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    Michael is a trainer and consultant specializing in making mobility technology work in people's everyday lives.
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Archive for the ‘HTPC’ Category

Freevo + Treo = Shows to Go!

Posted by Michael Brown on May 28, 2008

Freevo re-encoding TV shows

I’ve been quite fond of the Freevo home theatre platform for quite a while, and it just keeps getting better and better. It’s had the ability to “re-encode” media like TV shows or movies to alternate formats, like iPod or Treo-friendly 320×240, for a while now. With yesterday’s release of Freevo, it’s now possible to automatically transcode your favorite TV shows into portable-friendly formats as soon as they’re done recording. It’s perfect for those folks who have long commutes to work. Freevo also has an RSS downloader, so you can use that to grab the PalmAddicts audio or video podcasts. Happy 9th Birthday, PalmAddicts!

Originally posted to PalmAddicts here.

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Posted in Freevo, HTPC, Palm, PalmAddicts, Treo | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Watch Treo Videos and Pictures on your TV

Posted by Michael Brown on July 20, 2007

As I wrote about in the post “Treo, collector of memories”, the Treo is a great device for capturing “stuff that happens”, like funny pictures, video clips, and sound files. The only difficult thing about sharing those memorable moments with a group is the small size of the Treo screen. Sure, it’s great for showing stuff to one or two other people, but if you have a few people (like a family get-together), it doesn’t work out so well. A laptop screen is a bit better, but not by much. It’s in this kind of situation where being able to show it on a TV would be the best. And that’s what we do in our house.

As I’ve mentioned before, we use a Home Theatre PC in our Family Room, running Freevo. It has options to View pictures, and Watch Movies. Now, there are an infinite number of ways to have your pictures and videos appear via Freevo: you could copy them onto your Freevo HTPC’s hard disk, it could mount a Windows shared drive or NFS share, it could mount a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device, and so on… which is beyond the scope of today’s post. The important thing is they get placed somewhere where the Freevo HTPC can find them in a directory or directories. You can do that by HotSyncing your Treo and copying the pictures and Videos from your user folder to the Freevo share, or by copying them from the /DCIM folder on your SD card to the Freevo Share.

Pictures are the easy part. Freevo works “out-of-the-box” with the JPEG pictures that a Treo takes. Just see
http://freevo.sourceforge.net/cgi-bin/doc/ImageConfig for information on how to configure the Image plugin to find your picture directories, and to set the options for viewing the Pictures (stuff like transitions, slideshow options, etc)

http://freevo.sourceforge.net/cgi-bin/doc/MovieConfig details how to set-up the Movie plugin. I had to modify things a tiny little bit to get Freevo to play the Treo videos.

First, you set the Video items to the directory (or directories) you’re storing the videos in. You can have multiple directories, which will show up as many different menu options. Subdirectories can be browsed within the Movie browser, so don’t worry about having to list everythin in VIDEO_ITEMS.

VIDEO_ITEMS = [ ('Movies', '/files/movies'),
('Family Movies', '/mnt/FamilyMovies') ]

Next, you will need to add the suffix or extension ‘3g2’ to the list of playable extensions, as shown below. 3g2 is the extension that the Treo Camera application uses when it stores Treo videos on the SD card.

VIDEO_MPLAYER_SUFFIX = [ 'avi', 'mpg', 'mpeg', 'wmv', 'bin', 'rm',
'divx', 'ogm', 'vob', 'asf', 'm2v', 'm2p',
'mp4', 'viv', 'nuv', 'mov', 'iso',
'nsv', 'mkv', '3g2' ]

Once that’s done, you just need to start (or restart) Freevo, choose to view a picture or video, and you and your loved ones can share some memories together.

Posted in Freevo, HTPC, Palm, Technology, Treo | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Advice sought from (Linux) gamers on controllers…

Posted by Michael Brown on July 14, 2007

I know a fair number of people read this blog every week, many looking for answers to their problems, or looking for new ideas and solutions. I’m hoping some of you readers may help me by way of your own experiences.

Earlier this week, I wrote about installing Childsplay on Freevo, our Home Theatre PC. Childsplay is normally run on a PC, so it normally expects a mouse and keyboard. I’m hoping to get a game controller to be able to have my kids play with it, but I’m not really a gamer. I’m not really sure which type of controller to get, but I do know I want to get a wireless controller.

I know there are Linux drivers available for Xbox 360 Wireless controllers (xpad), the Wiimote (Cwiid), and the Playstation 3 controller. The xpad drivers have been around for a while and are pretty stable, but I don’t know as much about the Cwiid (Wiimote) or PS3 drivers. I haven’t really spent any “hands-on” time with any of the controllers, so I’d be interested in hearing people’s advice or recommendations on the controllers in general, and under Linux in particular.

I think the Wiimote concept (pointing device with optional accessories) may be the best for my application, but I’m not sure if the drivers are mature enough for use. Here are my specific questions:

How would the three of them compare as general purpose game controllers?
(either under Linux or on their native platforms) I know it’s an “apples vs oranges” comparison in some ways, but I’m thinking along the lines of general compatibility/usability with a variety of educational games by non-gamer type adults and young kids.

How are the linux drivers?
I’ve already compiled the ones for the Xbox 360 Wireless, so it’s straight forward. I don’t have any experience with the Cwiid or PS3 ones… Is there a mouse emulation mode for the Xbox (xpad) or PS3 drivers?

Anything I’m missing? The last time I played games, it was on a Commodore 64 or Atari 2600 (I know, I’m dating myself!)

Thanks for any and all help rendered! Please feel free to use the comments for your replies, so that others may also benefit from your advice. Much appreciated!

Have a great weekend!
/Michael

Posted in Freevo, Gaming, HTPC, Linux, Open Source Software | Leave a Comment »

It’s Childsplay, on Freevo

Posted by Michael Brown on July 12, 2007

Freevo has become a staple in our family’s lives, and a project I’ve enjoyed setting up for us. I have Freevo’s recordserver and webserver components running on the machine in the office, where it records the TV shows my wife and I are interested in seeing (usually after the kids go to bed). Freevo is also running on a dedicated Home Theatre PC in our family room, where it is often used to watch kid’s videos and browse family pictures and videos stored on the fileserver. It allows us to enjoy family-oriented media together as a family. My oldest child has a Leappad educational toy, but she’s getting to the age where she’s interested in more “dynamic” stuff. Now, I know there are all kinds of educational “game consoles” out there, but why would I want to hook up another gadget to the TV, especially one that requires a lot of extra software titles to make in interesting? That could get quite expensive, quite fast…

Here’s a solution that’s childs play… make use of the existing Linux-powered home theatre PC, and make it an educational console! Childsplay is a suite of educational games written in Python (the same programming language as Freevo is written in). Childsplay is available in Ubuntu’s Universe repositories (and in Debian Unstable), as well as by downloads from the sourceforge website. I enabled the games section of Freevo, and configured Childsplay as per the Linux Games Config section of the Freevo Wiki. My specific configuration was more like this…

apt-get install childsplay childsplay-plugins

In Freevo’s local_conf.py, I enabled the games plugin, and configured the games items as follows:
GAMES_ITEMS = [ ('Childsplay', '/etc/freevo/games/childsplay',
('GENERIC', '/usr/games/childsplay', '', '', [ 'childsplay' ] )) ]

And in the /etc/freevo directory, as root (or add sudo in front of each of these commands, where the # symbol is)
# mkdir /etc/freevo/games
# mkdir /etc/freevo/games/childsplay
# > /etc/freevo/games/childsplay/childsplay.childsplay

You’ll now have a menu item, “Play a game”, and if it’s the only game configured, it’ll run Childsplay. You can then pick which particular childsplay game you are interested in playing by clicking on the thumnail picture. We tried it with the wireless keyboard, and it works well. I may experiment with it’s “kiosk-mode” when I have some free time, which uses an on-screen keyboard, and experiment to see if it works with a joystick or gamepad.

Posted in Freevo, Gaming, HTPC, Linux | Leave a Comment »

Ubuntu “Fiesty Fawn” 7.04 quickies

Posted by Michael Brown on April 23, 2007

A couple of quick notes about “Fiesty” after I upgraded the HTPC in the family room from 6.10 to 7.04:

It includes Linux kernel 2.6.20 (Debian Etch only includes 2.6.18). It’s got nice hardware support, including the k8temp module needed by my AMD 3500+ processor on the ASUS M2NPV-VM motherboard. It also has the Nvidia drivers available in the restricted modules section. I had to manually install the nvidia drivers, as it was an ‘apt-get’ upgrade (I’ve been stripping this install back to the bones since it’s more of a multi-media “appliance” than a PC).

Mplayer is majorly broken in Fiesty. Playing a video results in distorted sound. I ended up having to reconfigure Freevo to use xine instead of mplayer. So, be wary if you use mplayer (or software that depends on mplayer) if you plan on upgrading to Fiesty Fawn.

UPDATE: July 2007. The specific problem is that mplayer’s mp3lib is broken. After googling around, I found that adding “afm=libmad” (without quotes) in /etc/mplayer/mplayer.conf fixed the problem.

Posted in Freevo, HTPC, Linux, Ubuntu | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Freevo and IVTV 0.8 gotcha’s

Posted by Michael Brown on April 18, 2007

I’ve been using Freevo as a “VCR” for about a year now, and I really like it. Freevo is a lightweight multi-media PC framework written in python, running on Linux, using many existing open-source multi-media players like mplayer and xine. In my case, I’ve been using it for the last year running without the GUI on my server in the office, while displaying the recorded programs using a Hauppage MediaMVP running the open-source MVPMC (MVP media center) instead of Hauppage’s Windows-based software. The MVP is great because it’s quiet and low-power, boots quickly, and produces a great video image; we use it to watch recorded programs in our bedroom after the kids are in bed. The MVPMC software really gives it a lot of flexibility (more so than Hauppage’s own software), and it’s under steady development to give it even more features. MVPMC also integrates nicely with that other Linux HTPC package (MythTV), but I personally like Freevo’s design much better. I’ve been using Hauppage’s WinTV PVR 150 as the capture card (I use the less expensive 150 OEM MCE edition, as they don’t come with the Windows software, just MCE drivers). The full retail version comes with a remote, which is supported under Linux using the LIRC package.

Main menu TV Guide Movie Browsing

Music Browsing Playing Music Image Browsing

So, getting on with the story… I noticed that Georg had packaged 1.7.0 for Debian and Ubuntu, so I decided it was time to upgrade from 1.6.3, as 1.7 has some really nice new features. I hit a couple of minor packaging issues, which I figured out and sent Georg an e-mail last night (he had them fixed in the morning! Gotta love Open-Source developers!) I backed up my local_conf.py file, and copied the new local_conf.py.example to local_conf.py, and started restoring my settings from the backup file. Generally, everything worked well, except for some video issues.

This is how Freevo’s IVTV options were configured “out-of-the-box” in the Debian packages I used (IVTV is the open-source driver effort for cards like the WinTV PVR series).

TV_IVTV_OPTIONS = {
'input' : 4,
'resolution' : '720x480',
'aspect' : 3,
'audio_bitmask' : 233,
'bframes' : 3,
'bitrate_mode' : 1,
'bitrate' : 4000000,
'bitrate_peak' : 4000000,
'dnr_mode' : 0,
'dnr_spatial' : 0,
'dnr_temporal' : 0,
'dnr_type' : 0,
'framerate' : 0,
'framespergop' : 15,
'gop_closure' : 1,
'pulldown' : 0,
'stream_type' : 10,
}

Now, in IVTV 0.8, many of the IVTV options are now configured through the command v4l2-ctl, and not ivtvctl as they were in previous versions of the IVTV utilities. As the drivers progress in developement, ivtvctl will go away, as all it’s features get rolled into the v4l (video 4 linux) drivers and utilities

Here are the defaults for the two settings that got me when I upgraded to the 0.8 drivers from the 0.7 ones.

video_aspect (menu) : min=0 max=3 default=1 value=1
video_b_frames (int) : min=0 max=33 step=1 default=2 value=2 flags=update

I needed to set ‘b frames’ to 2 to eliminate some picture jitter I was getting, and I needed to set aspect to 2 to get the aspect ratio back to the expected 4:3 for my TV (3 is 16:9 widescreen, which I don’t have). As the drivers develop and get merged into the v4l project, expect to tweak settings as defaults may change.

Here are the possible aspect ratio choices:

aspect aspect ratio
1 1:1
2 4:3 (normal TV)
3 16:9 (Widescreen)
4 2.21:1

v4l2-ctl -l | more is a helpful troubleshooting tool that lists all possible controls and their values. It lists what the defaults are as well as what the current value is, so if you run into problems, try setting your values to defaults, then changing one at a time to see if that fixes your problems (or improves the quality, etc.).

I’ll write something more about Freevo in the future (It’s a project I really enjoy using!), but if you have questions or comments, feel free to use the comments on this post to ask away!

Posted in Freevo, HTPC, Linux, Open Source Software | Leave a Comment »