Hardware

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Usage Information
Connectivity possible with LinuxMCE


It is possible to use LinuxMCE as a standalone Home Theater PC. A basic LinuxMCE system, however, can also be set up with a relatively modest PC and networking hardware. More advanced (though not necessarily expensive) systems can work with virtually any device that allows some form of input/output control capability (including Ethernet, infrared, or RS232 devices) and with devices using a home automation protocol (such as X10 or Insteon).


LinuxMCE hardware terms

Here is a list of LinuxMCE-specific hardware terms.

  • Core - a single PC which is the central server and processor for your LinuxMCE system.
  • Media Director - a PC that is locally connected to your entertainment center AV devices and to the Core through the LAN.
  • Hybrid - a single PC that serves the functions of both the Core and a Media Director.
  • Orbiter - a user interface to control the system, running on a Media Director or elsewhere, for instance on a lightweight portable device such as a web pad.



Minimum Core (PC) Requirements

A Core server, a Media Director, and a Hybrid all have significantly different hardware requirements. See the specific sections on each for more detail. The guidelines below are very generic and are meant only to suggest that many systems can potentially be used with LinuxMCE.

CPU

A LinuxMCE Core-only machine can be run on a slower CPU (such as a P3) only if media encoding/decoding is not done on the core. However, running the database, web server, and other system services can put a reasonable load on your CPU, so for the Core (or hybrid), bigger is better. In contrast, Media Directors have much less CPU requirements, but have other requirements.

  • A PIII/733MHz system can encode one video stream using the MPEG-4 codec using 480x480 capture resolution. This does not allow for live TV watching, but does allow for encoding video and then watching it later.
  • A developer states that his AMD1800+ system can almost encode two MPEG-4 video streams and watch one program simultaneously.
  • A PIII/800MHz system with 512MB RAM can encode one video stream using the RTjpeg codec with 480x480 capture resolution and play it back simultaneously, thereby allowing live TV watching.
  • A dual Celeron/450MHz is able to view a 480x480 MPEG-4/3300kbps file created on a different system with 30% CPU usage.
  • A P4 2.4GHz machine can encode two 3300Kbps 480x480 MPEG-4 files and simultaneously serve content to a remote frontend.


Motherboard

Any Linux-compatible motherboard (95% chance yours will work) will run smoothly, give or take a few features (SPDIF, etc.). See the mainboards category for more information and experience with these.

RAM

For a bare minimum core, 256MB+ of RAM is needed. For machines encoding/decoding media and/or running desktop applications 512MB+ is needed for smooth function. 1GB at least is recommended. (4GB+ will require a 64-bit OS --available in LinuxMCE 0710, not currently available in later versions).

Hard Drive

Each Core PC's hard drive(s) should have at least 4 GB (to install the OS). You will need additional media storage for network-boot images, PVR storage, etc. However, with NAS, external hard drives, and extra internal hard drives either on the Core or other Media Director PCs, the system's overall storage capacity can easily be increased.

DVD/CD-ROM

A DVD drive is required on the Core PC if installing with the Quick Install DVD. However, the LinuxMCE system can also be installed on the Core from CDs (and therefore only a CD-ROM is required), as long as the Core is not going to be used as a hybrid. Each Media Director PC ought to have its own DVD drive, in order to insert and watch DVDs locally.

Graphics card

The graphics cards that work best with LinuxMCE are those with an NVIDIA chipset. It is recommended to use one from a NVIDIA GeForce 6200 to a GeForce 8500. (Others may work, you may have to test them or look at Graphics Cards category to see if someone's already tested yours, or one you're considering purchasing).

Suggestion: use motherboard with onboard NVIDIA GPU and one that has at least 512MB of memory for VDPAU usage for viewing HD content (up to 1080p).

It is not recommended to use ATI cards because the drivers have some bugs that LinuxMCE is using. ATI cards may work with the standard UI1 interface but they aren't officially supported.

See the section Display Drivers for the installation steps of the drivers

TV Video Capture Cards

Also see the TV Cards Category

  • pcHDTV manufactures and supplies cards just for Linux that provide HDTV and analog capabilities. An example is the HD-5500.
  • TBS Technologies is a company which specializes in developing, manufacturing and marketing of digital TV tuner cards for PC. Main products include PC cards for DVB S/S2, DVB-T/T2, DVB-C with single, dual, and quad tuner, CAM CI box for DVB-S2, USB TV Box for DVB-S/S2,DVB-T/T2,DVB-C. Most TV tuner products are Linux driversready up to the latest kernel.
  • Plextor ConvertX PVR devices are supported through Linux drivers. MythTV can use the Plextor to capture hardware encoded MPEG-4, lowering CPU requirements for similar functions.
  • IP Recorder (RTSP, RTS, UDP)
MPEG-2, MPEG-4 and H.264 internet TS stream recording is supported using the IPTV recorder in MythTV. This recorder expects the channels to be supplied as an m3u playlist. If your DSL/Fiber provider supplies television service, but does not provide an m3u playlist for the channels, you can construct one for your own use. You do not need to download it from the same server as the streams themselves, and can also read it from a file if this is more convenient.
If your provider uses 5C encryption on a particular channel, you won't be able to get any content.
  • DBoxII or other devices running Neutrino
You may use the Ethernet port of a DBoxII or a similar device to capture MPEG2. Your set-top box has to be running the Neutrino GUI.
  • USB Capture Devices

Sound Card

Also see the Audio Category

The system needs a sound card or an on-board equivalent on the motherboard to play back and, in most cases, to record sound. Any sound card that can be operated by the ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture) kernel modules will work with MythTV. However, some cards and drivers will provide better quality or compatibility than others. In particular, many audio devices included on motherboards can be problematic.

A common practice for capturing the audio associated with a video is to run a cable from the "audio out" of the video capture card to the "line in" on the sound card. Some video capture cards, however, provide on-board audio capabilities that work with the Linux kernel btaudio module. The need for a cable is eliminated for these cards. When multiple capture cards are used in a single PC, this capability becomes important, so that each capture card will not need its own sound card.

A separate sound card is still required for playback when using btaudio. Often, audio recorded in this way will be mono only. See the btaudio section for more information.

Miscellaneous interfaces

FireWire

  • LinuxMCE supports the Sony VGP-XL1B CD/DVD jukebox (drive + changer), as well as the compatible PowerFile models. These jukeboxes require a FireWire connector.
  • You may use the FireWire output of the Motorola DCT6200 or the SA3250.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth enabled mobile phones and devices can be used as remote controls by adding a USB Bluetooth Dongle to each Media Director (anywhere from $5 to around $25 USD). Each Media Director reports the signal strengths of each Bluetooth phone or device (this is how the Core figures out what room you're in). Since all LinuxMCE controlled resources in the whole house are shared, you will be able to control any device in any room from anywhere -- as long as you're within Bluetooth range of a Media Director (usually within 10m, or 30feet).



Using your own PCs

LinuxMCE is Linux-based. Drivers for hardware devices are not always immediately available for Linux as soon as they may be for Windows or other operating systems, depending heavily on hardware manufacturer support. The hardware support in Linux has improved substantially in recent years. It is covering such a wide range of hardware nowadays that you should not have problems finding and using hardware with Linux. However, if you have purchased newly developed or exotic hardware, there may not yet be drivers available for Linux. Check the Hardware Category first, then check the linuxcompatible.org site for the list of Linux-compatible hardware. If a device is supported by the underlying version of Ubuntu/Kubuntu on which your chosen version of LinuxMCE is based (for instance; LinuxMCE 8.10 or LinuxMCE 10.04), it is highly likely to be supported in LinuxMCE.
As a last resort, if all of the above does not yields enough information for you to know if your hardware will work, you might consider posting a question in the LinuxMCE forums.



Minimum Home Automation Requirements

Easiest way to get started with Home Automation is to use Z-Wave because it works wirelessly so you don't need to rewire your home.



Network Attached Storage

An alternative to storing all or most of your video, pictures and music media files on the hard drives of the LinuxMCE Core itself is to store your files on a network attached storage (NAS) server. You can store large music and video collections this way. Your LinuxMCE system can also record TV shows (using MythTV) and video from your security cameras (using Motion), both of which consume considerable hard drive storage space. One example of an NAS is the Buffalo Terastation.

Here are some possible NAS solutions.



Additional Devices

You can internally insert or externally connect multiple devices to the Core, such as hardware expansion cards (e.g.: analog capture cards for video surveillance & Ethernet adapter cards), USB video capture devices, or analog phone line interfaces (e.g. from www.digium.com), but you need to make sure they are Linux compatible.
There are several choices as to where you may install devices in your LinuxMCE system. You can put a card (PVR/satellite/video capture...) in an individual Media Director PC, attach a device (digital TV tuner, telephone-to-VOIP ATA, network connected audio players like the Squeeze Box,...) to the network , or, you insert a device inside the LinuxMCE Core itself where it will be more easily shared throughout the system. The choice is yours.

You also have the option of:

  • Home automation devices, such as Z-wave peripherals, for controlling your lights, HVAC, appliances and some aspects of security
  • Security/surveillance cameras
  • An LCD or plasma screen TV
  • A streaming media music player such as the SlimDevices Squeezebox
  • An alarm system with a compatible interface

There are examples of devices that require a controller device called a gc100 (including some of those listed above). A gc100 device allows these and other devices that communicate using a serial port (e.g. alarm panels) or its built-in infrared transceiver/in & out ports (e.g. a TV) to connect to the network and talk with your LinuxMCE Core.

Other methods of serial and network communication are possible as well (Search the Hardware section of this Wiki for specific examples).



Wiring Considerations

The connections between the Core server and the Media Directors require significant network bandwidth for data transmission. Furthermore, netbooting (loading the operating system of the Media Directors via network connection to the Core, versus their own hard drives) is not easy accomplished through wireless networking. Network booting of the Media Directors is best done with a wired (Ethernet) connection. For this reason, it is recommended you have sufficient (in quantity and quality) wired Ethernet connections between the Core server and each peripheral Media Director.

Other devices, which do not have high data transmission requirements, such as Orbiter remote controls, may easily connect through a wireless access point within the LinuxMCE internal network.



User Feedback

Please see the article on adding your own hardware to the Hardware Category and help out by contributing your experience with the hardware you have tried.



References

Additional Hardware Resources

Choosing hardware components can be difficult. There are multiple articles regarding hardware selection in the Hardware Category.

Also see:



External references