Archive - Apr 2, 2011

Advanced Roku

Yesterday, I set up another Roku video player, and so I spent a little more time looking at different ‘private channels’ and other configuration that can be done with it.

The Roku play is a small set top box that allows you to pull video streams off the internet and display them on your TV. We initially got it to stream videos off of Netflix in a way that the whole family can watch it. However, being the hacker that I am, I’m always looking for ways to tweak it to do more things.

One of the key features is the ‘private channels’. A private channel is one that is not listed on the Roku, but that you can add via your Roku account on the Internet. There are a couple of good websites listing different private Roku Channels. I especially like Nowhere TV which has its own Roku Channel with many great shows on it as well as a webpage talking about other great channels.

Another site I like is streamfree.tv. They point to Nowhere TV and list several other channels. This includes several live channels, including Al Jazeera, BBC World News, CNN International, and RT America. They also have a section for channels that support local file systems.

I had thought that these channels were limited to devices that have USB connections. However, it turns out these channels can also easily pull content off of a local network. Channels that they list include Gabby Media Server, PlayOn, roConnect and Roksbox.

Unfortunately, many of these are oriented to people using Windows. Since we run mostly Linux in our home, several of the solutions just didn’t work all that well. However, Roksbox has proven to be pretty nice.

Roksbox runs in two different modes. One is to connect with Media Monkey, which is yet another Windows based system. However, it also connects with webpages, so I’ve set it up to pull music, pictures and videos off of my linux box running an Apache server. It works fairly nicely, but could be better.

Originally, I just threw all of my music into one big folder. Roksbox doesn’t provide nice navigation around that folder, so I probably have to reorganize my music collection. I was hoping that it would work with a uPNP server, like the MediaTomb server I’m running on my linux server. This would give me the ability to search for songs by album, performer and genre. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get these to connect and am looking for a few different approaches.

One would be to try and find a private channel that will connect to uPNP servers. That would be really nice. Lacking that, would be to find some sort of uPNP server to Webserver gateway, so that the songs could be selected via a web interface to the uPNP server.

I also used Roksbox to look at photographs and videos. I didn’t have a lot of different videos to test, but I did successfully play some MP4 videos I had recorded on various devices. Roksbox also provides the ability to stream live video, and I used their example, to add a Nasa live stream. For some reason the pxml file that they suggested did not work, but the http live streaming (HLS) file worked nicely. Now, I just need to find more sources that are streaming HLS.

One trick I found was to access Ustream and Livestream feeds as HLS. AppMakr has hints on this.

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