audio/video content

Custom “Reptilicus” Green skin for Windows Media Center, still working under Windows 10.

[11/26/2017: Windows 10 Fall 2017 Update notes at bottom]

This post will be of use to those interested in Windows Media Center software as a free DVR using a USB TV tuner, HDHomeRun device, or the like.

Microsoft stopped updating their Windows Media Center software after they introduced Windows 7. It is supposed to be incompatible with Windows 10. Eventually, Microsoft may move that functionality to Xbox.

However, some enterprising hobbyists figured out ways to install WMC and make it run anyhow.

The big Windows 10 [Spring 2017] Creators Update, now rolling out to users, breaks WMC, as did the previous major Anniversary Update.

But afterwards, WMC can be reinstalled, or installed for the first time with the special installer software.

WMC (which includes free program data downloads) hopefully should work until 2023 when Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 support is discontinued. (See previous post RIP Windows Media Center.)


I first used one of these installation methods to Add Windows Media Center to Win 10 on July 23, 2016. A couple of months later, this happened:

 Update, 10/4/2016:

My successful add of WMC to Win 10 was wiped out when my PC automatically received the Anniversary Update for Windows 10 Version 1607 on 9/24/2016. Tried a reinstall, but got an “Installing package failed, reverting…” message.

Using the WMC version 8.8.1 zip file and instructions in this post at MyDigitalLife, I was able to get WMC working again. You would need to create a login there to see the post.

WMC 8.8.1 has worked great.

But I recently got wind of another major Windows Update on its way, the Windows 10 [Spring 2017] Creators Update (Version 1703). If you want it early, you can make that happen by downloading the Update Assistant.

I checked recent posts on the MyDigitalLife forum and found that Creators Update does indeed break WMC. But the above-linked WMC 8.8.1 version can be successfully reinstalled after the Win 10 update.

Since I have two Win 10 PCs running WMC, I picked the faster quad-core PC for my first go.

No problems at all with the Creators Update. And all the WMC 8.8.1 files from last time were still there.

Here are my relevant notes:


Be current on Windows Update before starting with Creators Update.

If you use ServerWMC, note or take screenshots of your current settings, since you have to set up ServerWMC again from scratch. I had my pre-update PC to look at, so I didn’t need to do this.

If you already have WMC working, no need to uninstall it before Creators.

Also in that case, I recommend saving a copy of your current HOSTS file (C:\Windows\system32\drivers\etc\HOSTS). There are a couple of IP addresses at the bottom that enable WMC to download the free program guide data.

FYI, my HOSTS file contains the following lines that work in Tulsa (and possibly anywhere in the continental US):

2.16.216.176 cdn.epg.tvdownload.microsoft.com
65.55.186.113 data.tvdownload.microsoft.com

After applying Creators Update, you can uninstall/reinstall an existing WMC 8.8.1 setup as follows:

  • In your 8.8.1 folder (mine is C:\WMC-V8.8.1), right-click Uninstaller.cmd and Run As Administrator. Then reboot.
  • Run _TestRights.cmd as Admin. You should see a command prompt window. (If you don’t, reboot and retry.)
  • Run either InstallerGREEN.cmd or InstallerBLUE.cmd as Admin. (Blue is the standard WMC color, green is custom.)
  • Check your HOSTS file and make sure IP addresses are there.

You do have to go through the setup process again for WMC.

If you should have problems with the program data download phase of setup, the IP addresses in your HOSTS file may be responsible. Do a Google search for “data.tvdownload.microsoft.com” to look for other IPs if yours or the ones I gave above don’t work for you.

I again used TightVNC viewer on my laptop to remotely do the update on my two headless (no monitor or keyboard) media PCs running TightVNC server.


No need to uninstall/reinstall any WMC-associated third-party programs such as ServerWMC, My Channel Logos, or Ceton My Media Center as I needed to do for the upgrade from Win 7 to Win 10.

Cribbing my settings from the other PC, I quickly re-set up ServerWMC. (Over there, it enables my Raspberry Pi to communicate with WMC; see previous post Windows Media Center & Raspberry Pi.) The other two third-party programs needed no attention.

Emby is a free application I use with ServerWMC on this quad-core PC to stream live or recorded TV programs to my smartphone or Roku (see previous post Watch live local TV anywhere via Emby app). All I needed to do on the Emby server software was to Refresh Guide Data.


Once I got all that working, I did my other Win 10 PC in blue.

Proving there is more than one way to skin a dinosaur. 😉

I created some of these logos for the Logitech Harmony 890 remote. Note the ancient NewsNow53 logo.

11/26/2017, Windows 10 Fall Creators Update:

Pretty much the same story as above, survived again.

Additional notes from this go-round:

  • Before the update occurred, I used BackupRestoreSettings.cmd in the WMC-V8.8.1 folder to save my settings. After uninstalling and reinstalling as before, ran this again to restore, worked perfectly and saved a lot of work restoring icons.
  • Also from the WMC-V8.8.1 folder, per the Read_Me notes, I ran the 8.7-8.8-QuickFix.reg as before after the restore.
  • You may need to again share your Recorded TV folder, wherever it is (mine is now C:\Users\Public\Video\Recorded TV).
  • In WMC, I had to update the location of the Recorded TV folder, and add a new one for an external drive of recorded TV I have since added to this PC. Once ServerWMC picks up these changes, Emby gets them too (Emby is now my primary reason for using WMC as a backend DVR and tuner; see previous post Watch live local TV anywhere via Emby app).
  • The same IP addresses in HOSTS file still keep the program data updating.

Sooner or later, WMC will break for good, but there is a group of people planning to keep it going: Windows 10 Media Center Community.

More about all this at The Green Button.

Until Spring 2018…

Raspberry Pi TV Time Machine

I just saw this cool little TV Time Machine project for the Raspberry Pi:

“For the innards, Wellington used a cannibalised thrift store Dell monitor, hooking it up to a Raspberry Pi 2 and some second-hand speakers. After the addition of Adafruit’s video looper code to loop free content downloaded from the Internet Archive, plus some 3D-printed channel and volume knobs, the TV Time Machine was complete.”

However, we already have a TV Time Machine that can play anything available on our TiVo Roamio OTA (over-the-air):

Broadcast television today is a retro paradise: MeTV, Antenna TV, GRIT, Comet, Heroes & Icons, GetTV, COZI, etc.

The TiVo also can provide DVR recordings, any show we have on Plex, anything on Netflix or Amazon.

Our TV Time Machine in action:

We run the HDMI output of our TiVo to our big TV in the den.

But a composite output is available as well.

I connected an X10 video sender unit to this output with an RCA cable (red, white, and yellow plugs).

Whatever is playing on TiVo in the den is transmitted via the sender to the video receiver unit in the guest room, which is attached to the 1983 TV set by a standard TV coax cable.

The den TV doesn’t need to be on.

[Above left: video sender unit in den; above right: video receiver unit in the guest room. The little curved rod is an IR extender, not needed here. It can be folded down.]

Control the den TiVo remotely from the guest room with the free TiVo phone app:

I try to keep the sender off when not in use because it jams part of the crowded 2.4 GHz band used by older wifi routers; see previous post Conflict between Wifi, X10 video sender.

The X10 receiver can be on all the time. The old TV is always set on channel 3.

(Video sender/receiver pair in the TTM aStore)

Since these devices are analog, the picture looks especially good on an old analog TV.

Next up: “Police Squad!”… IN COLOR

We have all 6 “Police Squad!” and all 49 “The Outer Limits” episodes on Plex.


The official demo includes a tour of Plex’ “intergalactic headquarters”.
(No, Edward Snowden hasn’t gone to work there.)


The Echo Dot/Alexa, Amazon’s hands-free, voice-controlled device, recently acquired a new skill: Plex.

(Plex is a great, free way to make your own music/video content available on your smart TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, etc.)

I have worked with this skill quite a bit, but it doesn’t seem highly usable for me. Why?

  • You must already have a Plex app up and available for Alexa to control. If I have just used my Logitech Harmony remote to set up our Roku’s Plex channel, then the remote is a more straightforward way to make selections.
  • Even when the Plex channel is up on our Roku 3, Alexa occasionally seems to be blind to its availability. A reboot of the Roku 3 is needed to get Alexa to “see” it. (It may be more a problem with this model of Roku than with Alexa.)
  • If you have more than one Plex Media Server (we do), it’s time-consuming to get Alexa to switch servers. You must listen to a numbered list of available servers before you can respond.
  • Voice control generally works OK for movies. For TV shows, I rarely would remember the specific season and episode number. With a physical remote, you don’t need to recall anything; it’s browsable up there on the screen.
  • Asking Alexa for suggestions, or to shuffle music by an artist, or to play something new works fairly well. But it frequently takes me more than one try to get Alexa to play a specific album. Often, only one song is played from the album (maybe an Alexa bug).

The Alexa Plex skill will likely improve; this is the initial roll-out.

Note: when Alexa is controlling Plex, the music or movie sound issues from the device running the Plex app (e.g., smart TV, Roku), rather than from the Echo Dot. That’s fine if your Echo Dot is located close enough to you.

Alexa plugged into our sound system

But if your Echo Dot is plugged into a sound system playing non-Alexa sound, the Dot may be too close to the speakers for Alexa to understand without you yelling the entire command. (When Alexa herself is playing internet radio, merely the word “Alexa” gets her to mute the sound so she can hear the command.)

Then, you probably would need to use the sound-switching tactic I described in a previous post, Amazon Echo Dot as a stereo component. Or use a long cord to get the Echo Dot away from the speakers and closer to your voice.

Or, get another Echo Dot to sit within arm’s length, and change its wake word to “Echo”, “Amazon”, or “Computer”. They only cost $50.

However, two talking devices in the same room might give you app-o-Plex-y 🙂 .

“A-Plex-a” is cool and fun, though impractical for my everyday use.

If you are a Plex and Alexa user, do go ahead and try it; the price is right: $0.

Alexa Voice Commands for Plex

dragons

Avast, mateys: here be dragons!

Well now, here’s a touchy subject in the world of cord-cutting: piracy.

A while back, an acquaintance posed a question to me, the presumed cord-cutting expert.

He said a “friend of his” was wanting to buy something he called a “DigiXtream Kodi box” that would let him stream TV shows and movies, even if they were still in the theater.

His question was, could this be legal?

I told him that I didn’t know anything about his friend’s prospective purchase, but in no way could I imagine that it would be legal.

Subsequently, I looked into his question.


At that time, the only way I knew for pirated content to be mass-distributed was with BitTorrent software. BT is a way to download files hosted on multiple users’ computers around the world.

When you initiate a file download (from a torrent link), free BitTorrent software on your PC pieces it together segment by segment from other computers around the world with the partial or complete file. Then if someone else wants the same file, your computer, running the BT software, may automatically offer to upload segments to that user.

BitTorrent (using peer-to-peer file sharing, or “P2P”) has many legal uses, but downloading pirated movies isn’t one of them.

Back in the early 2000s, I used BT a few times to retrieve episodes of “Survivor” that my wife somehow missed recording. More recently, I downloaded an obscure and unavailable British movie called “Let’s Kill Uncle”, which I wrote about in this post: Let’s kill Uncle first!.

I wouldn’t do that again, due to the way BT shares files. The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) or any content rights holder can easily join a popular torrent themselves and capture a list of users’ internet addresses. They are probably more interested in downloaders of current, popular movies, but in retrospect, I was rolling the dice.

I know of a friend of a friend here in Tulsa who got a warning from Cox in just that way.


Kodi, I did know about. I’ve talked about it here numerous times.

It’s legitimate open-source free media player software. I have a Raspberry Pi I use as a media computer, running on free OSMC software. (OSMC is a minimal, self-updating version of Linux, packaged with a Kodi front-end.)

There are many addons in the official Kodi repository for audio, video, pictures, weather, games, etc. I’ve been using the Pi to stream our own in-house content with Plex, plus internet music and video content, as intended by its creators.


To my surprise, I found that Amazon sells a plethora of cheap computers, preloaded with custom builds of Kodi and third-party unofficial addons whose sole purpose is to pirate video content.

Apparently, selling the boxes is legal, but their purpose is clearly illegal. Isn’t it? People would seem to be taking a big chance, buying one of these boxes and yo-ho-ho-ing merrily away, bottle of rum in hand.

The Kodi developers are striving to keep their trademarked name dissociated from these boxes and addons. Read this lengthy and angry thread on their forum. Here is Kodi’s statement last year: The Piracy Box Sellers and YouTube Promoters Are Killing Kodi.

So I looked at Amazon user comments about the various boxes. They ranged from “perfect for cord-cutters”, to “returned; too hard to use”, to “broke after two months”.

But nowhere did I see comments like “beware, I got busted”, “had to pay a big fine”, or “doing time in Federal ‘PMITA’ prison” (“Office Space” reference).

How could that be?


Turns out there are a lot of websites offering “free” streaming movies via file sharing services called cyberlockers. If you go searching for free versions of any current movie, you will find them.

Clearly, pretty much all the content in these lockers is pirated. The quality is highly variable.

If you watch these “free” movies on your computer via browser, the price you pay is taking a high risk of malware infection and identity theft.

The newer unofficial Kodi third-party addons (some older ones use BitTorrent) dodge this specific risk by navigating an ever-changing landscape of direct link addresses to the cyberlockers’ contents without exposing you to high-risk websites.

But the custom Kodi builds and third-party addons themselves (both created by parties unknown) can compromise your security. There is no accountability beyond the user community.

A news story last month described how the creator of one of these addons inserted malicious code that turned users’ computers into a DDoS (distributed denial of service) “botnet” to attack his “enemies”.

A few non-dangerous downsides, particularly for non-techies:

  • Locating specific content of adequate quality is often hit-or-miss and time-consuming.
  • These addons are not always user-friendly, and they can break or lose support over time.
  • Patience and know-how are required to keep up with changes in the legitimate Kodi software as well as the 3rd-party addons.

The cyberlockers’ business model is multi-level marketing. Read the sordid details here: Cyberlockers: Explaining Piracy’s Profit Pyramid.

As the article notes, to supplement their ad income, many cyberlockers now charge a subscription fee for premium pirated HD content and faster downloads. The addons cannot bypass these fees.


Streaming or downloading via third-party addons involves only three parties: the user, his ISP, and the cyberlocker. That makes it difficult for content owners to trace users.

fbiantipiracy2

Currently, it would be impractical, though not impossible, for the ISP to act on its own.

It would need to be capturing the user’s stream in real time to determine what was being watched, even if they had determined that the source site was a cyberlocker.

But only the copyright owner of that specific content is in a position to initiate legal action, so the ISP would need to notify it.

That is too much expense and trouble for an ISP to undertake without a compelling reason to do so. (A huge amount of bandwidth would need to be consumed to warrant their attention these days.)

But what if the copyright holder offered a bounty to the ISP? (to keep the terminology piratical). Or what if the content owner and the ISP were under the same ownership (e.g., Google)?

Could the MPAA set up a “honeypot” file at their own cyberlocker, and nail any miscreants who show up for the free goodies? I don’t see why not, though that may constitute entrapment.

Might the entire process of detection and documentation be automated, subsidized by the content owners?

Speculation.


I have read numerous opinions and have yet to find a clear-cut answer to the legality question. It differs from country to country. For the U.S., the following comment on Reddit perhaps best captures the general understanding, or lack thereof:

“Is watching streaming movies illegal?

“There is currently no definitive answer to this question. Depending on the site and file type, online streaming may create a full-length temporary copy of the movie on your computer. Alternatively, the program may delete the data as you watch.

“Some courts have held that even temporary copies may violate the law. However, the Copyright Office contends there is no violation when ‘a reproduction manifests itself so fleetingly that it cannot be copied, perceived or communicated’.

“Though the law is unclear, it is useful to note that owners, such as the MPAA, rarely go after individuals who watch streaming movies. Illegal or not, it’s much more difficult to track these users down. Unlike BitTorrent downloads, the MPAA can’t just sign into a program and snag IP addresses.”


At best, this is a gray area, ethically and legally. It does pose a risk, though of a kind different from browsing cyberlocker websites or BitTorrent downloading. From a practical standpoint, the third-party addons are likely to let you down as a consistent source for an evening’s entertainment.

Content owners have become increasingly interested in finding ways to offer their movies and TV shows on a subscription basis, since they have found that most people prefer to enjoy quality, worry-free, and user-friendly offerings.

Pay services have arrived in the form of smartphone/smart TV apps or Roku channels, such as Sling TV, WatchESPN, HBO GO, Showtime, CBS All Access, as well as old standbys Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.

Using the legitimate services assures that you won’t be wasting your time, or walking planks of any kind.

Arrr.

Amazon Echo Dot, aka Alexa, “thinking” in our theater room.

The Amazon Echo Dot with Alexa does many fun and useful voice-controlled things, including playing Jeopardy! and Seinfeld trivia, or giving you the local weather. You can place one anywhere you have an AC outlet, and you can have them in different rooms.

But instead of using it as a standalone device, I plugged one into our theater room sound system (with a 3.5mm plug to RCA stereo cable).

Our receiver must be on and set to the proper input to hear Alexa speak or play. I leave it on most of the time so I can call out any Pandora station or Tunein radio station (“Alexa, play Jazz 89.5 on Tunein”), or put on an environmental sound (“Alexa, play thunderstorm/rain/ocean sounds”).

(Most local stations are available via Tunein, including my favorites, KWGS 89.5 HD1-Public Radio/HD2-Jazz.)

You can also tell Alexa to set a sleep timer to turn off your sounds in an hour, or whatever time period you want.

I like this so much, it is now my primary way to listen to radio in our theater room. The data usage is negligible even on our second-from-the-bottom tier of Cox internet service (“Essential”: 1024 GB/month data usage, 15 Mbps max download speed).

I don’t need the receiver to be on to voice-control our home automation, though I prefer to hear her feedback, in case there is a miscommunication.

These features alone have made the Echo Dot well worth the price for me.

One hitch: if we are listening to non-Alexa music or TV sound at a decent volume, we would have to yell to get a command through to Alexa, due to her proximity to the speakers. (When Alexa herself is the sound source, she quiets it down once she hears the word “Alexa” spoken.)

To avoid yelling, mute the receiver (though you wouldn’t hear Alexa’s response), or temporarily switch the receiver to Alexa’s input.

Since I use a Logitech Harmony remote, I built soft buttons into every “Activity” so I can easily switch to Alexa’s sound briefly, then switch back to the sound input we are currently using (e.g., “InputTv” for Activity “Roku”).

Harmony remote “Activities” screen / Roku “Activity” detail: custom receiver sound input buttons