Why you should own a Chromecast



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


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

teknocratik 0012


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







TeknoCratik Episode 04 – PC Woes



Tim nearly trashes his PC! He and Dan discuss his upgrade plans, the state of play of hardware and software in mobile and desktop gaming, and more discussion on digital entertainment ecosystems.





Commercial Skipping with MediaPortal TV Server and XBMC


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

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! :-)


Using the Raspberry Pi as a PVR client with Raspbmc

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.

Raspberry Pi – initial impressions

I’ve been having great fun tinkering with the Raspberry Pi the last couple of weeks.

For those who haven’t heard of this little computer (and there can’t be many who haven’t as it has had so much press lately) it is a tiny (smaller than an iPhone) PC powered by an ARM CPU and Videocore 4 GPU system on a chip (SoC) and you can get one for about £30.


It’s an impressive little thing that already has a dedicated fan base and community growing around it. The Raspberry Pi Foundation is the charity responsible for it’s design and creation with the intention that it becomes an educational tool to try and regenerate an interest in computer programming in children.

This is a commendable cause. When I was at school all those years ago they actually taught BASIC programming as standard in what was then called “Computer Studies”. I am from the era of the BBC Micro computer and that is what I used to get my GCSE in computer studies! :) From what I hear, these days all kids are taught is how to make spreadsheets and word processing. Yes, these are great skills to learn but if kids aren’t exposed to programming languages anymore and their home computers (or most likely they have games consoles) aren’t geared to programming out of the box how are they going to be exposed to it? Well hopefully the “Pi” will be the answer. With it being so affordable it removes at least one stumbling block in creating the next generation’s software developers.

So what can you do with it at the moment? Well pretty much anything you can do on standard computers. The Pi primarily runs on a version of Linux, built for the ARM processor. These CPUs are predominantly used on mobile devices because of their low power consumption making them ideal for battery powered devices. Your Android or iPhone runs on an ARM processor. Linux is the de facto choice of operating system as it is Open Source, fully customisable and so portable to just about anything.

At the time of writing there are a few Raspberry Pi Linux distributions available to try. They are all a “work in progress” but are being developed and improved on almost a daily basis. I’ve tried most of them so far and having used Linux on desktop PCs and laptops for years I enjoy the tinkering that sometimes is involved.

The Raspberry Pi makes a remarkably capable “media centre” device too. It’s GPU is capable of playing back Blu-Ray quality video as libraries are available for Linux distributions to access it directly for hardware acceleration. So far there are two dedicated Linux distributions for the Pi that specialise in multimedia playback and they use the fantastic XBMC open source media centre software. OpenELEC, whose Pi distribution is based on the existing standalone Linux “distro’s” for x86 PCs and Raspbmc, a new distribution built from the ground up for the Pi. I have tried both and both work really well.

From my testing the initial OpenELEC build struggled with the XBMC menu and other CPU intensive actions but the GPU performed fantastic on video playback of HD material, streaming HDTV from my DVBLink server and other content.

Although some have had problems booting Raspbmc from certain SD cards (this issue seems to be fixed now in later builds) I never had such a problem and I found the performance of Raspbmc superior to that of OpenELEC as it didn’t have the same issue of slow down when accessing XBMC’s menus. I also got plugins to work without any issue. I installed the BBC iPlayer and TV Catchup plugins and both streamed HD quality video fantastically.

Of course, there are fully featured Linux distributions available for the Pi giving you a home computer with all the software packages you’d expect, from office suites to graphics software, with the ability to download extra packages you require via their respective software centres, all for free. The “official” Linux distribution being recommended by the Foundation is Debian “Squeeze” as this is the most user friendly version for novices but there are others if you are feeling adventurous. So far I’ve tried Debian “Squeeze”, Raspbian (a version of Debian “Wheezy” built from the ground up for the Pi), Gentoo and Arch.

If you have an interest in tinkering with computer technology I couldn’t recommend the Raspberry Pi enough. You’ll have hours of fun playing with this little computer. You may struggle to get one at the moment as the demand has been so high but keep trying, it’s worth it!

I will certainly continue to tinker with the Pi and I can’t wait to see what the community has in store for this little device.

You can find more specific information on the Raspberry Pi website and forums.

XBMC Eden Beta 3 for iOS on the iPad 2

The main XBMC app menu screen running on an iPad 2


Very few Home Theatre PC or digital media enthusiasts would disagree that the XBMC cross platform media centre software does a superb job of giving you the ultimate in functionality. The only exception to this would be the in the DVR space, where they are frustratingly lacking support.

As a huge supporter of XBMC when I heard that it had been ported to iOS I was ecstatic. Of course with XBMC being such an open system there was very little doubt that it would ever pass Apple’s stringent regulations for inclusion in the App Store therefore it would only be available to “Jailbroken” iOS devices. At the time my only iOS device was my iPhone 3GS and although I had jailbroken it in the past I only did it because I’m a tinkerer. This time I had a great reason to do it as I wanted to see how XBMC worked on an iPhone. I installed it and I hated it. The reason being that at the time it was a straight port right down to the standard desktop skin. It was totally unusable in my opinion.

Well how things have moved on! Being the proud owner of an iPad 2 and with the recent ability to Jailbreak the device totally untethered I decided to give XBMC for iOS one more try and I’m so glad I did. The app has now been updated to run the latest beta version of the software, “Eden” and even comes by default with a fantastically design skin called “Touched” which is simplistic yet very functional and as the name suggests, is specifically designed to complement a touch interface. No doubt this will be the skin of choice when installing XBMC on the upcoming Windows 8 tablets.

From what I can tell XBMC for iOS has the exact same functionality to the regular PC version. Within minutes I had connected it to my video library on my desktop PC via a network share and also installed addons for BBC iPlayer and Hulu. Video playback of video library content I can only describe as phenomenal and it had no issues playing back 720p MKVs. The picture was pristine. The same can be said for playback via streaming services such as BBC iPlayer and Hulu.

If you have an iPad 2 and would love to have the ability to have access to a huge variety of media from a practically unlimited choice of sources and are considering jailbreaking then I could not recommend installing XBMC enough. You will not regret it.

TV shows in Library mode


Settings menu


BBC iPlayer in action


Hulu in action


Ability to add user profiles – a very useful feature