Columbus Day holiday gave me the chance to set up a MythTV back end. It was a good chance to see how complicated it was to set it up (not hard). But sitting around the office to watch TV was no fun. So, the trick was to cobble together another machine to run the front end in the entertainment center in the living room. Thanksgiving Day weekend gave me the time to work on it.
A ThinkPad A31p served as the front-end machine. “Lucky” is over four years old and has fried USB connections, a dead wireless card and a dead backlight — perfect for repurposing. The display was a Samsung 23″ LCD via a VGA connection. A remote control made by Phillips and a USB-based IR receiver was included with the WinTV PCR-150mce thats in the backend digitizing the videos. Like the back end, I followed Jarod Wilson's Fedora Core MythTV HOWTO. only installing mythfrontend rather than the entire mythtv-suite. Installation was a piece of cake.
The gotcha (and the good reason this was saved for a weekend) was configuring the video. The ThinkPad A31p has a built-in ATI Radeon FireGL Mobility 7800 M7 with VGA, S-Video-In and TV-Out. While ATI supplies proprietary drivers, there are several Open Source projects that support many of the features. The trick was working out the combination of them that produced the optimal video. Laura and I watched “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” last night, it was a bit like a stop-action flick, probably about 10 frames per second. Today's hacking involved learning more than I wanted about xorg.conf, the radeon driver, , DRI, DRM, Xv
Some other neat links that helped me along: unlike many Open Source (and proprietary!) underdocumented applications, MythTV has a remarkable User Manual
Things still left to do: configuring ACPI to leave the laptop running while closed.