Linux PC/Audio/Video Integration

sorry! finally updated Feb, 2004

Why Convergence?

    OK, I get this a lot.  At a time when the answer for all new entertainment options is to buy yet another settop box or component, why would anyone go to the trouble of trying to integrate them.   The answer is: when all media become digital, it's silly and inefficient to handle them differently, especially when we have a general-purpose digital tool already - the computer.   When it's all digital, the media become just another stream or file, and thus, for example, you get the music revolution across the internet.  In general, you gain the exchange and interchange of digital formats as you choose, not as the media moguls want you to have it.  Here are some specific examples:      Indeed, there are so many more advantages to integration over the seperate settop/component box, why wouldn't everyone?!  Because right now it's an incredible pain to design and configure, especially because bleeding edge hardware comes only with window's drivers.  Not many people would settle for a settop box that crashed and had to be rebooted all the time either.  However coming soon are an array of integration solutions for the common man.

Discussion Links

DVD: Set Top or DVD-ROM Drive?
Will Digital VCR's Change TV on Slashdot
Best MP3 Encoder on Slashdot
    I responded:
           ARE YOU ALL INSANE?
           by Quickening on Sunday August 22, 1999 @01:34PM EDT (#273)
                          For "convenience", sure, go ahead and rip your digital CD's, but don't forget they were made at 44kHz x 16bit x 2 channel = 1440 kbps. CD's are a bad enough approximation of analog already.  The highest mp3 encoding I've seen is 320 bps, but until I get a digital output to an external DAC, the signal will still suffer from the EM nightmare inside a PC. Hold on to your CD's.
PC & Video Entertainment Center on Slashdot
    Yours truly at the end said :
    Subject: raining on the parade
         by: Quickening
      date:Saturday August 14,1999 @03:10PM EDT (#32)
          I too wanted to achieve PC/TV integration, and after researching it, decided it was too soon. It's just not economical to achieve digital TV quality from a PC right now. Video capture cards with lossless compression require higher bus rates than are available. Short of a $17K Pioneer Plasmon Display, no sets, even HDTV sets, support high res digital input. DVD formats don't even support HDTV! I wouldn't even think of using dvd anyway until it's opened for linux. This is what you would have to buy:
             1) Next generation AMD Athlon (K8 w/ 200 MHz fsb) $1K
             2) Dual U/160m Quantum Atlas 10K drives $2K
             3) (formerly Teralogic, now Zoran) HDTV card (coming Q4) $300
             4) High End Video Capture $500+
             5) Pro-Music Card $500+
             6) Madrigal Proceeds digital pre-amp/amps $10K
             7) Pioneer PDP-501MC $17K (Sorry - does not support digital - just d-sub)
             8) HiFi Speakers $5K+
                         Especially irritating knowing that it's $36K in the near term but half as much in 2 years. The alternative consumer level products (Sony DVD, TIVO, SDTV) work but will not integrate with the PC until they become internet appliances and run jini. Alas, digital dreams...
[ed. note Feb, 2004 - lot's of progress since then!]

PCWorld sums up their review of all TV tuners (10/99):

    None of the cards we tested provides as smooth or stable a picture as you see on your average TV. They look, well Not DVD-quality digital--lower-quality,downloaded-AVI digital. Both ATI cards exhibited a slight jitter (up-and-down motion) that was distracting. But depending on your tolerance for minor display glitches, all the pictures were quite viewable.
hint: I have zero tolerance!

Ars Technica about Playstation 2 (Q4'00):

     The current PlayStation introduced the concept of the Graphics Synthesizer via the real-time calculation and rendering of a 3D object.  This new GS rendering processor is the ultimate incarnation of this concept - delivering unrivalled graphics performance and capability. The          rendering function was enhanced to generate image data that supports NTSC/PAL Television, High Definition Digital TV and VESA output standards. The quality of the resulting screen image is comparable to movie-quality 3D graphics in real time.
Ars Technica on the SGI Visual Workstation (Will run linux in Q4'99!):
    The Arsenic chip designed for the Visual PC is the third component of a graphics and display rhapsody.  This chip actually handles generating the display signal for not only standard monitors and resolutions, but also the HDTV 1080P standard.  It allows the frame buffer to have continuous DMA, and it also allows for connections to the flat panel interface.  As if that weren't enough, the chip is also going to let the box be outfitted for stereo viewing (quad buffered!) in the second quarter of 1999.  Hence, several of SGI's key UNIX markets will be able to take a spin on the Vis PC and still get what they are used to getting.  BioChem, Engineering, CAD/CAM/CAE etc will all benefit from this option.
Videography Online (now gone) on Motorola Blackbird spec. (10/98):
 ..."The new architecture, code-named Blackbird, combines the key functions of a broadband router, a network computer, and a digital home-theater platform. This architecture offers an unprecedented integration of communications and interactive entertainment."
    Blackbird is the first open platform to support interactive 3D graphics, Java, MPEG digital video, high-fidelity audio, DVD, Internet access, electronic commerce, and broadband networking in a single integrated unit (see Blackbird diagram). Powered by an independently programmable CPU, communications, and multimedia engines, the platform is able to instantaneously change its role from one function to another to suit the consumer's immediate wishes or to adapt to new and emerging requirements.
    The aspect of this platform that I believe to be most significant is the role of the PowerPC processor in the system architecture... (Hint: like the TIVO)
[ed. note 2/2004: Motorola outsourced this to Solectron, where it disappeared. I leave this in here as a symbol of many attempts at the same thing which have all failed. Finally, M$ threw its monopoly profits behind the Media Center, with equally dismal results.]
HDTV Wars good discussion of TV industry conflict with PC industry.
Ask Slashdot: Build the ulitimate A/V component 8/22/2000 (I'm in there)
Digital Convergence Controversy - copy-protecting high-bandwidth streams
Good analysis of the potential superiority of a HTPC over traditional high-end (audio) components


Convergence Boxes

Convergence PC Cards



DTV - Digital TV, Convergence/SetTop/Console Software


Multimedia under Linux

     Thousands of web resources now (2004); these are my favorites:

Some Howto's

Best Web Resources

-->See all my other links here

Older HTPC's I built (Oct, '99) if you're interested.

Current HTPC System

 Kanam Accent HT200B HTPC Caselooks like a high-end stereo component, aluminum and solid 230
 Nexus Real Silent 400 Watt Power Supplyalmost silent power supply with Active Power Correction 99
 Celeron 1.3GHz on Asus TUSL2-C mb and Artic Cooling Slim Silent Proruns cool and quiet! 200
 Sapphire Radeon 9600 Pro with the ZM80C-HP Zalman Video Heatpipegood 2D & 3D - fanless heatsink 175
 2 Seagate 80GB U6 hard drivesmost quiet storage 150
 M-Audio Delta 410professional 96/24 sound card, S/PDIF output 180
 Plextor PX-708A-BL 8x DVD+/-RW writercd, vcd, dvd rw. digital-out for cd's 178
 MIT MyHD MDP-120 cardHD receiver and recorder, VGA/DVI, S/PDIF out 289
 Audio Authority's VGA to Component ConverterVGA to ATSC for HDTV 110
 Sigma Designs X-Cardhardware dvd decoder, progressive component video out and digital sound (pcm,ac-3,dts) mpeg2/mpeg4 decoding 100
 SIIG JU-2NG011 USB2.0/Firewire/Gigabit Ethernet cardinternal connections to Firewire and USB2.0 for the Accent Case  80
 TerkTV50 antennaamplified, directional antenna required for DTV 140
 Toshiba TW40x81 hdtvupconverts NTSC to 480p, ATSC to 1080i2500
 Yamaha RX-V18 channel digital receiver2525
 5 Linn Speakers (2x5140's, 2xTukan's, 1x5120)only the very best6000
 1 Linn Sizmik Sub-wooferKick Ass!3000
 Monster Powerelectrical protection + power conditioning 200
 TIVO digital vcr - Hacked! 100Gb + TiVoNetmpeg2 hard disk recording, guide, NTSC - runs linux! 300
 Total@Prices paid (Current price estimate: $1500 + stereo price)16500

Notes on what it takes to be a HTPC:

Coming Soon or In Consideration:

This last upgrade notes(Jan. 2004):

Comments on the current state of DTV.

Here in Dallas June, 2003, we now have CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX, UPN, WB, PBS, plus several local stations, broadcasting dtv signals. We may be lucky to have 10 broadcast channels, but reception is very difficult (the area I live in has numerous tall buildings). I can clearly pick up (ie, must have 0 transmission errors on average) only 6. I live less than 20 miles from most of these stations, I have an amplified directional antenna, and still I have to orient the antenna to within a half-inch of its correct position (for each station it's different!).

At least the major networks (CBS, ABC, NBC, & FOX) now have most of their prime-time in HD. Everything else is just upscaled NTSC quality programming (no better than digital cable). Unfortunately, I don't do sitcoms, and instead look for the occasional once or twice a week widescreen movie. For a while we had FireFly, John Doe, Quest, but no more. I suppose (just guessing) that the movies are only upscaled DVD formats, and on my system, are pretty much like getting a DVD rental for free (woop tee doo, huh). However, only ABC has ever broadcast any of its movies (The Big Picture Shows) in AC-3 (6 channel) sound. And then, good luck trying to find a program guide! Occasionally you can find some hdtv scheduling on CBS and ABC web sites (links in my bookmarks) - and still, because of frequent technical or whatever problems, it will not be broadcast in hdtv format.

So there you have it: lousy reception, but slowly improving programming.

There are several satellite options, but these are very expensive ($800 + premium) and still have sporadic hdtv programming.

update - Feb 14, 2005 - Dallas DTV options have improved greatly. The satellite option is much more attractive now (3-6 channels for not much more $). Comcast provides an HDTV cable box with 14 channels of HD. Local OTA HD is now up to 15 channels (unfortunately, 3 are Christian channels and 4 are Spanish). I took the Comcast HD Gold option, and can now record both SD & HD off the firewire connection to my linux HTPC.