Category: Home Theater

Cubieboard2 open single board computer ships, Cubietruck model revealed

This comes to us from LinuxGizmos:

The forthcoming Cubietruck will have additional I/O ports
The forthcoming Cubietruck will have additional I/O ports

The Cubieboard open SBC project began shipping a faster Cubieboard2 version of its open source Linux and Android SBC, and revealed prototypes of a new, larger, enhanced Cubietruck model. Like the $59 Cubiboard2, the Cubietruck uses an Allwinner A20 dual-core Cortex-A7 SoC instead of the original’s single-core Allwinner A10, and adds a 2GB RAM option, WiFi, Bluetooth, gigabit Ethernet, VGA, and SPDIF ports.

Read the full article here.

Note that the abbreviation “SBC” in the above-linked article stands for “single board computer”. In our opinion, if the Cubietruck works reliably it could relegate the BeagleBoard Black to also-ran status, and could even give the Raspberry Pi a run for its money among those who’d like just a bit more power and a wider selection of outputs. For Home Theater PC builders, the inclusion of a SPDIF Toslink optical port is no small thing. We’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this one!

Link: How to watch Netflix (Watch Instantly) in Linux

EDIT: After publishing this article we learned of another article that gives additional information on what is probably the easiest method so far:

Yesterday, developer and programmer extraordinaire Erich Hoover and I spent several hours working out all of the Netflix Desktop kinks. Most users will have no problems with installation now.

Here is how to install the Netflix Desktop App on Ubuntu. …

Full details here:
PPA for Netflix Desktop App (iheartubuntu)

Should you have problems getting it to work, see:
Report Netflix App Bugs on Launchpad (iheartubuntu)

What follows is the original text of this post, which also mentions this method as one of the two choices:

Running Netflix is entirely possible in Ubuntu Linux 12.04 (and most likely any other modern distribution). See the section below “Running with Wine”.

Until recently there was no simple solution to watching streaming movies via Netflix (Watch Instantly) in Linux for any Linux distros besides Android based computers. Netflix has not released a player that will install natively in any of the others.

Read the full article here:
How to watch Netflix (Watch Instantly) in Linux (How To Wiki)

Notes on setting up Raspbmc on a Raspberry Pi

A couple of days ago we published Notes on setting up OpenELEC on a Raspberry Pi. One thing we found a bit frustrating about OpenELEC was touched upon in that article:

OpenELEC is very fast but much of the file system is read only, and even if you SSH in as root you cannot edit many of the configuration files as you could on a normal Linux system. Sometimes there are ways around that.

Now if you are setting up a system for your grandparents, maybe not having a writable file system, nor access to tools like apt-get for installing additional software won’t bother you. But we found it did bother us. For example, we missed having access to Midnight Commander. While there is an unofficial way to install it on on OpenELEC, the developers apparently would prefer you don’t do that. Well, sorry, but that kind of thinking is not acceptable to us. It’s our system, and we want to be able to control it. In fact, it kind of goes against the whole spirit in which the Raspberry Pi was created to make an “untinkerable” distribution, although we can certainly understand why some people like it. Different strokes for different folks*, and all that.

So we decided to again try Raspbmc. We had tried it once before, but found the interface a bit slow and clunky. However, just a few days ago a new version was released, and reports were that it was faster. So, we decided to give it another try. This time, we installed it using the instructions found here, which are for users that will be writing to the SD card using an OS X or Linux system. If you were using Windows for this task, you’d use these instructions instead. This only writes an installer to the card, and when you place the card into the Raspberry Pi and boot it up it will complete the installation. You must have an active Internet connection for the installation to complete.

The interface in the new version of Raspbmc does seem faster than in the previous version we’d tried. Some things may still be a bit slower than in OpenELEC – we particularly noticed that it took a bit longer for fanart to appear after we’d made a selection.

One thing that had bothered us about OpenELEC was that you could not change the Samba password. In Raspbmc it is easy, you simply SSH into the device (as user pi, default password raspberry) and enter:

sudo smbpasswd -a pi

Also if you want to change the SSH password, which we highly recommend, you simply do:

sudo passwd pi

In either case you will be prompted for the new password.

You can install Midnight Commander in the normal way, using apt-get install mc and it seems to work fine. Another thing we had an issue with in OpenELEC was changing the Samba share name. It’s easier to do this in Raspbmc, but still perhaps a bit non-obvious. The easiest way to do it is simply edit /etc/hostname and change name in that file – this is also picked up by Samba, though you may need to reboot and wait some time before the new share name appears and the old one disappears – it took about 20 minutes on our systems.

One thing we noticed about Raspbmc is that XBMC’s RSS feed is turned off by default. This was a major contributor to high CPU usage in OpenELEC. Not that higher CPU usage is really all that bad, but some people like to see a lower figure. Note that you cannot get an accurate reading from the XBMC GUI – to see an accurate representation of CPU usage you must SSH into the system and use the top command.

Speaking of SSH, one weird thing about RaspBMC is that the first time you SSH into the device, you’ll be asked to select a language and timezone. Always select at least the UTF-8 version of your preferred language – that is probably the only one you need. That’s the first time we’ve ever seen this information requested on an initial SSH login to a system.

* A line from “Everyday People” by Sly and the Family Stone (1968)

Notes on setting up OpenELEC on a Raspberry Pi

First, before you go out an buy a Raspberry Pi for this purpose, keep in mind that it does not have any type of digital audio output (such as a TOSLINK connector), other than the HDMI output – see discussion here. This may or may not be an issue in your installation, but you should be aware of that going into the project.

While you could use NOOBS to set up OpenELEC, you may not get the latest version. You are better off using these installation instructions and downloading the latest build.

OpenELEC is very fast but much of the file system is read only, and even if you SSH in as root you cannot edit many of the configuration files as you could on a normal Linux system. Sometimes there are ways around that. For example, Samba by default is controlled by the file /etc/samba/smb.conf. But you can’t edit that file. However, if you navigate to the /storage/.config directory you will find a file called samba.conf.sample. If you copy or rename that file to samba.conf in the same directory, then that becomes the file that controls Samba, and you can edit that file. For example, you can change the share name by editing the line server string = OpenELEC and changing OpenELEC to something else, and then find the line netbios name = %h and change the %h to the same thing you used as the value for the server string.

Also if you don’t want your Raspberry Pi acting as a Master Browser for your local network, you can comment out the following lines in samba.conf, as shown here:

# domain master = yes
# local master = yes
# preferred master = yes

When you are in XBMC you may notice that the CPU usage seems high. This is apparently because of two things. First, the act of measuring the usage in XBMC and drawing the usage bar on the GUI actually consumes significant CPU power. You can confirm this by using SSH and then the top command to view actual actual usage. When you are on screens that are completely static, with nothing being continually redrawn, the CPU usage will be lower. But also, if you go into XBMC’s settings (System | Appearance | Skins) and turn off the RSS feed, your CPU usage will drop considerably. Note that actually playing video content actually causes CPU usage to decrease since the work of drawing the screen is transferred to the GPU. On the other hand, leaving the XBMC GUI parked on certain pages may cause CPU usage to increase – for example, we found that if we went to a page that displayed large size thumbnails and fanart, the CPU usage shot up considerably.

To get a PVR plugin to work, you must first enable Live TV. Only then will you be given the option to pick a PVR frontend, But note that even if you set it up properly, you might get audio only and no video. As best I can determine, the reason is that neither the Raspberry Pi nor OpenELEC contains a license to play MPEG2 video. The Raspberry Pi folks will be happy to sell you a license, but we didn’t bite so have no idea if it works or not, and we have read where others have had mixed results. Keep in mind that MythTV, and probably other PVR backends, have the ability to transcode recorded programs to another format that does not require a license, so if all you want to do is watch previously recorded content and not actual live TV, you could just set up the backend to transcode everything to a format that the Raspberry Pi will play after it is recorded.

OpenELEC and the Raspberry Pi will output 1080p, however it appears that on some TV’s you need to go into XBMC’s setting and explicitly specify playback at 1080p, otherwise it will default to 720p. This happened for us on one TV set but not on another.

One question remains, some older TV’s need a “CVT reduced blank” signal before they will offer a Dot-by-Dot mode that has no overscan issues. In normal systems you can change this by using specific software, or in Linux, a specific ModeLine in the xorg.conf file. But it appears that OpenELEC has no support for this. This might make OpenELEC a poor choice for those users. Fortunately, you can also try other distributions for the Pi, such as Raspbmc, XBian, or GeeXboX.

Link: MythTV: Use All Buttons of Your Remote Control – Without LIRC

It can be really frustrating to get a remote control to work properly under Linux with LIRC and programs like MythTV, mplayer or XMBC. This article shows how to avoid using LIRC altogether: Treat the remote like any other keyboard, then change the keyboard mapping to use the application’s key shortcuts. Because we do this before the keypresses reach X11, it avoids the dreaded problem of keys with codes >255 not working.

Full article here:
Link: MythTV: Use All Buttons of Your Remote Control – Without LIRC (Richard Atterer)

Link: TheLittleBlackBox: An ARM-based, open source XBMC media center

XBMC is a media center application that started its life as a project to turn the first-generation Xbox into an audio and video powerhouse. The project has since been ported to run on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and other platforms, and we’ve even seen it running on low-power devices with ARM processors such as the Pivos XIOS DS Media Play.

Now there’s a new XBMC box on the way, and it’s designed specifically for running XBMC. It doesn’t run Android apps at all, just an embedded operating system to support XBMC.

Full article here:
TheLittleBlackBox: An ARM-based, open source XBMC media center (liliputing)

How to get free TV schedule information for MythTV


It appears that in July, 2015 and again in January, 2018 some changes were made to the program (and its associated service) mentioned below.  Zap2it changed the format and operation of their listings service, forcing some changes in the way zap2xml operates.  If you have previously set up zap2xml, you may need to re-download the software and set it up from scratch.  See this article for some additional information, and also the page for the software (as linked below) may provide more up-to-date information.  Also, I’ve removed a reference to a program that used to be free, but for all practical purposes no longer is.

It seems that if you live in the U.S.A., the MythTV people would really like to entice you to pay for a subscription-based TV listings service, but not everyone will do that. So, if you don’t want to pay, how do you populate your TV schedule grid with program information?

The easiest and most unquestionably legal way to do it is to simply grab the listing from the TV transmitters themselves. Almost all digital TV channels transmit schedule information, and to use it you simply need to make sure that on the MythTV backend, under Video Sources, the Listings grabber is set to Transmitted Guide Only (EIT).

The downside of this is that you will only get schedule information for a limited time, typically 1-3 days out from your current date. So, you won’t be able to schedule a program a week in advance. And another thing that might bother some users is that it will cause MythTV to operate your tuners continuously, because MythTV apparently constantly scans the channels for new EIT data (see this discussion in the HDHomeRun forum).

The other way is to use an external program such as zap2xml (Zap2it TV listings to XMLTV or XTVD .xml). In this case you set the MythTV backend Listings grabber setting to “No grabber” and use the zap2xml software to grab the listings and populate the database. The people who profit by selling the TV listings service don’t much like it if you do that, and therefore their proponents try to spread FUD (Fear-Uncertainty-Doubt) about the legality of doing this, but as a practical matter we highly doubt anyone will ever get in trouble for obtaining TV listings this way, and no one has up to this point, to the best of our knowledge. However, if you choose to use this method just be aware that there might be a cloud over the legality of doing so, at least if you believe the supporters of the commercial service. The larger concern is that someday this service will stop working, but that could happen with the pay service also.

Note that people who live outside the U.S.A. have no choice other than to use either the transmitted guide data or a free service, since the pay service only includes U.S. listings.

Generally it is a two step process:  You first run zap2xml to generate the required xmltv.xml file, then run mythfilldatabase (with appropriate options) to import the xmltv.xml file into the MythTV backend.

When you run mythfilldatabase, if you see error messages that include the phrase “Unknown xmltv channel identifier”, this means you need to open the xmltv.xml file in a text viewer or editor and find the channel id for each channel. Then go into the MythTV backend channel editor. For each channel there is an XMLTV ID field. You will need to place the correct channel id from the XML file (the entire string between the quotation marks) into the corresponding XML ID field, then select Next and (on the next screen) Finish, and you will need to do this for each channel. If you do this correctly, the “Unknown xmltv channel identifier” errors should disappear the next time your run mythfilldatabase.

EDIT: After this article was published, we discovered an additional similar program called WebGrab+Plus. It is described as follows: “WebGrab+Plus is a multi-site incremental xmltv epg grabber. It collects tv-program guide data from selected tvguide sites for your favourite channels.” There are some installation hints for WebGrab+Plus here. We have not attempted to install or use WebGrab+Plus, but just wanted to note that this possible alternative exists.

If you know of any other ways to get free TV schedule information for MythTV, please feel free to share in the comments. But if you simply want to debate the legality of the alternatives, please don’t bother – as the title of the blog implies, these are simply technical notes, and not a forum for endless debates over whether something should or should not be done, and we will probably just delete any comments that don’t add to the technical knowledge presented here.

Related Article:
Some hints for getting free-to-air satellite channels into the Electronic Program Guide in Kodi (or another frontend) (Free-To-Air America)


Thread watch: Is it possible to use a remote control to navigate the Unity Launcher in Ubuntu?

Although many Ubuntu users seem to hate the Unity Launcher in the most recent versions of Ubuntu, some folks are thinking that it might make a great program launcher for use with a LIRC-compatible remote control, if only the remote could actually navigate the launcher. While no one seems to have brought this idea entirely to fruition, there are apparently ways to make it mostly work:

Thread: Any way to use a remote and LIRC to control Unity Launcher? (Ubuntu forums)

Links: A complete guide for setting up MythTV from start to finish

Probably the easiest way to get a MythTV installation up and running quickly is to install Mythbuntu or Mythdora, depending on whether you prefer the Ubuntu or Fedora variant of Linux.  But if you want a bit more hands-on experience, or additional help with configuration, these links might be helpful:

From a Reddit thread:

I’ve been a fan of MythTV for some time, but found that there were very few comprehensive setup guides out there for new users. So, I decided to write one. It’s split into 4 parts (shown below) and covers not just how to set up a MythTV system, but also makes an effort to explain why certain instructions are given along the way.

I hope some of you find it useful, and constructive feedback is of course appreciated. 🙂

Reddit thread with comments
Reddit thread with comments #2

Here is an older MythTV setup guide that we’ve found useful in the past:
Andrew’s MythTV Walkthrough: A Simpler MythTV How-to for Beginners

Don’t forget about the MythTV Wiki. But be aware that if you live in the United States, much of the “official” MythTV documentation will try to push you into paying for a subscription TV schedule service. If you live elsewhere, they are forced to admit there are other alternatives, which there are for U.S. residents as well — yet for some reason they try really hard to push the subscription service to U.S. users.

If you want to get TV listings into MythTV without paying for a subscription service, see How to get free TV schedule information for MythTV.

Link: Milkman’s Guide to the Ultimate Media System

Build the ultimate media system with your HTPC using OpenELEC, XBMC and PseudoTV. This manual covers everything from hardware, OpenELEC Installation, File Management, XBMC Scraping, Preparing an awesome channel setup and also covers PseudoTV extensively. This is the definitive guide for HP ProLiant MicroServer owners or anyone who wants to turn their HTPC into a media dream-machine. Easy to understand and scattered with loads of helpful hints and tips.

This guide is a must-have for all PseudoTV users!

Included with the PDF is a wide variety of nifty files and tools that is also explained in the guide.

Milkman’s Guide to the Ultimate Media System (

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