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The open-source tube

As new versions of Windows force hardware upgrades to run the latest releases, what can you do with your old PCs? Run the Linux operating system on them, that’s what.

As new versions of Windows force hardware upgrades to run the latest releases, what can you do with your old PCs? Run the Linux operating system on them, that’s what.

Linux requires fewer hardware resources than Windows XP, so Linux will work fine on many old systems. Even more recent desktop systems will run great with Linux.

There are more reasons than ever not to recycle your old computer. Older systems make good servers or firewalls, for instance. Or, you can get really creative with your old PC: Armed with a TV-capture card, you can turn a Linux PC into a personal video recorder (PVR), like theTiVo Series2 DVR–only without the TiVo service fees.

TiVo systems, in fact, actually run on the Linux platform; you can even download the TiVo source code at the company’s Web site. The TiVo source code won’t be as much use as you’d think, since the TiVo applications were designed for the dedicated TiVo hardware. But it’s still an interesting page to visit if Linux interests you.

Converting an old PC into a PVR is easy if you have a large enough hard disk and the aforementioned TV-capture card. In general, this isn’t the most cost-effective approach, seeing as how most PCs cost more than PVR hardware. But that’s only if you buy new. If you have a PC that’s sitting around collecting dust, it generally doesn’t cost much to add a TV-capture card, such as Hauppauge’s WinTV PVR-250 or the Iomega Buz.

I recently found a Web page that contains a listing of supported hardware. Keep in mind that in true Linux fashion, the listing is based on the chipsets within the TV-capture cards, not on the cards themselves. You might need to dig a bit to make sure you’ve found a TV-capture card that’s supported. For example, the Hauppauge’s WinTV PVR-250 uses the iTVC15 codec family, while the Iomega Buz uses the Zoran chipset. You can find more resources at a page called Video for Linux Resources. Do some homework before you buy, and you’ll end up much happier.

Once you have the hardware set up, there are quite a few choices for applications. Tvtime can play video on your computer desktop, and it comes standard with the latest Red Hat Fedora Linux releases. To fully replicate a PVR, use packages such as OpenPVR, Freevo, DVR, MythTV or WebVCR+.

Add in a package called XMLTV, and you can download television listings. After that, all that’s left to do is to watch–and record–your favorite programs.

Keep in mind that I’ve only gone over the basics in this column. If you’ve got the bug for such projects, Wiley Publishing’s book “Linux Toys” offers step-by-step instructions on using Linux to set up a PVR system. The Web site also includes a discussion forum. The Linux Toys PVR project is based on the WebVCR+ software.

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