Question on creating a video server

Dieter freebsd at
Mon Nov 10 23:42:02 PST 2008

[ This discussion is probably better suited for -multimedia@
than -questions@ ]

> I can pick up really high quality, large, old-style video monitors
> from a computer surplus place near here for next to nothing.

If these were for workstations rather than pee-cees, they might be
composite sync or sync-on-green, and some video cards do not support
them.  :-(

Some video cards have s-video out.

There are boxes available that convert VGA to NTSC.  I don't
know how well they work.

Note that decoding high definition video needs a lot of cpu if
you are decoding in the cpu.  Having Xv and XvMC offloads some
of the work to the video card.  I'm not aware of FreeBSD having
support for these.  :-(  If it does, someone please let us know.
OpenBSD 4.4 has a openchrome driver which claims Xv and XvMC.

Note that *recording* digital TV takes vary little cpu, and isn't
a problem for modern disks.  It is decoding for playback that is
the problem.  Recording analog TV requires encoding, which requires
a lot of cpu, or a hardware encoder.  Digital TV is encoded at
the TV station.

If you have a DV camcorder you can convert the OTA mpeg2ts to DV
format with ffmpeg, then ship it to the camcorder with firewire
and the camcorder will convert it to NTSC and drive your TV.

There are Ethernet-to-TV boxes.  These have problems/limitations,
so do your research and make sure it does everything you want
and isn't buggy.  If someone knows of one that works well with BSD
and does a good job with freeze/slow/fast effects, I'd like to hear
about it.

If there are other methods of getting video from a BSD box to a TV,
someone please let us know.

> I'd like to setup a PC and put a HDTV tuner card in it for
> over-the-air HDTV broadcasts, and use that as a TV.

Couple of advantages to this method: computer tuners tend to provide
more info which can be useful when debugging reception problems,
and computer tuners give you recording capability like a VCR.

For tuners, first decide if you want PCI card, PCIe card, Ethernet,
Firewire, USB.  Then see what you can find a BSD driver for.
Ethernet doesn't need a special device driver, assuming you have Ethernet.
Not sure about Firewire tuners.  For PCI cards, there are FreeBSD drivers
by John-Mark Gurney and Jason Harmening.  Anish Mistry was/is working on a
USB driver, I don't know what the current status is.

Most computer tuners are PCI, but newer computers come with fewer and
fewer PCI slots.  They are even building mainboards with zero PCI slots
(PCIe only).  So Ethernet, Firewire and USB tuners have an advantage
of not needing a PCI slot.  They will even work with laptops.  And
you can have several tuners for those times when they schedule 4-5
good shows all at the same time (rare but it happens).

Beware that the very small tuners without the "tin can" RF tuner
are likely to have more reception problems than a tuner with a
proper "tin can" RF tuner.

ATSC reception does not degrade gracefully like NTSC.  And there isn't
enough safety factor.  So get the best antennas you can find, and
good quality well shielded coax.  Having more than one make/model of
tuner can be helpful.  For UHF you might need to try both an 8-bay and
a yagi antenna.  (The don't make 8-bay for VHF, they would be way too

Software: mplayer, xine, ffmpeg, and so on.  Jason Harmening's cx88
driver comes with an app for recording.  You can schedule recordings
with at(1).  If you like the giant bloatware approach there is myth.

> We also have a ton of DVD's and I'd like to rip these to video files
> and put them on the PC.

Then you will need a ton of disk space.  If you like to archive
TV shows you will need a ton of disk space.

} Why not just get a digital converter and keep using your nice TV?

Pro: these supposedly have the newest and best demodulator chips
which should mean better reception, but don't count on it.  There
is more to these things than just the demod chip.

Cons: if you want to record, you'd have to kludge something up.
If your TV suffers from "dot-crawl", you'll want s-video rather than
composite or RF, and CECBs with s-video are rare.

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