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HowTo watch TV on your Linux pc

In this article two systems to watch TV on a Linux pc will be discussed: watching digital DRM enabled TV streams with pipelight and using a TV tuner card to watch an old school analog signal.

There are a lot of digital TV channels that rely on Microsoft’s silverlight. For linux there was moonlight to replace silverlight, but it was only compatible with silverlight up to version 4. Unfortunately most digital TV services require version 5 or higher. Pipelight delivers the solution.

Pipelight is a special kind of browser plugin, that acts as a wrapper for Windows plugins like Silverlight, Flash, … and allows you to use them in native Linux browsers. Pipelight installation instructions for various distros can be found here. Typing the following instructions in a terminal window installed pipelight on both my Xubuntu 12.04 and 13.10 pc’s.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:pipelight/stable
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install pipelight-multi
sudo pipelight-plugin --enable silverlight

(then I Typed in ‘Y’ to accept the license)

Upon opening chrome the installation continued for a little while and after that I could enjoy watching digital TV on my Xubuntu pc’s.

Using a TV tuner card

Here are the requirements to watch analog tv signals on your linux pc:

  • An analog tv tuner card like the Hauppauge PVR-150 is necessary. The Hauppauge PVR-150 is supported out of the box in ubuntu and many other distros. You can find them on ebay for 25 EUR (30 USD) or less.
  • You need VLC installed on your pc. To install VLC on your ubuntu pc, open up a terminal window and type:

sudo apt-get install vlc

  • Lastly you need to get hold of the frequencies of the tv stations. In my region the frequency of the public tv station “Eén” is 189.25 kHz, or 189250 Hz. The most popular commercial station “VTM” is broadcasted on 182.25 kHz or 182250 Hz.

Follow this procedure to watch the TV station of your choice in VLC:

  • Start VLC and choose open (advanced) from the media menu.
  • The “open media” appears, select there the recording device tab and choose PVR from the drop down menu.
  • Type in the frequency of the TV station (in Hz!!!) of your choice and hit play at the bottom of the window.

Comparison

Digital TV broadcasts websites usually come with a handy interactive TV guide and can give a sharp image. Moreover you do not need to install extra hardware on your pc. However watching Belgacom TV in Chrome with pipelight on my 10 year old Dell Dimension 4600 used 95% of its single core CPU and 34% of its memory, resulting in a by moments stuttering image. But the main disadvantage was the lack of resizing options besides full screen and normal.

On the other hand watching an analog signal in VLC used merely 31% of my pc’s available processing power and 16% of my RAM. I could resize the window to my wish, moreover VLC has this wonderful “always on top” option. The picture was more fluent, but less crisp, I had no interactive TV guide and the pc needed to be connected to the tv signal cable (or antenna).

Conclusions

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It is not straightforward to choose the best system. Each of the discussed systems to watch TV on a linux pc has its strengths and its flaws. If you have no lack of processor power, memory and a good internet connection and you do not want to do anything else whilst watching TV on your pc pipelight is probably the best option. If you however want a little tv-corner on your screen somewhere whilst typing a document, or reading an article on the internet and you don’t mind an extra cable plugged into your pc using VLC and a TV-card is the way to go.

Kris Dylst

Nuclear waste researcher, so I'm not an IT professional. I grew up with a Commodore 64 and used a Macintosh classic while studying. Xubuntu is my main operating system since 2008, but I do some distro hopping every now and then. I love to run and watch the football games of my son's team.

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