Roku

All posts tagged Roku

New Raspberry Pi 3 with Ethernet, & USB dongles: IR remote control, wireless keyboard.

New Raspberry Pi 3 with USB dongles: IR remote control, wireless keyboard/mouse.

For once, I spent birthday cash on a specific fun item: the new Raspberry Pi 3. The Pi with clear case and power supply cost $50.

A few needed extra expenses:

Two Kingston Digital 8GB microSDHC Class 10 UHS-I microSD cards: $11 total

Wireless USB PC Computer Remote Control Media Center Controller: $8

Logitech MK270 Wireless USB Keyboard/Mouse Combo: $20 (already had one to use with the hacked Wii)

This new Pi has a quad-core processor, ten times more powerful than my original Pi (which has a new job, plugged into our bedroom TV). That makes for much snappier response in OSMC (Open System Media Center), an adaptation of Kodi software for the Pi and other devices.

I loaded one of the microSD cards with OSMC, then customized it. That’s easy by now, having previously explored most of its many available settings and options.

The other microSD card I loaded with Raspbian, a Windows-like operating system for the Pi.

For the first time, using Raspbian, I can efficiently browse with the 65″ theater room TV as a monitor using a wireless keyboard and mouse.

I recall presuming back in the early 2000s that big-screen browsing would be coming soon. It turned out that laptops were a much better way. (The height of boredom is watching someone else browse.) But this would be great for demonstrating a site to a group of people.

As much fun as I have with the Pi, I must admit that a Roku/Chromecast/Apple TV/Fire TV-type device can do almost everything it can do for home theater.

The Pi on OSMC/Kodi definitely can’t replace one of these devices, as it does not have proper addons for Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu.

But the Pi still does a few unique things for me:

Serves Windows Media Center PVR recordings to the TV. But I wouldn’t need the Pi for that if the WMC PC had an HDMI output. And Emby is capable of doing the same, only better!

Plays back practically all audio and video formats.

For example, I use VLC media player with Windows Scheduler on a PC to record weekly radio shows from KWGS online. The highest quality stream offered is in the advanced audio coding format AAC+. The Pi/OSMC is a good way to take advantage of this .m4a stream delivered via Plex, my current preference in music/video library systems.

Chromecast can handle some .m4a files, but not these (tried it per How to Stream Local Media from Desktop, Android and iOS to Chromecast); my Roku 3 wouldn’t play them, even using the Roku Media Player channel.

Skip directly and easily to specific times on audio/video recordings with a Kodi smartphone app, such as Kore or Yatse. Roku can play my .mp3 files, but no skipping allowed.

OSMC has a slicker and more comprehensive interface than Roku. It includes current Yahoo weather for your zip code and a news ticker, just in case you shut yourself off from the outside world a little too much.

Free Kodi addons of various stripes, e.g., ESPN3.

More tinkering (and hair-pulling) possibilities.

As I mentioned, the original Pi has moved to our bedroom. I added a USB wifi dongle, got it onto the current version of OSMC, added PlexBMC and a few other music and video addons.

But honestly, the Roku LT is sufficient in there. I will be thinking about what else I might do with the old Pi, e.g., RISC OS, Software-Defined Radio, etc. (See previous post $8 USB tuner turns PC into FM radio/recorder.)

Update, 10/6/2016: I wound up moving the old Pi running OSMC back to the theater room; the new Pi is also there running PIXEL (Raspbian OS). With the Logitech Harmony remote, I can switch between the two rather than changing SD/microSD cards.

My original Pi

Emby Live TV 4

Watching Gilligan's Island on Android phone Emby app. (Click each pic to enlarge.)

Emby Live TV 1Emby Live TV 2Emby Live TV 3

A nice benefit of knowledge gained through cord-cutting:

Watching our own over-the-air (OTA) TV and DVR recordings on Roku at home, or on a phone or tablet anywhere in the world.


I recently upgraded a quad-core Windows 7 PC in our home office to Windows 10, then added back the now-unsupported Windows Media Center. (See previous post Add Windows Media Center to Win 10!).

We had an extra USB TV tuner from a past attempt to give Gaye the ability to watch OTA TV on her work PC. It proved too big a hassle for her to both do work on the PC and have the TV window up. The tuner had been unemployed for a few years. (She has a now-cheap LCD TV in her business office.)

Over-the-door antenna, attached to USB TV tuner plugged into PC

Over-the-door antenna, attached to USB TV tuner plugged into PC (click to enlarge)

To test Windows Media Center on the Win 10 PC, I had attached an unamplified Winegard antenna to the USB TV tuner, placed the antenna on top of our home office door, then plugged the tuner into the PC.

I first set up Windows Media Center, then ServerWMC, free software that allows other computers and apps to see program listings, live TV and recordings from the WMC PC.

(I have been doing this for the last two years in our theater room with another PC; see previous post Windows Media Center & Raspberry Pi.)

Seven local stations (including MeTV, Gaye’s go-to) came in strongly with this hastily improvised setup.

I didn’t diddle around with placing the antenna for better reception of the other channels. Maybe later.

Update, 10/6/2016:

WMC disappeared when my PC received the Anniversary Update for Windows 10 on 9/24/2016. I was able to get WMC working again; see my notes added to previous post Add Windows Media Center to Win 10!.

However, the driver for the old USB TV tuner is no longer supported, so I just ordered a $20 Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-950 from eBay to replace it. In the meantime, I can still see and play any shows I had previously recorded with Emby.

(Update 10/17/2016: The Hauppauge tuner worked great for all local channels! See the comment I added for this post.)

As long as you have WMC on any version of Windows, you should be able to get Emby working with WMC as follows.


Emby (formerly known as MediaBrowser) is a free media center program with its own Roku channel and smartphone app.

I remembered that Emby was supposed to serve up live TV, unlike its otherwise similar competitor, Plex. I had previously installed Emby as well as Plex on the PC (they don’t interfere with each other).

With all the pieces in place, it was a good time to give live TV a try.

Using the Emby server’s browser interface on the PC, I activated Emby’s own ServerWMC plugin. It enabled the Emby server to talk to ServerWMC on that PC.

(Nice setup guide: Stream Live TV with Emby and ServerWMC)

Thanks to my previous experience with both ServerWMC and Emby, it was not difficult to get all this working.

I went to the Emby channel on one of our Rokus, and found that the seven stations looked so good, you couldn’t tell they weren’t coming in via direct antenna. Likewise with WMC DVR recordings: perfect.

The secret of this perfection is in Emby’s transcoding.

Broadcast TV is in the MPEG-2 format, which is bulky and unforgiving of internet streaming. Emby automatically transcodes (converts) the video to .MP4, which Roku and most apps of all kinds have no trouble dealing with. That’s where the powerful quad-core PC shines; it has the processing power to do this conversion on the fly. (Our theater room PC has a weak though adequate-for-its-purpose Celeron 450 processor.)

I tried the Emby app on my wifi-only smartphone. Worked great. I ultimately restricted Windows Media Center to only the seven good stations, since trying to stream the poor reception channels tended to hang ServerWMC (and bad channels are no fun to watch anyway).

I set up WMC to DVR “The Bob Newhart Show” on MeTV, and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” on Heroes and Icons, so we would have something to watch on the bedroom Roku if nothing good was on.

Then I wondered how it would work on a smartphone outside the range of our wifi router.

At a party last Friday, I tried it on Gaye’s iPhone. It failed, due to not being able to reach the server on our home PC.

To fix this, I set up port forwarding on our router to allow external connectivity to our Emby server.

“…you’ll need to open the web interface for your router, and forward TCP Port 8096 on your router to port 8096 on the Emby Server machine.” (see Emby Setup Port Forwarding note).

After I texted Gaye this week to give it a try when she had a chance, she reported that she was watching “Gunsmoke” while driving!

Obviously, watching TV while driving is not a good practice, even though we once played “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (downloaded to phone via Plex) during a round trip to OSU to visit a nephew.

Our timing was great; as the final credit rolled, we pulled back into our garage.

(L & R images link to the pictured TTM pages, Middle is the Roku app on my smartphone.)
chnlchgr1ChnlchgrRokuchnlchgr2

Here’s yet another post related to both sides of this website (vintage local TV and cord-cutting).

The middle image is a screenshot from the Roku app on my wifi smartphone. All of our Roku channels are shown as a channel changer. Touch one of the channels and your Roku will present it.

The 1st and 3rd images are from the Tulsa TV Memories site, created late 1998 on Geocities(!) I used to present site subjects as “channels” until it got too unwieldy.

The “buttons” on all these changers are in the 4:3 aspect ratio, same as TVs had before 16:9 widescreen became the standard.

chnlchgrjava739height

(Click for larger view)

Here is an image of a “Java toy” changer I created for TTM on 10/25/1999. When displayed on the original page, the buttons move, audibly click, and take you to the relevant page.

Browsers tend not to use Java these days.

To make this work, you would have to download the Java add-on for your browser (Chrome doesn’t even have one.) Then you would need to add this page (http://tulsatvmemories.com/java/index3.html) to the Exception Site List in the Java Control Panel.

It’s not really worth the trouble except as something to do.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting that the design ideas were the same.

RadioIDL, a favorite on OSMC/Kodi

RadioIDL, favorited on my Raspberry Pi running free OSMC/Kodi software in our theater room

Home theater isn’t only about electronic and computer gear, and it isn’t only about video.

I found a worthy local online radio station, RadioIDL.com (for Inner Dispersal Loop).

The programming is mostly blues, and includes locally-based artists such as Cindy Cain.

Here’s what I have been listening to for the past 25 minutes:

08:08:34 Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials – S.D. Jones
08:05:42 Sonny Boy Williamson – Better Cut That Out
08:00:09 The Allman Brothers Band – Melissa (live)
07:57:11 Freddy King – It’s Too Bad Things Are Going So Tough
07:53:58 James Cotton – Midnight_Train_w/Gregg_Allman
07:53:51 RadioIDL Tulsa Urban Wilderness Colin
07:51:40 Howlin’ Wolf – Shake for Me
07:48:47 Joe Turner – I Get The Blues When It Rains
07:45:46 Cindy Cain – Papa Let Me
07:42:12 Lonnie Mack; Stevie Ray Vaughan – Double Whammy

RadioIDL also has its own local talk shows: City of Giants with Michael Patton, and The InnerLoopers with Mark Barcus and Mary Morrison Barcus.

Some of the ways to listen:

    Go to RadioIDL.com and listen via browser or pop-out player.

    Set up an account with Tunein and add RadioIDL as a favorite.

    Get the Tunein Android or Apple app.

    On Roku, add the Tunein Channel (free).

    If you have a Raspberry Pi running OSMC like I do (see image at top), get the Tunein add-on, then make RadioIDL a favorite for the device.

    Also, RadioIDL is coming soon to iHeartRadio, which would make it accessible on TiVo’s iHeart app.

If you are a blues fan, you don’t need to be from Tulsa to appreciate RadioIDL!

Give it a try. I find it a refreshing change of pace.

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.
Smartphone

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!