Monthly Archives: January 2008

Setting up a Freecom media player with Ubuntu

This has taken me over two months (on and off) to finally get set up so hopefully this post will make things a bit smoother for other people.

I have the Freecom Network Media Player 350 WLAN model with no harddrive. As we already have a MythTV media server in our living-room, I wanted to set up the new media player in the bedroom with my old 17″ LCD monitor and a pair of speakers. The media player has 802.11G wireless so I can listen to music over the network, though I’m not sure if that’ll be up to playing video so we might have to finish running the ethernet cable anyway.

So, what did I have to do to set it up? And why did it take me so long?

Well, the answer to the first question should really be “not a lot” because it’s mostly set up ready to go when you take it out of the box. In practice, it took me about three stints of fiddling around to get it working (only the ‘Sharing files from a Linux PC’ bit of this post is specific to Linux and Ubuntu, by the way).

Video output

First of all (and a significant mistake on the part of the manufacturers, I feel), the Freecom media player defaults to Composite, its analogue output. You can switch it to HD-DVI, its digital output, but you must have the digital output device (my LCD monitor in this case) connected to the media player with a DVI cable (the one with the white ends). If the LCD monitor is not connected, the media player doesn’t believe you that a digital output is really what you want and won’t switch.

But, in order to see the Setup screens on the media player, you have to have connected the media player to some kind of non-digital display. This was fine for me at home because our TV is still an old CRT and has easily accessible composite input (the triple cable with yellow/white/red plugs on it). At my parents’ house, however, they have a shiny new LCD TV with no composite input. Although the media player is handily supplied with a composite cable, it doesn’t come with either an s-video or scart cable, which is all that my parents’ TV can take.

So, after enlisting my parents to help lug their old portable TVs around the house, I managed to get an analogue output (old portable TV) and a digital output (the new LCD TV) in the same physical location so that I could plug the media player into both and switch the media player output to digital. Unfortunately, the default resolution of the digital output on the media player is 576 and not 1080. The LCD TV, however, will only recognise 1080. And you can only change the resolution of the media player’s digital output setting *after* you’ve switched to the digital output.

So something of a Catch-22 situation there.

I eventually got it working back at home where my LCD monitor was less picky about what resolution the media player fed into it and I could change to digital output then switch resolution, then save the settings so that the media player boots into digital output every time.

Wireless

We use WPA wireless encryption on our home network (use the WPA-TKIP option on the media player), so this was never going to be completely straightforward. But, really, entering a 63-character passphrase using a remote control is beyond a joke!

Basically, for each character, you tab through a list of 36 characters (0-9-a-z), using the Up arrow on the remote control, until you reach the one you want. Then, you press the Right arrow to move to the next character before repeating the previous step. For 63 characters!

Also, one thing that the media player instructions don’t mention is that you have to use the ASCII version of the WPA key, not the Hex version (which is what I’m used to using on my laptop, on the Wii, and on pretty much every other wireless device I use — except our digital photo frame, which is another story!).

Once I’d worked out how to enter the WPA key, it connected easily. It’s pretty much the same experience on a WEP network except that the key is much shorter to enter!

Sharing files from a Linux PC

This is where the Ubuntu (or LInux in general) bit comes in.

The media player’s manual provides detailed instructions on how to share files from a Windows PC to the media player so it takes a bit of translation to get the same thing to work from a Linux PC.

A nice touch in the media player is that it uses Samba by default to do its file sharing. This means that, on connecting to the network, it finds all the available Samba shares and displays them under the wireless (or wired, if you’re using ethernet) option on the main screen as sources of media.

The less nice touch is that it uses “a really crap authentication system” (Mills, 2008). I easily shared a directory using the Ubuntu GUI. Before you can share a folder using Samba, you must have a Samba server installed on the PC. On Ubuntu (Gutsy in my case), a Samba server is installed and configured by default so you should be fine.

To share a folder using the GUI in Ubuntu:

  1. Right-click the folder on your Ubuntu PC you want to make available to the media player, then click Share folder. The Share Folder dialog opens like this:
    Screenshot of the Share Folder dialog.
  2. In the dialog, from the Share through list select Windows networks (SMB). A couple more fields are added to the dialog.
  3. In the Name field, type a name for the share. This name must be fewer than 12 characters long otherwise the media player doesn’t recognise it (a mistake I made on my first attempt).
    Screenshot of the Share Folder dialog with SMB selected.
  4. Leave the Read only check box selected. There’s no need for the media player to have any more access than this.
  5. Click OK.
  6. Right-click the folder then click Properties. On the Permissions page of the Properties dialog, check that the Folder Access list for ‘Others’ has Access files selected.
  7. Check also that the files in the folder have read-only access for ‘Others’ by looking in the Properties dialog of one or two of the files.

Okay, the folder is now shared but the media player still can’t access the files in it.

In case you’re interested, or in case you prefer to edit the Samba configuration file directly instead of using the GUI, the GUI generates a stanza like this in the /etc/samba/smb.conf file (where ‘cardiff’ is the name I gave to the share, and the path is the location of the folder in my home directory on my Ubuntu PC):

[cardiff]
path = /home/laura/photos/canon_ixus/2007-12-02-cardiff
available = yes
browsable = yes
public = yes
writable = no

At this point, the media player can find your shared directory but can’t access any of the files in it. So you need to do a tiny bit of editing of the smb.conf file (sorry, it’s unavoidable) to allow the media player to authenticate with your Ubuntu PC.

To enable the media player to access any folders you’ve shared (thanks to Hugo Mills for telling me this bit):

  1. Open a terminal window and change to the directory that contains the smb.conf file:
    cd /etc/samba
  2. Back up the smb.conf file (so that you can revert back to using the old version of the file if necessary):
    sudo cp smb.conf smb.conf.bak
  3. Open the smb.conf file in a text editor such as Gedit:
    sudo gedit smb.conf

    Enter your password when prompted. The smb.conf file opens in Gedit.

  4. Find the section of the file called
     ####### Authentication #######
  5. Find the line that says:
    security = user
  6. Replace the line with the following two lines:
    auth methods = guest sam winbind
    security = share
  7. Find the line that says:
    encrypt passwords = true

    Check that the line looks like this and that it isn’t commented out with a semi-colon (;).

And you’re done!

The media player should now be able to read the files in the directory that you shared (you’ll probably have to reload the folder on the media player to display the files).

Playing shared files

The media player supports a whole list of file formats but I’ve had trouble playing some files. I had no trouble playing some mp3 music files, and I was able to play an mp4 video file over the network (although the latter hung the media player the first time through for some reason).

One directory of jpg image files worked fine as a slideshow (though the media player doesn’t automatically rotate portrait pictures) but another directory of jpg images wouldn’t play. I think it’s got something to do with file sizes and the amount of memory available on the media player. A 1.9 MB png file wouldn’t play because it was too big for the media player’s memory.

Also, I haven’t been able to play any of the AVI movie files that I’ve tried. They all came from my Canon Ixus camera so I don’t know what the problem is but maybe the media player supports only certain AVI codecs?

I was also able to play a slideshow of jpg files from a USB key drive that I plugged into the USB port on the back of the media player (a USB extension lead is useful here because my USB key is slightly too bulky to go in port next to the DVI cable port).

Verdict

So far, I’ve not actually tried the media player in situ yet so I can’t say how well it works in its intended setting. But it’s now set up and works with wireless, sound, and file shares.