythTV back end is ideal, because you can scale the XBMC window interactively. MythTV may be your only choice if you need to watch, schedule and record multiple sources at once.
Both tools do an admirable job with video file collections. MythTV provides more flexibility in setting metadata on a per-movie basis, while XBMC has attractive browsing options and supports more metadata sources. But, don't expect to play Blu-ray disks any time soon with either tool. For one thing, they produce huge files (50GB typically), if you can rip them at all.
This is far from a comprehensive review of MythTV and XBMC. Both offer far more features and capabilities than can be given justice in a single article, especially if your goal is to hook them up to a real TV and use them as home-theater systems. If you enjoy using your Linux system for media playback, you owe it to yourself to investigate both of these excellent applications.
Michael J. Hammel is a Principal Software Engineer for Colorado Engineering, Inc. (CEI), in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with more than 20 years of software development and management experience. He has written more than 100 articles for numerous on-line and print magazines and is the author of three books on The GIMP, the premier open-source graphics editing package.
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