Hardware, Software, Technology

How-to: Watch Digital TV in VLC Player – Ubuntu

Freecom DVB-T digital TV on VLC Media playerNow that we’ve proved that the Freecom still works, but Xine and Gxine don’t, we need a more modern media player on which to watch TV.

Kaffeine is always a top recommendation, but I don’t want a stack of KDE software libraries cluttering up the machine.

VLC is my favourite player because it does so much more.

In order to get VLC to play, the Freecom stick needs to be tuned in the player. The best way to do this is to create a play list of the available channels – a text file which is the standard channels.conf. You will need a TV scanning utility to find the frequencies for services available in your area.

Depending on the software sources you have enabled, you will find various DVB utility packages for Linux: dvb-tools, dvb-apps, w-scan, dvbtune, which contain small programs to scan for channels and save a channels.conf.

Browse the More Info page in Software Center to find the contents list. Most of these are command-line only programs.You may need to look up the precise command syntax using your favourite search engine, but they are all well documented. Depending on your combination of hardware, you might need to try more than one tuning program to get a decent channel list.

If you don’t already know it, you may need to look up the available transmitters for your post code area – in the UK, I would go to http://www.digitaluk.co.uk/postcodechecker/ to find your transmitter. I know mine is Rowridge.

The installation of the LinuxTV dvb-apps will have created a folder containing TV transmitter frequencies. If I browse the following folder /usr/share/dvb/dvb-t/ the file that I need is called “uk-Rowridge”.

Firing up the scan program, I go with:

scan /usr/share/dvb/dvb-t/uk-Rowridge -o zap | tee ~/channels.conf

This creates a channels.conf file in my home folder which I can open in VLC by navigating to Media > Advanced Open File. Press the Add button and find the channels.conf file. Now VLC will open and display all of the channels in a play list, actively loading whichever is the first entry. As this is a text file, I can delete and re-order the channels however I want by editing channels.conf.

On my setup, an odd thing happens when I change channel for the first time in each session. I get an error saying the media URL doesn’t exist. VLC changes channel anyway. Thereafter it is fine.

VLC takes a while to change channels, but the delay is in the Freecom USB stick as the hardware does a lot of complex radio frequency shifting, buffers the new channel and de-codes it for the screen. This isn’t an instant zapper.

Now that I have TV in VLC, what use can I make of it’s many capabilities…? RC

Related: How-to: When the DVB Firmware is Wrong

About Robin Catling

Robin Catling gained degrees in both arts and technology which led to a diverse portfolio of employment. A freelance systems analyst, project manager and business change manager for the likes of American Express, British Airways and IBM, he moved on to web design, journalism and technical authoring. He has also worked in film and television, both behind and in front of the camera, including productions by Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese, Ron Howard and Ridley Scott. A qualified three-weapon coach, he runs West Devon Swords teaching sports fencing to all age groups, and in recent years qualified with the British Federation of Historical Swordplay to teach medieval and renaissance combat in the Historical Western Martial Arts.


4 thoughts on “How-to: Watch Digital TV in VLC Player – Ubuntu

  1. Reblogged this on anthonyvenable110.

    Posted by anthonyvenable110 | Nov 8, 2012, 2:14 am
  2. wow, what an excellent presentation! thanks so much.

    Posted by Claudio Duque | Nov 12, 2012, 1:45 pm
  3. great post. keep it up.

    Posted by Caput | Nov 13, 2012, 8:41 pm


  1. Pingback: News: Mark Shuttleworth Demos Ubuntu Phone 2013 « Everything Express - Jan 10, 2013

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