MythTV is a wonderful tool when it works, with a rich set of features and abilities. Like any other good PVR, it does a great job at recording the programmes you like and letting you watch them when you want. As often as you want. Where you want. Even for non couch potatoes, it really does improve life.
With the current stable release (v0.20) it beats most of the established (commercial, closed) competition for features. The recordings are mpg files, easy to access, copy, transcode, burn to DVD or play on another device. Commercial skipping, while not perfect, really is a big win and well worth having (and you notice it a lot more when you use something other than MythTV). You can add multiple tuners to record multiple channels simultaneously (you will most likely max out your harddisk i/o before you hit cpu or usb bus bandwidth limits). Multiple MythTV devices can simply be networked together, allowing playback in multiple locations and even sharing the workload between themselves to allow even more simultaneous recording. MythWeb lets you control and access everything via a browser. There is even a plugin that allows you to use your MythTV box as SIP VoIP phone. I have no idea why you would want to though.
That is what I can do now. The potential is mouth watering. It is possible, although not easy, to integrate with content you have (legally) downloaded. Have it be your music center. Stream your video over an ADSL or broadband connection to where ever you are in the world. It doesn't produce amazing quality but that is entirely the fault of limited upload bandwidth on adsl. When someone gets around to integrating (in a Steve Jobs style) lots of MythTV boxes with a social 2.0 website or a bittorrent tracker, things could go a little ballistic. All this is possible now if you know what you are doing and are prepared to fiddle. A lot.
But nirvana is not without its problems. MythTV is mind bogglingly (and unnecessarily imho) complicated to get setup and understand and amazingly easy to screw up and get wrong. It makes configuring and compiling your own linux kernel look positively easy.
For instance, the compulsory X11 based setup program, which throws away all the wisdom of established desktop UIs and opts to re-engineer and re-implement a complex and confusing alternative to a simple text based configuration file. Nor does all this complexity achieve the sort of setup almost any other traditional tv equipment manages - turn it on, run auto-tune, watch tv.
And so, the book.
It covers all the important parts, and it gives as much detail as could reasonably be squeezed into a tech sized volume. It is clearly written, well layed out.
A lot of the information you will be able to find on the MythTV wiki, or so long as your Google-fu has not gone brain dead from watching too much TV. On the plus side, it is a lot easier to read when collected together and presented in order. The downside is that the book is going to date quickly and cannot hope to cover every possible configurable variation.
Even so, the book had more than a few nuggets of gold I had not learned after extensive web research.
If you play with MythTV this book is going to be useful. Sadly, it is not going to make the process painless.
Table of contents
Practical MythTV Ch 1. Introducing MythTV Ch 2. Getting Ready for the Install Ch 3. Installing MythTV Ch 4. Recording TV Ch 5. Performing Advanced TV Recording Ch 6. Exploring MythTV Ch 7. Setting Up MythTV Themes Ch 8. Running Remote Frontends Ch 9. Installing Other Plug-Ins Ch 10. Expanding MythTV Ch 11. Using MythWeb: A Web Interface to MythTV Ch 12. Working with DVDs Ch 13. Controlling MythTV over the Network and On-Screen Displays Ch 14. MythPhone: Using VoIP with MythTV Ch 15. Joining the MythTV Community Index