All posts tagged MKV

32" LG LED TV, Winegard FlatWave indoor amplified antenna, Roku XDS

32″ LG LED TV, Winegard FlatWave indoor amplified antenna, Roku XDS.

Our cord-cutting arsenal:

Ooma Telo internet phone device

5 TVs: LED (2), plasma, flat-tube, ’83 CRT
TiVo Roamio OTA 4-tuner DVR
TiVo Mini extender (2)
Mohu Sky 60 powered outdoor antenna
Winegard FlatWave indoor antenna (2)

Roku streaming media player (3)
Chromecast streaming media player
Blu-ray player

TiVo “Peanut” remote (3)
Logitech Harmony 890 remote
X10 universal 5-in-1 learning remote.

Netflix & Amazon Prime subscriptions

Windows 7 PCs / free Plex &
Emby software to serve
music/TV/movie libraries.
Windows 7 PC / free Windows
Media Center DVR with
recordings on external drive.

Raspberry Pi computer w/ free OSMC, PleXBMC, & ServerWMC software
to access content on Win 7 PCs

X10 analog video sender / receiver
Powerline network adapter (4)
Gigabit Ethernet switch (2)
Kinovo HDMI switch
Powered USB hub (2)

(The list entitled “Our cord-cutting arsenal” appearing at the bottom-right of this blog shows the hardware and software we use for all five of our TVs. Since you can’t tell which items are in each room, I am breaking it down by room, highlighting the hardware used in light yellow, content in white.)

The bedroom is another simple room, hardware-wise (See previous post The workout room TV setup for my wife). The presence of the Roku box gives her access to other content via software.

After a freakish lightning strike, our 1989 20″ tube TV, no great shakes to start with, looked like it was on a bad trip, emitting weird green and purple colors. (See Lightning-pocalypse Saturday.)

Perhaps it could have been degaussed, but it was finally time to upgrade and simplify the setup. (See the old setup in Eliminate a cable box.)

The tube TV went to Best Buy along with the other stricken electronics. (See Best Buy accepts 3 dead electronics items per day)

It was replaced with a new 32″ LED TV.

Now that there was no need for a digital converter box, we could also dispense with the Logitech Harmony 650 remote and use only the new TV’s dedicated remote. A minor problem had been that the Harmony “thought” the old TV was still on after the sleep timer turned it off. Correcting it the next evening was a hassle for my sleepy wife, and therefore not a feather in my cap. (See previous post Logitech Harmony 650.)

We are using only an indoor antenna in the bedroom, rather than another TiVo Mini. A Mini would be great, but that would require us to get an Ethernet cable to the TiVo Roamio in the den. The only way to do that would be to wrap it around the house and add outlets in both rooms. Too much trouble for now.

However, the indoor antenna does well for all channels except RSUTV, which is not a sleeptime favorite, anyway.

The Roku box is now plugged into the new TV with one HDMI cable. When we want to use it, I pull its dedicated remote out of my bedside drawer.

We could watch anything on Netflix or Amazon using the Roku, though we don’t often do it.

But on Sunday nights, my wife sometimes likes to watch old English favorites such as “Keeping Up Appearances” or “Fawlty Towers”. This can be done by selecting the Plex or Emby channels on Roku. Either can stream the programs from one of our own Windows 7 PCs.

I had previously ripped the shows from DVDs and placed them on the PC in the proper file structure and naming convention. Plex and Emby servers running on that PC then were able to retrieve artwork for the Roku onscreen menu. (See Saving YouTubes, viewing with Plex & Emby.)

Why is Emby preferable to Plex for video content in the bedroom? Because we have a first generation Roku in there. The Plex channel app for that older device appears not to have been updated for their latest transcoder server software. Thus it delivers less than optimal video for files in the .mkv format (an .mkv file is the immediate product of MakeMKV, the DVD-ripping software I use).

Plex on the Roku XDS still works well with .mp4 video and .mp3 audio. If I weren’t so lazy, I would convert all those .mkv files to .mp4. But since the Emby app on Roku is doing a fine job handling .mkv transcoded by the Emby server software, why bother? A selling point of both Plex and Emby (though both are free) is supposed to be that they can handle a range of file types. (See 007 24/7 on Plex Media ServerMedia Browser: an alternative to Plex)

Someday we will probably upgrade the Roku box, but it’s not worth doing until another natural disaster strikes, or a newer device offers some extra functionality we want.

The Roku has had no problems with wifi, but I had an extra Powerline adapter on hand, so I am using it instead. Powerline uses your house’s AC wiring as a conduit for Ethernet data. It’s not as high bandwidth as Ethernet cable, but better than wifi for streaming data. See previous post Powerline vs. Ethernet wiring.)

Everybody’s happy now!

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 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?


Some of the available Plex channels

The above selection of Plex channels best approximates cable TV, in my opinion.

Many more are available, but they tend to be more special interest in nature.

These are not live feeds from the cable channels, but collections of their content that you must drill down to and select. Some channels are more up-to-date and complete than others.

All are free. You can sign up at Once you select your preferred channels, you can watch them on your computer, or add the Plex Channel on Roku, or get the apps for your tablet or phone. The various apps cost about $5, but everything you do on your computer is free.

[As mentioned in previous posts (see 007 Channel on Plex), Plex is also a great way to use your own local content. With MakeMKV software installed, stick a DVD into your computer and rip it into streamable MKV files that Plex Media Server can serve to your various apps in a nice menu. You can also convert shows recorded on Windows Media Center into Plex-streamable files with MCEBuddy (or free Handbrake) software (see U.N.C.L.E. and Superman on PC DVR).]

The Plex channels are a fine idea, but are they adequate substitutes for cable TV? Only you can answer that question for yourself.

Here is my perspective.

When I worked at American Airlines/Sabre in Realtime Coverage, members of our group created PC software to automate the routine monitoring of reservation and flight systems that we had previously done entirely by manual command line entries. The automation allowed us to glance at several passive displays, take in a lot of information, and often spot incipient problems.

At one time, an outside group was charged with developing new automation. What they created did not work for us. The reason: their software presented little passive information. To view any aspect of the systems, we had to actively drill down to it. But typically, you would only do that if you already suspected that particular subsystem to be in trouble, so it was little use as early warning. In the realtime environment, we didn’t always have much time to respond.

Cable (or satellite) channel surfing is a bit like system monitoring, though without the urgency. It’s easy to bring up the program guide and flip channels, not knowing upfront what will capture your attention. That is a mode my wife particularly likes (and I like it too). For her, it pertains mainly to casual background TV viewing on weekends.

With Plex channels, Roku channels, etc, that mode is not available. You must actively drill down to the specific content. It’s harder work and takes more time to be exploratory.

I don’t believe there is an easy alternative to the content provided by cable and satellite, and I haven’t been able to replicate the full channel surfing experience, though there is an XBMC (later: renamed “Kodi”) software project called PseudoTVLive.

Cut the TV cord completely? It comes down to how much you like casual surfing, easy access to broad content, and live TV, beyond what you have with free broadcast TV. Is it worth the cost?

We haven’t cut it yet. But we have whittled it down quite a bit (see previous post, Tears for tiers).

My Plex 007 channel

My Plex 007 channel

Shaken and stirred into action by a passing remark in the Plex article about Collections, I created a 007 “channel” that can be viewed on our home network. It features all 23 Eon Productions Bond movies, plus commentaries.

All you need is access to each DVD for the 15 minutes it takes the MakeMKV software to convert the DVD files to .mkv files.

Plex Media Server (free) pulls the poster and background art from The Movie Database and Freebase. If it happens not to be available, you can add it yourself. For this to work automatically, you need to adhere to the standards laid out in the Plex Media Naming and Organization Guide. It’s easy to create a Collection once the films appear in Plex.

To view on your Roku box, find Collections, then select the one you want (are you are a Connery purist? I made a “subchannel” for each 007). Pick a movie to start with, go to Playback Options and select Continuous Play. You will be watching Bond until the next power failure or Windows Update.

The commentaries appear on Roku under Playback Options as choices within Audio Stream.

One of the great things about Plex (not as much for us, but maybe for you) is that different channels can be playing simultaneously in other rooms, with a sufficiently powerful CPU.

My wife’s favorite Sunday night show is Keeping Up Appearances, but OETA finally took it off after many years. The creation of the Mrs. Bucket and Fawlty Towers channels for her is my most lauded achievement of this whole cord-cutting experiment (though OETA’s new lineup with Billy Connolly’s Route 66, One Foot in the Grave, and Doc Martin is pretty good). Plex’ WAF (wife acceptance factor) was boosted.

You don’t need to be cord-cutting at all to use Plex this way.

Also, by using only your home network, you aren’t burning any of your internet bandwidth, as you are with Netflix, Hulu, etc. If you have a cap on your usage (as you do with the cable company), this could be a good thing.

However, Plex has some bandwidth-using channel content itself that could be helpful in your quest to cut the cable. More about that soon.

Back to Bond… the 1967 comedy version of “Casino Royale” was a mess, but the non-Eon production of “Never Say Never Again” with Sean Connery (a remake of “Thunderball”) is up near the top of my personal favorites. I won’t consider the channel complete until I add it. (9/15: It’s now complete. 2/22/2015: OK, now it’s really complete; I added the 1967 “Casino Royale”.)

Here is my 2006 review of the Daniel Craig “Casino Royale“, and Gary Chew’s 2008 review of “Quantum of Solace“.


…before he kills us!

Speaking of “UNCLE”, there is a perverse little 1966 black comedy/thriller called “Let’s Kill Uncle”, directed by famed schlockmeister William Castle, starring Nigel Green and Mary Badham (“Scout” in “To Kill A Mockingbird”). Channel 2 showed it often in the early 1970s.

I looked for it online recently. It was not commercially available, even on eBay. The only place I found it was on one of those Pirate Bay-type sites. Years ago, I used Bittorrent to download episodes of “Survivor” my wife had missed taping. These days, I tend to steer clear of torrent sites, but this time I didn’t, because I really wanted to see that movie again.

It took about a day for Bittorrent to piece together all the files. They were evidently saved directly from a past UK DVD release. Therefore, I treated the folder as a DVD to be ripped, using MakeMKV. I saved the resulting MKV file into the proper file structure and naming scheme for Plex Media Server. Plex supplied poster and fan art for its menu system.

Now I was able to watch the movie on any of our TVs with a Roku box over the Plex Channel. It was also available to my Raspberry Pi, using a beta release add-on called PleXBMC. There was “Uncle” again, on the big screen TV! Very fun.

The other “money” line in the movie, besides the one serving as the title of this post, was this:

(Uncle to nephew) “You’re a charming child, Barnaby, but five million dollars charming, you are not!”

I was reminded of the line a week ago while watching “CBS This Morning” with Anthony Mason (who started his career on KJRH, Channel 2 in Tulsa). Frank Luntz, a GOP pollster/operative, was conducting an in-studio focus group on pessimism about the economy.

Luntz posed this question to the group: “I write you a check for ten million dollars, and here’s the catch: you cannot return back to America. You can take anyone with you, you can live in Canada, Mexico, wherever you want to live across the globe, check for ten million dollars, but you cannot return, who would take the money, raise your hands.” At least half the group did.

Later in the segment, Luntz claimed to Mason that he would not leave for “a billion, ten billion”, which I found dubious. My feeling is that more than a few of the highly-strung creatures parading across our screens would commit avunculicide, nepoticide, or familicide for that kind of dough.

Anyway, this paraphrase might fairly be put into the mouths of the focus group hand-raisers:

“You’re a charming country, America, but ten million dollars charming, you are not!”