Over-the-Air Digital TV with Linux

A review of some current state-of-the-art digital TV tuner cards, focusing on how well they support digital television in Linux.
Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-1800

The Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-1800 is a PCI Express x1 tuner that also supports digital (ATSC), analog (NTSC) and unencrypted cable TV signals. This card has coaxial inputs for analog cable TV, digital ATSC/QAM TV and FM radio. It also has inputs for S-Video/composite and L/R stereo audio. An integrated hardware MPEG-2 encoder offloads the system processor when recording analog TV or cable channels. Accessories include a remote control, USB IR receiver and IR transmitter cable (to control a set-top unit).

Out of the box, this tuner is not supported by Linux. However, you can get the digital (ATSC) tuner to work reliably with Ubuntu 7.10 after you build its driver (see the Building a Device Driver for Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-1800 on Ubuntu 7.10 sidebar). The analog TV features for this tuner could not be evaluated under Linux, because the driver does not yet support the analog circuitry.

After setting up the tuner in MythTV, I was able to view both HD and SD programs. There was no noticeable difference in picture quality compared to the USB tuners. The remote control worked well and is fully supported by LIRC (Linux Infra-Red Control) using the Windows Media Centre Remotes (new version Philips, et al.) configuration settings in LIRC. If you're a couch potato, a working remote control in MythTV is absolutely essential.

Digital TV on Linux Is Here Today

You can experience a great HDTV show on your desktop with the right equipment and some tweaking. If you're looking to build a full-fledged media center based on Linux, MythTV does it all—from program listings, Picture-in-Picture, remote control support, Web administration with MythWeb, programmable recording, to watching your favorite shows. If you're a minimalist and don't want to dedicate an entire system, Me-TV looks promising.

It goes without saying that you should do your homework before buying components for your DTV Linux system. Visit popular on-line forums, such as the MythTV Wiki, LinuxTV Wiki, Ubuntu Forums and Ubuntu Wiki to tap into the wisdom of the crowd.

In summary, my recommendations for a great DTV experience include outdoor antenna, fast multicore processor, medium to high-end video card with at least 256MB video memory and a fast high-capacity hard drive. For your desktop, the pcHDTV HD-5500 works right out of the box. The Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-1800 is a close second. For your laptop, the Pinnacle PCTV HD Pro Stick and the Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-950 USB tuners work well.

Table 1. Tuners at a Glance

TunerOverall Rating (5 stars are best)Out-of-the-box Linux supportPriceInterfaceVendor Web Site (Linux helpfulness—5 stars is best)Accessories
pcHDTV HD-5500*****Yes$129PCI****A/V adapter cable
Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-1800****No$120PCI Express x1***Remote control, USB IR receiver, A/V adapter cable
Pinnacle PCTV HD Pro Stick***No$90USB 2.0*Telescopic portable antenna, remote control, USB extender cable, A/V adapter cable
Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-950**No$70USB 2.0***Telescopic portable antenna (lower quality than the one provided by the Pinnacle Pro Stick), USB extender cable, A/V adapter cable


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I still prefer to watch TV

Anonymous's picture

I still prefer to watch TV on classic TV screens rather than on my laptop
very interesting post though