Turn Your XBox Into A PVR (Sort Of)

The XBox is a very nice piece of hardware. The simple addition of a modchip and large hard drive turn it into the ideal media centre. In fact, I’ve now got two of them in my house. One of them isn’t even used for games playing – purely for media playback.

It’s the media playback capabilities of software such as XBMC that make it so versatile. I use a Linux box running Azureus to acquire a large quantity of my video entertainment. It allows me to catch up on my favourite UK sitcoms and soap operas from Canada. The Linux box shares the download directory as a Samba share, and XBMC points to that share.

The missing piece is to be able to watch recorded shows from my satellite. I already own the Bell ExpressVu 5100 PVR, but it’s a sorry excuse for a PVR – it can’t record by show name, only by date an time, so it’s not much better than an old VCR! So I decided to see what MythTV could do for me.
MythTV gives me all of the functionality of a TiVo box, but without the DRM. I set up a second Linux box as my MythTV backend server. It is connected to a Bell ExpressVu 2700 receiver. I built an IR blaster using the plans found here. After fighting with lirc for a few days, I finally got it set up and changing channels on my receiver.

The front end involves using the XBMCMythTV scripts on my Xbox. These scripts are still a little rough around the edges (watching live TV is still touch and go), but it works well enough for recorded programs. There’s a problem with XBMC and MythTV at the moment. Apparently, the two projects have differing ideas about how to interpret the NUV file format standard (this is the format that MythTV uses). The scripts work fine if the video source was recorded using a MPEG2 hardware compression capture card, but doesn’t work if the video is encoded in MPEG4 (which is the case for the lower end capture cards). There are rumors of a patched mplayer.dll file for XBMC that fixes this problem, but it didn’t work for me.

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