Tag Archives: XBMC

Why you should own a Chromecast

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In case you have been under a rock for the last 2 years, Google’s Chromecast dongle is a little HDMI dongle that plugs in directly to your television or AV amplifier. It’s main function is to act as a “dumb receiver” for many internet streaming services. It has no user interface to speak of and you can only configure it via it’s web portal or mobile apps.

Why would you want one of these? It’s actually a question I asked myself. Many would say it can be an impulse purchase due to it’s low entry point (the device is about $35 US / £30 UK) but even being a tech geek I didn’t rush out to buy one myself. I have a very robust media entertainment system at home based around the wonderful XBMC so what would the Chromecast do for me?

I finally picked one up for one main reason: Netflix. Yes, Netflix is on almost everything these days, everything except XBMC (yes, it can be done with a lot of caveats!). I have had Netflix since it launched in the UK and watched it via an app on my Blu-Ray player downstairs and a WDTV media player upstairs but I have become increasingly frustrated with the performance of these apps. As these devices are pretty much no longer supported, app updates are few and far between and sometimes it can be a struggle to get Netflix to even run.

Enter the Chromecast, a device that I can push media to pretty much like I can do with XBMC. I already use an Android app called Yatse which is an XBMC remote with some fantastic features that gives it the ability to “push” media to XBMC such as Youtube and other media streams. The android Netflix app is great and very easy to navigate and search for content. Linking it to Chromecast gives me the ability to push the tv show or movie to my TV just as easily as Yatse does with XBMC. The side effect of this I am watching a lot more Netflix these days!

If you don’t have a robust entertainment system already then the Chromecast will be even more useful to you. You can also push Youtube, photos, video from your device and there are plenty of 3rd party apps with Chromecast support. My favourite podcatcher app, Pocket Casts, pushes my podcasts to the device seamlessly, BBC iPlayer in the UK is much quicker than the built in apps in a lot of appliances and my American friends get Hulu Plus and HBO Go.

No matter which tech ecosystem you prefer, your Chromecast works with it. There are iOS apps, Android, Windows, Linux, Mac and of course the Chromebook. Performance is great and I’ve had no issues streaming from Netflix, BBC, Youtube etc. The only issue I ran into was when I tried to watch a live hangouts stream via Youtube, the video would hang and go unresponsive. I’m guessing this is because the video was uncompressed and not optimised cointaining a high bitrate and the Chromecast couldn’t cope with it.

In future posts I will catalogue tweaks and tips I have used to make the device even more useful.

Chromecast info

Faces For Radio | TeknoCratik Episode 013

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We have taken the podcast to video!

As well as the usual audio show we will now be making available our (usually) uncut Google Hangout as a video podcast on the TeknoCratik Youtube Channel. We decided to do this so that we would be able to review apps and hardware visually on the show and add extra value to the content.

Please bare with us as we are pretty new to video podcasts (although Tim has had a lot of experience in uploading video to Youtube) and we are still figuring out a few things.

 

This time around we discuss:

Dan’s catastrophic New Year USB Armageddon!

Tim reviews his new Acer C720 Chromebook and his Chromecast.

Steam Streaming Beta: revolutionary or overated?

Tim’s continuing Linux adventure.

Screen casting apps such as VokoScreen and Simple Screen Recorder.

And much more!

 

Video version:

Chromebooks and Penguins | TeknoCratik Episode 012

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We are back with another jam packed episode!

 

Dan learns The Gimp for some projects he is doing.

Tim moves house and works on his tech support business.

 

We talk about our thoughts on:

The Humble Store

Linux Mint 16 release

Canonical / Asus Partnership in the US

New Chromebooks

Tim reccomends: F-Droid

Dan reccomends: SuperTuxKart

 

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Commercial Skipping with MediaPortal TV Server and XBMC

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My latest HTPC project has been to resurrect a method to skip commercials for recorded TV programmes. This is something I have done in the past when I was a Windows Media Center user using third party tools to both instigate the commercial detection as well as to support the actual function of commercial skipping since WMC didn’t natively support it. Even when Media Center switched to the WTV format commercial skipping was still fairly easy to perform on standard definition content as Windows had the built in ability to convert the file to the more compatible DVRMS format and soon tools such as DVRMS Toolbox came with scripts to automate the procedure. Unfortunately high definition content that was generally .h264 encoded could not be converted in the same way and Microsoft’s WTV format was (and still is) undocumented which led to a delay in the ability to make HD content compatible with commercial skipping software. This led to me abandoning commercial skipping altogether as the hoops you had to jump through to get it working were just not worth the effort. In recent times the WTV format has been ‘reverse engineered’ for want of a better expression, allowing commercial skipping software the ability to scan it, although this is no longer an issue for me as Mediaportal records to a transport stream (TS) file. The more important improvement has been the accuracy of h.264 HD media commercial detection, which is why I have started looking into using it again.

Luckily MediaPortal supports both the initial commercial detection process via a launcher plugin for Comskip as well as giving the ability to skip adverts either manually (as chapter markers) or automatically. See this link. Comskip is free for mpeg2 media scanning but if you donate $10 or more you are given access to a version that works with h.264 media which is essential in my opinion.

As I generally don’t use the MediaPortal client to watch TV I was interested to find out if XBMC supported this feature and it does! For quite a while now XBMC has had built in support for EDL  (Edit Decision List) files that tell it where not to play the media file. What you will see in the scrub bar while playing the file in XBMC is the edited file duration as opposed to the total file length with adverts. This is useful so you can tell the ad skipping is actually working. As long as the edl file (or txt file in MediaPortal clients) filename matches the media  filename you are playing back you have a working commercial skipping system. Whereas in MediaPortal all clients seemlessly will honour the commercial detection in the manner you have set it up in the configuration, it isn’t quite the same with XBMC. Due to the method that the MediaPortal TV server plugin for XBMC plays back recorded TV (it streams the media instead of playing back a file directly) it doesn’t read the EDL file on clients that are not on the same machine as the server. This isn’t a major problem because all you need to do is play back your recorded TV not via the section on the Live TV tab but create a folder link to in “videos” as you would for any other video media. It then will read the EDL file. More detailed information on the XBMC client side process can be found here.

So in summary, commercial skipping via MediaPortal TV server and playback in XBMC is very doable and straight forward. Apart from the issue where the XBMC client that is on a different machine to server needing playback to occur via a media share the only other issue I have encountered is that you must wait for the recording to finish before to commence commercial detection with Comskip. The MediaPortal plugin “Comskip Launcher” does give the option to do it on the fly but it didn’t work for me and I believe this may be an issue with the TV server. You may also need to edit you “comskip.ini” configuration file to change your detection method and other settings depending the source of your TV signal and the country you reside in. I am in the UK recording from Freesat and Freeview sources but so far all I have changed is the basic detection method from “43” to “111” (these settings are explained in the Comskip guides) but more fine tuning can be done if you require it. Changing this has given me very good results and I am really enjoying not having to watch those pesky commercials!

 

 

I guest on The Digital Lifestyle Show #389

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Once again I was asked on to the fantastic TDL podcast by Ian Dixon to talk about this week’s technology news. We cover some MediaPortal news, talk about my XBMC home media network and social entertainment apps.

Since recording on Tuesday I discovered that support for TrakT.TV in XBMC had got a new lease of life in XBMC 12 (Frodo) and I have since installed the updated plugin. This means that both my XBMC TV and movie libraries can be synchronised as well as giving me the ability to auto post what I’m currently watching.

Enjoy the show! :-)

http://thedigitallifestyle.com/w/index.php/2013/02/07/the-digital-lifestyle-show-389-sharing-to-much/

TeknoCratik Episode 02 – Cloud Services

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This Show Tim and I discuss some of the various Cloud services that are availbale to the consumer as well as other topics including:

2do vs Todo
Organisation apps
Educational apps, lack of
Kindle rentals, textbooks
Podcast app woes
Server dependant apps
Raspberry Pi mpeg2 codec
XBMC-PVR
TDL User Group
Steam Greenlight
Valve Big Picture
iPhone 5 speculation
Cloud services
Dropbox
iCloud
Google Services
Sugarsync
Box.net
TOdo online
Ubuntu One
Skydrive
Music syncing services
iTunes match
Amazon Music
Google Play
Photo backup services
Lastpass

Enjoy!

 

Using the Raspberry Pi as a PVR client with Raspbmc

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Raspbmc on the Pi displaying the EPG using the MediaPortal PVR client addon

When the Raspberry Pi launched I was very excited about the capabilities that it had for such a low cost device. Immediately I started to think it would make a fantastic low footprint HTPC replacement.

One of the reasons the developers managed to keep the cost low was because it did not come preconfigured to playback mpeg2 and VC-1 encoded content. Unfortunately the majority of recordable content in the UK is still standard definition and therefore uses the mpeg2 codec. This had rendered the Pi less useful than it could be when acting as a recorded TV playback device. Fortunately these codecs have recently been made available as a very reasonable  separate purchase from the Raspberry Pi Store, adding that last bit of sort after functionality.

I have since installed these codecs into a new build of Raspbmc, that utilises the experimental PVR functionality planned for the next release of XBMC. This build provides client addons for a variety of backend TV servers including MediaPortal which I use as my PVR software on my HTPC. It also includes a fantastic custom settings app for the Pi, including the ability to input the serial numbers for your codecs from within XBMC, saving you the hassle of manually editing your configuration file. I continue to be greatly impressed with Raspbmc.

Installation and setup was pretty straightforward and I soon had access to my EPG, recording schedule, live TV and radio channels and my recorded TV folder. Playback of both recorded and live content works very well. I have found there is a slightly longer delay getting the stream going than my native Mediaportal clients but it is hard to tell whether this is due to limitations of the Pi hardware or the “alpha” state of the software. I am also very pleased that I got the PVR functionality working with the TSReader options for MediaPortal which means it is utilising MediaPortal’s built in TS stream buffer instead of streaming via ffMpeg so I have access to the buffering capabilities of the MediaPortal TV server. It’s also worth noting that I have had no trouble streaming BBC HD content unlike Ian Dixon over at thedigitallifestyle.com but that might be because I have DVB-S tuners as well as DVB-T and perhaps I was streaming the from the Freesat source which might be more slightly compatible with XBMC than the Freeview stream.

I will continue testing and looking forward to improvements and fine tuning in this particular build of XBMC. I’ll also be trying out the Windows version of this build on one of my client PCs to compare the experience.

The TeknoCratik Podcast Launches!

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I’m pleased to announce episode #1 of the TeknoCratik podcast!

Tim and I introduce the objective of the show, discuss what we enjoy about technology, digital entertainment and current happenings in desktop and mobile operating systems.

Topics covered:

The Raspberry Pi

Ouya

Windows 8

iOS 6

And much more!

Theme music graciously provided by Rick Moyer.

 

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