Thursday, October 14, 2010

Building a Ubuntu HTPC - Day Two

Greetings to the blogging world!

I'm on "Day Two" of my DVR setup (even though a few days have passed since Day One...sue me).

I'm happy to report that progress is proceeding steadily....if not entirely as smoothly as day one. Here's a recap of what's been going on so far:

The good:

* Did I mention just how fast this thing can boot? I go from a cold start to a usable desktop in under 20 seconds! The Ubuntu load screen only flashes for less then a second, then bang, it's there.

* Skype is working well. I can make and receive calls and am getting good reception for audio calls. However, the Skype I installed from the Ubuntu repositories wasn't working, but rather was hanging every time I tried to sign in. Rather, I download and installed the .deb file form Skype itself (they state it's for 8.10+) and that one is working much better.

The bad:

* Despite my sound initially working when I first tried it, I have run into a few minor issues. Namely, I can't get the back audio jack and the headphone jack to work as I'm used too. Initially, plugging in the head phones would mute the rear speakers, but not give me any sound through the headphones. The volume was also quite low. I installed the "Alsa backport" which helped with the volume issues, though the audio still mutes whenever I plug in the headphones. It seems I can only have both jacks working at the same time, or both muted. Here are a few links I've been following on this issue.
** (headphone port doesn't mute audio)
* My web cam isn't quite working the way I want. I can an image using Cheese, but it's very dark and looks grainy. I also can't get an image through with Skype.
* TV-out was not working initially. First, I couldn't get the TV to show up at all in nvidia-settings, though I later did by plugging it into my AV adapter, rather then my DVD recorder. Still, I was getting no video on the screen. Eventually I was able to get an image on the screen by turning on the output with nvidia settings, having an Xorg.conf file, then adding the following two lines to the Screen section:

Option "TVOutFormat" "SVIDEO"
Option "TVStandard" "NTSC-M"

Since the video card also seems to be capable of of Component output via a 7-pin to S-video adapter, my hypothesis is that it was trying to use a component signal by default. Some links I used to help me resolve this are:

* There is still an additional problem with the video out, I get two wavy "bands" moving slowly up the screen. I think this may be a problem with refresh rate, but I don't seem to be able to change the refresh rate beyond 59.94 Hz (e.g. using regular 60 Hz), even from Xorg.conf. It's highly noticeable on still images, though less so on video, so that's good. It doesn't seem to be being caused the by the cable or TV since I can use the same with my W7 laptop with no lines. I'll continue to investigate.

Ubuntu HTPC - Day One

Earlier in the week I received delivery of my new tower that I ordered with which I'm working on constructing my Ubuntu HTPC.

The primary focus of this machine will be to use as a PVR and HTPC, though I'll also be using it for general IM/Email/Web browsing, as well as some Linux Gaming, Wine usage and video editing.

I'll be starting off with some basic hardware, and expanding as I need too, though hopefully I already have much of what I need. The system hardware as it stands now is:

* AMD Athlon X2 250 @ 3.0Ghz
* ASUS motherboard with USB 3.0 and HD Audio
* 2 GB DDR3 ram # 1333 mhz
* Nvidia GeForce 9400GT @ 1GB Ram (VGA, DVI, S-video/Component ouputs). This card was selected with S-video output since I don't own a HDTV, nor plan to by one in the future. My monitor is high definition, for which I'm using the DVI and still have the spare VGA for my laptop.
* Hauppage HVR-1600 tuner card
* 320 GB SATA drive @ 7200 rpm
* Multi-card reader
* 21.5 inch High Definition Fluid LCD @ 1920x1080 resolution
* Sony external USB 2.0 DVD RW drive.
* Logitech wireless keyboard/mouse, gamepad, webcam, etc.

I also purchased a 2TB USB 3.0 External drive for backup and storage. Ubuntu was selected for the operating system since I to use MythTV as my PVR software and due to the high customization potentials. I considered installing Ubuntu 10.10, but ultimately decided to stick with 10.04 LTS since I figured there would be more community support for it, and I don't necessarily want to need to upgrade in six months. I also want to significantly increase my Linux knowledge as much as possible. I decided against using Mythbuntu, but may decide to use the "one-click-switch" if I have trouble configuring MythTV as an external package.

Install of Ubuntu was exceptionally painless, it formatted and installed the OS rapidly. So far, everything has worked out of the box, including sound and the DVI-port at a high resolution, though I haven't tried installing some things yet such as the Webcam, and TV tuner card.

I have installed the Nvidia proprietary drivers easily with the Ubuntu Hardware Drivers menu, and now and am enjoying desktop effects and hardware acceleration. I've also watched some high definition Flash videos on YouTube on full screen with no issues. Email and IM are setup and working well so far, though I'm using AllTray to minimize Evolution to the system tray since it doesn't seem to have the function itself. Temperature and noise of the machine have been quite reasonable so far, though I'll be keeping an eye on it.

My main setup upcoming tasks are as followed:

* Configure the video out and audio outputs to my TV
* Setup the tuner card and MythTV
* Setup my webcam for use with Skype
* Copy personal data to my primary drive and sync with backup

I'll hopefully be updating my blog as I go along with tips and tricks as I discover them. Stay tuned!