watching the cowboys OTA

I watched the Cowboy game yesterday in the van.  The basic idea is my old laptop functions as a DVR, pulling OTA (over the air) programming from a OTA reciver.

Here is a pic of a previous game I was watching;  didn’t pause it for the pic so it’s a little blurry:


  • Dell Latitude E6420 laptop, circa 2011.  Still runs like a beast.  To work as a DVR it needs to run 24/7.  It came with a small 128GB SSD (spiffy for the time!) which I upgraded to 1TB SSD for ~$100.   SD shows from OTA are pretty small but HD shows are massive.  A three-hour cowboy game is about 15GB as broadcast from the local station.

  • Debian linux, a major reason why old hardware runs like the aforementioned beast.

  • MythTV open source DVR/PVR software.  So configurable it will make you want to throw a $400 TiVo against the wall for being so braindead (I owned 2 tivos).

  • HDHR-US dual tuner receiver,  circa 2009.  The manufacturer, Silicon Dust, makes new gear and continues to release firmware, code, and documentation for their old products.  This is the kind of corporate behavior I like and support with my $$$.  The tuner will take both OTA and unencrypted cable input.  Since it was from the dark ages before everything was wireless, it requires ethernet to talk to the laptop. (!)  So technically I have a three-node LAN in the van:  laptop, a Glinet GL.iNet GL-MT300A minirouter, and the HDHR-US.  I also use the minirouter to catch and repeat local wifi, but that’s a different post.

  • A flat OTA antenna stuck inside the window on the back door.  It’s translucent so my view is not obstructed much

  • remoteA tiny 2.4gHz keyboard/mousey thing about the size of a remote.   When I first did a setup like this in 2009 I used a Microsoft infrared remote/receiver (pre wireless, remember).  But it sat in a box for several years and about half the keys didn’t work.  Cleaning it out didn’t help.  I already had the little KB for Pi use, and thought I’d try it  out.  Works fine with Myth.  It has a postage stamp sized touchpad in the upper right which works fine but is not used in Myth.


Open the Myth frontend:


I have Watch Recordings chosen there but I the next couple of screens are from Schedule Recordings.

There are several ways to schedule recordings.  The easiest is with the program guide like you see on cable or smarttv menus.  In this case the guide info is strictly from EIT data broadcast by OTA:


EIT is sparse compared to full data delivered by a commercial cable company or a service like SchedulesDirect.

  • the descriptions, episode and other metadata is usually minimal.   In El Paso three of the minor subchannels completely lack EIT or it is timeshifted (likely due to noncorrection of DST).  I think this is not legal, but  I haven’t gone down the FCC research rabbit hole.  I chalk it up to ignorance rather than ill will.

  • the EIT data is often for the minimum time required, something like 6 hours in advance of the airing.  Some stations like KFOX and the Mexican stations (received from transmitters in Juarez) do much better and can have days of info.  I wonder if the Mexican EIT is more complete because folks in Juarez are more likely to use OTA than commercial TV services?

These EIT limitations hamstring Myth a bit.   With more guide data it can make better decisions about which airing of something to record right now, and which to delay because it will be repeated next week (for example).

But since the HDHR has two tuners it is unlikely to hit a roadjam in my usage.  Interesting tidbit:  main channels and subchannels can be recorded off the same tuner simultaneously.  So if you ask for shows that are on 14_1 and 14_3 in the same timeframe one tuner will be used and two different streams will be saved to the DVR.  I have mine set to max at 3 simulcast recordings per tuner to keep from drowning the laptop.  So theoretically that is 3 simulcasts X 2 tuners = 6 shows taped at once.

For cowboys recordings I use a different tool to schedule shows that have both “NFL” and “Dallas Cowboys” in the title.  You can specifiy SQL fragments if you want to get really precise and geeky.

Once you have found the show/series you want to record you get many options to play with if you want.  Otherwise a single button press will record according to your default preferences.  Here is one of the option screens:


You can bump priority up or down, extend recordings, avoid repeats (absolutely or just ones you haven’t recorded before), etc. On another screen you can pick how many episodes to keep on hand, how to expire them if the disk quota you specify is full, etc.

delightful functions

{adding this section later:  forgot about them until I started writing up the standalone box.}

  1. commercial detection and skipping - this works shockingly well.

  2. “Delete and allow re-record” - in case something happened to the episode you were watching and you want to fully record it again.  Newsbreaks, OTA signal breakup (my main issue), etc.  Under the hood it deletes that episode from the system so it’s like you never recorded it.

  3. record by show type:  premieres, movies, award shows, etc.  EIT doesn’t seem to contain this data so I’m not using it right now.

  4. record only shows with specific episode data.  Generic show descriptions don’t count.


Cordcutters can get excellent reults from OTA and free software.  The old tuner I bought is now available for about $50.  New styles are about $150.

I also experimented with a low-end tuner/DVR box; that will be the next post.