Media Browser

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The missing episode now available on Plex

The missing episode is now available to my wife on Plex.

I screwed up.

Wednesday evening, I was watching some COZI TV. As you may recall from the previous post, this is a station with weak reception at our house. I used a button on my remote to switch from the Mohu Sky 60 antenna on the roof to the Mohu Curve 50 on our set-top. I had placed and oriented the latter for optimal reception of COZI. When I turned off the set, I accidentally left the Curve selected.

Unfortunately, the placement is NOT optimal for some other stations, in particular, KTUL (ABC). That’s where my wife’s favorite soap, General Hospital, gets recorded by the TiVo. As a result the recording for April Fool’s Day was very poor, and that was no joke. It was the 53rd anniversary show with an extended flashback to traumatic events in Luke’s childhood. Not one to miss.

But I fixed my grievous error, and here’s how.

First, I checked ABC.com. The episode was available, but only if you subscribe to cable or satellite.

Next, I checked YouTube. Luckily this episode had been uploaded by a viewer, and in good quality.

Since I was signed into YouTube, I could add it to my View Later queue. Then I went to the YouTube channel on Roku and we watched it.

But this was a special anniversary episode, and an important one in the GH canon, so I wanted to archive it for her.

I found this wikiHow article, 3 Ways to Download YouTube Videos. I chose ClipGrab and downloaded the free software. (Watch the installation closely and uncheck the boxes that will include unwanted software; the Firefox extension method does not have this potential hazard.)

I pasted the URL of the General Hospital YouTube video into ClipGrab and chose .mp4 format for the output file. I had the file downloaded within a couple of minutes.

In order to use either Plex or Media Browser (now renamed “Emby”) software to watch the show via Roku on our den TV, I cataloged the .mp4 file according to Plex’ naming convention. In this case, that meant creating a folder named “General Hospital (1963)” in the TV Shows folder on my PC.  Under that, I created a “Season 53” folder, where I placed the file, which I named  “General Hospital (1963) – s53e01.mp4”.

TheTVDB.com provided the information for naming the folders and file. The “General Hospital (1963)” folder needed to include the year of the first airing (especially important in this case; there is a 2008 Korean show called “General Hospital 2”). The season (#53) and episode number (1) are included in the file name in the format as shown.

Once this is done, you tell Plex and Emby via their browser interfaces to rescan the media library. Thanks to the precise naming convention, they are able to go out to TVDB and other sources to retrieve art and information about the show. The photo at top shows how Plex presents the series in browser. Plex pulled a screenshot from the episode to use as a graphic.

It is then a simple matter to bring up the Plex channel on the Roku box, then select and watch the episode.

I redeemed my embarrassing faceplant as TV butler by making this unique episode part of our video library. (I had previously added all the special General Hospital “Nurses’ Ball” episodes for her.)

An amazing feature of both Plex and Emby: the show is watchable on a smartphone, tablet or computer, anywhere in the world!

After doing all this, I noticed that I could have simply downloaded an HD version of the episode on Amazon for $2.99, already in .mp4. Oops again. But not everything you might want to save from YouTube would be available to buy, so keep this method in mind!

(Previous post “Let’s kill Uncle first!” explains what I did when a particular movie wasn’t commercially available or on YouTube.)

Roku Highlights

Google Doc on smartphone. Click to enlarge.

Gaye now has her own TiVo tuner/DVR in the den, so she can watch and record anything on over-the-air TV. I have my Raspberry Pi/Windows Media Center DVR setup in the theater room. (Later note: We added a TiVo Mini in the theater room.)

But now that we have cut the cord, it can be difficult to remember what Roku channels our other shows are on (Netflix, Amazon, Crackle, YouTube, etc.)

So I created a Google Docs menu of our video Roku channels, with notable content listed under each. A number of the shows and movies are perennial favorites of one or both of us.

Both of our phones have a link to this easily updatable Google Doc, so the menu is always at hand. (Later note: I am the only one who uses this doc. I have also anointed myself the TV butler.)

Note that the Media Browser and Plex channels require you to be running their software on a PC in order to serve content to the Roku. Nowhere TV is a private, but free Roku channel (list).

Without further ado, I present our TV menu (FYI, the links are to relevant TTM content):


Roku Channel highlights, 2/18/2015


SKY NEWS INTERNATIONAL
(HD, Roku 3 only)

NOWHERE TV:
BBC World News Live
CNN International (Low res)
Conan
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

PLEX Channels:
A & E (Flipping Vegas-5 eps)
HGTV (Numerous series)
Food Network (Numerous series)
Lifetime (Little Women: L.A.)
History Channel
The Daily Show

CRACKLE:
Comedians in a Car Getting Coffee
Seinfeld
The Larry Sanders Show
Traffic (Michael Douglas movie)

SHOUT FACTORY TV:
MST3K (32 eps) / The Film Crew (3 eps)
The Weird Al Show
Sapphire and Steel (McCallum, SF)
Fridays (Michael Richards)

NETFLIX:
Archer
Maron
House of Cards
Orange is the New Black
Sherlock
Burn Notice
Wings
The IT Crowd
Green Lantern
Batman Beyond
Batman: The Brave and the Bold
Walking Dead
Portlandia
The Riches
Arrested Development

AMAZON:
Family Tree
Workaholics
The Wire
Downton Abbey (Season 4)
Hoarders
Batman Animated
Star Trek Original
Star Trek Next Generation

MEDIA BROWSER:
Tv:

Silicon Valley (Season 1)
The Prisoner (1967, 2009)
Sherlock (Season 3)
Keeping Up Appearances (Seasons 1-3, 6-7)
Fawlty Towers (All)
The Outer Limits (1963) (All)
Eight is Enough (Season 2)
The Jetsons (Season 1)
The Flintstones (Seasons 3 & 5)
General Hospital Nurses’ Ball (1994-2014)
Movies:
Jonny Quest Movie
Cinderella
Designing Woman
Forbidden Planet
The Awful Truth
His Girl Friday
Best in Show
Caddyshack
The Party (Peter Sellers)
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies
2001; A Space Odyssey (1080p HD)
Dr. Strangelove
Citizen Kane
Primer
All 007 movies
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
Husbands
Let’s Kill Uncle

YOUTUBE:
Sister Wives (Current season)
Property Brothers (Current season)

Back in Cord-cutting status report #1, I ventured this opinion:

“But it seems to me that the single most cost-effective, option-expanding move is to wire for Ethernet. The huge increase in bandwidth should immediately benefit the Roku and Raspberry Pi in faster loading time, responsiveness and higher resolutions.”

XAV101

XAV101 Netgear Powerline adapter

That is not as clearly true for us now as it once might have been, for a couple of reasons.

One, I physically placed a Windows Media Center PC in the theater room so it could be directly connected to the Raspberry Pi computer, rather than have them connected by Ethernet. (The WMC/Pi functions as a DVR with no monthly fees.)

Two, the den (my wife’s domain) is getting a polished, ultra user-friendly DVR, the TiVo Roamio OTA ($15/mo subscription). I am also putting a Mohu Sky 60 antenna on the roof. If the Mohu/TiVo combo is satisfactory for her, we will try cutting cable TV entirely. The TiVo’s internet connection, needed for program listing updates, will also be via Powerline.

With those two moves, Ethernet wiring takes a lower priority, though it would still be nice. Instead, we use Powerline to get internet to all our devices.

Powerline (aka HomePlug) uses your house electrical wiring to connect Ethernet-ready devices.

Plug one adapter into an AC wall socket near your internet modem/router, and connect the two with an Ethernet cable. Plug the other adapter into a socket near where you need internet, then connect it to your device with another Ethernet cable. You then have a “wired” Ethernet connection over your house wiring.

Five years ago, I was in the market for a Blu-ray player with built-in Netflix for our theater room. The choice was either a player with built-in wifi, or a cheaper “networked” model (wired Ethernet only). I chose the latter. But we had no internet connection in our theater room. To make it work, I spent the savings on a pair of Powerline adapters, shown at left above.

Netgear XAV101 utility

Click to enlarge

The bandwidth (“Link Rate” on the screenshot) is not as high as with Ethernet cable, which is typically in the gigabit range (1000 megabits per second, abbreviated Mbps).

At right is a screenshot from the Netgear XAV101 Configuration Utility software.

As you can see, the adapter connected directly to internet (Device 01) has a maximum design capability of 200 Mbps. In theory, this would be more than adequate for any media we currently use.

The adapter in the theater room (Device 02), is able to achieve a bandwidth of only 55 Mbps (the rate does vary from minute to minute and hour to hour). Why so much less than the nominal 200 Mbps? It depends on the adapter’s electrical “nearness” to its mate, and noise levels in the wiring.

Our theater room appears to have been a last-minute add-on in 1978 when our house was built. I assumed from the sometimes flaky behavior of an X10 ceiling fan switch in there that the electrical path to it was a bit circuitous. (X10 is a home automation technology that also uses house wiring.) The ceiling fan problem was largely solved by plugging our refrigerator, the theater room equipment. and the den TV into X10 noise filters. (X10 and Powerline do not interfere with each other.) Still, the theater room has lower put-through with Powerline.

Our theater room Powerline (physical) bandwidth of 55 Mbps is comparable with our wifi’s design limit of 54 Mbps. But both Powerline and wifi send actual data at not even half that rate at best, so their true throughput is around 20 Mbps, tops. (Newer standards of Powerline and wifi improve on that considerably.)

But that is sufficient for most streaming. Netflix recommends a mere “5 Mbps or more for the best audio and video experience”. We have had few problems with streaming Netflix. Heck, we even downshifted last year from 15 Mbps to a 5 Mbps internet plan with the cable company, and still rarely if ever see any buffering or sub-par video.

Broadcast HDTV recordings (e.g., on a Windows Media Center PC) are another matter. They can require as much as 20 Mbps bandwidth, which is at the limits of our Powerline connection. In practice, I found that trying to play these recordings on the Pi from a Powerline-connected PC was frustratingly inconsistent. Turns out that video encoded in the MPEG-2 format, such as broadcast TV, is unforgiving of transmission errors, which makes even faster Powerline and wifi problematic. Ethernet wiring is one solution to this problem.

Another solution is to do as I did, place the PC in the theater room, and connect it to a gigabit switch with the other devices. Bandwidth limitations and transmission errors are non-existent. The Powerline adapter, plugged into the switch, provides internet access to the Blu-ray player, PC, Raspberry Pi, and a Roku 3.

I recently acquired another Powerline adapter (Device 03 above) for the den, a used Netgear XAV2001, compatible with our existing XAV101s. As you can see, it achieves a much higher physical bandwidth (100+ Mbps) than the other adapter, due to the den’s more standard electrical wiring. (Cheaper and higher bandwidth Powerline adapters are available; see the TTM Amazon Store for a couple of choices.)

Another reason I like Powerline is to keep multimedia devices off our wifi router, which operates in the same frequency band as our video sender.

Powerline is very secure. Our older model uses 128-bit AES encryption. According to EE Times, to crack it with a supercomputer brute force attack would take longer than the age of the universe. I don’t worry about the weird kids on the block (at least not over this).

Don’t get me wrong, Ethernet wiring is the ultimate in bandwidth and simplifies everything. Certainly new houses should be wired, and it might well be worth it for you to wire an existing home. But Powerline can be a good alternative to wifi, though not as fast and clean as Ethernet.

I’ll post about the TiVo after I set it up and try it out this weekend.

mediabrowserI have explained how the free media player software, Plex, is able to serve the movie, TV and music content on our PCs to our Roku boxes and a Raspberry Pi computer (see previous post, 007 24/7 on Plex Media Server).

But I must let you know about a Plex problem with movie and TV content ripped directly from DVDs into MKV format.

As noted before, MKV is a container format, and in this case, what it contains is the original MPEG2 content from the DVD. Broadcast digital TV is also in the MPEG2 format.

Newer Plex software releases seem to have trouble transcoding some of these MKV files for the Roku Plex channel. When our PCs (running Plex Media Server software) stream these MKVs to any of the Rokus, there is a bit of juddering and pixilation. I get the same result with 802.11g wifi as with wired Ethernet. It’s not a CPU issue, since both a weak Celeron-powered PC and a powerful quad-core PC produce the same result.

Plex’ original transcoder was the free ffmpeg software tool. But Plex’ latest software releases rely strictly on the new Plex Transcoder, based on ffmpeg, but rewritten by their team. The way the Roku Plex channel handles the new transcoder may be the cause of the problem, and I have reported it on their PlexPass forum.

(Here is Plex’ release note for the 0.9.10.0 version, Sep 8, 2014: “The legacy transcoder, which is available as an option in some Plex clients, will be removed soon. Please be sure to report specific cases where you still see better results when using it.”)

Now, it is true that once these MKVs are converted to MP4 using Handbrake (with Rokoding settings), they play perfectly on Plex. And MP4 file sizes are smaller, and the files are more usable with other devices. But I am a bit lazy, and would prefer not to convert if I don’t need to.

I have discovered another entrant in the media player system arena that can transcode and stream these MKVs to Roku perfectly: Media Browser. Media Browser uses ffmpeg as its transcoder.

MB also uses ffmpeg to transcode Windows Media Center broadcast TV recordings (.WTV format), served to MB by free ServerWMC software. As we noted at the top, broadcast TV is MPEG2. You would probably need a powerful processor and an Ethernet or switch connection, and maybe a Roku 3 for this to even have a shot at working acceptably.

(The Raspberry Pi decodes MPEG2 video content in hardware, with a one-time $4 MPEG2 license. Thus it handles MKV and WTV files with ease. It can also act as a Plex client with the PlexBMC beta software.)

Fortunately, Media Browser works with media organized to Plex standards, so no changes to your file system are needed. Setup is different from Plex, so you have to spend a little time with it initially. But it is great to see that Bond marathon playing perfectly on Roku, and not just the Raspberry Pi.

Plex and Media Browser server software coexists just fine on our PCs. So I use both. I prefer Plex’ presentation, but MB is fine.

Eventually, I’m sure Plex will fix their transcoder/Roku problem, but it’s good to have an alternative. Did I mention that Media Browser is also free?

I made a tinfoil hat for my Roku 3...

It’s very attractive, though.

I still haven’t gotten around to having our house wired for internet. But I wanted to see how much a wired Ethernet connection (vs. wifi) would improve the performance of a Roku box.

I found a refurbished Roku 3 on sale at Woot! and picked one up. This is the top of their line, but the reason I wanted it was for the wired Ethernet connection (and a 5x faster processor). I connected it to a Windows 7 computer by gigabit switch.

The Roku 3 also boasts a remote with headphone jack for private listening, and direct cast to TV from the Roku app on your smartphone. These features were the source of a ridiculous problem. Ridiculous, because it never should have gotten out of the lab this way.

Reading taken near the other Roku in our den before tinfoil hat...

Roku 3 interferes mightily on channel 11 before tinfoil hat…

I noticed on my Wifi Analyzer app that there was a new item on our current wifi channel 11: the Roku itself. It was broadcasting on our channel, jamming it, resulting in degraded wifi performance. (see the next post for a correction to this.)

No need for any transmission at all since my connection is wired (unless you want to use the direct cast feature or headphone attached to the remote). But it turned out that I couldn’t shut wifi off. In fact the only way to stop it was to unplug the Roku 3.

I did some Googling and found that others discovered this, too. The best and most current thread is this one from Roku Forums:

Yet another Wi-Fi Direct is jamming my home network thread 

No workaround has yet been found besides a “Faraday cage”. This consists of blocking the transmission with a metal screen. Aluminum foil was mentioned as working for one poster.

After tinfoil hat.

Roku 3 still interferes on channel 11 after tinfoil hat.

So I tried it. I covered up everything I could, leaving the wires sticking out the back and a little hole for the infrared port.

As you can see at left, the Roku’s own wifi was attenuated somewhat, but not enough to stop it from interfering. (The readings were taken beside an older Roku box in the den.)

I think I will go back to the Roku LT until Roku pushes out a software or firmware update to let you turn off wifi.

Roku probably should have used Bluetooth to implement these features. Or, considering how cluttered the 2.4GHz band is, they probably should have just left the features out, or made them work only on the 5 GHz band.

(By the way, the Roku 3 on wired Ethernet connection worked well. I was trying a semi-competitor to Plex, called Media Browser. MB was able to play a Windows TV (.wtv) recording smoothly, once the puny Celeron processor in my mom’s old Win 7 computer transcoded and buffered enough of the file for it to get started.)

Bulletin for all cranks: you are going to have to do better than a tinfoil hat if you want to keep the NSA from monitoring your mind.

(See the next post for a retraction of the comments about my degraded wifi performance. But I still wish there were a capability to turn off Roku 3’s wifi.)