LinuxMCE 0710RC2 Review

I decided to try out LinuxMCE. I’m providing my experience with it and a short review of my feelings. LinuxMCE is Linux’s version of a media center, and a little […]

I decided to try out LinuxMCE. I’m providing my experience with it and a short review of my feelings. LinuxMCE is Linux’s version of a media center, and a little more. Similar to Windows MCE, it is a central place to view and listen to Media. It is also designed for Home Automation. One of the hyped features is that you can have the system follow you with different Media Directors (network bootable clients) in separate rooms using remotes of all types, from Java phones, to infrared remotes, to Nokia tablets. I was quite eager to try out the system and see how it integrated MythTV, which I have been quite a fan of, and its other features.

For installation, I bit-torrent downloaded the DVD. Once on media, I booted up. It prompted a few questions about where I wanted the data and it copied the files to the hard drive. After a reboot, it showed the typical Kubuntu startup screen. I was on a system that formerly had Mythbuntu installed, so I had two analog TV tuner cards in it and output to s-video. Once it started into X, everything went black. Well, this is typical for Linux, so I went and grabbed an external monitor to plug in. Sure enough, I now had a working display. I’m surprised Linux isn’t able to auto-detect that I don’t have a monitor plugged in and use the NVidia s-video output instead. Not a deal-breaker, but a small hassle.

Now that I had a working display, I was prompted with a wizard for setting up the display and sound. First question I was able to select s-video on NTSC-M. For my parents setting it up, they wouldn’t know the difference between NTSC- M, J, PAL, etc, but then again, they probably wouldn’t be setting this up. It could be a bit more clear on the selection. Nonetheless, it was working. Now, I also could select what type of overlay to use. I selected the mid-settings to start. When it installed (after a long wait of about another 20 minutes), I was prompted by the speaking lady in the wizard. The videos were cut off and not scaled correctly. I returned back to the setup screen and used just the low basic setting for the overlays. Now, when it returned to the wizard, after another 10 to 15 minute wait, things looked fine and scaled properly.

Here, it detected several things and prompted for installation of devices, such as tuners, receivers, remotes, drives, etc. I found that most categories had only a few devices associated with them and some had none. I was disappointed to see that there were no cable box tuners available, for example. It was disappointing to see that out of the box, setup with my Apex DT250 DTV tuner would not be supported. There were some generic options I might have been able to play with, but I didn’t bother. It stated to visit the web interface after the wizard to install unsupported devices, so I figured I’d do that.

LinuxMCE did detect my tuner card, but it only found one of the two. I don’t remember the model off the top of my head, but they’re both Hauppauge tuners, so pretty standard. It said it could set up one of my tuners with MythTV/Schedules Direct. I don’t have an account anymore, so I continued on. I couldn’t seem to get the inputs from the tuner card, such as composite video to be added. I only had the option to add it as having a camera connected or have nothing connected. Since none of my A/V equipment was able to be added in the wizard, I figured I’d try to come back to it later with the web interface. On to the home automation. I’m still excited to see what it can do…

So, I get to the home automation screen… I dug out some of my old X-10 computer interface and equipment and was eager to give it a try… but… wait.. it only supports certain Z-Wave hardware. I was beginning to see a trend. Even when looking at the software before installing, I remember reading about the Fiire equipment such as the touted Fiire gyro remote. Red flag… out of business, and a lot more on the LinuxMCE wiki led to pages under construction, no information, or only accessible to authorized users. I don’t know if maybe the latest version 0810 is better, but it was emphasized for testing only, so I stuck with the version that was promoted on the site (0710RC2). Even the DVD A/V devices only had certain drives supported in the wizard. Guess I couldn’t easily add my generic DVD drive either easily, out of the box.

Now that I was past the wizard, with no equipment added, I was in the interface. The interface itself was OK, interesting, but less appealing being that I couldn’t do much with it. I was given a user with a temporary PIN in the setup, and could use that to change rooms. Apparently, my show or music would follow me if it were working. I tried out MythTV and the front-end came up with the familiar interface. That’s as far as it would go, however, with Myth complaining that its tuners were all being used, I presume, since none of the tuners really were added in setup yet.

Well, let’s see if I can add some hardware with the web interface. I tried to access the machine from another on the network… nope. No ping. Hmm, I checked some settings, changed some of the core settings from localhost to its actual IP, thinking maybe it wasn’t binding to the interface. In any case, no go. So, I viewed the site from the local computer… success… well, until I was presented with a login. I tried entering my username I setup the system with. I matched case perfectly, used the temporary password I was given… no go. I could try to reset the password following some tutorials on the wiki, but by this time, I said enough. I shut down the system for good. At this point, I didn’t really get to even try the web interface.

Another issue I don’t like about the system is that it likes it if you have two network cards and acts as a gateway between your Internet connection and your internal network. I’m sorry, but can you say security hole. I don’t want an internal device of my network (my media, and everything that connects to everything else, to be exposed to the internet. Granted I could put a firewall there, but how many hops do I want? I also have servers, a separate DMZ zone for that, and internal stuff. I can SSH into a VPN from work and control what I need, but this… this… media device, um, it wants to be my security router too. No thanks. The site’s reasoning is that it uses DHCP and netboot for the network and all network devices and should be the only device doing that. I can understand that, but also believe it can do that and SHOULD do that without being the router. My media center doesn’t need to do all Internet traffic routing as well. I should say, I don’t think it HAS to be, but it sure is recommended that way on the wiki. In my opinion, separate appliances and separation is key to performance and security. In their defense, however, they’re probably trying to make things easy for the do-it-yourself-er. I’d argue however, anyone setting up a core server, should know these things. Those kind of concepts aren’t that hard and the system should still be able to set up its own DHCP server, netboot if so desired on its own, as part of the wizard. Reboots of the system took a long time. I can’t imagine a production network where a reboot like that would be ok… and I’d definitely want to patch the kernel for security updates. Does it do load balancing like my router can? Can one router go down and another take over such as during security OS upgrades? I don’t want or need an extra layer in there. In any case, I digress, just leaving the already poor taste in my mouth with more bad news and bad habits for others to learn.

All in all, it’s a system that has a lot of potential. The follow-me stuff is great and is where things like Windows MCE doesn’t compare. The interface is still a bit ugly, 1990’s style… but hey, if it worked, I wouldn’t care all that much since I’d know if enough used it, someone with some creative skills would redesign it. I was disappointed with the setup, the annoying talking wizard lady that made me feel like I was in a Video Professor tutorial. I give the developers kudos, but almost felt like with the lack of support and push for certain hardware, it was fueled by a pitch to profit some commercial companies like Fiire or Z-Wave. The drivers for tuners, a/v devices, etc are a must for a product like this. In the meantime, I’ll stick with just MythTV for my TV viewing (and a separate router for all my Internet’ing). LinuxMCE has a lot of potential, but I just wasn’t impressed with how little hardware worked with it, the annoying wizard that didn’t really clarify anything more than some text on the screen would and the lack of its workings under my hardware. Having it also act as a router just didn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy either. Maybe in another year or two I’ll revisit, but for now, I wish the developers the best and hope it becomes just as much as I initially thought it could be…. time for bed, now that I stayed up playing with that all night.

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About ipaul

My name is Paul Hassinger, the founder of ipaul.com. I have been an avid user of computers since a child. I started when I was about 10 years old working on an Atari computer. Since then, I grew and have had exposure to all types of technologies. I started using FIDONet on a BBS as a child and grew to the Internet. My first graphical world wide web experience was in 1993 using Mosaic. Over time I've worked with both small and large computing systems even maintaining systems serving millions of users on some of the largest social networking sites. I hope to use this blog to capture what I've learned over the years and what I do in my daily life so that others and myself may find the information useful.