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Television Standards Converters, Modulators etc Standards converters, modulators anything else for providing signals to vintage televisions.

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Old 14th Apr 2006, 5:53 pm   #1
Kat Manton
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Exclamation Announcing "Fool on the Hill Linux"


I've been thinking quite a lot about how to produce something fairly accessible and easy to install and use; meanwhile playing around with various bits of software. I think I have a plan, so I'm starting this thread to engage in a bit of discussion about it.

For this to be useful to a wider audience, including those with little or no Linux experience, a "special purpose" Linux distribution is required.

Linux Distribution?

A little diversion, what do I mean by "Linux Distribution" (often abbreviated to "distro")? (For any Linux experts out there, forgive the somewhat simplistic explanation; it's not aimed at you, you already know what it is )

For the sake of accuracy, let's get a few things straight. Linux is just the operating system kernel, the "core" of the operating system. GNU/Linux is the correct name for the operating system most people refer to as "Linux", consisting of the Linux kernel itself along with the GNU operating system tools. An operating system on its own is not a lot of use; on top of that you need software. The Linux kernel, operating system components and software are all developed by a large community of individuals the world over. For an end-user, it's possible to build up a system bit-by-bit, downloading the source for each component from many different websites - but this is understandably time-consuming and demands a certain level of experience.

To cater for those who wish to install everything they need easily, Linux Distributions exist. These package the kernel, operating system components and a variety of software together. General-purpose distros exist, Fedora, SuSE, Mandriva, Slackware, Gentoo, Ubuntu, Kubuntu and many more are examples of Linux distros. These are generally fairly flexible, it being possible to tailor the installation to suit anything from a desktop workstation to corporate web-servers, printer servers and so on. For example, if you don't need a graphical user interface, you don't need to install one. If you don't like the look of the Gnome window manager, install KDE, BlackBox, or any of several others.

But, basically, each distro provides generally the same kind of thing, differing in installation methods, how software packages are managed, what software is included or omitted. Some have easier to use graphical system configuration tools, others demand more experience as you have to configure them by editing configuration files directly (though are often more flexible as a result.) So there's something out there for practically everyone.

Keep it simple, stupid!

But, if you like the idea of 405-line TV from a PC but don't want to go to the trouble of choosing a distro and installing it and configuring it - if Microsoft Windows does everything you need of a desktop operating system and you just don't want to make the switch, set up a dual-boot system, or dedicate a spare PC just for 405-line TV output, then there's another solution.

Specialised Distros

There are already a few specialised Linux distros out there, IPCop is a good example. You get hold of an old PC (My IPCop box is a 180MHz Pentium system with 128M RAM and a 1G hard drive), stick a network card or three inside, add an internal PCI card ADSL modem, external serial, USB or ethernet modem and install it and you have an excellent firewall. And that's all it does, it's a firewall. You don't need to know it's Linux underneath as once installed; all configuration is done from a web interface. It's evidently easy, as several people I know who use Windows and don't want or need to get into Linux have installed it and use it sucessfully.

Announcing "Fool on the Hill Linux"

Fool on the Hill Linux (FothLinux or just Foth for short) is intended to be just such a specialised Linux distro. Or actually two distros.

My original experiments centred around using MythTV as this offers a wealth of features, but currently, configuration is somewhat difficult and installation of all the right bits of software to get it to work in the first place has proven rather hit and miss. Also, to use MythTV requires that one at least dedicate a sizeable partition on a hard drive to install the operating system, then install MythTV on top of that. There are also a number of issues to resolve, MythTV was never intended to be used on somewhat low-resolution display devices. Fonts used on some menus and on-screen displays are unreadable. There's a clear problem with the amount of display area used; particularly a problem with older television sets using round or very curved "rectangular" tubes which lose a lot of the corners of the display in overscan. It needs some work before it could really be considered usable.

But, as MythTV development progresses (and I'm likely to get involved actively in this) I shall reconsider using it for an installable "full-featured" version of Fool on the Hill Linux

Since I know a few of you would like to try this and are waiting for something you can try, an interim solution is needed. So I'm proposing a cut-down, more basic system; something easy to try out. Something offering DVD playback as a minimum (most PCs should have a DVD drive), with streamed video (with an Internet connection), analogue or digital TV and composite input conversion (with appropriate tuner/capture cards) being supported options. No fancy PVR features, just enough to get pictures on 405-line sets from a variety of sources. I think for many that will probably be enough.

Fool on the Hill Linux - Basic Edition

What I propose to do is to produce a CD, downloadable as an 'ISO image' free of charge to burn yourself, that will contain the operating system, drivers, and a media player or several, chosen to provide enough basic functionality to watch DVD, off-air TV and streamed video from the 'net on 405-line television sets. All that is required is a suitable system (more on this later), the RGB+sync combiner that I'm still working on, and a modulator. This will run entirely from the CD with no installation necessary. Just pop the CD in the drive, reboot, connect the RGB converter, modulator, and television set and you're away. All you may need to do is alter one BIOS setting to allow booting from CD before hard disk. Nothing is installed on your hard drive, so this can be used on existing Windows machines without the Windows installation being affected in any way. Remove the CD, reboot, reconnect your PC monitor and you're back in Windows.

I might make it sound simple, but there is some work involved in this. To allow DVD playback on machines with one drive, it's necessary for the system to use some of the RAM in the PC to create a RAMdisk. It then copies itself across to this, so the CD can be removed and a DVD inserted. This is possible; given the minimalist nature of the system and the generous amounts of RAM on most modern computers it should all fit. A nice clear user-interface that works on a 405-line set to allow selection of players is also needed.

In The Meantime...

Those of you who are impatient to try this out and already have some Linux experience may like to have a go at repeating my experiments. I'd suggest the best Linux distribution to try is whatever Linux distribution you're familiar with already.

As a minimum, I'd recommend:
  • PC with 800MHz or faster CPU and 256M RAM or more.
  • nVidia GeForce4 graphics card.
  • DVD drive.
  • Hauppauge 'Nova-T' DVB-T card (optional)

Install your choice of Linux distro, (I would suggest configuring it to boot to a text console rather than starting X as you'll be hacking the X configuration a bit) then make sure you're using the nVidia binary graphics card drivers and not the VESA driver usually used by many distros. Next, get DVD playback working, and if you've got a DVB-T card, get that working too. I've found 'xine' works, and I'm playing with 'vlc'and 'mplayer' as well as 'MythTV' - though MythTV really requires more RAM and a faster processor. Feel free to try other players. (My apologies, I'm not able to provide help for this, it's assumed that if you're going to try this you can find the information on the 'net to do this yourself.) Once you have the system installed and configured and it's working on your PC monitor, then edit the X configuration file, commenting out whatever display mode you're using, insert the appropriate monitor section and the modeline and restart X. If all is well you should be able to see RGB and syncs with appropriate timings on the HD-15 connector of the graphics card. Then knock up a sync combiner, I'll be publishing a schematic for one as soon as I've got one that works well enough for me to feel like publishing it

If you'd like a copy of my xorg.conf file, PM me and I'll try to tidy it up and add a few comments and email it to you

NVCF Demonstration.

It's been confirmed that I'll be at the NVCF demonstrating this - I'll be demonstrating whatever I've got working by the time. I'll probably have a MythTV-based system installed and running in some fashion so you can see what's coming later. And I'll have a more basic system set up, possibly (though no promises) booting from CD and running from RAMdisc as well. See you there

The Name...?

Every Linux distro has a name; this one is no exception. It's a reference to the 1986 drama production concerning early development of television at Alexandra Palace. And of course many of the pioneers of technological developments were considered foolish for attempting the impossible - until they proved their critics wrong. Many thought that it was impossible to use readily-available off-the-shelf computer hardware and software for 405-line television. Some may have thought me a fool for trying. But if I'd listened to them then I might not have tried it myself and proven them wrong. So, Fool on the Hill Linux it is

Regards, Kat
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Old 14th Apr 2006, 6:25 pm   #2
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Default Re: Announcing "Fool on the Hill Linux"

Well, conratulations, Kat; I knew from the day you joined us that you were a champ ! I had to check my calendar, this evening, to make sure we hadn't slipped back to the first of the month; and we hadn't. So congratulations again: your Fool on the Hill post is the first one I've ever read on this Forum and not understood one word ! Me, not you, don't worry. Retired or retarded doesn't make much difference when it comes to software. I'll crawl back into my cardi and stick to counting AVOs.

Keep up the good work - and (late) congratulations on your 405 line achievements. More than enough !
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Old 14th Apr 2006, 7:25 pm   #3
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Default Re: Announcing "Fool on the Hill Linux"

Hi Kat, you obviously know what you're doing, but I'd suggest you produce a bootable CD Linux based on DamnSmallLinux ( This is only 50MB before you've added your stuff and could be booted from a CD or installed on a HD. It doesn't include fancy desktops, OpenOffice etc. but is a nice small easy-to-understand Linux.

Good luck, Paul
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