Category: HTPC

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 (forum.xbmc.org)

Notes on using HDHomeRun recorder under Ubuntu for lowest CPU usage when recording from HDHomeRun device

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog.

Sometimes I write articles for others, but sometimes I use this blog just to post a collection of notes on something I had a need to do.  This is one of the latter type.  You are welcome to look, and if it helps anyone else, great, but it’s not a full, step-by-step, “here’s how to do it” article, and I definitely do not advise you to just blindly emulate what I did, since there are probably more elegant ways to do this. This was one of those “I just want to get the thing working” type projects, and I must say that it works very well, at least for me.

HDHomeRun recorder is a simple Python script that will record specific channels based on a pre-established schedule.  It is less CPU intensive (and in my opinion, much easier to set up) than some of the other ways to do this, such as Myth TV.  But it is more limited — in particular the current script will only record from a single tuner, and there’s no GUI at all.  Everything is done in script and configuration files.

Here’s what I did:

Using  apt-get or Synaptic, install the following:  hdhomerun-config-gui, hdhomerun-config, libhdhomerun1, python-pip:
sudo apt-get install hdhomerun-config-gui hdhomerun-config libhdhomerun1 python-pip

Install apscheduler:
sudo pip install apscheduler

EDIT (for newer version mentioned by Fred C. in the comments): Then go to this page and click the ZIP button to download a ZIP file containing HDHomeRun recorder.  Unzip it into a subdirectory off of your user directory (I named the subdirectory HDHomeRun_Recorder on my system) — you should get several files and a scripts directory, which contains a couple more files. At this point you might want to check the ownership and permissions of the files — in particular make sure the .py files are executable. Do NOT follow the instructions in the README file; they are for an older version of the software. You may want to read the file, particularly if you have a WDTV Live media player, but the INSTALL section needs updating.

You then need to modify a couple of the files.  This is a bit tricky because what might seem the obvious way to do it won’t work (unless you apply my fix mentioned below).  So here is what you need to do:

(Read through this before actually doing anything, it may save you some effort!)

First, modify config-file.  There are three things you need to change here.  First you need to change this line as shown:

hdhomerun_config = /usr/bin/hdhomerun_config

This assumes the hdhomerun_config program is in /usr/bin, which it will be if you installed it using apt-get or Synaptic.  Next, you need to modify the tuners line to show the correct tuner IDs for your HDHomeRun — you can discover these using the HDHomeRun Configuration utility, if you don’t already know them.  And, you need to replace the entries in the channelmap section with your local channels.  You can run the hdhomerun_setup.py program (run it with no arguments and it will tell you what arguments it needs) and it will show you a list of channels (note it takes a few minutes to run, so be patient), and it appears as if it produces an entire config-file for you, but it doesn’t (keep reading before you do anything, there’s a fix for this below that you might want to try).  So look at the list of channels it outputs and then change each line to match the format you see in the included config-file.  For example, let’s say you see:

35.1   = 11   3   WGVU-11
35.2   = 11   4   WGVU-11
35.3   = 11   5   WGVU-11
35.4   = 11   6   WGVU-11
0 = 11 9 (control)
0 = 11 10 (control)

What that needs to be changed to in config-file is:

35.1 = 8vsb:11, 3       ; WGVU-11
35.2 = 8vsb:11, 4       ; WGVU-11
35.3 = 8vsb:11, 5       ; WGVU-11
35.4 = 8vsb:11, 6       ; WGVU-11

I have no clue why the hdhomerun_setup.py program doesn’t produce the correct output, it just doesn’t. I tried fixing it to produce the correct output (despite the fact that Python is a very incoherent language to me), and think I have it, so if you want to try my fix to hdhomerun_setup.py, the code is at the end of this article.

Second, you need to modify schedule-file. This is an example schedule file, and you just modify the entries with programs you like to record.

When you run the python script, I found that you need to actually be in its directory, and also that when you run it, it will seem like nothing is happening. And the command prompt won’t come back either, so you may want to initially run it using screen:

screen ./hdhomerun_recorder.py

You can use Control-A followed by D to detach from the process. To check that it started and everything is working okay, check logfile (in the same directory as the hdhomerun_recorder.py program). I found that the following could be used to kill the process:

pkill -f “python ./hdhomerun_recorder.py”

I made a bash shell script that looks like this:

#!/bin/bash
export USER=yourusername
pkill -f “python ./hdhomerun_recorder.py”
cd HDHomeRun_Recorder
./hdhomerun_recorder.py &

I can run this script to restart the Python script (in case I make a change to the schedule) and I can also add it to my startup items to start the script after a reboot (the pkill is ignored in that case).

Note: If you need a way to determine the channels in your area and don’t want to run hdhomerun_setup.py, see hdhomeruntoolbox, but note that the .strm files it produces are not in the correct format for XBMC (in case you are using XBMC, and if you are and you know anything about Java, maybe you want to grab a Java Decompiler and see if you can fix the output). However, after it runs, the information you will need for each channel in HDHomeRun recorder will be in a file named scan_tuner1.txt in the (hidden) .hdhomerun directory. When you look in that file, you will see sections for each working channel that contain information such as this:

SCANNING: 201000000 (us-bcast:11)
LOCK: 8vsb (ss=100 snq=91 seq=100)
TSID: 0x05E7
PROGRAM 3: 35.1 WGVU-11
PROGRAM 4: 35.2 WGVU-11
PROGRAM 5: 35.3 WGVU-11
PROGRAM 6: 35.4 WGVU-11
PROGRAM 9: 0 (control)
PROGRAM 10: 0 (control)

In config-file, the above would translate to something like this:

35.1 = 8vsb:11, 3 ; WGVU-11
35.2 = 8vsb:11, 4 ; WGVU-11
35.3 = 8vsb:11, 5 ; WGVU-11
35.4 = 8vsb:11, 6 ; WGVU-11

Note that stations will not always have the real channel numbers after the callsign, so the real channel number actually comes from the (us-bcast:11) in this case.

Setting up config-file is probably the hardest (not actually hard, but maybe tedious) part, if you can’t get my modifications to the hdhomerun_setup.py script (below) to work, but remember that you only need to add the channels from which you might want to record programming, not every channel available. Remember to restart the Python script if you change the schedule, but of course you DON’T want to do that while it’s recording programming!

I should add that since HDHomeRun recorder is a Python script, it’s probably possible to make it run under operating systems other than Ubuntu, but I just haven’t attempted to do that.

Here are my changes for hdhomerun_setup.py, that should cause it to print out usable lines that replace the existing lines in config-file (you will have to copy and paste them; it does NOT overwrite config-file). Note that there will only be one tuner shown on the tuners line, so you should add your additional tuners if you want to use them For example, if you have a HDHomeRun Dual, and this script prints out tuners = 10ABCDEF:0 you should add the second tuner so that the line is tuners = 10ABCDEF:0, 10ABCDEF:1 (with comma and space separating the two).

#!/usr/bin/env python

def channel_iter(file):
    for line in file:
        if line.startswith("SCANNING: "):
            channel = line.split()[2].strip('()')
            channel = channel.split(':')[1]
        elif line.startswith("LOCK: "):
            modulation = line.split()[1]
        elif line.startswith("PROGRAM "):
            (PROGRAM, subchannel, vchannel, name) = line.split(None, 3)
            subchannel = subchannel.rstrip(':')
            name = name.strip()     # remove new line
            name = name.replace(' ', '-')
            yield (vchannel, modulation, channel, subchannel, name)

def channel_info(hdhomerun_config, device_id, tuner):
    import subprocess
    import tempfile

    f = tempfile.TemporaryFile()
    cmd = [hdhomerun_config, device_id, "scan", "/tuner%d" % tuner]
    p = subprocess.Popen(cmd, stdout=f)
    p.wait()
    f.seek(0)
    return list(channel_iter(f))

def main():
    import sys, os, os.path

    usage = ("usagde: %s path-to-hdhomerun-config device-id tuner-number"
             % sys.argv[0])
    if len(sys.argv) != 4:
        sys.exit(usage)
    hdhomerun_config = sys.argv[1]
    device_id = sys.argv[2]
    tuner = int(sys.argv[3])
    if not os.path.exists(hdhomerun_config):
        sys.exit("%s doesn't exist, aborting!")
    if not os.path.isfile(hdhomerun_config):
        sys.exit("%s is not a regular file, aborting!")
    if not os.access(hdhomerun_config, os.X_OK):
        sys.exit("%s doesn't have execute permission set, aborting!")

    chan_info = channel_info(hdhomerun_config, device_id, tuner)
    if not len(chan_info):
        sys.exit("couldn't find any channels, quitting!")

    print("[global]")
    print("logfile = logfile")
    print("media_dir = media")
    print("schedule_file = schedule-file")
    print("hdhomerun_config = %s" % hdhomerun_config)
    print("tuners = %s:%s" % (device_id, tuner))
    print("[channelmap]")
    print("# virtual-channel = physical-channel program-number name-of-program")
    for (vchannel, modulation, channel, subchannel, name) in chan_info:
        line = "%s = %s:%s, %s t; %s" % (vchannel, modulation, channel, subchannel, name)
        if vchannel != '0':
            print(line)

if __name__ == '__main__':
    main()

If your Linux-based PC with NVIDIA graphics started booting to a black screen or text only, here is the fix — maybe!

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog.
Image representing NVidia as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

I’ve seen this happen several times now on Ubuntu-Linux based systems that have NVIDIA graphics.  What happens is that “Update Manager” pops up and tell you there are updates for your software, and you accept them.  It then tells you that your system has to be rebooted.  And when you do that, you get no video, or text only.  What probably happened was that the updates you installed included an update to the Linux kernel, and the NVIDIA graphics driver currently installed on the system was compiled against the OLD kernel.

Note that this generally can only happen if you manually updated the NVIDIA graphics driver at some point. If you always installed it from the standard repositories for your distribution, you’ll probably never see this issue. So a word to the wise — when you finally get around to doing an upgrade of your Linux distribution, try to avoid manually installing the NVIDIA graphics driver. Instead, let the distribution pull it from its repository. After that, you should not have this issue in the future. By the way, if you currently are running Ubuntu, we recommend upgrading to Linux Mint rather than a newer version of Ubuntu. Linux Mint is very similar to Ubuntu, but leaves out some of the things that users seem to hate about newer releases of Ubuntu. More to the point, they are not currently talking about switching their base graphics system from the X window server system to a new display manager, which I have a feeling might cause problems for some NVIDIA graphics users.

But if you’re not yet ready to do a full reinstall of Linux, the fix for this problem is easy IF you had the foresight to set up SSH access to your Linux system BEFORE the trouble started.  If you didn’t, and you’re not a true Linux geek, you may be kind of screwed.  So if you’re reading this and your system is working fine, and you haven’t yet set up SSH access, you may want to do that.  There are several sites that tell you how to do that; here are two that I found using Google:

Basic SSH Setup On Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx Using OpenSSH Server
SSH—OpenSSH—Configuring

If you didn’t do this beforehand, you may still be able to do it if you can get to a command prompt.

Anyway, the actual fix is to (re-)install the latest NVIDIA driver for your system. They will be compiled against the new Linux kernel and then everything should work fine. To find the correct NVIDIA driver, go to the NVIDIA Driver Downloads page, and use the dropdowns to select the correct driver for your system.  Download it to your local system, then upload it to your Linux PC (if you have SSH access working then you can use an SFTP client, such as WinSCP or Transmit, to upload your driver file).  Once you have it on your PC, from a command prompt navigate to the directory where you put the driver and then change the permissions to make it executable:

sudo chmod +x driver_upgrade_script_filename

Now try running the script (it should have a .run extension):

sudo ./driver_upgrade_script_filename

It should not complain that the Gnome Display Manager or KDE Display Manager is running (if it were, you wouldn’t be in a state of near-panic right now), but if you were just doing a regular update you’d have to do this when the GDM/KDM is stopped. For a guide that covers that scenario, see How To Install Official Nvidia Drivers in Linux, or just know that to stop the display manager,

sudo /etc/init.d/gdm stop

should stop the Gnome Display Manager, or if you’re using KDE then the command would be

sudo /etc/init.d/kdm stop

Most sources I’ve seen suggest that you answer yes to any questions the installer may ask. The only one I’d be cautious about is letting it create a new xorg.conf if you are using a customized one (which you may well be if you’ve used any of my previous HTPC-related articles). If you have edited xorg.conf, then I’d make sure you at least have a backup before letting the installer create a new one, so you can revert back to your custom one (or compare the two and insert your customizations into the new one) if necessary.

Under Ubuntu, you may get a message similar to “Provided install script failed”. That will happen every time you update the NVIDIA driver this way and it is normal. Just ignore it and continue the installation. If you get “Error locating kernel source”, run  sudo apt-get install kernel-source  from the command prompt, then run the driver upgrade script again.

When the installer has successfully finished, reboot the system and when it comes back up, hopefully you should be happy again!

ASRock Vision 3D or other Home Theater PC and "Sparklies"

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog.

Just a quick note that may save someone a lot of frustration.  This problem was observed with an ASRock Vision 3D system but could affect other HTPC’s as well.

If you are getting single-color (probably red) “sparklies” (pinpoints of light that don’t belong) in certain scenes, or when viewing certain static images, it may NOT be a software problem.  It seems that on certain systems the HDMI output may be running a little “hot” (not referring to temperature, but rather output levels) and may be overdriving the HDMI input of a connected TV.  To the best of my knowledge, there is absolutely nothing you can do to fix this in software – it’s a hardware problem, perhaps a hardware defect.

But what you can try is attenuating the HDMI signal just a bit.  If you have a HDMI switch (preferably an unamplified one), try making the connection through that instead of directly to the TV.  In at least one case, that solved the problem.  Or, if you have a very long but unamplified HDMI cable handy, you could try that (remember, any additional amplification of the signal will probably only make the problem worse!).

And if you found this article by searching on “ASRock Vision 3D”, I will just say that in my opinion, it’s not worth the price they are currently getting for it.  It’s kind of a hassle to get it working under Ubuntu Linux, and although it costs about two to three times as much as, say, an Acer Asprie Revo, you don’t get two to three times the performance (in my admittedly subjective evaluation), and you might get the HDMI output issue mentioned here.  Whether it works any better under Windows I wouldn’t know – even at the price they charge they don’t supply a copy of Windows, so we opted to use Ubuntu, which worked fine back when we set up the Acer Aspire Revo’s (if we were doing it today, we’d probably choose Linux Mint instead).  In my personal opinion, you might be a lot happier with something else unless you are a real Linux geek and don’t mind tinkering until you can get everything working right, or perhaps if you plan to splurge for a copy of Windows — again, can’t say if that would work any better.

An overscan fix for the Sharp LC-42SB45U television set when connected to a computer with a Linux operating system (Ubuntu, etc.)

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which in turn was reposted with the permission of the original author from a now-defunct Macintosh-oriented blog. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to The Michigan Telephone Blog.

If you bought a Sharp LC-42SB45U TV, perhaps because it was on a super great (and very lightly advertised) deal at Wal-Mart back in November, and then later tried to hook up a home theater PC to it, you may have been disappointed to discover that unlike most flat screen digital TV’s it doesn’t have a “pixel-to-pixel” or similar 1:1 pixel mapping mode. The result is that when you hook up a computer to one of the HDMI ports, there is a serious overscan problem — for example, if you are running Ubuntu Linux (or some other version of Linux) you won’t see the top or bottom menu bars, because they are outside the visible screen area. If you use XBMC or Boxee, you can go into that program’s settings menu and apply overscan correction from within the program, but most other programs and video players don’t offer an overscan correction option.

The problem is not that there’s no “Dot by Dot” setting in the Sharp TV — it’s just that it’s a (very) hidden option, and as far as I know, there is nothing you can do using the buttons on the TV or on the remote to make it appear (I’d be very happy to be proven wrong on this point; if there is some sort of hidden remote control key sequence that can make the Dot by Dot option always appear, I wish someone would spill the beans so we can fix this issue the right way). But with one small tweak in a Linux configuration file, you can make it appear, like so:

Sharp LC-42SB45U TV showing Dot by Dot option

My first approach to this came at a cost: I read that if you could send the Sharp a non-standard vertical sync frequency (refresh rate) a bit below the normal 60 Hz, the alternate View Mode would appear.  That did work, and in my non-scientific testing, I found that 59.55 Hz was about the cutoff point.  Anything above that, and you get the normal menu of View Mode options when you press the View Mode button on the remote.  Anything at about that or below,  and you get the View Mode options menu shown above. However, this was certainly less than ideal because of the non-standard refresh rate. I got started on that path after reading a forum post that suggested a custom ModeLine in your /etc/X11/xorg.conf file to give you a 1816×1026 display.  While this will work to fix the overscan, it also cuts down on the pixels available to programs, and makes things not quite as sharp (no pun intended) as they should be.

Now, the idea of using a custom ModeLine in your /etc/X11/xorg.conf file is not a bad idea, and the above-referenced post did contain some good information  (especially about disabling some unwanted Ubuntu packages that might cause your xorg.conf to be ignored).  So I tried the xorg.conf shown in that post, except I used the original ModeLine shown (which is correct for the Sharp LC-42SB45U as long as you don’t mind the overscan).  I then read in another forum post (on a different site) that someone had found that the Dot by Dot option would appear if the refresh rate were set to 59 Hz rather than 60 Hz.  However they were doing that on a Windows machine, not a Linux box, if I recall correctly.

But again, that had the disadvantage of a non-standard refresh rate.  I’ve read on several sites that the ideal refresh rate is 59.94 Hz (it’s very close to 60 Hz and is exactly twice the ATSC 1920×1080 progressive scan frequency of 29.97 Hz) so my goal was to get as close to that as possible. I then read that someone had actually accomplished this on a Windows box by changing the timing to something called “CVT reduced blank” (the procedure on a Windows box is to bring up the NVIDIA Control Panel, then click on Change Resolution, then Add Resolution, then Create Custom Resolution, then in the “Timing” section find the “Standard” drop-down box and select CVT reduced blank. Make sure the other settings look sane, click the Test button and go from there. Mac OS X users can do something similar using a program called SwitchResX — see Brian Semiglia’s comment in the Comments section for a link to instructions. The reason this doesn’t work under Linux is that the Linux version of the NVIDIA Control Panel doesn’t offer this level of functionality, and also, some might encounter this issue even if not using NVIDIA graphics). So my goal was to find a ModeLine that would do the CVT reduced blank but not use a non-standard screen size nor refresh rate. After searching the web, playing around with an online Calculator for video timings which I saved to a local drive and then hacked a bit to display four decimal points of precision on some key values, and generally spending more time than I intended, I came up with a working ModeLine.

First, let’s look at the original 1920×1080 ModeLine from the above-linked forum post:

ModeLine "1920x1080" 148.50 1920 2008 2052 2200 1080 1084 1089 1125 +hsync +vsync

If you change the pixel clock frequency value in a ModeLine (the 148.50 in the line shown above) you change the refresh rate, and if you change certain other values you change the other timings.  I cheated a bit and used Google to search for a working ModeLine that provided 1920×1080 at 59.94 progressive scan, and found one that was very close (59.93, actually) so I tweaked the refresh to give me exactly 59.94.  This is the final ModeLine I came up with:

Modeline "1920x1080" 138.5141 1920 1968 2000 2080 1080 1083 1088 1111 +hsync +vsync

Okay, so you may think it ridiculous to specify the pixel clock frequency out to four decimal places, but hey, it works! So, this is what I’m now using for an xorg.conf file (by the way, if any of the ModeLines in this article are truncated on your display, just keep in mind that the last two values in each line are +hsync +vsync — if you copy and paste any of the long ModeLines, hopefully you’ll get the complete line).  Bear in mind that I’m using this with an Acer Aspire Revo, so some of these lines are specific to the NVIDIA graphics chipset, but the principle of changing the ModeLine probably should work with this model Sharp TV even if some other graphics chipset is used on the computer:

# nvidia-xconfig: X configuration file generated by nvidia-xconfig
# nvidia-xconfig:  version 1.0  (buildmeister@builder75)  Tue Dec  8 21:04:28 PST 2009

Section "ServerLayout"
    Identifier     "Layout0"
    Screen      0  "Screen0"
    InputDevice    "Keyboard0" "CoreKeyboard"
    InputDevice    "Mouse0" "CorePointer"
EndSection

Section "Files"
EndSection

Section "InputDevice"
    # generated from default
    Identifier     "Mouse0"
    Driver         "mouse"
    Option         "Protocol" "auto"
    Option         "Device" "/dev/psaux"
    Option         "Emulate3Buttons" "no"
    Option         "ZAxisMapping" "4 5"
EndSection

Section "InputDevice"
    # generated from default
    Identifier     "Keyboard0"
    Driver         "kbd"
EndSection

Section "Monitor"
    Identifier     "Monitor0"
    VendorName     "Unknown"
    ModelName      "Unknown"
    HorizSync       15.0 - 75.0
    VertRefresh     55.0 - 76.0
    ModeLine       "1920x1080" 138.5141 1920 1968 2000 2080 1080 1083 1088 1111 +hsync +vsync
    Option         "ExactModeTimingsDVI" "TRUE"
    Option         "DPMS"
EndSection

Section "Device"
    Identifier     "Device0"
    Driver         "nvidia"
    VendorName     "NVIDIA Corporation"
    Option         "ModeValidation" "NoEdidModes"
    Option         "HWCursor" "false"
    Option         "DynamicTwinView" "false"
EndSection

Section "Screen"
    Identifier     "Screen0"
    Device         "Device0"
    Monitor        "Monitor0"
    DefaultDepth    24
    SubSection     "Display"
        Modes      "1920x1080"
        Depth       24
    EndSubSection
EndSection

Section "Extensions"
     Option         "Composite" "Disable"
EndSection

This seems to work well on a Acer Aspire Revo running Ubuntu Karmic Koala (EDIT: and I’ve also used it under Maverick Meerkat), though I imagine it would work with other Linux distributions that use an xorg.conf file (including XBMC Live), however as far as I know this trick only works with the Sharp LC-42SB45U TV and no other model.  With this xorg.conf I don’t have to tweak the overscan settings in XBMC or Boxee at all. It works for me, but it may or may not work for you.  Standard disclaimers apply – I’m not telling you to do this on your setup, and if you break something, you own all the pieces, but from me you’ll get nothing more than perhaps a bit of sympathy. Don’t even think of doing this if you are not willing to assume any and all risks.

EDIT: If you don’t want to go through all the hassle I went through to calculate the correct ModeLine, you can run the cvt program with the -r option from the Linux command prompt, like this:

cvt -r 1920 1080

That’s for a 1920 x 1080 display. On my system this generated the following output:

# 1920x1080 59.93 Hz (CVT 2.07M9-R) hsync: 66.59 kHz; pclk: 138.50 MHz
Modeline "1920x1080R"  138.50  1920 1968 2000 2080  1080 1083 1088 1111 +hsync -vsync

You’ll notice this is nearly identical to the ModeLine I generated (the vsync is the opposite, though — don’t know if that would be an issue). What I’ve read is that you paste the generated ModeLine into your xorg.conf file and make sure you also have the line

Option         "ExactModeTimingsDVI" "TRUE"

in your xorg.conf (to force it to use your generated ModeLine) and that may be all you need. Certainly simpler than how I did it, but I didn’t know about the cvt program. (End EDIT).

By the way, if you want to hack that Calculator for video timings, just save the HTML page to your local hard drive, open it in a text editor and look for this section (it’s very close to the top):

function TwoDecimal(number) {
 number=((Math.round(number*100)/100));
 return number;
}

Change that second line to

number=((Math.round(number*10000)/10000));

Then load the page into your favorite browser (with JavaScript enabled). That will display a couple extra decimal points on some of the critical values.

Some notes on creating a home theater PC using the Acer Aspire Revo

 

Important
This is a heavily edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog.

This article was originally published in January, 2010. Things have changed considerably since then, and most of what was shown in the original article is no longer necessary. You install Ubuntu, then you install XBMC, and it pretty much just works. And if you want an even better experience, you might want to look into installing XBMCbuntu. There may be a few hints in this article that are still applicable but you are very likely going to find that most things just work. One thing you may (or may not) need to do is completely uninstall and then reinstall lirc, because it may not show you the window that lets you select your remote (assuming you have purchased an infrared remote that has a receiver that connects to the USB port), and on the re-install of LIRC you should see the selection window and be able to pick your correct remote.  Or, better yet, you can skip the removal/reinstall by running dpkg-reconfigure lirc from a terminal prompt (which will bring up the remote control selection window).

Another thing that you might want to do is consider using Linux Mint rather than Ubuntu, particularly if you hate the new Unity interface.

The original genesis of this installation was an article at the Lifehacker site entitled Build a Silent, Standalone XBMC Media Center On the Cheap. While that article is probably outdated, you may still want to read it first, then come back here.

The first thing you need to know is that there are several different models of the Acer Aspire Revo out there.  You want the highest powered model you can get, and in particular, the most memory and highest number of processors.  Even the high-end ones are very reasonably priced if you shop around, and even moreso if you can score a good, gently-used unit.  Note that you CAN buy an Acer Aspire Revo with some version of Windows installed, but it will cost you more and (especially in the higher end models) and for a standalone media center, Linux works better anyway, so why pay extra for an operating system you may never use?

You’ll need a wireless or USB keyboard and mouse during the setup phase.  Some Revo sellers include a wireless keyboard and mouse, while others don’t, so just be aware of that when ordering. Read specifications VERY carefully and know what you are buying! Also consider, if you get a defective keyboard (we did), will it cost more to ship it back than what you’d spend to buy a replacement locally (probably yes, if you buy from an overseas seller)? Don’t overlook pre-owned Revo’s — as long as they are still in good working condition and have a model number in the 3000 series or above, they should be fine (the main thing to make sure of is that they have the maximum amount of memory). Be aware that some early models did not have a digital audio output, so if that’s important to you (and it probably is in this application), be careful what you buy.

Also, the Lifehacker article wants you to install the operating system from a thumb drive.  If you have an external CD or DVD drive (that connects using a USB port) do yourself a favor and use that (just install from the distribution CD). By the way, speaking of USB ports, at least some Revo models have a sixth (hidden) USB port. It’s right next to the power switch, on the narrowest part of the case — if you see a small, rubbery insert with a USB logo on it, you can peel that off with your fingernail to reveal the hidden USB port (not that you’d want to unless you really need the sixth port).

Probably the most important thing in that Lifehacker article is the BIOS tweaks. Note that most newer Revos don’t seem to have the “Boot to RevoBoot” option, so if you can’t find that setting, don’t worry about it. Also, if you get a newer, higher end unit with more memory, set the iGPU Frame Buffer Size to 512MB, not the 256MB that the article suggested for the low-end unit that Lifehacker used for their build.

Installing Ubuntu is easy; you basically answer the few questions asked during the installation, and stay with the defaults when you are not sure how to answer. You probably do want it to take over the entire hard drive, so make sure you have saved anything you might want from that drive before you begin the install. We strongly recommend using a 32 bit version of Ubuntu – even though the Revo technically supports a 64 bit operating system, we have found that many things simply don’t work right with the 64 bit OS. If you insist on trying the 64 bit version, you’l probably at the very least need to work through several issues.

If you’re totally inexperienced with Linux, you probably should grab the latest full install disk image of Ubuntu and burn it to a CD, or if you really want to try installing it from a USB memory stick, a visit to the Pen Drive Linux site may help you get the image onto the USB stick in the first place. We used the Ubuntu Minimal CD Image for the install, to save time downloading a huge CD image that is mostly replaced during the software update process. If you go that route, be sure to read the instructions on that page carefully, or you’ll be scratching your head wondering why it’s not working! When you type “tasksel” to select the system to install as instructed, you’ll want to install the standard Ubuntu Desktop but there may be other options you’ll want to install as well, such as an ssh server and/or samba server (those might already be present in the Ubuntu desktop install, but it won’t install anything twice, so I just checked those to be on the safe side).

If you do as most users probably will, and download an ISO file, burn it to a CD, and install from that (using an external CD or DVD drive), just be sure that you check any boxes to install additional codecs or to use additional repositories, if offered any such options.

After installing the operating system, if the nVidia drivers were not installed (very unlikely unless for some reason your video hardware wasn’t detected properly), the next task is to install them.  The system should offer to do this automatically (look for an icon in the top panel).

You can install Software using the Ubuntu Software Center, but not all available software is available there. You can also install Synaptic if you wish, from the Ubuntu Software Center or using apt-get install synaptic from a terminal window. When I mention installing software, I suggest you try the Ubuntu Software Center first, and if you don’t find it there, then try Synaptic or apt-get.

You might want to start by installing mc (Midnight Commander) – I wouldn’t have a Linux box without it, but that’s just me.

In newer versions of Ubuntu you may also want to consider installing ClassicMenu Indicator, which is a notification area applet (application indicator) for the top panel of Ubuntu’s Unity desktop environment. It provides a simple way to get a classic GNOME-style application menu for those who prefer this over the Unity dash menu. Like the classic GNOME menu, it includes Wine games and applications if you have those installed. It looks like this:

ClassicMenu Indicator
ClassicMenu Indicator

If you want to be able to access your HTPC from other computers on your local network using SSH, install openssh (you don’t need to do this if you installed an ssh server using the minimal install, or if you find that ssh already works) and (optionally) sshguard.  Then edit /etc/ssh/sshd_config and change the PermitRootLogin value from “yes” to “no” (for the sake of system security).

Another thing you want to do is make sure that the system time be kept synchronized with Internet servers.  Right click on the clock applet in the top panel, then select Time & Date Settings, and make sure everything looks right there (especially that the option to set the time “Automatically from the Internet” is selected).

Now it’s time to install XBMC.  If you don’t find it in any of the standard repositories or want to make sure you get the latest release version, then do this from the terminal window:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:team-xbmc
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install xbmc
sudo apt-get update

You might also want to install MythTV, or at least a MythTV frontend. See Links: A complete guide for setting up MythTV from start to finish for more information on that. Note that MythTV can be installed from the Ubuntu Software Center, and that’s the only recommended method, since they tend to offer a more stable version.

If you happen to have a Wii remote control, see the document Building an ION powered HTPC with XBMC and in particular, Module 6 : Using a Wii remote control. The following notes on an IR remote do not apply if you are using a Wii remote!

If you have an infrared remote control and infrared receiver (these generally come together as part of a package; check the XBMC forums to see which are recommended), run XBMC at least once and then run dpkg-reconfigure lirc from a command prompt (terminal window) to select your particular model of remote control.

You will likely want to be able to launch XBMC using the remote.  As a PRELIMINARY way to accomplish this, we opened or created (can’t recall which) a file called .lircrc (note the leading dot character) in the user home directory and put the following lines in:

begin
 prog = irexec
 button = KEY_BLUE
 config = xbmc --standalone &
 repeat = 0
end

begin
 prog = irexec
 button = KEY_POWER
 config = /usr/bin/gnome-session
 repeat = 0
end

begin
 prog = irexec
 button = teletext
 config = sudo shutdown -r now
 repeat = 0
end

This starts XBMC if you push the blue button on the remote.  It also returns to the desktop if you push the power button (however, it may leave whatever program you were in running in the background), and reboots the system if you push the teletext button, but for the latter to work, you must add the following line to the end of your /etc/sudoers file:

%admin ALL = NOPASSWD: /sbin/shutdown

EDIT:  In later versions of Ubuntu the above line does not always work as shown, however, substituting the user name for %admin apparently does.  So for example, if you had users named larry, moe, and curly on your system, you could do this (if you wanted all of them to be able to use the remote button to reboot the system):

larry ALL = NOPASSWD: /sbin/shutdown
moe ALL = NOPASSWD: /sbin/shutdown
curly ALL = NOPASSWD: /sbin/shutdown

Note that this is just to get you started — you can do more complex operations by running an external script rather than the selected program directly, to make your remote work the way you want it to.

By the way, the irexec program must be running for the above to work, so you can use the Ubuntu Startup Applications program to make it run at startup. You should run it with the -d option, e.g. irexec -d in order to make it run as a background process.  Note that you need to do this even in newer versions of Ubuntu.

Startup Applications — Add Startup Program
Startup Applications — Add Startup Program

You will probably want to set up one or more shared folders on your system so you can move videos, etc. into those folders. Be aware that you do have to enable file sharing for each folder you want to share.  This is pretty straightforward in Ubuntu — select the folder you want to share, right click on the folder icon, click on “Sharing Options”, and then give the share a name and check the appropriate boxes:

Folder Sharing options
Folder Sharing options

Check “Share this folder” and give the share a name (I called this one “shared”). Check “Allow others to create and delete files in this folder” even if you are going to require a valid login to do so, otherwise even you will not be able to copy files to that folder or delete existing ones from a remote location.  Check “Guest access” if you want anyone on your local network to have access without the need to supply a user name and password.

If you are trying to get VNC screen sharing (in Ubuntu it’s called Desktop Sharing, but it’s actually VNC) to work, when setting up Desktop Sharing Preferences, make sure that “You must confirm each access to this machine” is UNchecked (it is checked by default).

Desktop Sharing Preferences - UNCHECK "You must confirm each access to this machine"
Desktop Sharing Preferences – UNCHECK “You must confirm each access to this machine”

Then, use the CompizConfig Settings Manager (see How To Change The Settings Of Ubuntu Unity With CompizConfig Settings Manager) and uncheck all the options under “Effects” (except that “Window Decoration” is okay to keep). Apparently, the use of any visual effects is enough to make the remote desktop non-functional:

CompizConfig Settings Manager — Effects
CompizConfig Settings Manager — Effects

The nice thing about this is that even if you have the overscan issue discussed below, when you access the shared Desktop you see the full screen including the top and bottom panels, so you don’t have to guess where you’re clicking! In theory, you could disconnect the keyboard and mouse from the Revo, and just use the Remote Desktop when you need to do system maintenance work, or whatever.

One major issue you may encounter when using a HDTV as the display device is something called “overscan” – that means the desktop is actually larger than the area shown by the HDTV display, meaning you can’t actually see your top panel, etc.  While XBMC has a ways to correct for overscan, it’s better to correct it for the entire system.  In recent Ubuntu versions, the NVidia drivers are installed when Ubuntu is installed (probably only if the installer detects you have NVidia graphics hardware), and the newer drivers do sometimes expose an Overscan Compensation slider that can be used to correct the problem:

NVIDIA X Server Settings (Overscan Compensation slider near bottom)

This slider doesn’t always appear for some reason, and even when it does, you really should try NOT to use it (except, perhaps, during initial setup and configuration) because if set to anything other that “0” it WILL degrade picture quality somewhat.  The proper place to cure overscan is at the HDTV itself.  Most HDTV sets have a setting that will fix overscan, but the problem is that there is no standard name for this setting — I’ve seen it called things like pixel-to-pixel, dot-to-dot, 1:1 display, exact image, etc.  It’s often buried a submenu or two deep (remember that owner’s manual you got with your TV?  Now might be a good time to dig it out!). I’ve found that if you look hard enough, most newer TV’s have this setting, although some do a pretty good job of hiding it (the Sharp LC-42SB45U being an extreme case – it won’t even display the option unless the timing of the signal you send meets certain specifications!).  You really should try very hard to find this option, because it’s much better to correct the problem at the hardware end than by using any software method (that includes the software overscan correction built into XBMC) – you’ll get a sharper picture and quite likely fewer issues with video flickering, etc.  Even if you have to resort to building an xorg.conf file to make it work, that’s better than trying to do software overscan compensation in the video driver or XBMC — use that method only as a last resort.

If your TV set just doesn’t have a setting such as the one mentioned above — and some don’t — there is a page of instructions to help fix the overscan problem here.  We originally wanted this for the aforementioned Sharp LC-42SB45U TV and wasted a huge amount of time trying to find an overscan fix, and you can read what we finally came up with for that particular make and model TV only here: An overscan fix for the Sharp LC-42SB45U television set when connected to a computer with a Linux operating system (Ubuntu, etc.) (and if you have that model TV, it’s preferable to use the xorg.conf file given at that link rather than the Overscan Compensation slider). No matter what, you can see the full screen if you use the VNC/Desktop Sharing service mentioned above, and some have even resorted to using a little workaround to make the overscan less annoying, assuming you don’t find the workaround more annoying than the original problem! And for the more technically astute, it’s always possible to tinker with the ModeLine in xorg.conf (which, again, is preferable to using the Overscan Compensation slider).

Note that the following few paragraphs (up to, but not including, the one about HDMI audio issues) were applicable at the time this article was originally written, but are likely no longer valid due to updates in the nVidia driver and in Kodi (the new name for XBMC).

Irregardless of whether you have overscan issues, if (and ONLY if) you can see any flickering or “tearing” or other weirdness during video playback, it would probably be a good idea to follow the instructions one of these three posts: Either Howto achieve judder free perfectly synced playback at 23.97/59.94 Hz, XBMC and fixing the 24p issue, or HOW-TO setup XBMC and Linux with correct resolution (xorg.conf) (and I’d recommend them in that order — start with the first, and only go on to the second or third if you still have unresolved issues, except that if after trying the technique in the first link, you still see a bit of flicker during the playback of video files then I’d jump right to the third link — that’s the one that fixed it for us on one installation) — in those articles they tell you to modify /etc/X11/xorg.conf and add a couple of lines. I’d suggest a few additional modifications there, if not already mentioned in whichever article you used — under Section “Device” add one or both of these lines

Option "HWCursor" "false"
Option "DynamicTwinView" "false"

The first of those lines is a “blinking cursor fix” and it’s supposed to help if you find an unwanted blinking cursor you can’t get rid of (I haven’t encountered that particular problem yet). The second line enables 1080p 24Hz mode for smoother playback of certain videos (probably most of them, actually). That line can actually go in either “Device” or “Screen” section – I added it to both just to be safe, but that’s probably overkill. Also, at the bottom of the xorg.conf file, add this:

Section "Extensions"
     Option         "Composite" "Disable"
EndSection

That’s supposed to provide better H264 acceleration.

If you added the “DynamicTwinView” “false” option as shown above, and you know for a fact that your monitor supports 1920 x 1080 @ 60 Hz (you should be able to determine that if you followed the instructions in the aforementioned post) then that mode should become available in XBMC — in the XBMC GUI, go to Settings | System | Video Output to select your desired output mode, and see if that mode is available. If, for some reason it is still not available, you might be able to force the issue (you really should not need to do this if you started with the posts linked above, but I’ll leave this information here anyway in case someone needs it) – in order to do that, open a terminal window and do this:

cd /etc/X11/Xsession.d
sudo touch 45custom_xrandr-settings
sudo nano 45custom_xrandr-settings

Paste into this file the following lines, but take the parameters for the first line from the Modeline you created in the previous step, except use “1920x1080_60.00” instead of “1920×1080”.  The first line below is an example (do not copy it verbatim, use the settings from your Modeline) but the second and third can be copied and used as is:

xrandr --newmode "1920x1080_60.00" 173.00 1920 2048 2248 2576 1080 1083 1088 1120 -hsync +vsync
xrandr --addmode default 1920x1080_60.00
xrandr --output default --mode 1920x1080_60.00

One other thing that might improve the video quality in XBMC is to go to Settings | Video | Playback settings and change the setting Adjust display refresh rate to match video to On start/stop (you could also try Always). This fix may be of particular help if you are trying to watch Live TV, or recorded TV from a PVR backend, and the picture doesn’t appear quite as sharp as it should. Leave Pause during refresh rate change set to Off. Obviously, this would be most noticeable if you are trying to view a 1080p source. In some areas you may need to play with the de-interlacing options as well, but that is beyond the scope of this article, and we didn’t find a need to do that.

If you are having audio issues when trying to send audio via HDMI, first of all open a terminal window and enter alsamixer and when it comes up press F6 to select your sound card (most likely HDA nVidia) and then make sure that none of the S/PDIF outputs are muted (this will me indicated by “MM” whereas an unmuted one will show “00”). Pay particular attention to S/PDIF 1 as it is often the culprit – use the arrow keys to select it and then press M to unmute it, then ESC to exit. I know this doesn’t make sense since you are trying to send audio out the HDMI port and not the optical audio port, but trust me, you need to do this. Then, if you are finding that audio is coming from the wrong speakers (center and LFE channels are mixed up with left and right surround channels) go to this page: HOW-TO:Remap HDMI audio on Gen 1 ION – Linux – I suggest using the settings under “1.3.1 ALSA Configuration” and below, but read the entire page first to get the full overview. Note that after following the instructions on that page, if you are also running the MythTV frontend you may have to set the audio to use ALSA:hdmi_direct and that this will NOT appear in the dropdown – you should first select one of the other compatible HDMI card options and then edit the Audio Output Device field to show ALSA:hdmi_direct. This is all necessary because the NVIDIA MCP79/7A HDMI hardware has incorrect channel mapping. This problem does NOT appear when using the S/PDIF (optical) output.

If you want to use a web browser to view videos that require the Flash plugin (such as many YouTube videos), particularly if you will be trying to view them in fullscreen mode, you should know that the Flash plugin will not use the Revo’s onboard nVidia graphics unless you tell it to. But, if you don’t do that the videos will most likely be too jerky to watch. So here is what you need to do from a Linux command prompt:

sudo mkdir /etc/adobe/
sudo nano /etc/adobe/mms.cfg

Now insert the following two lines into the file you’ve just opened:

EnableLinuxHWVideoDecode=1
OverrideGPUValidation=true

Then press CTRL+X followed by Enter to save the new file.

Note that this fix does not work absolutely perfectly, so you might still see some video issues now and then, and it might not work on all sites or in all browsers (it does work in Firefox, however). In many cases the video will be far more watchable than without the fix, but on some systems this fix could cause browser crashes and if those become frequent you may need to try removing the /etc/adobe/mms.cfg file. Also, note that this fix will only improve videos played using the Flash plugin.

If you need to (re)format a hard drive to use with your system, and you don’t want any wasted space on the drive, be sure to read this: Free Disk Space by Reducing Reserved Blocks

If you want your system to have a fixed IP address on your local network, click on the networking icon in the top panel (up and down arrows side by side), then Edit Connections, then find the connection you are using and edit it appropriately. For example, under the Wired tab I see Wired Connection 1, and if I click on that and then click the Edit button, I can then select the IPv4 Settings tab, change the method to Manual, and then enter the appropriate settings for my local network.

You may find that you need to go to the “Misc” section of /etc/samba/smb.conf and set domain master = no — otherwise you may find that certain network shares randomly disappear from other computers on your network. If you don’t have the problem of shares disappearing from other computers on your network, or if you don’t have any other servers or computers that are also trying to assert themselves as a master browser, then this may not be an issue for you.

If you have Macs on your local network and would like to use AFP (Apple File Protocol) to move files around, see How to set up AFP filesharing on Ubuntu.

If you hate typing in a password each time you ssh into your Revo, see Stop entering passwords: How to set up ssh public/private key authentication for connections to a remote server.

If you want to reduce startup time when using Ubuntu or Mint (and you do not have more than one operating system installed), do this:

sudo nano /etc/default/grub

Then look for this line:

GRUB_TIMEOUT="10"

Change this line to read:

GRUB_TIMEOUT=0

Then follow the instructions at the top of the file: “If you change this file, run ‘update-grub’ afterwards to update.” This also must be done as root, so after you save the file and exit nano, do this:

sudo update-grub

If you allow the Update Manager to install certain types of updates (particularly nVidia driver updates) — and you should update your software when updates are available — you may find that XBMC won’t start up, but instead displays a message that stats with the words, “XBMC needs hardware accelerated OpenGL rendering.” Typically, simply rebooting the system will fix that issue.

If you are using the Perl script we posted a couple of years ago that monitors a Linksys or Sipura VoIP device and provides Caller ID popups when a call comes in, you may be interested to know that by adding one line to the Perl script and making some minor configuration modifications, you can also have Caller ID popups in XBMC. See our article BETA Perl script for Caller ID popups when using Linksys/Sipura devices for information. Alternately, if you have an Asterisk server, you can send Caller Id information to XBMC by adjusting the XBMC configuration as in the aforementioned article, and then adding a line to your Asterisk dial plan in the form:

exten => extension-number,n,TrySystem(wget -b -O /dev/null -o /dev/null "http://HTPC-IP-address:8080/xbmcCmds/xbmcHttp?command=ExecBuiltIn&parameter=XBMC.Notification(Call%20from%20%22${URIENCODE(${CALLERID(name)})}%22%2C${CALLERID(number)}%20calling%20extension-number%2C15000%2C%2Fhome%2Fusername%2Fphone.png)")

Note that is all one line, and be sure to change the bold, italicized values to something appropriate for your configuration, and also be sure to see the aforementioned articles for XBMC configuration information and to get the phone.png icon.

If you would like to occasionally play music without the need to have the TV running, you might want to install a program called Audacious. The nice thing about Audacious is that it offers a LIRC plugin (under the General plugins section) and if you enable that, and then add a section to your .lircrc file (for an example, follow this link and then scroll down to the section “Configure Audacious(2) to use Lirc“), you can control the program using your remote.

Audacious Preferences

If you set Audacious to “Continue playback on startup” (under the Playback section of the preferences), and then create a .lircrc entry to start Audacious, you could use your remote to turn on Audacious and resume wherever it left off on your playlist.  This is really beyond the scope of this article, but I just thought I’m mention it for those who have your Revo hooked up to a receiver and would like to be able to play audio without wasting electricity running a TV you’re not watching.

Addendum for those who wish to use Boxee under Ubuntu 12.04:

Boxee has discontinued support for desktop platforms, but you might be able to install the last Linux desktop version by following the instructions on this page to install Boxee (note particularly the unmet dependency that must also be installed), and then if you are using a MCE remote, you must also follow the instructions in this post to make the remote work correctly with Boxee.

Recent Posts

Recent Comments

Archives

Categories

Meta

GiottoPress by Enrique Chavez

%d bloggers like this: