Building your own Media Center

Since I have IPTV I am really annoyed by not having an option to save programs, like in old video recorder and cable network days. True, one can still save using video recorder, but the problem is that video recorder can't change channels on STB (set top box) and thus you are limited to a single channel. Pretty much useless. The other option is using personal recorder, a feature provided by my IPTV provider. But again, the drawbacks are enormous: there is a monthly fee, you are limited to 6 hrs of total saved content. Even worse limitation is that your content can be stored for maximum of two days (forget vacation, or drive back to home every two days to watch the saved content). But there's another drawback, in fact mother of all drawbacks: only a few channels and not all shows on those channels are allowed to be saved. Total useless crap.

Hence the idea of my own media center. After all I live by using my development skills, why not use them for this one. So, RH Media Center project was born.

The main objectives:

  1. ability to save from IPTV
  2. ability to schedule saving
  3. ability to playback saved content
  4. ability to control RH Media Center by remote

Hardware requirements

  1. A computer (server which is always on preferably) that will be used to save content
  2. A computer to playback the saved content (possibly attached to TV). In my case this is my laptop.
  3. A PocketPC device (remote control)

1. and 2. can be the same computer, whatever is feasible for you.

Implementation

VLC media player ActiveX control is at the core of RH Media Center. VLC media player is a free, open source, cross platform application that plays just everything out there, including SIOL IPTV streams. And luckily for me, they have an ActiveX control, too. In fact I've build my application around this ActiveX control using Windows Forms UI. Here is how it looks:

 image

Video (both IPTV stream and saved content playback) is rendered and saved by VLC. You can also see a bunch of controls on the top and the channel listing on the right. There is also saved content listing in the docking panel next to channel listing.

image

Test saved contents listing

Note that UI is pretty rough at this time as prettiness wasn't one of the objectives. Anyway the objectives 1. and 3. are done now.

Scheduling

Once the core functionality is done (see above) the scheduling is pretty easy. The application should parse command line arguments and start saving given channel for given time. The content file name should be made of given argument (i.e. name of the show) plus date. Here is an example:

RhMediaCenter.exe rec "Channel" ShowName 120

This means that content from "Channel" will be recorded for 120 minutes to a file name

ShowName_hh_mm__dd_MM_YYYY.ps

ps is MPEG-PS extension. You'll note that I didn't specify when should the recording start aka scheduling. This step is done using Task Scheduler - no wonders there, just run that command line at any time you specify and that's it. A bit rough to configure but it works just fine (in future I'll enhance the configuration step).

Remote control

Every decent media center has remote control capabilities. How can you skip those commercials otherwise? I've figured out, that I have a bunch of PocketPCs lying around and collecting dust. At the same time I have a Wi-Fi network at home. Get the idea? Yes, I'll use PocketPC over Wi-Fi to control my media center. The technology of choice is WCF which is partially supported with .NET Compact Framework 3.5. BasicHttpBinding, here we go.

So I've build a simple Windows Mobile 6 application which looks like this:

image

It allows to connect to preferred RH Media Center through providing a proper IP, it can get a list of saved content and it allows you to play any of them. It features also a Pause button and move forward (left group of buttons) or backward (right group of buttons) for a given time span. And after creating a hole in Windows Firewall on computer where RH Media Control runs it just works.

The only problem is how to build WCF service client code for .net compact framework. This feature is provided by Power Toys for .NET Compact Framework 3.5's NetCFSvcUtil utility that does the similar job as Service Metadata Utility (SvcUtil.exe) for .net framework.

Conclusion

I solved the biggest IPTV issue - saving programs and playback of saved content using a remote control. By using .net 3.5/Windows Forms/WCF/Compact framework and VLC ActiveX control it took me only around 10 hours of total time over the weekend (most of the time I used for plumbing , user interface and figuring out VLC ActiveX oddities). If you wonder why I'd used Windows Forms instead of WPF: because I was experimenting at the beginning (and the project is still an experiment) and I have no 3rd party controls for WPF yet - so it was easier with Windows Forms. In future I'll be definitely using WPF.

I have to say that .net/VLC made it so easy to build this pet project - the ease of putting pieces together is amazing.

BTW, Is anybody interested in binaries? (I am not saying I'll provide them nor that I won't provide them :-))

Comments (3) -

  • Niko

    3/10/2008 7:12:58 PM | Reply

    This is great, it's exactly what I was trying to do for the past year, but never had a time to actualy do it. I hope we are going to see download link in the near future.

  • Marko

    3/11/2008 1:08:00 AM | Reply

    Great. I hope we get to see this on codeplex.

  • Chuck

    3/28/2008 3:41:18 AM | Reply

    Great idea/project. Hope to see a dl link or on codeplex. Thanks.

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