11 Jun

New House Blues (MythTV, FreeNAS, and PFSense)

It has certainly been a busy month.  We just moved to a new house–which wreaked havoc with my technology.  What kicked it all off was that we couldn’t get a line-of-sight with DirecTV.  So, that made me switch to Cable TV.  And if I’m going to switch to cable, I can save money and get higher speeds on cable Internet (fortunately, I canceled my Dry Loop DSL the day the turned it on, so no charge).

Funny thing is, I was more prepared for this move than I ever have been.  I had everything scheduled well in advance.  Unfortunately, it all either didn’t work, was ignored, or had to be changed.  Even the trash service didn’t process my change request.

The whole thing has put me two weeks behind on a big announcement that I was hoping to make…ah, well.

But now, it’s all working.  Now, I have a plan.

Let me lay it out for you.  First milestone was getting a firewall installed.  I know that I have always been a big fan of Endian Community.  Well, not any more.  I’m sorry to say that my opinion has moved.  I’ve installed Endian now 4 or 5 times, several times running it as my primary firewall for months at a time (maybe even years).

However, I never noticed how frustrating it is overall–mainly because I was taking small bites.  So, when it went down several months ago and simply refused to make a PPPoE connection, I downloaded IPCop.  IPCop had much the same features and my network was backup and running.  For the sake of Endian, I explained the issues away with some spotty DSL connections and went on…

Until I got to my new house and was forced to switch to a cable modem.  IPCop simply refused to see the Internet connection on cable.  Matter of fact, it doesn’t even have “Cable Modem” as an option–although the “DHCP” setting should have worked.  Problem was, I was had been off the Internet now for approaching two weeks and had stuff to get done.  I needed a solution fast.

Ok, fine.  I directly connected my Ubuntu laptop to the cable modem and downloaded the latest stable Endian ISO.  And here’s where the frustration started.  During setup, you specify all of the address information and settings, but no matter what you do once it is installed you cannot find that interface.  Putting my laptop on the lan with an IP address in that range cannot use the admin interface–can’t even ping it.  On the firewall’s side, ifconfig shows that the LAN address is attached to some logical card rather than any of the physical NICs.  I fiddled and setup the cards manually for about an hour until I realized that it shouldn’t be this hard.


So it was late at night and I needed a firewall.  I plugged the laptop back in directly and started my research.  The one I’ve been looking at for some time is Untangle.  Unfortunately for me–I don’t have a box that I want to use for a firewall with that much RAM or Hard Drive Space.

Untangle is where I’m going to end up, but right now, I need something that is simple and works.


Enter PFSense.  I’ve known about this firewall for sometime, but got hung up on the web filtering capabilities of Endian and IPCop.  Stupidly so, because this filtering doesn’t work very well.  But because of this, I never paid enough attention to PFSense.  Well, I have a new simple firewall champion.

The install was simple, it installed easily to an old 6GB hard drive I had around.  The only problem I had was a Netgear card.  There were originally two 3com NICs and one Netgear in the box–no reason, just what I found first at the time I slapped it together.  Well, I rummaged through the junk boxes and found another 3com NIC (same model as the first two).  After this, there it was smooth as silk.

That’s not to say that I couldn’t have loaded a driver for the Netgear–but why bother when I didn’t have to do so?  And PFSense is built on FreeBSD rather than Linux, so there might have been some learning I had to do to find and install a driver.

All in all, I am very happy with PFSense.  Back to my master plan.

Because I am converting from DirectTV, the cable company offered me as many as three digital cable boxes as part of my package.  I started to say that I only needed two when I realized that this was my big chance to setup a MythTV DVR–just like I always wanted.

I told the installer just to drop the third box in the basement with the cable modem–that’s where the backend Myth box will live.  I’ll be building it around a Hauppauge PVR 350 card.  It’s an older card, but well, I am buying it used at the good-buddy price from Bryan.


For the front end, I will be using an original Xbox (purchased used from the brother-in-law) with an Xbox DVD remote control (from $5.00 used from eBay) and XBMC.  So…the whole Myth thing is going to cost me about $60.00 all told.

Whoops, $80.00–I forgot about the annual subscription to SchedulesDirect for $20.00.


XBMC plus a python script should allow me to watch Live TV, schedule recordings, and access all my recordings.  This is where there is some weakness in the plan–I may have to install a full copy of Debian on the Xbox and then the full Myth client.  I have seen reports that this functions a little slow–so I hope XBMC wins the day.  At some point, if XBMC works out, I won’t need the python script as there are plans to include a full Myth Client in XBMC.

Once all of this is complete and running–if it runs well–I will move the other cable boxes to the basement and just put frontends everywhere else.  This will require more PVR cards, naturally, but they are relatively cheap.

The last piece of the puzzle is a FreeNAS server with about 2TB of space.  I’ll host all the media libraries and network files there.  One of the most compelling needs is actually the birth of our new baby–I want to backup all the cartoon DVDs we will end up buying (again) to the libraries and give access to view them from the Myth (or XBMC) menus.

I can’t tell you how many DVDs we have that are completely unplayable after the first three kids got through with them!  I’m have high hopes that having a Media Center will help mitigate that risk.

That’s the story.  I’ll post as I complete each project–I’ll try to provide as much documentation as possible.  Just to recap, they all are:

  1. MythTV Backend Server (PVR-350)
  2. MythTV Frontend Client (Xbox)
  3. Active Directory Domain Controller
  4. FreeNAS Storage Server
  5. Untangle Firewall

Oh, and if you’re not already doing so, read Keep the Joint Running by Bob Lewis.  Matter of fact, you should keep your eyes on his site for news in the next few weeks.

See you, Space Cowboy.

3 thoughts on “New House Blues (MythTV, FreeNAS, and PFSense)

  1. Man that guy with the PVR-350 must rock. I have the MythTV setup about 6 years ago when it took actually skill to put it together. I guess they had to dumb it down for today’s users.

  2. I don’t think “Cable Modem” is an option on most firewalls, its usually DHCP, or static IP for those of us who know networking.

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