MythTV Update – Of joysticks, remotes, and keyboards.

I’ve been struggling with the concept of a ‘controller’ for the whole project. It’s easy to think of the Myth box is just like another audio/video component – something that sits in the rack, and you switch / control it via a remote to do, well, audio/video stuff. Watch TV, listen to music, record things.
But really, the machine is an entertainment center. A conglomeration of all that is ‘fun’ on a modern computer. It plays music from a library I configure and update. It is infinately expandable with low-cost off the shelf hardware. It plays games. It integrates with television and cable. It runs Linux. In it’s spare time, it processes Seti@Home data (NB: Not a function of MythTV :).
So given the system’s sort of multifaceted position in the ‘home entertainment’ circle, what’s really the best way to interract with it? It’s not a ‘computer’ in the sense that you’d sit in front of it and type all the time, so a traditional keyboard isn’t really appropriate. On the other hand, there are times when you do need to interract with the system in more detail… searching for music, updating configurations, even websurfing… where a keyboard is really needed. But for the most part, just something that does up/down/left/right, go, and cancel is sufficient.
I also use my Myth box for gaming via XMame and snes9x, two outstanding ‘classic’ emulators (I know of several folks who have a dozen or more emulators configured into their system(s)). This necessitates having a joystick or two connected up pretty much full time. At the moment I’m using a pair of ‘Thrustmaster‘ gamepads (CompUSA, $9 each) hooked up via USB. They work like a champ, and we can play multiplayer games without a problem (aside from jostling the USB hub, which tends to force the USB bus to reset, which may renumber the joystick devices when it re-inits a second or so later – oops, /dev/js0 and /dev/js1 are no longer your joysticks. They’re not /dev/js2 and /dev/js3. Eee!). My problem has been that the various emulators require interaction with MythTV to start or select games, currently handled by my keyboard, then we jump back to the joystick to play the game.
MythTV has already addressed this problem. The MythTV distribution comes with a joystick configuration file called “joystickmenurc.example”. Copying this file into ~mythtv/.mythtv/ (or wherever your root is for your myth user) and restarting the myth front end enables joystick navigation in the Myth menu system. After setting this up last night, I can tell you it changes the whole tv viewing experience. There’s something about controlling your television via a game controller that just tickles me. I can pause viewing (which starts Myth spooling up the current show into the ring buffer), skip forward or back, change channels, as well as navigate the myth menus. I’d like to add some other button triggers to the joystick definition file, but for now, this is a major win.
I think in the end, for my particular setup, I’ll end up with a wireless ‘gamepad’ controller with a bit more functionality than the Thrustmaster simple gamepads. That will fill the need for a ‘remote’ for controlling the tv, a game controller for playing games, and remove some of the need for a wireless keyboard.


A wandering geek. Toys, shiny things, pursuits and distractions.

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