The Open University here in the UK regularly coproduces educational programming in partnership with the BBC. Some of these programmes are for a wide audience such as Coast, and other programmes are for more specialist audiences such as The Story of Maths. To catch these programmes you don't have to necessarily stay in and make sure that you are sat on your sofa in front of the TV at a scheduled time, instead you can catch the repeats on BBC iPlayer (sorry - UK, IoM & Channel Islands only). My colleague Tony Hirst recently created a mash up to find the OU programmes from the last seven days posted to iPlayer using feeds from Twitter, iPlayer and a Yahoo Pipe, he then presented the results in a web page. When looking at his blog post on this it struck me that it would be really nice if this could be presented in a way more suitable for a media centre PC connected to a TV, so this would mean nice big fonts, an attractive interactive-TV type interface and ease of use from a remote control, and then I thought it would be even better to feed this into MythTV, integrating seven days of OU programming alongside the rest of your entertainment.
For those of you who have not encountered MythTV before it is a project to create an interface to computers that are connected to televisions and typically in people's living rooms. You can use it to do such things as record TV, listen to your music, check the weather and view videos, and all with an interface that is easy to use from a remote control. It can give you an experience similar to using a Sky Digibox or a Freeview Box but offers a lot more features, Freevo is a similar project as well. Interestingly, MythTV has a plugin called MythNews which will read RSS feeds and display a summary on the screen. You can select the feed item to launch a web browser and see the full content. So, Tony's feed provides us with an episode title, a description and a URL for the BBC iPlayer page for that episode, perfect for MythNews, we can use that to list the programmes available, it will show us the episode details and then when an item is selected it will launch the episode in a web browser. As MythBrowser, the default web browser in MythTV does not support Flash (needed for iPlayer) we also need to set up Firefox to work with MythTV.
Firstly we need to tell MythNews about the new RSS feed which is going to be Tony's Yahoo pipe. I've got MythTV set up on Ubuntu 8.10 so you might find that file locations might vary on your system. MythNews has a list of all of the feeds it knows about in a file called news-sites.xml which is under /usr/share/mythtv/mythnews/. I edited this file to include an entry for the new feed under the category of "Miscellaneous" by adding an entry like this:
<title>OU Recent programmes (via BBC iPlayer)</title>
This tells MythNews that this feed is available, you'll notice in the Yahoo Pipes feed address I have changed part of the URL, the original address was http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/pipe.run?_id=iLVwwzms3RGxBxABAA_H4A&_render=rss but I found MythNews did not like the ampersand character (&) so I had to change this to &. Later we will enable this feed, but first we must change the default browser to being Firefox inside MythTV. To do this I followed the directions on the MythTV wiki and linked in Firefox with the following steps:
- Created a Firefox profile to store some custom settings when using it with MythTV, this was done by entering the command: firefox -ProfileManager and using the options that pop up to create a new profile named "mythtv"
- Launched Firefox under this profile with the command: firefox -P mythtv with Firefox launched I installed the add on Full Fullscreen, once this is done go into the preferences for that add on and ensure ONLY the option "Fullscreen on startup" is ticked. This will make Firefox go into full screen mode when activated from MythTV (like pressing F11).
- Created a script to wrap the Firefox call from MythTV called firefox-wrapper under /usr/bin, its contents should be:
/usr/bin/firefox -P mythtv $11
- Changed the permissions on the script to make it executable with:
sudo chmod 755 /usr/bin/firefox-wrapper
- Launch the MythTV front end and go to Utilities/Setup -> Setup -> Info Centre Settings -> Web Settings
- At the bottom of the screen you will see an entry for "Browser:" change this to /usr/bin/firefox-wrapper
- Select "Finish" to return to the setup menu
Now we can enable the MythNews feed for OU programmes by going to News Settings -> Miscellaneous and ticking "OU Recent programmes" to make it available. Press ESC or Back a few times to get you back to the first menu in MythTV, if you go to Information Centre -> News Feeds you should see an entry for OU programmes, It might take a couple of seconds to load up. You should be able to scroll through these now and select the programme you want to watch.
This is just a taste of what might be possible when linking these technologies together, Yahoo Pipes can process all sorts of feeds and MythTV can display these on your TV. By creating RSS feeds using pipes it is possible to create these themed "channels" which you can then enjoy.