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Unplugged – Replace Your Cable Provider with Linux Enabled Media

The title of this article says it all. Can we replace our traditional media providers (cable, satellite or other) with nothing more than online media, enabled for Linux? I think we can get closer to an answer that we have been able to at any point in the recent past. Depending on your goals (cost reduction, time shift, diversity of programming), I believe we can provide some guidance and information that will enable you to make the decision to unplug.

Netflix on Linux? Challenge Accepted!
So yes, there is no official support for Netflix on Linux. However, many people have tried to get it working through Wine using either Chrome or Firefox and Silverlight for months to no avail. At least until now…

Getting it working now is a very easy process. Simply execute the following commands:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ehoover/compholio
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install netflix-desktop

Our community has been able to package everything we need, wine updates, applications and Silverlight, all in one package installation. At first, the version of Silverlight included would only support non-accelerated non-HD content. Now, you are treated to full screen, HD available content streaming goodness. After installation, open a command prompt and execute ‘netflix-desktop’ to complete the setup (follow instructions to install the variouswine dependencies, mono, gecko, etc). Once complete, start the application the same way and you may get a fullscreen Netflix desktop. You can exit out of the application with ALT-F4 or you can switch to windowed mode by pressing F11, in either event, you should see something like this after installation:

Netflix Desktop Goodness

Your mileage may very depending on the speed of your processor, your video card and the version of your video driver. However, I have been able to make this work on Fedora by downloading the packages and converting the initial install to RPM. See this link for more information.

Hulu Desktop – I Wish They Would Make Up Their Minds
As of this writing, there is no more Hulu Desktop for any platform and you cannot find any mention of it on their website anywhere EXCEPT a small video deep in their search system dated from 2009. However, as all things internet, once it’s out there, it’s out there. Although I cannot link to the package to download, Google is your friend.

Disclaimer: Before going any further, I do have to say that Hulu and HuluPlus work perfectly fine in Firefox and Google Chrome. However, I still like the desktop functionality and integration, as well as a non-browser application that would fit better into a more ‘media center’ type setup.

Once you have located the aforementioned no longer available package, simply execute this command:
sudo dpkg -i huludesktop_amd64.deb

The application can then be started by typing:
huludesktop

Which will promptly crash with a segmentation fault. So, it never seemed to detect the Flashplugin correctly even when it was supported. Even then, it had all kinds of issues with various version upgrades and I suspect between that and the discontinuation of Flash for Linux in general caused Hulu to abandon it. However, you need this version specifically to make it work anyway. Although we only need one file, download the whole package so we don’t get busted by the IP police for hosting their file separately.

Next, edit the .huludesktop file that was created when you attempted to launch the application the first time. You will need to add the path to the Flashplugin shared library like so:

[display]
fullscreen = FALSE
width = 1200
height = 900
pos_x = 211
pos_y = 150

[flash]
flash_location = /home/tcox/.hulu/libflashplayer.so

Note this is not the entire configuration file, just the parts we care about. First, I found that fullscreen mode never seemed to work right but YMMV if you want to give it a shot. Even backing it down 1 pixel x/y seemed to be stable, but the fullscreen segfaulted on me every time. Most importantly, after you download and extract the archive from the link above, grab the ‘libflashplayer.so’ library and store it somewhere for use by Hulu Desktop. You will want to keep it separate from the latest version installed for your browser, I created a directory in my home folder called ‘.hulu’ and put it there (as indicated in my configuration).

As a result, I was able to get the following:

Hulu Desktop Even Though They Say We Can’t Have It

It gets easier from here. Netflix runs $9.99 a month and HuluPlus runs $7.99 a month. Between the two, you have a good mixture of TV shows and Movies (Netflix has more movies, HuluPlus has way more TV, many including current season episodes).

That Vudu That You Do So Well
So, the good news is that Vudu movies and TV Shows are not nearly as difficult to watch in Linux as any of the hoops we just jumped through (although you will have to fire up your Firefox browser in Wine – use the Netflix one installed above). The bad news is, you are stuck in your browser for this one. Worse than that, they are particularly ‘license sensitive’ about streaming HD to PCs that they cannot clearly detect full HDCP support.

What this means for Linux users is forget about using the open source drivers, HDCP support just will not detect and you will be stuck with standard video streaming. The good news is that for NVidia, almost all versions of their proprietary binary driver report HDCP correctly if your video card has it. For AMD/ATI, it is a bit more problematic. I found that for my 6850 and 7850, driver version 12.10 did not work, 13.1 did for the 7850 but not the 6850 and 13.2 Beta seems to work with both. Vudu looks like this:

Their Vudu Has Me Under Their Spell

The offerings here are on a ‘pay as you consume’ basis. When you sign up for a new account however, you get 10 free rentals to start, so its enough to evaluate the offering.

Instantly Amazin’
Rounding out our browser based video viewing marathon, is good old Amazon Instant Video. Currently running at $79 a year for Amazon Prime (which in fairness gives you other benefits beyond videos), on a monthly basis it is less expensive than either Netflix or Hulu. They often have both movies and television shows that neither of the others have (particularly if you like BBC shows), but, the streaming movie selection leaves a lot to be desired. Take a look at their site (which you can reach just by having a regular Amazon account):

If You Can Find Something to Watch, It Works Instantly!

The other gripe I have with Amazon is their HD streaming seems to buffer a lot but, I have to assume as their library rounds out, they should work that kink out. Streaming through Netflix seemed to constantly buffer even standard definition the first six months I used it and I have 100mb internet.

What’s Next?
We have reviewed the ‘big four’ properties for streaming video legally to your Linux system. So far, subscribing to these services will run us approximately $24.56 a month and will get us a good variety of current and archived TV episodes, both local US market offerings and BBC/Australian shows. The number of recent streamable movies is bogged down by licensing and the fear of cannabilizing DVD sales. Eventually, the studios will realize this is where it’s all heading and although we will likely be paying more, we will be consuming more.

What about live TV for sports and local news? There are options here in Linux using XAWTV, XBMC or MythTV with a large number of plugins available for smaller third party video providers. We can even integrate newsgroup downloads and/or torrents. Want me to cover the final mile to cutting the cord? Leave me a comment below and we can go into that in greater detail in another article.

Terrence T. Cox

A veteran of twenty years in Information Technology in a variety of roles. He has worked in development, security and infrastructure well before they merged into what we now call DevOps. He provides training in Linux, VMWare, DevOps (Ansible, Jenkins, etc) as well as containers and AWS topics.

3 thoughts on “Unplugged – Replace Your Cable Provider with Linux Enabled Media

  1. I love being free from cable and sat contracts. I choose to go more a downloading / dvr route with sickbeard sab, couchpotato and plex. Its great if you know what you want to watch. The hard thing is deciding what your in the mood for! It nice to flip on an unknown movie or show and just watch without having to think, prepare, or download.

    1. I agree. I am going to cover a lot more about torrent and usenet integration for additional options in a future article. Today, was trying to focus on the completely legal and less dubious options!

  2. We have moved to over the air tv and roku boxes throughout our house and wouldn’t go back to cable or satellite for anything.

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