WMC

All posts tagged WMC

OSMC 15.2

The free Open Source Media Center software installing on my $35 Raspberry Pi in the theater room.

Goodbye Raspbmc and XBMC, hello OSMC and Kodi!

I’d held off on the free software upgrade due to not wanting to lose my PleXBMC installation on Raspbmc “Gotham”, the last version of that software before it was superseded by OSMC this year. But some SD card/USB stick corruption issues suggested to me that the time was right to overcome my laziness.

The transition went smoothly yesterday. I again have access to all my DVR’d shows on a Windows Media Center computer by reinstalling the free ServerWMC add-on software. I also have a nice Plex client again on the Pi with a more recent version of the free PleXBMC add-on. (See previous post Windows Media Center & Raspberry Pi.)

By now, I have other well-functioning Plex clients on Roku boxes and Chromecast, as well as on smartphone and tablet. So it wouldn’t have been a crisis not to have Plex on the Pi; I just like the slick Raspbmc/OSMC interface that brings together TV, movies, music, internet radio, photos, and even a news crawl and Yahoo local weather.

Valuable and unique free TV content available through OSMC includes ESPN3 in HD, and CBSN, CBS’ new 24/7 online HD news channel. (Later note: the latter is also available on Roku, I discovered.)


Raspbmc was an adaptation of the Xbox Media Center (XBMC) software for the little Raspberry Pi computer. It was done by Sam Nazarko, then an 18-year-old student in the UK.

From http://kodi.wiki/view/OSMC:

“OSMC (short for Open Source Media Center) is a Linux distribution based on Debian that brings Kodi to a variety of devices. It is the successor to Raspbmc and Crystalbuntu.

“OSMC is an embedded, minimal, self updating Linux distributing which ships a Kodi front-end for a variety of devices. The project was founded by Sam Nazarko in 2014 and is maintained by a group of volunteers in their spare time.”

(For my own future reference, my Raspberry Pi 1 Model B is now on OSMC 2015.09-3 running Kodi 15.2, kernel: Linux 3.2.3-3-osmc Linux 4.2.3-3-osmc; PleXBMC 3.6.1, PleXBMC Helper 3.4.2, and ServerWMC 0.5.8.)


Sam Nazarko

Sam Nazarko

Back in July, I commented on TTM@Facebook: “Sam resembles Dr. Sheldon Cooper in appearance, but both Sam and OSMC are a lot more stable.”

Sam replied: “That.. made me laugh so much. Unfortunately you’re not the first person to suggest the similar appearance either…”

Congratulations, well done, Sam and company!

(Added 10/22/2015: See my new comment on previous post The missing context button for a new and easier way to restore that function to your remote.)

In the year+ I’ve been writing this blog, we’ve tried a lot of cord-cutting measures. It might be useful to review the ones that were less than totally successful.

Most of the following items could work for others; here’s why they didn’t for us (links to relevant past posts are in parentheses).


1. Mediasonic HomeWorx Digital TV Converter Box with PVR (see Eliminate a cable box)

We bought our 36″ tube HDTV new in 2002 to use with cable. It does not have a built-in TV tuner, so in order to cut the cord, we needed a converter box to get digital TV with an antenna. This particular box cost only $35, and also had the capability of recording shows on a USB drive. I delusionally dreamed this could replace the cable DVR service.

But it was simply too clunky and kludgy as a PVR (DVR) to inflict on my wife. Doing so would probably have dealt a fatal blow to my cord-cutting ambitions. So it moved to the bedroom to serve as a digital tuner only. The price was still good for that use only. I finally traded it to a friend when we replaced the bedroom TV.

2. Cheap Component-to-HDMI converter (see Replace the old TV?)

We had already cut the cord with a TiVo Roamio OTA, but were watching the 36″ tube TV using the lower quality composite input (yellow, red, & white plugs) with TiVo. That was because the TV has only composite, component and S-video inputs, rather than the HDMI needed for the best quality TiVo connection.

I ordered two different HDMI-to-component video converters in succession from Amazon, but neither worked worth a hoot. I learned that the cheapest one on the market that would totally work was the HDFury Gamer 2, and it wasn’t that cheap.

Most people would probably be better served by getting a new TV, but I wasn’t ready to tote that still-working 217 lb. TV to Best Buy for recycling (see Best Buy accepts 3 dead electronics items per day).

3. Raspberry Pi/Windows Media Center PC as DVR (see The Life of (Raspberry) Pi)

I hardly attempted to get my wife to use this; the Pi/Windows combo is not casual user friendly, and is prone to periodic hiccups of various sorts. But I’ve learned a lot from it, and WMC captures TV shows reliably in a format that can be converted to .mp4 (unlike TiVo See JJ’s comments and links below; you CAN pull videos from TiVo with the free pyTiVo program!)

If you have a PC with an HDMI output, you could plug it directly into the TV and use WMC without the Pi. But Windows 8 is the last version to support WMC, so you would be out of luck by 2023, 2020 for Windows 7 (see RIP Windows Media Center (in 5-8 yrs)).

4. Roku Highlights online document (see Our post-cord-cutting TV menu)

This is a list of all the Roku channels with the content of current interest to us. It is in the form of a Google Doc, so I can look at it and update it from tablet, smartphone or browser. The idea was to remind us of all the shows we might watch, and which device or channel they’re on.

It’s fine as MY doc, not so much OURS. Gaye just doesn’t approach TV that way. I do, so I serve as the TV butler, verbally reading from the list when needed.

Since my original post, I have periodically updated the doc and added the content available via Chromecast and Raspberry Pi as well. All to aid my own memory.

5. Antenna placement (see Mohu Sky 60 antenna review & The Riddle of COZI)

(Click to enlarge)

I had the Video Revolution installer place the outdoor antenna on the highest, easternmost point of our house, in hopes of getting the best all-around signals. (He found the height daunting, but if it hadn’t been, I would have tried it myself.)

As it turned out, reception was generally very good. But a few of the higher frequency stations suffered when spring brought foliage and wind. Our street is downhill from the affected stations, so there was no way to put the antenna high enough to avoid the trees.

One other corner of our house might have had a better shot at less obstruction to the east (where a majority of network stations are for us). We don’t know. But it may well have had problems with other stations, even if it slightly improved the Coweta stations.

Ideally, I would have experimented a bit more. But due to the sheer height/steepness of our roof and the lack of attic access, that would have been difficult. With the installer’s meter running, and seeing good reception on all stations that day in March, I locked it in.

This summer, all channels have been consistently good.

6. A|B switch with set-top antenna (see Mohu Curve 50 antenna & COZI in the den)

(Also tried in the spring) The switch selected between the roof-mounted Mohu Sky 60 antenna, and the Curve 50 sitting on the TV. The idea was that when one station’s reception suffered due to the usual factors (wind, trees blocking the signal), another antenna sometimes did a better job.

In practice, it just didn’t work well enough or often enough to mess with it. Not the Curve’s fault; there was just no consistent good placement for it within the space restrictions imposed by the den TV’s location.

7. Hulu Plus (see Streaming video as cable substitute)

In short, we love Netflix, and Amazon Prime to a lesser degree, but Hulu Plus not at all. We dropped it.

After going with a TiVo Roamio OTA as our DVR, Hulu Plus would have been almost superfluous anyway.

A major key to cord-cutting success was reliably delivering daily episodes of “General Hospital” that could easily be rewound, jumped-back, and reviewed, and Hulu wasn’t it.

I found Hulu’s interface poor and the commercials annoying.

8. Powerline to connect a TiVo Mini to the TiVo host box (see The fruits of cord-cutting: new TVs, TiVo Mini, comments)

I successfully used a long Ethernet cable to connect the TiVo Mini in the kitchen to the TiVo Roamio OTA in the den, as recommended. (The other recommended way is MoCA, multimedia over coax.)

I then replaced the cable with a Powerline adapter, a way to send data packets over your house wiring (see Powerline vs. Ethernet wiring). This was an attempt to eliminate the wire.

It worked for a time, but started taking too many errors to be acceptable. I returned to the long Ethernet cable, and did the same when we added another Mini in the theater room.

A Powerline adapter effectively delivers internet access to the Roamio, and thus to the Minis too, but it isn’t quite up the job of moving the video data.

9. Finding ways to provide the cable shows my wife can’t live without (or just wants)

I was really worried about this, so I tried a number of things:

— Plex channels (see Free Plex channels = cable substitutes? and NBC/msnbc discontinuing video podcasts)

— VCRing  a lot of “Survivorman” before cutting the cable.

— Plex personal media content (see  007 24/7 on Plex Media Server) such as my wife’s favorite Sunday night shows, “Keeping Up Appearances” and “Fawlty Towers”, and Saturday fave, “The Outer Limits”. I also ripped our favorite movies from DVD for Plex.

Of those three items, only the latter proved to be of use to her.


The things that DID work will be in a future post. A high wife acceptance factor (WAF), as always, is primary.

Windows Media Center's days are numbered

Windows Media Center’s days are numbered

(Update: Yes, you can Add Windows Media Center to Win 10! — 7/23/2016 post)

Microsoft just announced a few days ago that they are discontinuing support for Windows Media Center software in Windows 10.

Windows 7 has WMC as a free feature. Windows 8.1 has it available as a paid add-on. Support for Win 7 ends in 2020, Win 8.1 in 2023.

If you try to run WMC under Win 10, you will get the message above.

I hate this. But Microsoft is planning to make its Xbox their replacement for WMC. Read all about in in this article at TechHive: Windows Media Center is dying. Here’s how the Xbox can replace it.

In the theater room (or maybe I should call it the media room to keep with current usage), I have a Win 7 computer with WMC software recording my shows as a DVR. A little Raspberry Pi  computer acts as my front end to the Win 7 computer to get the shows onto the TV. WMC has been very reliable.

(A Pi or another box is unnecessary if your PC has an HDMI port; just plug your Windows PC directly into your TV to use WMC. The Pi has been a bit flaky, honestly; just today I had to restore it due to its USB stick getting corrupted by a brief power outage from an exploding transformer. However, it launched me into this whole arena of home theater, and I have learned a huge amount by working with it.)

So in 5 years, WMC will no longer be supported on my old PC (it was my mom’s cast-off). I could still run it without support, but the PC would no longer get security updates from Microsoft. I suppose I could also run Windows 7 as a virtual machine under Windows 10, but that might be compounding the kludge factor a bit much, even for me. I also doubt it would be satisfactory, because the program listing data that is free as part of WMC will probably go away, too.

An alternative I tried before getting on board with WMC is the free NextPVR. It runs on Windows and works similarly with the Pi. The downside is that you need a pay subscription to program listing data from Schedules Direct or the like, which as a card-carrying cheapskate, I eschewed.

There are other ways besides NextPVR.

The free TVHeadend software runs on Kodi (the new name for XBMC, the media center software originally created for Xbox). It was the first thing I tried on the Raspberry Pi, but I couldn’t get it to recognize the Hauppauge USB TV tuner I had, so I skipped it. There is also MythTV, which I haven’t tried.

Anyway, 5 years is an eon in computer years, so I won’t worry.

TiVo Roamio OTA

TiVo Roamio OTA. Click to enlarge.

We cut the TV cable a week ago.

(See Cord-cutting status report #1 for our previous cord-cutting actions.)

I had paid attention to how Gaye watches TV in the den, her usual hangout. The main thing she needed was ease in recording, viewing, and instant-replaying network series such as General Hospital, The Bachelor, Modern Family, etc.

A TiVo Roamio OTA 4-tuner DVR did the trick (OTA = over the air). After experiencing the snappy and intuitive user interface for a few days, she asked when we were cutting the cable. I turned in the cable DVR/tuner box a few days later. The WAF is strong!

Another key to success was the TiVo “Peanut” remote. It’s compact, logically laid out and uncluttered. It uses RF (radio frequency) rather than infrared, so you don’t need to aim. It includes buttons for your TV Power, Volume, and Input. There is a 30-second-ahead button and an 8-second-back button for getting through commercials quickly, or rewatching a particular scene.

Setup was easy, though it took 20 minutes or so.

The Program Guide is visually similar to the one on our old cable DVR. But it can also display the data in other useful styles. For example, your favorite channels alone can be displayed, which is helpful when you are looking for shows to record. Program data is downloaded by the TiVo via either wifi or Ethernet connection.

“Season Pass”“OnePass” is the TiVo term for series recording. It offers more options than the cable box did, and they are better organized.

Recorded TV series episodes are grouped in folders by series name. You can display Movies or Sports or Kids or News and Business. There is also a large selection of other categories such as HD, Comedy, Drama, Documentary, Sci-Fi, etc., which can be selected singly or multiply.

The Roamio OTA has 500 GB storage for recorded shows. You can plug in an eSATA external hard drive for extra storage if you wish.

The free TiVo smartphone app shows you what’s on to watch or record, and gives you a second remote.

The cord-cutter’s rub: the Roamio OTA exacts a $15/mo charge for program data and updates. But I find it easy to rationalize:

The cable company charged $12/mo for DVR service. In order to get DVR service, we also had to add “Advanced TV” for $3/mo extra. There’s the $15. That doesn’t even include $8.50/mo for the cable DVR/tuner.

If you were aiming to replace broadcast TV recording with Hulu Plus, you would pay $8/mo. Hulu Plus forces you to watch repetitive commercials, has a poor user interface, and rewinds awkwardly at best. It’s worth $7/mo more not to endure that.

I am a cost-averse cord-cutter, but there is the ideal (no monthly cost), and there is the practical. Windows Media Center via Raspberry Pi works well for me in our theater room, and costs nothing per month, but complex setups can and do have issues occasionally. Microsoft’s commitment to WMC is tepid. I like to tinker, Gaye doesn’t. TiVo is like a reliable car with good cup holders. WMC/Pi might break down and require a change of spark plugs or tires while on the road.

I have the setup I like, she has the setup she likes. Peaceful coexistence at minimal cost.

More to come.

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.