Making Your Windows Media Center TV Recordings Mobile With Simple.tv

by Damian on April 19, 2011 · 15 comments

in Reviews

A few days ago I came across an interesting new program called simple.tv. simple.tv takes your Windows Media Center recordings (DVR-MS and WTV) and converts them to H.264 mp4. It can then allow you to watch your converted recordings over the internet or even serve them up as podcasts to iTunes. simple.tv aims to do what the name implies, simplify the process of making your Windows Media Center recordings mobile. Let’s take a closer look at and see if it accomplishes its goal.

Requirements:

  • simple.TV software – You will get a 60 day trial. After that it will be pay software, but I can’t find any details on what the price will be.
  • A PC running Windows Media Center With TV Tuner
  • If you want to view your converted recordings online or set up a podcast feed you will need to sign up for an account with simple.tv here

Installation:

It is not required to install simple.tv on the same PC as where Windows Media Center is set up to record (i.e. you could install simple.tv on your Windows Home Server and just point it to whatever folder your recorded TV shows get stored to). However, I believe simple.tv needs to be installed on the same PC as iTunes if you plan on using the Podcast feature. Installation is a non event, simply download the software and go through the usual install screens

Setting Up The Service:

Once installed simple.tv will be running as a service on your PC. You can launch the UI from the Start Menu or via the system.tv tray icon.  The UI is very lightweight and is broken up into three windows, a “processing:” window, “serving:” window, and a notification window (where error messages would post if applicable). You can log in to your simple.tv account as well as enter the settings.

By default simple.tv will point to your Recorded TV folders. Entering into the Settings will allow you to add additional folders to monitor. The one drawback with the current setup is that you can only delete folders that  you manually add, you cannot delete the default Recorded TV folders.

With simple.tv now running as a service whenever a recorded TV show is added to your watched folder simple.tv will begin processing the show, converting to an H.264 mp4. A simple.tv folder will be created within the monitored folder, and this is where the converted mp4 file will be stored. Under the “processing:” window in the UI you will see a list of all available recordings for processing as well as a progress line for the recording currently being processed.

If all you want is an mp4 version of your recordings then you are now set. However, if you want to “serve up” your newly created mp4 files, read on.

Serving Up With simple.tv

Aside from creating an H.264 mp4 from your Windows Media Center recordings, simple.tv can serve up the mp4s as a podcast feed for iTunes or to be viewed over the internet. To do so, as mentioned earlier, you will need have a simple.tv account. With an account set up head over to simple.tv, log in to your account, and click on the “MyTV” tab. If you have no recordings this screen should be blank.

However, if you already have processed recordings you should now see a list of all available recordings.

From here you have two options. The first option is for viewing your recording via the internet. Click on a TV show and you will see a list of all available episodes to watch. What I really like here is how simple.tv is able to pull all the metadata out of the Windows Media Center recording, displaying the Show Name, Episode Name, and Episode Details.

Click the play button and in less then a minute the recording should begin to play in your web browser. I had poor results trying to play a video over the internet at work (very choppy). When I played the same video from my web browser at home the video played without stuttering or buffering. Right now from my limited testing viewing over the internet from outside your network does not seem like a viable option with simple.tv.

The second “serving” option with simple.tv is to create a Podcast RSS feed of your recordings to be picked up by iTunes. If you head back to the “MyTV” tab, next to each Series there is a subscribe option. Click on the “iTunes” button which will prompt you to choose where iTunes is located on your PC.

Next, open up iTunes and you should see the feeds appear in your Podcast section. As new recordings are added iTunes should update automatically as long as it is open.

Sync your iPxx to iTunes and you will now have your recording to go.

Speaking of the iPxx, you can also view your recorded shows served over the Internet. There is no native App, so you would access via Safari just as you would any other web page.

Finally, whenever a recording is being served up you will a notification in the “serving:” window of the simple.tv UI.

Final Thoughts:

Overall I would say that simple.tv is a neat little program. For the most part it does what it says it does. I tested on 8 recordings and for whatever reason I got an error when processing two of them, but I couldn’t find any rhyme or reason to it. Since it is still in beta I would expect to hit a few bumps in the road.  Here are some items I would like to see added that I think would enhance what simple.tv offers:

(1) Allow for multiple mp4 profiles. For example, have a different profile for HD content versus SD content

(2) Integrate commercial cutting. It is odd because if you hover the mouse over the “processing:” window a note does pop up about processing commercials, but I verified that no commercials were cut. Instead of trying to build in their own commercial cutting solution, they should look to integrate either Comskip or ShowAnalyzer (I have ShowAnalyzer running on my PC)

(3) This could be tricky but for TV episodes after a recording is converted try and match up show data with TVDB based on the embedded metadata. If there is a match rename the mp4 to the standard TV show naming convention (“ShowName – s##e## – EpisodeName.mp4″) and move to the corresponding TV Series folder.

(4) Allow the user to change the port that simple.tv uses for serving in the settings. It appears that simple.tv uses either port 8081 or 8082. After installing simple.tv another program I have installed on my PC (sickbeard) stopped working. I have sickbeard set up to port 8081, and when I installed simple.tv this caused a conflict with sickbeard. For now I had to uninstall simple.tv to get things working again.

(5) Make enhancements to improve internet streaming performance

(6) Develop a dedicated App for mobile devices.

(7) Add additional user options in the Settings UI (such as the option to automatically delete a Windows Media Center recording after the conversion has been completed).

(8) Add support for input files in addition to DVR-MS and WTV (such as TS or MPEG)

(9) May be way outside the scope of what simple.tv hopes to provide, but add support for streaming Live TV.

I do understand that some of my recommendations may take out some of the “simple” in simple.tv, but some of these items would be user optional. Also, odds are if someone is using Windows Media Center  to record TV they are already a little more advanced then the average PC user ;-)





Article by

Hi, my name is Damian, and I'm tech gadget addict! Although I always had some interest in technology, it wasn't until I got my EX470 and more importantly found Mediasmartserver.net, that my interest became an addiction. My goal, aside from world domination and to see the Mets/Broncos win another championship, is to set up the perfect digital home where all my media is available at the click of a button. When I am not writing for Mediasmartserver.net you can find me over at my blog at http://www.adigitalhomeblog.com or follow me on twitter


{ 14 comments }

Steve Goff April 19, 2011 at 10:04 am

Hi Damian,

Any chance this works to remove DRM from TV shows?

Damian April 19, 2011 at 10:05 am

Hi Steve,

To be honest I don’t know. Unfortunately I don’t have a cable card setup so I have no way of testing with DRM’d content

Ricardo April 19, 2011 at 10:26 am

Damian – Great article. You mentioned that you use ShowAnalyzer (also included Comskip). Did you ever write something is regards to skipping commercials of recorded media? I’m looking for something that can skip commercials on the fly while I playback the recorded content using MCE. All the programs I’ve come across seem to need you to scan the file to detect the location of commercials first. This is great an all but adds more work. Might as well just grab the MCE remote and manually skip or add/edit the registry key to skip X seconds in media center to adjust for the typical length of commercials.

Damian April 19, 2011 at 10:32 am

Hey Ricardo – I usually watch my shows days after I record, so this hasn’t been an issue. Take a look at this writeup which has some good information (although I am not sure there is anything specific about on the fly):

http://thedigitalmediazone.com/2010/11/29/how-to-setup-automatic-commercial-skipping-in-windows-media-center/

Ricardo April 19, 2011 at 10:52 am

Thanks for the link.

Alex Kuretz April 19, 2011 at 11:49 am

Very interesting, have you tried installing it on WHS? I wonder if there would be any install or codec issues on the older Server 2003 platform.

Also would be interesting point the HP 3.0 Remote Web Streaming at the simple.tv folder on the server to see if it streams through the HP streaming interface. I suspect it would as the Video Converter converts to H.264 MP4.

Damian April 19, 2011 at 11:54 am

I was thinking about trying on WHS. There shouldn’t be any codec conflicts I would hope since I have used Handbrake to encode to mp4 on my WHS, and the process should be the same. May have to test out. Big reason I didn’t test out on my WHS is because of iTunes (which I don’t run on my WHS and wanted to test out the Podcast feature). WOuld actually be a better feature for simple.tv to add, ability for networked PCs to grab the rss podcast feed

Alex Kuretz April 19, 2011 at 12:04 pm

I’m not much of an iTunes user, but I wonder if you could configure it to pull the podcast feed from the server location?

You mention that streaming to work stuttered. I don’t see any settings for configuring the resolution or bitrate to target small devices or remote streaming. In addition to your wish-list for an SD vs HD config, it would be nice to have a mobile config or configurable settings for bitrate or resolution.

Funksultan April 19, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Cute program, but honestly, I’m shocked that this is pay software.

There are literally dozens of video converters out there that can be run from the command line. Setting up a service to wake up, convert, then sleep is pretty trivial.

Maybe I’m just cheap (er, put a hold on that “Maybe”), but the utility this serves would have to make the pay version REALLY affordable. I could see spending $5, for a process that has good support, and a couple ease-of-streaming features, but beyond that, this seems like a repack of things that are out there in the free market.

Damian April 19, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Well, I think the “price” is for the simplicity and features all done together (not just the encoding but my guess in particular the RSS feed and access to the Simple.tv website for remote streaming). Because many of the tools can be found free that is a big reason why my recommended list is more extensive, as you really need to sell the features against the current free products available. Somehow leveraging the streaming feature to also stream live tv would be a solid feature to add (I think possibly Remote Potato being the alternative which I believe is free)

Jon April 19, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Nice article, Damian. These are the types of things that I would never use, but always find myself interested in. I think I’ve tried every single one of them, just to see them work, then quickly remove :)

Damian April 19, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Hey Jon,

Yeah, I am trying to figure out where this stands, or who would actually use. As Funksultan mentioned there are free tools to accomplish this, so what would it take (aside from price when released from beta) to really make it useful? For example, I would say that MCEBuddy is a direct competitor and is free. The only issue with MCEBuddy is that version 2 is moving very slow. If simple.tv can integrate commercial cutting, improve the internet streaming, and create a dedicated App (iOS/Android) it could be an interesting product. From time to time I have to encode my tv show recordings to mp4 so my wife can watch on her iPad/iPhone, so a program like this would make it much easier.

gadget-zilla July 29, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Damian,

Great write up. Thanks for posting.

I was seeking a similar solution, and I think this will do what I’m looking for.

I have an HTPC with WMC. The recorded files from it cannot be viewed through popcorn hour natively so this program definitely fits that gap. Originally, I was thinking of using mediaportal, or NPVR or a similar ‘front end’ program that supports a TV Tuner and offers a TV guide to record shows.

Question1: With simple.tv – does the recording coversion is done on the fly -meaning – if the TV show is on, say, from 8pm – 9pm as it is being recorded, it it being converted or do I specify what time of day to run the ‘coversion’

Question 2: Once the conversion process has completed – does the original recording remain in tact and it it watchable through WMC afterwards?

Many Thanks !!

Damian July 29, 2011 at 2:40 pm

#1 – once the recording is complete simple.tv will begin the conversion process

#2 – yes, the original recording remains (although you can I think choose to have it deleted).

Another good alternative would be to use MCEBuddy which works in the same fashion for converting your TV recordings (see one of my recent writeups which is about MCEBuddy)

Hope this helps.

Cheers
Damian

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