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Linux In Your Living Room?

Could personal video recorder (PVR) software be the "killer app" that launches Linux into millions of living rooms? A growing number of Linux-based PVR products are giving couch potatoes new choices--and new freedom--even as proprietary PVR vendors continue to impose rules limiting where, when, and how viewers use their products.

Less Is More
The Linux operating system is, in many respects, an excellent platform for building PVR applications, which record and store TV programs on a hard drive and allow users, among other things, to pause live programs and to fast-forward through commercials. Developers, for example, point out that "code bloat" doesn't burden Linux with excessive memory, CPU, or storage requirements--a fact which makes the OS ideal for small set-top boxes that use less powerful components than the ones found in new desktop PCs.

"Windows itself is a huge OS which needs too much CPU power and RAM. Compare Windows Media Player with MPlayer [running] on a low-power machine to see what I mean," said Dirk Meyer, lead developer for the open-source Freevo DVR. As a result, even users who prefer Windows on the desktop might choose Linux in the living room.

Along with Freevo, Linux users today have two other actively developed, open-source PVR choices: MythTVand Video Disk Recorder (VDR). All three applications are suitable for use on small-form factor PCs that can serve as a set-top box, offering feature-rich alternatives to proprietary, subscription-based PVR services such as Tivo.

Frey Likes Linux
A commercial software maker, Frey Technologies, LLC, has also entered the Linux PVR market. In early April, the Illinois-based company launched a Linux version of SageTV, which the company bills as a "Tivo-like product." Like most PVR software, when coupled with a TV tuner card, SageTV can record and pause live TV broadcasts, and users can schedule recordings of programs up to two weeks in advance. The product, which also functions as a media jukebox serving audio and image files, is currently available to OEMs and will be sold direct to consumers later this year,

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