26.06.2011 01:10

Building a VDR with Arch Linux

Early in the last decade I had a so called SatDSL subscription, it was very expensive but the only way to get decent bandwidth. With the subscription I received a DVB-S PC tuner, a Technisat SkyStar2. A few years later when the subscription ran out I was left with the tuner and got interested in other ways of using the hardware. Those were some dark times for content providers, encryption systems were getting hacked left and right. The Wired magazine ran a great piece a few years ago about this period. Personally I was more interested in network traffic at the time, as a lot of it was not encrypted.

I used VDR software back then to build an approximation of a commercial SAT receiver. A friend put together an infra-red receiver for use with LIRC and I was set. With the rising popularity of HDTV and the DVB-S2 standard my current 'receiver' was getting outdated. It had a Duron 1200 CPU, with 300MB of SDRAM and a 320GB of storage. I was putting money on the side for several years to build a replacement (and get an appropriate HD TV set), and finally did it this year. These past few months I used Arch Linux with VDR, and built it piece by piece as a hobby. On the hardware side I used:

MBO: Asrock M3AUCC
CPU: AthlonII X3 455
HDD: 1TB disks (RAID1)
GFX: GeForce GT240 (VDPAU)
DVB: SkyStar HD2 (DVB-S2 tuners)
LCD: Philips 43" HDTV
I didn't go with one of the Ion systems, because I don't watch that much TV, and the box will be put to many other uses (backups, TOR gateway, media streaming, distributed compiling, etc.). Every piece was carefully selected, and folks on the VDR mailing list helped me choose a suitable graphics card for HDTV, with good VDPAU support. As usual with Linux even that careful selection wasn't enough to ensure a smooth ride.

The sound-card drivers were deadlocking the machine, and it took a few days of experimentation to resolve it. The SkyStar HD2 cards work great with the mantis driver, but support for their infra-red receiver is missing. However experimental support is available through a patch published on the Linux-media mailing list, earlier this year.

All my previous VDRs were powered by Slackware Linux, and I developed some habits and preferences in running VDR. So I didn't use the ArchVDR project, or VDR packages, although they are good projects. I prefer to keep every VDR installation under a single directory tree, with the one currently in use always being symlinked to /opt/VDR. I swap them a lot, always patching (liemikuutio, ttxtsubs...), and testing a lot of plugins.

Instead of using runvdr and other popular scripts for controlling VDR I wrote my own script long ago. I call it vdrctl, it's much simpler but provides extensive control over loaded plugins and their own options, and has support for passing commands directly to a running VDR with svdrpsend. As the window manager I used awesome this time, opposed to FVWM that can be seen in this old gallery. Awesome runs in a fullscreen layout, and with some useful widgets.

For playing other media my long time favorite is Oxine, a Xine frontend well suited for TV sets. But I don't use its VDR support as one might expect (I use the vdr-xine plugin with regular xine-ui), instead I connect VDR with Oxine through the externalplayer-plugin. It's special in that it breaks the VDR connection to LIRC prior to launching an external player allowing to seamlessly control both applications.

Arch Linux makes it easy to build your own packages of all the media software to include VDPAU support. Official mplayer already has it, Xine is available in the AUR as xine-lib-vdpau and so on. But even more important, the good packaging infrastructure and management makes it easy to build and maintain custom kernels (for IR support ie.). It truly is the perfect VDR platform.

Written by anrxc | Permalink | Filed under dvb, media