Tag Archives: Boxee


Digital Content Your Way (Boxee)


A few years back my friend and I built our own Tivo like boxes with Ubuntu and MythTV.  The process was less than simple and involved a lot of tweaking and experimentation, but the end result was actually quite nice.  Today this process has been simplified a great deal and users can grab one of many pre-built MythTV Linux distributions such as Mythbuntu.  I ran my MythTV box for a few months before I ran into a hardware issue.  I swapped out a few parts with no luck and without much time to troubleshoot it the box sat idle for over a year.

Since that time I’ve experimented with a number of services to get my digital content; DirectTV, Tivo, the Galleon Tivo Media Server, Amazon Video On Demand, BitTorrent, Usenet, iTunes, Hulu, Joost, Schmooze.TV, Netflix, etc.  Each of these methods has its own set of advantages and disadvantages.  Some are fairly nerdy and unfriendly to the average user.  Others have a cost component that may or may not be within ones budget.  One component that has always been required in my setup was digital cable (i.e.) Comcast and/or DirectTV.  These services have worked without issue, but are very costly and come overloaded with commercial advertisements.  We have used Tivo for over 6 years now to morph digital cable into tolerable on demand and commercial free content.  I do not mind advertising in the free content found on sites like Hulu, ABC, CBS, etc, but when I spend as much money as I do with my digital cable service I don’t appreciate the additional marketing.  In recent years digital cable companies have started to create their own on demand services and Tivo like interfaces.  I’ve not been impressed with a single one thus far though.

With the amount of digital content available on the Internet these days I decided it was time to have a go at eliminating digital cable from my list of services.  The current economic crisis has made this even more appealing since who wouldn’t be up for dropping a costly monthly bill or two.  There are various methods of retrieving TV shows, movies, and music on the Internet in an illegal manner, but I am focused legal methods and as I stated earlier I am ok with advertisements in otherwise free content.  So I started by laying out what my ultimate setup would feel like.  I want on demand access to TV shows (past and present), a collection of Movies (past and present), my own library of digital content (music, dvds, pictures, etc), and a streaming music service.  I want all that in an single interface that I can interact with via my remote control over my broadband Internet connection.  Lastly, I’d prefer it be something based around open source technology.

MythTV and Tivo are great products, but they piggyback on the requirement of having digital cable and so for this effort those services are out.  I’ve selected a new product called Boxee to handle my requirements, “boxee gives you a true entertainment experience to enjoy your movies, TV shows, music and photos, as well as streaming content from websites like Hulu, Netflix, ABC, CBS, Comedy Central, Last.fm, and Flickr.”  Boxee is still in an alpha state, but in reality I’ve found the product to be quite stable.  They offer downloads for the Mac OS X Leopard or Tiger (Intel only) and the Ubuntu 8.04 or 8.10 (32bit) platforms.  I setup an account, downloaded Boxee to my Apple Mac Mini, went through the simple installation process, and tied it into my various services.  I challenged the family to spend the weekend without using the DirectTV box.  We consumed all our digital content via Boxee running on our Mac Mini plugged into our big screen TV.  We’ve actually found ourselves watching more content and even exposing the kids to quite a few shows we had as children like Bewitched, I Dream of Genie, Perfect Stangers, etc.  We’ve looked through our photo albums and those of our friends hosted on flickr.  We’ve watched a number of  movies streaming from Hulu and Netflix, and listened to music streaming from Last.fm as we did some chores around the house.  We took a family poll and Boxee is a winner.

I’ll be canceling my digital cable and Tivo subscriptions today.  I have two Tivo boxes and one is a lifetime subscription so I can always bring it back online as needed.  It is pretty simple to manage the other via Tivo online as well.  I have already scaled back my Netflix service from 4 dvds at a time to 1.  This is an effort again to save money and because after 5 years we just aren’t using the service as heavily as we once did.  I am keeping Netflix mostly because I want access to their streaming service, but also because I am a big fan and want to support their efforts.  I’m a huge fan of Tivo as well, but without digital cable there just isn’t a reason to keep it right now.  In addition to recording TV I also used it to access my digital library and rent movies from Amazon, but these functions will be replaced by Boxee.  It is worth noting that Netflix and Tivo have partnered to deliver streaming movies as well, but this service is only available for TiVo® HD, TiVo® HD XL and TiVo® Series3™ DVRs.  I have two older series 2 models that work just fine outside of being able to access the Netflix service and I’d rather not purchases new ones at this point.  Another interesting option for Netflix fans is the Netflix Player by Roku.  I’ve heard good things about this one too, but again I’m not looking to purchase any new devices and I really want just one interface for everything like what Boxee provides.  Overall, I think we’ll probably save about $100 a month which I am quite pleased with.

After a successful weekend with Boxee I decided to tear apart that old MythTV machine and try to setup a Boxee Media Center for the bedroom with Ubuntu as well.  I’ll keep that for another blog post since it is less about why I’ve selected Boxee and more about how to setup Boxee with Ubuntu.  I hope you found this helpful and that you decide to give Boxee a shot in your home as well.  Enjoy!


Setup Boxee on Ubuntu 8.10


As I mentioned in a previous post I recently switched over to Boxee for all my digital content needs.  My initial Boxee setup was done with an Apple Mac Mini.  The installation/configuration process in that case was extremely simple.  The first Boxee Media Center worked out so well that I wanted a second one to replace digital cable and Tivo in the bedroom as well.  I have a second Mac Mini, but it is a bit older and I quickly realized it would not work with Boxee since they do not support the G4 chip.  In addition to Mac OS X boxee also supports Ubuntu 8.04 and 8.10.  So I decided to tear apart some old boxes I had laying around from past MythTV experiments and build a myself a new Boxee Media Center with Ubuntu 8.10.  The Boxee setup process for Ubuntu 8.10 was not as simple and so I wanted to document it here for the benefit of others.

Let me first talk a bit about the hardware. I want to keep this fairly generic so I will not go into great detail on most of the hardware specs. It is Linux after all and should work well with just about anything.  I am using a standard tower, a 430 watt power supply, 1.5 gigs of memory, a standard motherboard with SATA support, an AMD64 2GHz processor, a wireless G network card, an Nvidia graphics card with HDMI and S-Video out, and a 400gig SATA hard drive. The only specific piece of hardware I want to mention is the TV tuner card, a Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-150. I originally purchased this for a MythTV box where video capture was an important component. For Boxee this is less of an issue since it is not about video capture, but rather about digital media consumption. I am using it in this case because it comes with a Hauppauge remote control and IR Blaster. The Mac Mini ships with a remote control and so this is not an issue, but with Ubuntu we’ll need to configure this after market remote. I believe Boxee has support configured for the Microsoft Media Center Remote out of the box, but for those of us not using it more work is required. OK on with the setup…

1) Once your hardware is ready, start by downloading Ubuntu 8.10 and creating a CD.
2) Install Ubuntu and use the update manager to get the latest updates.
3) Use Synaptic to install the ivtv and ivtv-util drivers for the WinTV card.
4) Use Synaptic to install lirc for dealing with the remote control.
5) If you are using an Nvidia graphic card you might want to enabled Nvidia Accelerated Graphics driver under System->Administration-Hardware Drivers.
6) Prepare to install Boxee.
1. Go to System > Administration > Software Sources.
2. In Sources Software dialogue, select Third-Party Software tab, click Add,
and enter: * deb http://apt.boxee.tv intrepid main
3. After closing this dialogue you can either use Synaptic and select Boxee for download, or use a terminal window, and enter sudo apt-get install boxee.

7) If you are using the Microsoft Remote you can skip this step. If you are using the Hauppauge remote control read on. If you are using something else then you are on your own.

For the Hauppauge remote control you’ll need to do the following:
a) Replace default remote control keymap file with one more suited for this remote:
cp ~/.boxee/UserData/Lircmap.xml ~/.boxee/UserData/Lircmap.xml.org
vi ~/.boxee/UserData/Lircmap.xml

Add a new remote option to the existing remote list in this file with the contents of this thread: http://forum.boxee.tv/showthread.php?t=2765&highlight=hauppaugehttp://forum.boxee.tv/showthread.php?t=2765&highlight=hauppauge

b) Update the /etc/modules file:
echo “lirc_i2c” | sudo tee -a /etc/modules

c) Update the /etc/modprobe.d/aliases file:
sudo vi /etc/modprobe.d/aliases

– Now look for the char-major section and add the line below the right order:
alias char-major-61 lirc_i2c

d) Verify and/or update the /etc/lirc/hardware.conf file:
sudo vi /etc/lirc/hardware.conf

– Verify your setup matches the following and/or change if not:

#Chosen Remote Control
REMOTE="Hauppauge TV card"
REMOTE_MODULES="lirc_dev lirc_i2c"

#Chosen IR Transmitter

#Enable lircd

e) Update the /etc/lirc/lircd.conf file: sudo vim /etc/lirc/lircd.conf – Add the following to the bottom of this file:

begin remote

 name hauppauge_pvr150
 bits 13
 eps 30
 aeps 100

 one 0 0
 zero 0 0
 gap 200000
 min_repeat 4
 toggle_bit 2

 begin codes
 POWER 0x00000000000017BD
 GO 0x00000000000017BB
 TV 0x000000000000179C
 VIDEOS 0x0000000000001798
 MUSIC 0x0000000000001799
 PICTURES 0x000000000000179A
 GUIDE 0x000000000000179B
 RADIO 0x000000000000178C
 OK 0x00000000000017A5
 UP 0x0000000000001794
 LEFT 0x0000000000001796
 RIGHT 0x0000000000001797
 DOWN 0x0000000000001795
 BACK/EXIT 0x000000000000179F
 MENU 0x000000000000178D
 PREVCH 0x0000000000001792
 MUTE 0x000000000000178F
 VOL+ 0x0000000000001790
 VOL- 0x0000000000001791
 CH+ 0x00000000000017A0
 CH- 0x00000000000017A1
 RECORD 0x00000000000017B7
 STOP 0x00000000000017B6
 PLAY 0x00000000000017B5
 REW 0x00000000000017B2
 FFW 0x00000000000017B4
 REPLAY 0x00000000000017A4
 PAUSE 0x00000000000017B0
 SKIP 0x000000000000179E
 1 0x0000000000001781
 2 0x0000000000001782
 3 0x0000000000001783
 4 0x0000000000001784
 5 0x0000000000001785
 6 0x0000000000001786
 7 0x0000000000001787
 8 0x0000000000001788
 9 0x0000000000001789
 * 0x000000000000178A
 0 0x0000000000001780
 # 0x000000000000178E
 RED 0x000000000000178B
 GREEN 0x00000000000017AE
 YELLOW 0x00000000000017B8
 BLUE 0x00000000000017A9
 end codes

end remote

8) Now that should be it, but I ran into a few issues with Boxee on Ubutnu 8.10. I’ll discuss them below and perhaps they will help others with similar issues. You should try starting Boxee at this point and see if you have any issues. You can find Boxee under your Applications->Sound and Video menu. If everything seems fine you’re done. If you get the black screen of death then read on.

After launching Boxee I received a black screen which I could not escape from. None of the normal keyboard escape methods worked and it required a hard reboot. To work around the black screen issues I took two steps.

a) Removed PulseAudio as outlined in bullet point 2 of the following article – http://www.highonsolder.com/blog/2008/11/22/boxee-ubuntu-810-setup.html

b) Downgraded the Nvidia Accelerated Graphics driver under System->Administration-Hardware Drivers from version 173 to 96. The latest driver simply would not work.

Additional Notes:
1) A good many popular multimedia codecs are not shipped with Ubuntu by default due to legal restrictions.  You can add them into your installation with the following command:
sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted-extras

2) The Netflix plugin is not currently available on Linux.  More on the Netlfix encoding/streaming process here – http://blog.netflix.com/2008/11/encoding-for-streaming.html.

3) If you’d like Boxee to automatically start on boot then go to System->Preferences->Sessions and add an entry for Boxee with the same command being used in the Boxee menu entry noted earlier (right click on that menu entry to determine the proper command). Reboot and verify that Boxee and lirc start on boot.

4) If you are looking for ways to pull in additional content I suggest you have a look at Bittorent, Tranmission, and Ted.