WDTV Live Plus Update

This is an update to my previous WDTV Live Plus post way back in October. I gave this box a four out of five. It still is a great box because of all the updates that Western Digital have been pushing down, I thought I should add some more to the review.

The current version of the firmware is 1.04.31 dated April 12, 2011. This update and all previous updates have only increased our use of this trusty media box. Some of the improvements include an updated Netflix interface.
Netflix Interface 3.0
The old interface was fine as long as you could manage your Instant Queue. You would have to go online and add items to the queue and then when at your TV find them to play. Now the new interface allows you to manage your Instant Queue but also search the complete library. You really don’t need the Instant Queue anymore. This interface also adds support for Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and Subtitles.

Another internet streaming feature is CinemaNow.  This service allows you buy or rent movies and tv shows.  While this is similar to Netflix, CinemaNow is pay as you go and Netflix is a monthly charge.  It looks like CinemaNow’s content is more current than Netflix.  My family and I have not set up an account yet.  So I can’t speak to the quality versus Netflix quality.  One could continue the debate of monthly versus as-you-go also.

Other internet features include Blockbuster, Youtube, Mediafly, Flingo, PandoraTunein, Deezer, Live365, and Flickr.  There is still no support for PicasaWeb or Hulu.  The streaming of local content has only gotten better.  Support for DVD ISOs is worth mentioning.

So all and all, the WDTV Live Plus has become more and more solid.  We are glad we have it and can’t wait for future updates.

HDHomeRun by SiliconDust

I hate looking at my cable bill every month.  Who wouldn’t want to ‘Cut the Cable’.  I have always known that the best High Definition Television picture could be had by using an over the air antenna. Where I live, that’s 80 miles to the transmitter sites. So I needed a long-range or fringe antenna. And it had to be up above my home’s roof ridge.

After watching Iyaz Akhtar on This Old Nerd, gave me the tools to make this pipe dream a reality. I mentioned the tuner Iyaz finally settled on, the HDHomeRun, and a friend said I could use his old antenna. I ordered it up and initially installed the antenna in my attic. Ran the RG6 cable to my network and downloaded the software from the Ubuntu Repository.

HDHomeRun

A word about the HDHomeRun. It takes either an Over The Air (OTA) or QAM unencrypted cable TV signal and converts it to a MPEG video stream. This stream can be easily handled by popular DVR software packages. Most notable are Windows Media Center, MythTV, and VLC. I have to say that the Windows Media Center, with the free channel guide, is the way I am leaning when I build my (HTPC) Home Theater PC. The interface is easy and nice.  And it comes standard with either Windows Vista or Windows 7.  It has the Partner Approval Factor. But I don’t have a HTPC just yet.

When the HDHomeRun arrived it was easy to install to my home network. basically just plug it in and do a channel scan. It had marginal signal strength and quality with my antenna in the attic. But now I knew it was going to work. Up to the roof top I go. Once it was in the ‘clear’, I was getting all the channels without any trouble at all.

The only real trouble was the user interface. Using the Linux software, it was taking to many clicks just to tune in a channel. There is no way that anyone other than me was going to use this. So I had to write something that took advantage to command line interface that the HDHomeRun provides.

I dove into the manual and a myriad of google searches. I got a crude bash script that allowed me to tune the HDHomeRun. But still, my wife and kids are not going to use a bash script! I needed a make this as simple and easy as could be. I needed a be able to get this down to a mouse click.

I found that you can use zenity to give your bash scripts a GUI. I rewrote the bash script for only the channels I wanted and dropped an icon on the task bar for quick starting.  Now VLC is the Swiss Army Knife of media players. It can and will play about anything you throw at it. And if you are crafty enough it can stream it over your local network. But I wanted a cleaner interface. I decided on mplayer.

I am cheap. I use old hardware for my computers. mplayer is going to need all the help it can. I edited the mplayer config file to buffer for eight meg. That did the trick. No added buffering.

Here is the latest version of my script.  It still is pretty crude.  I am no professional programmer –Not even close.  And remember, this is suited for the channels available in my area.  If you use this, you will have to edit most of it.  I share it with you as a guide, of sorts.

My bash script for tuning the HDHomeRun

And a screen shot from my netbook, yes my netbook, showing the channel selection interface and a mplayer displaying live free television!

Screen Shot
My TV Tuner Script and mplayer

Now this hack puts me one step closer to ditching my cable bill.  I haven’t yet.  Mostly due to those one or two shows I just can’t get over the internet that are only available on cable.  But soon…

WDTV Live Plus

A while back, a couple of years now, I converted an older laptop into a file server using the server edition of ubuntu. The purpose was to allow me and my family to back up our local files. Then my kids got iPods and now we were each starting to collect music locally. And this file server became our shared music server.

Then, of course, they wanted digital copies of our DVDs. And with all our photos added, our little server that could became our media server. We used VLC on our computers to watch, listen and view all of this. But we wanted the living room, ten foot, interface.

After looking around a bit, I came across the Western Digital WDTV Live box. It allows for Standard Definition and High Definition connectons; and an ethernet jack. Just what I needed. We initial used it to watch our backed up DVDs and video Podcasts. It served our purposes nicely. It also came with pandora, flickr and youtube support. And we used it all.

My idea was to in the future sometime when I had an HDTV that I would get a better box, Boxee Box, Popbox or somethinig. Well I never got the shinny new HDTV but we wanted to consume our media on other standard TVs. So I figured I would just get another WDTV Live. When I seached I noticed the WDTV Live Plus with Netflix. I bought it. And now wish my old box had Nelflix. The Live Plus also has Mediafly support. So I don’t need to download all my podcasts anymore, I just stream them.

WDTV User Interface

The WDTV user interface is ok, just ok. It’s no AppleTV, Boxee or XBMC by any means. But once you get to the movie, you never really need the interface at all. The codec support is outstanding. It plays iPod movies and .MKVs. I have installed the MediaTomb server software on my little server, but really don’t need it. On a five star rating, I would give the WDTV Live Plus a solid four. The interface is not as flashy as it could be, but it does everything I need it to.

Pros: Netflix, Codec Support, Plays Local and Networked Media, Pandora, Flickr and Youtube support.

Cons: User interface, maybe.

So As I type this, the WDTV Live Plus might be the best set top box on the market. Again, at this very moment. Here comes the new AppleTV, GoogleTV and the Boxee Box.

Vimpress

This is a simple test of my new vim plugin, vimpress. It allows me to edit my wordpress blog from my favorite text editor, vim.
I found the tarball and worked over the ~/.vim/plugins/blog.vim for my personal settings. The command set is simple enough.

  • :BlogNew
  • :BlogSend
  • :BlogOpen id
  • :BlogList

It was simple to install and seems simple to operate. When I get this post complete I can’t wait to view my site. So here we go….