Dreams of a DVR

‘Cord Cutter Curious’ part 4.

While going about the business of “replacing” our incredibly expensive TV service with antennas, the wife asked that we keep the capability to record the shows she loves. Fortunately, they are on major networks available on the antenna.

In the interest of being geeky and maintaining marital bliss on a budget, I did a lot of research.

My first move was to buy a simple `over the air` (OTA) tuner with software capable of acting like a digital video recorder (dvr). An iView Premium Digital Converter (3500STBII).

The principle is simple enough. It’s a black box controlled by a remote that connects to an antenna in line with a TV. If you’re old enough then you remember how old fashioned VHS recorders were set up. With the tv on a certain channel (3 or 4) then your box would display from the tuner box whether it was broadcasts or operating menus with your remote.

The model I chose was arbitrary, but I wouldn`t recommend it. The menus are not intuitive, controls without the remote are limited and video playback is played back in a horrendous format that is much smaller than our screen format.

To play back video, you can use the set top box or you can pull the USB stick out and plug it directly into the USB port of a tv or media center. In fact, the playback from the set top box was so poor, I did that very thing and was astonished at the quality of the playback. Vivid picture and colors.

I set this up to auto record on the timeslots where her shows normally air. No, unlike a full featured DVR it can not record just new episodes or first run episodes. You pick a timeslot to record a channel and it records that timeslot on that channel. If something completely different is aired, that gets recorded. Nothing fancy. Ultimately, after a few months this failed and the recordings we mere clips of a few seconds.

I believe it’s a handling of the recorded memory problem, but frankly it was more problematic to try troubleshooting extensively. So I abandoned that effort.

Now for more homework and a whole lot of time. I wanted something more full featured. I own a Raspberry Pi 1, 2, 3B and 4 and was aware there might be a way with their help. The ideal would be to set up one as a PVR with a USB tuner that could record shows with the help of the freely available enhanced program guide (EPG). The recorded shows would also be available for replay through some of the key TV`s through our home network directly or via a device like a ROKU.

We’ll cover that more in the future. Tune in again for another Cord Cutter Curious installment.

Let’s do the Samba

That’s networking samba if you please.
Recently, I’ve been making some changes to my home network. Next on my list was to add a nas (network addressed storage) for media and regular files and samba fit the bill. 
Weighing the options took a while. I have a full desktop PC which would be my primary source for files to be backed up, but that uses a lot of power so it’s not practical as a nas. I had a few hard drives as options. I have a raspberry pi currently configured as a Google cloud printer.
I started with the desktop and the raspberry. I was going through the setup meeting a few roadblocks where the desktop, running Windows 10, couldn’t see any of the other devices on the network. I had a Kodi setup and a Linux laptop that could see the Desktop files, but the desktop saw nothing either automatically or manually. 
And I had a WAP (wireless access point) bridge that might possibly do something. [see this previous article]. The web searches indicated a nas wasn’t supported in bridge mode. But, I tried anyway and I’m glad I did. The hard drive appeared available to everything, except the Windows 10 desktop. If I browsed with Chrome on the IP address, it sent me to a “Twonky” session, which I am no fan of and it didn’t have the functionality I was looking for. 
Frustration led me back to the web. And then I had a light bulb moment.

I was taking it for granted that Windows was configured correctly to support nas file access across a network. And yet none of the forums or blogs mentioned this incredibly simple and basic thing related to Windows 10 (W10). I decided to check the features in W10. 

Open Control Panel → Programs and Features → Turn Windows
Features On or Off → search the list and click: 

      Enable SMB
1.0/CIFS File Sharing Support
Network Management Protocol – and anything under it [WMI SNMP
      Simple TCPIP

Once that was done, when I opened up the Network option under file manager for W10, everything I had hoped for showed up. Problem solved. Samba was online and file transfers between the NAS and other resources worked fine. 

Lesson learned: Never take it for granted everything is already configured and just going to work. 

Google Cloud Print Server Install

4 Feb 2016

When I first got my ACER C720 chromebook, at the time it was a secondary pc used primarily for entertainment, general surfing and basic social media.

As time has passed, my Windows based machines seemed to have aged poorly with the windows operating system. Neither of them, in spite of valiant efforts are nearly as zippy as they used to be.

So, I finally put it on my list to attempt to use the chromebook as my primary system.

Key to doing that is providing a means to print directly from the chromebook. It doesn’t have drivers for directly passing your print jobs to a network printer. In order to make it happen, I have to pursue getting Google Cloud Print setup permanently.

A little background, I’ve used Google Cloud Print (GCP) in the past, only it was through Windows or Linux machines using the Chrome or Chromium extensions. The shortcoming to this? Power down a machine and no connection. Then the GCP Chromium extension support ended.

So I turned to Raspberry PI with a version of Debian called Raspbian. If you don’t know what one is, check this link out. They aren’t hugely expensive, they are very low energy and they can run linux. And I happened to free up an old one.  The goal was to set it up as a headless device (no dedicated display, keyboard or mouse).

Now it required two key parts to be installed correctly: CUPS and GCP connector.

CUPS (Common Unix Print System) is used in linux machines as a print server. I already had a working version of CUPS on the Raspberry PI with Raspbian OS thanks to this link.

Fortunately Google came up with a different answer to support all those linux machines scattered the world over. It’s called a Google Cloud Print Connector for CUPS. The downside is that it’s not a simple point and click and you’re done.

Here is the link that I used.

Of the options, this was the simplest and most elegant. I had challenges with keystroke errors in files and ensuring that I moved files to the directories they needed to be for the GCP CUPS Connector files to kick off at start up. You have to read through the files you create to make sure files are in the correct directories. A little trial and error with stare and compare and I had it worked out.

As the instructions said it will “will result in sharing all printers on your CUPS server with Chrome, on the local subnet (mDNS broadcast domain) only.Don’t expect to see the printer to appear in the Google Cloud Print available printers and the print jobs won’t be logged or copied either. The only way I was able to confirm the CUPS printer was actually available was by attempting to go through the print function and clicking ‘change’ to see what other printer options were available.

There is the added option to configure using GCP from any location anywhere at this link, but I ruled it out for myself. I see it’s purpose. It would be especially handy if you could use it with a vpn connected pc, but it’s more than I need at this time.

My Raspberry Pi as a Media Center

I had one justification for buying the Raspberry Pi (as a Google Print Server) and when it arrived I decided to try the media center options before putting it into play as a Google Print Server.

The nice thing about the Raspberry PI is you can easily grab an SD card, load up NOOB boot loader with a number of different OS’s and you are good to go.

I tried RASPBMC and OPENELEC. My experience is that OPENELEC was more responsive.

After loading it up, I liked the idea that I could use an old android cell phone I had laying around as a remote. This works in both RASPBMC and OPENELEC.

Also, let me give a laymans view. OPENELEC provides the same Media Center views and options as RASPBMC, but seems to have a difference in the underlying workings. So anything you can do with RASPBMC you can do with OPENELEC.

The scope and depth of channels available was very impressive. The ability to stream music (like from SKY.FM). It might be a little slow in some of the transitions, but so long as it has an ethernet connection, it streamed pretty well.

My absolute favorite part of the OpenElec on the Raspberry Pi is the simple ability for it to access all the media on my NAS where I have a LOT of movies, series, tv shows and music. They streamed up to 720P quality with no hiccups. I didn’t have to deal with special codecs or software loading. It worked.

And OpenElec includes “scrapers” which performs a data gather with thumbnails against your files. If you look at info on a file it will provide you with the thumbnail and a quick write up on what the file is about.

Of course, the functionality goes far beyond streaming NAS files. If you have time, searching against XBMC for the plethora of channels you can stream, whether internet content or normal broadcast content.

I really can’t go on enough about it. The OpenELEC distribution is pretty solid within the limitations of the hardware.

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