June 8, 2009

Linux media PC woes

This is going to be short series of articles describing my struggles to get a Linux Media PC connected to an old Widescreen CRT TV set. I started writing this a while ago, but never got around to publish it.

The setup

I can't afford buying lots of new stuff just to get a simple home theater set, which is why I'm building this out of the parts I've already got. 

Computer: My old file server. It already has the media files and storage. The only thing needed is a graphics adapter and the right software. It is running Gentoo Linux as it has been doing for ages now, and I have no intention of changing this. Specs are Athlon 64, 2GB RAM. To use it for media PC purposes I plug in my retired ATI x1950 Pro card that was retired from my main computer in order to get an adapter capable of playing GTA IV.

Display: An old Philips 32" 50Hz Widescreen CRT TV. This is the only display on this computer, as I haven't needed a display on it until now. Available inputs on the TV are two SCART ports at the rear, and an S-Video port on the side.

Configuration

ATI and Linux is in itself a perpetual nightmare. The X.org drivers are generally late and without support for features beyond the immediate needs for a simple desktop, and the native binary drivers are prone to errors as well. After updating and rebuilding quite a bit of the system however, I was still not able to run the native drivers with the new X.org server. The X server simply core dumps while probing drivers. The open drivers however seems mature enough for the old X1950 now, so I decided to try my luck with those.

First attempt, TV-Out

The logical thig to do when connecting a computer to a TV is to use the TV-Out on the graphics adapter. Turns out of course that this is not quite supported yet on the X1950 with the radeon drivers. I seemed to almost get an output using an S-Video cable that I think came with the graphics adapter, but not quite. That is, I get an output on the TV when booting the machine and still have it until the X drivers kick in. After that, all black.

Second attempt, VGA to SCART

Since this computer only connects to the TV, I figured that it should be possible to connect VGA directly to the SCART input on the TV. After all, VGA provides RGB output, and SCART supports said input. Googling around a bit reveals a few different solutions for this. I decided to go for the simplest approach, since I was using an ATI adapter which should support a composite sync signal.

More about that later.

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