by Malcolm Rowe

Delayed Delivery

Today I watched Bullitt. Great film, but only tangential to what I’m going to talk about. Like almost all the television I’ve watched in the past year or so, I recorded it on my MythTV box.

I’ve noticed that since I got MythTV set up, just over a year ago, our TV-watching habits have changed, significantly. We almost never watch TV live any more, and we don’t have to worry about what time particular things are on, nor feel that we’re organising our viewing around a broadcaster’s schedule: we just sit down when we feel like watching some TV and pick something that’s been recorded for us.

For me, the biggest surprise after setting up MythTV was that we almost immediately dropped into a kind of ‘speculative’ recording mode. I’d assumed that we’d treat MythTV pretty much like our old analogue video recorder, recording the shows we wanted to watch later, watching them, then deleting them afterwards. What I hadn’t appreciated was just how lazy it’s possible to be — it turns out that it’s far easier not to worry too much about whether you’re really going to want to watch something later and just record it anyway: if you fill up the hard drive (mine is 250Gb, or about 125 hours or video), MythTV will just delete the oldest recording to make room (which can’t have been that important if you haven’t watched it by now).

The other clever stuff that MythTV can do — “record every new episode of CSI whenever it shows up on Channel Five, keeping only the last four shows” — is just icing on the cake compared to not having to worry about fitting our life around someone else’s schedule. I was reminded of that flexibility quite strongly when I checked the date on the recording I’d made of Bullitt: June 28th, 2006, almost exactly a year ago. I’m fairly sure Blockbusters don’t let you hold onto a DVD for a year before you watch it.

And I must admit, there’s also something rather technologically pleasing about the fact that I’m just pulling an MPEG-2 stream directly off the air and writing it directly to disk for later viewing. It’s also nice to know that if I feel a desire to do something covered by the UK’s “fair dealing” rights — for example, copying a film to my laptop to finish watching in bed, or posting a frame here to comment on — then I won’t have to fight with some bullshit technical restrictions software to do so. Not to mention that I’m not wasting electricity and CPU cycles repeatedly decrypting and re-encrypting a video stream just so that I can’t ‘steal’ it.

Steve McQueen is reversing his Mustang at
speed; smoke is pouring from the tyres.
Stephen wondered whether he’d ever learn to reverse park without burning the tyres (Bullitt ©1968 by Warner Bros, Seven Arts Inc., and Solar Productions Inc.)

Hey, no-one said it had to be insightful commentary…