Building a set-top box

What the manual doesn't tell you !

Building a set-top box

Postby Christopher » Tue Oct 07, 2014 8:01 pm

So fed up with paying SFR €36+ a month for TV/Phone/Internet I set about building a Raspberry Pi - based set-top box a few weeks ago. It's now up and working and gives us access to all our stored films (ripped from DVDs, obviously) plus access to live French and English TV.
I won't pretend that this was a particularly easy project, but I've quite enjoyed it and have had fun getting my hands dirty with Linux for the first time.
I'm working on installing a VPN system to give me access to iPlayer and, in particular, the Replay/Watch later function; a company called VP Unlimited have a deal going at the moment giving 3 years worth of access for $20, which is a particularly good deal when most of the UK-based providers seem to want about a fiver a month.
The Pi itself plus some basic bits cost about €45 (you also need a micro SD memory card); I've since added a hand-held remote control (previously I used a mouse to move around on-screen) for a fiver, a WiFi card (a tenner) so it doesn't need a wired connection and a bluetooth dongle (about 8) so I can use headphones with it. I use an old 2 TB hard disc to store films to watch later.
It does work well and we get a great picture on our old Standard Definition CRT TV; I'm sure that, when we're forced to buy a new TV, it'll be even better.
There's all the information you need online to make this work - I use the XMBC software common to many of the Android set-top boxes and it's very nice.
I'm still working on the replay function, as I say, and haven't got around to setting up a PVR recorder. The only downside at the moment is that it appears to be incapable of accessing the M6 family of French TV's Replay functions, so we'll have to watch Nouvelle Star live this year, but that may change.
raspberrypi.org and xmbc.org are good starting places if you're interested.
The savings come because now we can have an internet/telephone connection for just €16/month, €20 less than before. Pay for itself in less than four months.
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Chris Ward

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Re: Building a set-top box

Postby graham34 » Thu Oct 09, 2014 9:52 pm

Interesting work. Who's your 16€/month ISP?
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Re: Building a set-top box

Postby Christopher » Thu Oct 09, 2014 10:33 pm

Bandyou.fr
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Re: Building a set-top box

Postby gurubarry » Sun Oct 12, 2014 5:48 pm

Good info Christopher, thanks .
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Re: Building a set-top box

Postby graham34 » Mon Oct 13, 2014 7:38 am

Sadly B&You doesn't seem to be available in my village
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Re: Building a set-top box

Postby Christopher » Tue Oct 14, 2014 8:59 am

I had a problem with their website not recognising our SFR phone number. When I called it was all sorted out.
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Re: Building a set-top box

Postby Christopher » Sat Nov 15, 2014 11:29 am

So, a month later B&You finally decided that we weren't eligible for their cheap offer after all. It turns out it's only available if you're on the Bouygues network. We aren't, they use someone else's - SFR's in fact. So Bouygues offered a deal at 28/month with 6 off for good behaviour for the first 6 months.
I set to calling round again and have finally found a Numericable offer for 19.90/month which is telephone and internet only, no TV. For the first 12 months, that is - then it's 27/month again. But in 12 months we could just go somewhere else if someone else has a 19/month offer.
This hasn't been as easy as I'd hoped to find a supplier who offers just internet/phone connections; EVERYONE insists on adding in TV which we never watch, as I said before. Right now Numericable's iStart offer seems to be the only game in town for Sommieres. If you live in a big city, Numericable will perhaps be able to offer fibre access at much higher speeds, too. The nice young lady I spoke with was extremely pleasant and helpful and Numericable is taking care of closing our contract with SFR too, so that's a bonus.
I'll let you know how the transfer goes.
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Re: Building a set-top box

Postby Genghis Cohen » Sun Nov 23, 2014 8:45 am

I don't pretend to understand the technical stuff. Way beyond my limited capabilities. We live, literally, at the end of the line. So the choice is Orange. We don't have the cheapest deal. I'm a cautious guy but am about to move to therir phone via the internet package which is even cheaper and I'm told very reliable. French TV comes via a public cable network as we can't get terrestrial signals direct.

If we want to catch up on French TV (mostly Arte) the smart TV works just fine. A small Acer PC, with HDMI output, sits under the TV and gives us UK TV. This PC is set up specifically for watching TV. Despite a relatively low qualityADSL connection we are able to watch UK TV live with an acceptable picture. I pay about 40 bucks a year for a good quality VPN.

This is the solution adopted by the majority of our friends.

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Re: Building a set-top box

Postby Christopher » Sun Nov 23, 2014 9:57 am

I've effectively just built the equivalent of your Acer PC, except that the Raspberry Pi is probably a bit smaller - about the size of a pack of cards. I hadn't understood that whilst 'dégroupée' means that anyone CAN use FT's wires and exchanges, usually just one provider does so and the rest piggyback on their service. This means that they all offer the €35 or so everything-including-TV deals because there's profit in it, but unless they have their own line there's no profit at €15 for internet only service.
We've received our Numericable box, now just waiting for SFR to get around to closing their service so Numericable can take over. Using, ironically, the SFR system apparently but hey. SFR won't offer us internet-only so their loss. I don't think they'll miss us though.
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Re: Building a set-top box

Postby gurubarry » Sun Nov 23, 2014 1:14 pm

Who is you "Good Quality" VPM G.C> thanks to Peters' advice I use the free service...but am now ready to upgrade as the VPM service meets my needs perfectly . :D
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Re: Building a set-top box

Postby Genghis Cohen » Mon Nov 24, 2014 2:28 pm

gurubarry wrote:Who is you "Good Quality" VPM G.C> thanks to Peters' advice I use the free service...but am now ready to upgrade as the VPM service meets my needs perfectly . :D


The VPN provider I use is witopia.net. Wide choice of portals in many countries. Works on a variety of platforms. Portable. Choice of protocols. My TV dedicated PC runs Windows 7 (so I can install BBC iPlayer) and the VPN connects automatically at start up.It's pretty stable and drops out only rarely. Costs 50 bucks a year. Will run on any computer i use but only one at a time.

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Re: Building a set-top box

Postby gurubarry » Mon Nov 24, 2014 2:50 pm

Thanks G.C. I'll investigate ...I have a mac mini under the TV ..... I've returned to PCs.... :mrgreen:
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Re: Building a set-top box

Postby montgolfiere » Wed Dec 24, 2014 10:03 am

i have used the vpn, www.iportal.me , for 4 years or so and it works very reliably with very good customer service. +/- 50 euros a year.
(they give a discount for OAP's)
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Re: Building a set-top box

Postby gurubarry » Wed Dec 24, 2014 11:30 am

Thanks M.G. as an O.A.P. I qualify !!! Merry Christmas, and thanks for all the advice you give us on the board...greatly appreciated . :D
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Re: Building a set-top box

Postby Christopher » Fri Dec 26, 2014 11:32 am

So an update on how I've now managed to get not only live UK TV (via XMBC media centre on the little Raspberry Pi box which plugs into the TV) but also access now to the BBC iPlayer with replay, downloads and so on. I've signed up for a VPN service called VPN Unlimited via the offer service StackSocial, https://stacksocial.com/?rid=803729 (this includes my affiliate code). It only cost $19/€16 for two years and is streaming CBeebies at the moment without any difficulty. I've also downloaded a Dr Who.
VPNU has apps for Macs, PC and Linux, but to get it onto the Raspberry Pi I've started using AirPlay, a system for Apple iOS devices which allows you to put any video on your iPhone/iPad etc. onto any compatible TV screen. It's supposed to work only with Apple TV boxes but XBMC have it working too, the clever chaps. This eliminates a lot of the setup grief I went through earlier and once it works is remarkably simple to use.
So now to test the other replay apps, in particular C4.
I find all this very cool and, now it's running, remarkably easy to use, but there was a steep learning curve. I'm particularly impressed by the low cost and high functionality of the Raspberry Pi and the VPNU service, which works out at just under €0.67 per month, a lot cheaper than the dedicated Expat VPN services which seem to run €5 per month or more. Bargain! and also has the advantage of having servers in the USA for watching stuff over there.

Oh, one small problem: when I'm logged into the UK server for VPNU (in Hampshire apparently) this site won't allow me to post Peter - it says I'm permanently banned because of the IP address I'm using. When I log into a VPN server in France it's fine.
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Chris Ward

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Re: Building a set-top box

Postby gurubarry » Fri Dec 26, 2014 2:07 pm

Excellent post Christopher...thank you :D
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Re: Building a set-top box

Postby peter » Sun Dec 28, 2014 11:43 am

Christopher wrote:Oh, one small problem: when I'm logged into the UK server for VPNU (in Hampshire apparently) this site won't allow me to post Peter - it says I'm permanently banned because of the IP address I'm using. When I log into a VPN server in France it's fine.


I have blocked IP addresses used by spammers .... so that is probably why. Interesting BBC don't care ?
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