Archive for the ‘Watching’ Category

Plex switch

Posted: January 20, 2018 in Home Media, Plex, Watching
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The current Kodi – Emby setup has been working well until recently. For some reason, the Kids profile is now refusing to play back certain files that work fine in the main profile. Other files play without issue in both profiles. I’ve also had the Emby client not working properly on the Roku boxes. Stuff has played on one Intel box that then refuses to play on the other one… even though it’s more powerful. With kids wanting to watch their stuff, having to troubleshoot which of their shows does and doesn’t work became increasingly frustrating.

Emby had been our default choice for one simple reason – it allow me to build profiles that meant the kids could have their stuff and just watch it. The non-kid friendly content was under a different profile. While this functionality was available in Plex, it cost money.

With a mix of self-built Intel platforms & Roku boxes, the need for a central server to handle synchronisation duties between all devices is critical; trying to juggle which particular episode of Pokemon the kids have watched is a full time job! Using Plex on the Roku and Emby on the Intel has been the work around, but this means trying to manually update both Emby and Plex watched statuses.

As part of the Black Friday deals I finally succumbed to buying a Plex pass… and a lifetime one at that. I mostly bought it to get access to the live TV and PVR capabilities allowing me to retire the TVHeadend Server that I never could get to work in the way I wanted.

After another episode – the Emby app crashed on the Roku3 – I decided to see what the actual front end Plex client was like. Initially I built a ‘simple’ RaspberryPi based Plex Media Player (PMP) to see how it could work and to see what the experience was like. Installation was simple and I was surprised to see that it was based on the same LibreELEC platform that we use for our Kodi players. The plan was to use the RPi in the playroom and see if the kids were happy with using it before thinking about updating their Kodi player.

After a ‘play-date’ with a room full of kids wanting to watch TV and the same issue of films NOT wanting to play – that was a happy 10 minutes – I finally decided to scrap their Kodi installation and install the PMP client. It’s an old NVidia Ion Atom board, so nothing huge, but runs 1080p content without issue and is speedy enough with a 30Gb SSD. The PMP installer did it’s stuff and within 10 minutes we had a working player. The only issue was that it wouldn’t detect my local Plex server automatically – it kept trying to route out of the house to Plex and then back again. Manually adding the local server IP address soon fixed that issue.

The kids are happily using the PMP client without issue on their box.

I should add that the issue has never been with Kodi as far as I can tell – it has always been with the backend Emby infrastructure – either the Roku app wouldn’t start or if it did it wouldn’t play back content. On the other side the Kodi plugin fails to play content under one profile that plays perfectly under another on the same device. Using the direct path capability was how it was originally setup, but this kept failing, so the only way to play stuff was through the plugin.

I can’t say that the the issue doesn’t lie with me using Emby as a Docker container on the unRAID platform and these issues aren’t related to this additional complexity, but all I know is that I run Plex the same way and it hasn’t caused issues yet.

After a couple of weeks running PMP on the kids box, I’ve also now migrated the main lounge player across to PMP as well. My biggest niggle about using the box is that the Harmony remote can no longer shutdown the box. I have to manually shut down before using the power off command to turn the rest off.

I felt bad moving away from Kodi – I’ve been using it in some form or another since the original XBMP on the first gen XBox – complete with Mechwarrior 2 hack to install it! I do miss the skins – the Plex interface is functional, it’s not pretty. I just don’t have the opportunity to debug/fix stuff when the kids want TV.


Noctua Fan NF-A4 FLX

Posted: February 7, 2014 in Hardware, Watching

So the CPU fan on my well abused Atom Ion XBMC player in the lounge has always been ‘whiny’. The usual noise that is supposed to accompany a 40mm fan spinning at 5k rpm and shifting sod all air. Recently, it has been getting louder, so loud in fact it became noticeable (to me at least) over the video playback.

Foolishly I assumed that the extra noise was from the side 80mm fan beginning it’s death rattle, but no, on closer inspection it was indeed the CPU fan. So based on a recently read ‘How To‘ build a silent HTPC I investigated the Noctua brand of fans.

Never heard of them before. I’d normally look for a brand like Coolermaster, Scythe or one of the other brands that build ‘proper’ CPU coolers for ‘proper’ motherboards. Still the guide was full of praise, as was several of the reviews on Amazon UK.

Although I initially bulked at paying almost £12 for a 40mm fan, I decided that if this was as quiet as it seemed it would be worth it.

I make no apologies for this. I am about to gush, I am actually about to gush over a fan.

It is absolutely brilliant. From the minute you open the extremely high end packaging to the moment you turn the system back on, the whole thing is superb.

The package comes with various cables and rubber mounts, including a “noise reducing cable” that actually lowers the rpm of the fan and hence the noise. Even without that cable in place I can’t hear the fan spinning with the case open. It is awesome.

I’ll amend this posting later with links and technical info, but for now, this will do!


Noctua website – and the info for the fan in question is here



Posted: October 3, 2013 in Hacking and playing, Watching
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So as a big XBMC fan (never would have guessed would you?) I originally planned to use my Raspberry Pi as a simple set top box in the playroom for the kids. Give them the ability to watch My Little Pony and assorted Disney films away from the main lounge. This never happened mainly because I never bought the TV.

Still with a new TV in the main bedroom, I’ve now got the Pi attached to the back of the set and running Raspbmc. Works very nicely, the box is out of sight and as the TV is on a remote controlled power switch, it gets turned on when the TV goes on. It does mean that Raspbmc starts even if it’s not needed, but small price to pay. As all the media is centralised via MySQL, I can always rebuild if it all goes south. The TV doesn’t support CEC, so I’ve still got the old faithful MS IR Blaster box peaking out from the bottom of the TV, but thats all you can see.

As a bonus, it can also see the Vu+ Duo STB downstairs, so FreeSat is now available up in the bedroom. Bit clunky, but it works!

As it’s an old model B (256M) I run the quartz skin to keep the UI overhead down. It’s also not overclocked, but I guess that if it goes slooow I can always hit the option. Very happy with it…

I still may amuse myself and try OpenELEC on a different SD card and see how that behaves…. there’s an Android STB sitting in a cupboard at work as well… always tinkering, never happy.


Posted: September 27, 2013 in Watching

Just finished watching Banshee. I have to say that it was a superb series and I’m looking forward to the next season.

Give it a look if you get a chance.

How True

Posted: April 22, 2013 in Rants, Watching
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While cleaning out old emails, I came across this comment that a colleague had found out in the wild and then reposted on an internal blog. It’s dated November 2011 and still seems like nothing has changed:


It’s well into the 21st Century and we’re still using optical storage media. After getting my Logitech Revue (with Google TV) I no longer have any devices capable of playing optical storage media in my living-room.

Any time we buy a DVD/BluRay it gets ripped/encoded and lives on our household NAS. I can watch it on the big TV, I can watch it on my (Linux) PC. I can even transfer it to Mobile/Tablet/Laptop to watch on long journeys.

The only problem with this is content-availability, if its not available to buy in this territory then I’ll buy it from another territory and get it shipped here. If its physically not available to buy, but it can be found on the internet and downloaded within a few minutes i say its fair game.

Organisations like the **AA are just trying to prop up an outdated business model, on the one hand they want content to be legally considered a physical piece of property. You “buy” it, they “sell” it and thus it can conceivably be “stolen”. Under this basis online downloads are correlated as “lost sales”, last time i saw some litigation they’re claiming $3,000 USD per music track.

At the same time, they’re dead-set against the second-hand market, any other physical goods I can sell-on once i no longer need it – but apparently not. In this respect they want content to be considered a “non transferable license” for usage of the media – i.e. you don’t “own” it, possession of the media entitles you a limited license to watch the media.

As one Slashdot commenter noted, “Google, if you’re listening can you just buy the RIAA/MPAA and be done with it?”


If you’re not convinced, try asking one on the film studios for a replacement DVD because the kids have scratched it so badly that it doesn’t work anymore. If it is a “non transferable license” then they should replace it because I bought a license to use the media.

If it’s not a “non transferable license”, they shouldn’t get their knickers in a twist when the original disc gets ripped to a home server to prevent it getting damaged in daily use. As I own the ‘physical’, that means I can do what I want with it.

You can’t have it both ways.

So as I wrote in an earlier post, I’ve finally switched to XBMCBuntu as the main distro for my media playback fix. The other major bonus was the realisation that this meant I could now install MythTV backend and link it to XBMC using the new PVR plugins. Under OpenELEC there is no desktop, so the installation of a PVR backend relies on either using a built in service (generally TVHeadEnd) or an existing remote backend.

TVHeadEnd has been ‘unreliable’, so I’ve stopped trying to get it to work. Building a completely new box just to serve TV seems overkill at this point in time – I may change if I get around to building a new Home Server, but that’s a way off yet!

The chassis already had a dual tuner Hauppage DVB-T card (FreeView) in it from it’s earlier days of htpc testing, so the addition of MythTV backend meant that with minimal tweaking I have a working PVR in XBMC. If you only knew how long I’ve wanted this!!!!

I still need to tweak the system – it currently runs off a single 32Gb SSD, so I need to connect a significantly larger second HDD to store my recordings on, but progress is being made!

UPDATE: Well I guess I spoke too soon. A couple of weeks later I began to get a ‘unable to connect to MythTV’ message whenever I booted the box. Attempts at delaying the start of XBMC until the tuner(s) were up and running made very little difference.

UPDATE 2: OK got the hump. Turned off live tv in XBMC. To be honest it’s not what we mainly use XBMC for anyway.

End of OpenELEC

Posted: April 2, 2013 in Watching
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I love OpenELEC – it is in daily use as the main media player in the house for the past couple of years. It made my little Atom/Ion board fly, and turned mediocre hardware into something that was a joy to use.

Alas as of yesterday, it is no longer used. OK a bit dramatic I admit, but I finally had to drop the slim OpenELEC build of XBMC and return to the original in the form of XBMCBuntu.

And the reason… updates.

XBMC moved to a monthly update – that’s great, but not really of use to me as I NEED to have this player stable – both for WAF and the 2 kids! What it does mean is that the annual release is in position to be released in Dec/Jan and it works. It also means that I can do a simple apt-get update/apt-get upgrade and get the latest version without hassle. It will even update and migrate the MySQL central DB for me.

OpenELEC doesn’t. It is a beautifully crafted minimal distro that takes time to build and test after the official release of XBMC. It also requires (to date) manual updates in the form of copying across the new kernel and system files to the box and rebooting. So I did this with the update from v1 to v2 last year and it took time.. but I accepted this as the cost of using the software. I then did it again this weekend moving from v2 to v3 (actually v3.1, but hey). The update went fine, no issues at all. What’s not fine was the 72 hours it took to then re-import my media library before I can use the box. I know, I know, Atom 330 CPU isn’t going to be quick… but 72 hours… no. Even then when it did get restarted, it insisted on doing a library update and found more things that han’t been imported – and no – these weren’t new… if fact they were very old, watched and fully metadata’d up!

So assuming that my media collection continues to grow, the next update could take even longer and that’s not acceptable.