Dan Dennedy: Kino and MLT Developer
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HD Settop Boxes  
Thursday, 02 March 2006
I have been tinkering with HDTV settop boxes for a few years starting with the RCA DTC-100 with 169time.com Firewire modification. I did not use it for much except to hack on Linux 1394 software culminating in libiec61883.

When I moved to California, I got Comcast digital cable with the HD Motorola DCT-6200. My HDTV (32" 4:3 CRT) is going on five years old and only has component inputs: YPbPr (or VGA) for HD and YCbCr for SD. Well, since the DCT-6200 does not upconvert SD channels to HD and only has one component output, I had to swap cable connections on the back of the TV to switch between HD and SD channels. Well, that obviously did not last long. I moved the cable box to my Lnux server, and I can capture MPEG2-TS over Firewire using libiec61883.

Great, so I can capture HD from my cable box connected to my server, but how to view it on my HDTV? Well, I could tune my DTC-100 to an OTA digital TV channel and transmit to it via Firewire, but the server and DTC-100 are in different rooms. I could setup a HTPC to play the streams over the network, but I think HTPCs are a pain in the ass, and software playback of HD transport streams with some drop-outs is still too unreliable, in my experience, on Linux. I tried Mplayer and Xine. The Mplayer option -tskeepbroken helps a lot, but the audio still cuts out rather easily.

I-O DATA AVeLLink Player2After some research, for Christmas present to myself, I bought an I-O DATA AVeL LinkPlayer HD network DVD player. After firmware updates, it plays through transport streams like swiss cheese including pause, seek, rewind, and fast forward--not to mention, various MPEG-4 formats, MP3 and Ogg Vorbis audio, Internet radio shoutcast streams, JPEG pictures, and DVD-Videos--all upconverted to HD. This box is great!

Furthermore, there is an open source server software project called wizd that runs on Linux. I have been playing with wizd for a few weeks now. Lately, I integrated libiec61883 to create a DIY HD DVR. I created a special handler for files named with a .tv extension and name the file with a channel. Then, I created a bunch of channel.tv files in a directory on my server running wizd. Now, upon selecting a channel.tv file, wizd tunes the cable box to said channel (via Firewire, not flaky infrared), receives the transport stream over Firewire, and then relays the transport stream over TCP/IP to the LinkPlayer settop box.

In addition, at the TV, I can view the pictures on my photo album and play the 8000+ tracks from the jukebox that both reside at dennedy.org. To top it off, I have customized bashpodder scripts to download podcasts, vlogs, and vidcasts nightly--with bittorrent, if needed--and finally convert the videos to something known-playable on the LinkPlayer (MPEG-4 AVI using mencoder with XviD). These scripts also convert the downloads to 3GPP format streamable to my mobile phone via RTSP with Darwin StreamingServer. Take that for digital lifestyle aggregation!

What I find interesting is that the mobile phone platform I work with (Sprint PowerVision) is very similar to my LinkPlayer--they both basically consist of a web browser and a media player--simple, dependable, and easy-to-work-with technologies for the most part. Except the experiences are polar opposites and completely complementary: phone for personal use while on-the-go or out-and-about, and the HDTV for family use with the more grand experience in the comfort of home.

Matrixstream IMX 1020At work, I have been working a lot with H.264 (MPEG-4 AVC) video, streaming it live via RTSP to mobile phones over 3G and now DVB-H. The next step for me at home then is a a settop box that can play H.264 video (and aacPlus v2 audio). Recently, I received an unsolicited phone call from a a guy who works at an IPTV settop box maker. He told me about his company's forthcoming product that plays H.264 video at up to 1080p. That sounds almost too good to be true. It is called Matrixstream.