Monthly Archives: January 2014


Gameduino 2 vs Raspberry Pi?

Often when I use examples referring to the Arduino micro controller board I am asked about the Raspberry PI. It is often implied that the PI, with much more function, is “better” than the delightful simplicity of the Arduino.
Arduino’s are a programmable switch. They require almost no additional setup. They let people learn to code simple programs that, with the addition of a few wires, turn lights on and off, make sounds etc. It blends the physical and the digital( and is in my TV showreel). In it’s raw form its simplicity is its key.
The Raspberry PI is the other end of the spectrum. It is a full computer. Hence it can do everything Arduino does and lots more, but… it takes a different level of set up.
Typically getting a PI running requires the user to do some basic system administration, getting an operating system (picking one from the many available) and then plugging in keyboards and monitors. When you do though you then have lots of choice of languages to use, development environments etc.
Both are great, and so this is really not a versus platform war.
Recently I received my additional shield for the Arduino. (A shield is an additional bit of hardware providing extra function to the Arduino) This one is called GameDuino2.

Many other shields provide things like network connectivity, more ports etc. This Kickstarter funded shield instead adds a screen to the Arduino. However it is much more than that. The screen is touch sensitive and there is also a tilt sensor. In addition it provides hardware to be able to put interesting visuals on the screen. It extends the Arduino development environment with some more library calls and is specifically designed (as indicated in the name) for building games.
I have looked at the extensive tutorial code. It seems that it is brilliantly straight forward.

GD.get_inputs();

This will simply get the details of any touch interaction on the screen.
Whilst this might be straightforward to do on other devices like iOS, but the lack of expense and the simplicity of the environment to be able to develop or prototype a touch based application is fantastic. All the Xcode, developer registration etc needed to just begin to tinker is obviously off putting for many people.
There is much more though with GameDuino2 things like hardware sprites, audio and other game goodness.
Not only that though, to quote the kickstarter information “Does it work on the Raspberry PI? Yes, it hooks up directly to SPI port on C13 on the Pi. And Raspberry Pi software support is done, so the GD library and samples/demos/games all run fine on the Pi.” So you can combine both worlds.
Right at the moment though one of my Raspberry PI’s is being a dedicated set top box for the TV using the XMBC open source media centre version Openelec something the Arduino certainly can’t do 🙂
Either way go out, get one or both and enjoy coding and sharing.

COPPA seems to be the problem – Some companies are lazy?

It seems that this needs a breakout post as a follow on from trying to allow my 7 year old son Predlet 2.0 to use the online features of FIFA 14. In trying to manage his account(s) and finding I was not able to I ended up on the phone to EA support. After a little while of too and fro with 1st level support I was transferred to an more knowledgable person.
I was told, quite frankly, that because of US federal law and the COPPA(Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) regulations anyone under 13 gets more privacy protection. I was happy with that, it makes sense.
Next it seems that EA/Origin create an account based on the birthdate on Xbox One. Once they know the person is under 13 they create a Minor account. Again, it makes sense.
Next it seems that no-one in EA is able to edit the minor’s account regardless of the parents wishes until they are 13 (yes that is no-one!). The excuse being, US federal law doesn’t let them.
This is of course where it gets a odd, and incorrect.
COPPA appears to place more restrictions on what companies do with under 13’s, triggered at any point by any service anywhere asking or discovering a date of birth. Then making the company duty bound to protect the information further.
For EA this amounts to a total ban on under 13’s on pretty much any online title regardless of PEGI rating or parental wishes. By reading the parental approval I was apparently giving approval to this process not giving approval as a parent to allow access.
I wondered how any service anywhere could be used by kids, and comply with US law. I looked at the Moshi Monsters COPPA statement. That appears that they have put in the work and the words to cover COPPA (link is here)

As part of the registration process, we require demographic information (gender, country of residence and birth date); we encourage you to submit this information so we can provide you a more personalized experience. We limit the information we collect, both actively (i.e., what we ask kids) and passively (what we collect through use of web tracking mechanisms like “cookies”) to that which is necessary for kids to take part in a particular Moshi Monsters game activity.

I was directed to EA’s COPPA statement by the support on the phone.
They have a lot less text.

2. Why do you now need an age gate?
Changes to COPPA now require age verification for some of our games that use information gathered by the app and gameplay of the game. According to COPPA, players of these games now have to be age 13 or older.

3. If I’m under 13 years old, will I still be able to play EA mobile games?
For most games, yes. For games that require it, players will see the age verification check the first time you launch or log into the game on or after June 13, 2013. Once the verification is complete, you’ll be able to enter into your game.

For certain games, players under the age of 13 won’t be able to continue. We’ve worked to ensure this is not the case for as many games as possible. These are new requirements that weren’t in place when we first launched our games, and while we must make every effort to stay in compliance with such important laws, we hate that it comes at the cost of some of our players.

The US government provide a clear description of COPPA though here

As a parent, you have control over the personal information companies collect online from your kids under 13. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act gives you tools to do that. The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, enforces the COPPA Rule. If a site or service is covered by COPPA, it has to get your consent before collecting personal information from your child and it has to honor your choices about how that information is used.

Nothing in COPPA says that kids can’t be on services. It says that parental permission is needed and security measures need to be in place.

So it is fairly clear that EA have taken the route of just to bothering. Deciding it was too difficult to protect the data. Which of course doesn’t bode well for the rest of us if the data is not secure. They have not provided the parental approval and maintenance tools though even at this basic level. As it stands right now they have an Origin account for predlet 2.0 bound to his Xbox Live account. They have captured his date of birth, yet they do not allow me as a parent to remove that account, or even see if the date of birth is correct?

The online features they use and the data collection they make, the communication options etc are all standard now. I would be more than happy if they use the parental approval system, or they just did not allow an Origin account to be created at all, which is effectively what happens which then cripples the online activity on any EA game on the Xbox One. You cannot logoff from origin, you cannot unbound an Xbox Live ID from EA Origin ID.

Whilst they could not recommend lying about age the implication was that it was better to have another Xbox Live account, with a “different” date of birth and create an EA Origin account with that. That hardly seems to be the right approach to have to lie about age or give access to a full adult account on systems just because EA don’t have the will or the ability to follow the rules?

So parents, if you want your kids to explore and enjoy online gaming activity, with your overwatch then avoid EA Origin games. Showing kids the right way to behave and interact online with one another seems to have to start by setting a bad example and bypassing a system because a large corporate entity can’t find a way to comply sensibly?

A mess with Origin, EA and Xbox One accounts for kids

As a parent/gamer with gamer kids I know that it is important to exercise some parental control over what games they play and where they play them. It is, though, parental choice that should be the overriding voice in setting up any system. There are some games that are not suitable in any way and there are others that are suitable with some controls and changes for any age to play. Each needs to more subtlety than the simple PEGI rating.
Here is the problem I faced this weekend. I have an Xbox One, mine is the primary account. The new terms of xbox live mean that the kids can have live accounts as family members. So I set them up their accounts, using their emails and dates of birth etc. I then upped the access control to that of teens for many things as below that was to restrictive and did not allow them the sort of access they need to have, with parental oversight and guidance, to learn about games and safety online.
Having played Battlefield 4 online myself with the voice comms with other players turned off there was only really a fun game of soldiers. No swearing etc. Now I believe that my 7 year old son is more than capable of enjoying that game in that mode, especially if I am in the room with him. He knows that the single player campaign is off limits. We have played split screen call of duty with bots before too. This is very different from the machismo and potential adult content that the story driven sections provide. It is almost a completely different game, yet it all carries the same rating as it is a package.
So, on the xbox one I logged in as him and was forced by EA the games makers to create an “Origin” account. I did, but it recognised his date of birth from the Xbox One profile and suggest a kids account, with my email as parent. I was happy with that as he didn’t need to be buying things on Origin or anything.
I then sparked up battlefield 4 with the aim of letting him have a go on the completely free of other people test range. Battlefield just hung. So I started up FIFA 14 and it decided that it would use the same Origin account, all very joined up. However it refused to connect too.
I followed the link to EA’s https://www.origin.com/ where I figured I would be able to manage the account somehow and check it was all ok. Unfortunately when you create a childs account it uses just an origin ID not an email. The people who build the web maintenance application have only provided a login based on email, NOT email or ID. So online there was no way to administer the account.
Origin login
I signed into my Origin account (using my email which is the same as predlet 2.0 parent email) and I was expecting to see “manage linked accounts” or some such arrangement. I could not see it at all.
So I now had his Origin account bound to his xbox ID with no way to disconnect the two and start again, nor to give approval to use the pieces of software I own that I would like him to use on the Xbox One?
I attempted a live chat with EA help, which first of all did not work on the Mac, lots of web page errors. Luckily I have windows too so I used that. I quickly downloaded the Origin client for windows and found by accident that it allows you to login with ID or email. So I was able to get into predlet 2.0 account and prove to myself it existed, but… still no options to change anything. Nor where there any different options in the PC client on my full adult account.

So I had a live chat conversation that went as follows.
The upshot was that there was constant confusion of xbox one and 360, I had to do a lot of verification that I was me, the account was linked to my account by the final advice was to download a massive EA demo on his account to prove something or other? I was not clear about that. Whilst going to the xbox one and starting it all up I was apparently away too long and the case was closed as Resolved !!! Which it is not!

I even tried logging into the xbox live account for him and changed his birthdate to see if it would trigger origin to “upgrade” him. That of course did not work and I should not have to do that.

Sumit
Thanks for contacting EA Customer Experience, my name is Sumit. How may I assist you today?
Sumit
Hello!
Sumit
How may I assist you?
you
hi. I created an origin account for my son on xbox one with my ********** as the parent email. I do not seem to be able to manage his account or see it anywhere. I want it to be an full account for him please
you
also I cannot login on the web as it is only an id not an email address, thought can log into it on the pc client with just an ID but I cannot do anything to it from my account
you
his id was ezoomspeedy
Sumit
Let me have alook to the accounts
Sumit
Please allow me some time
you
I want to allow him to play xbox live games such as fifa 14 on xbox one thnx
Sumit
To proceed further with your request I would be required to verify the accounts
Sumit
Lets go through the verification process so that i can assist you with your concern
you
ok
Sumit
Do you have access to **********?
you
yes
Sumit
I have sent you a verification email on your email ID ,Kindly tell me the code in that email.
you
******
Sumit
Thank you
Sumit
I can see a security question associated to your account ,Could you provide me the answer to that?
What is *************
you
******
Sumit
Thank you for your co-operation,You have successfully verified one of your account
Sumit
I have checked to the account linked to the id *******
Sumit
I found that its linked to your email that is *********.com
you
though it is not showing up on my account as linked
Sumit
But since the Date of birth criteria did not matched as to our policy its been considered underage account and no changes can be made to the account
Sumit
However You can transfer the game from that account to your account and go for persona transfer
Sumit
In persona transfer the ID xxxxxxxxx will be transferred to your xxxxxxxx.com account
you
no I already have an account
Sumit
Which account ?
you
I have my own full account ***********.com
you
Can we just remove ********* altogether?
Sumit
Yes that is there
Sumit
So you want to use ********* on your account that is *******.com
Sumit
Is it?
you
No
you
I want to leave **********.com my account alone
Sumit
Okay
you
I want you to remove ******** or upgrade it to an adult account please
you
or tell me how to unlink his ********* account from his xbox one account
Sumit
Okay
Sumit
Let me look into ********** account in depth now
Sumit
Kindly hold on so that i come up with relevant information for you
you
ok
Sumit
Thank you for waiting
Sumit
Lets proceed with verifying your sons account
Sumit
So that I can carry your request forward
Sumit
May I know the country you are from ?
Sumit
Are we connected ?
Sumit
It seems that you are away from the Keyboard, please let me know if we are still connected.
you
hi sorry had a phone call
you
I am in the UK
Sumit
NO problem
Sumit
thank you
Sumit
I would like to know the origin Id linked to your account?
you
******* is my ID and xbox handle
Sumit
We are in concern with your sons account not yours
Sumit
I would like to know the origin Id linked to **********?
you
ah yes. he is actually ******** on xbox
Sumit
Thank you
Sumit
Tell me which is the game linked to ******** account ?
you
we initially did battlefield 4 as I was happy that with voip off he was able to play the multiplayer game, but that failed to even load, so we tried fifa 14. both failed to connect
Sumit
Okay
Sumit
Kindly follow the steps to verify the account
Sumit
First visit xbox.com and sign in with your Xbox Live email and password.
Sumit
Then click My Account in the top right corner of the page.
Sumit
After that click Manage Devices.
Sumit
Then,click See 360 purchase history.
Sumit
lastly search for the Online Pass and the date associated with it.
Sumit
Let me know that date after you do so
Sumit
Let me know in case of any issue
Sumit
It seems that you are away from the Keyboard, please let me know if we are still connected.
you
looking for the information
Sumit
Okay
Sumit
Did you see Online Pass?
you
no as this is xbox one not 360
Sumit
So you did not found the online pass
you
no
Sumit
Can you tell me the registration date of the game on the Xbox one if you know
you
with his account it was yesterday or day before
Sumit
Can you download any EA Demo from Xbox market place
Sumit
Let em know after you download any EA Demo game from your Xbox so that I can cross check and complete your account verification
Sumit
Is it in progress?
Sumit
Your response is awaited ?
Sumit
Are we connected?
Sumit
Since I’ve not heard from you, I need to end the chat session. Please feel free to contact us again. We’ll be glad to help you.
The chat session has ended. Please contact us again if you need further help.
You are not currently in a chat session.

It seems the battle to own us all as customers, provide these other centralised login and verification systems are just not designed or built properly. Once again I offer my expertise to the gaming industry in how to build web and integrated applications, because at the moment, to use corporate board room speak “it aint working folks!”
When all the apparent protections start not work with one another because each party things they know best it seems the system fails. This links to my previous bemoaning of the DRM and restrictions in streaming TV where I suggested that they want to DRM our eyeballs
I am trying to be a responsible parent, use the service available, not lie about dates of birth etc. In this case it would have been easier to create all adult accounts on the Xbox One, no one would be any the wiser. I could then apply my own physical control and chaperoning to the experience.
I am not sure where the “fault” lies but it would seem Microsoft and EA need to have a chat as I am sure I am not the only one facing this problem! Next post will be a bit more upbeat and positive I hope 🙂

****Update 21/1/14
I tried two routes to try and resolve this with EA.
The first was to take the advice of the parental notification email

Your child will have access to his or her underage account until he or she turns 13 years of age. When he or she turns 13, he or she will be eligible to register for a full Origin account.

If for any reason you’re concerned that this information is not correct or complete, or should you wish to have your child’s information deleted from our records, please refer to to privacyadmin.ea.com to contact your Privacy Policy Administrator who will be happy to review, update or remove your child’s information as appropriate. Please note, however, that deletion of this information may result in the inability to access Origin and EA products associated with your child’s account.

After all I am asking for it to be updated or deleted?
The response to my email asking for it to be upgraded or failing that deleted and freeing it from the xbox one account was not very helpful. i.e. contact the live chat again ?

Greetings,

Thank you for contacting Electronic Arts Privacy Policy Administration.

Please let me share that underage account issue requires account ownership verification and all issues that require account verification are handled by the Phone Support or Chat support Team to maintain the confidentiality and security of your accounts. The Phone Support Team can be contacted on <0203 0141818> from 9AM-9PM GMT, Monday through Saturday. You may also use a VOIP service which should allow you to make the call. An example is Skype or Googletalk, which is comparatively quite cheap, if not free.

You can also contact us by logging into http://help.ea.com/contact-us and selecting the “Live Chat” option to connect to an agent via chat. To do this:

1. Log into http://help.ea.com/contact-us using your Origin/EA email or Pogo screen-name and your Password.
2. Before entering a Product for “Step 1: What type of issue are you having?” click on the “Do You Have an Existing Case?” link on the right.
3. In the “Select a Case” drop down, select your case number and issue from the available options.
4. Under “Step 2: Choose a Contact Method”, select Live Chat.

Thank you,
Vikas R
EA PRIVACY POLICY ADMINISTRATION

Bear in mind this is a response to an email telling me as a parent if I have concerns to just email the privacy ID. I have already tried to navigate the live help and it was not very helpful and very time consuming.

On twitter I also pinged @AskEASupport who were very quick off the mark and very responsive. They sent me a link to this page which was for Battlefield 3 on the the 360.

It stated

If you’re receiving an error restricting you from access to areas–or the entirety–of your any of your games due to any sort of “Underage Error,” this is caused by a problem with the Date of Birth on your Xbox LIVE account, which was entered during registration.

Unfortunately, our team is unable to assist with errors of this nature as they originate with your Xbox and its configuration, rather than the game being played.

For more information on Xbox LIVE online safety and privacy settings and child account settings (set by Xbox for users under the age of 18), please go here.

Please know that changing the parental permissions and other settings does not guarantee access to the servers, as Xbox may still deny access based on the age on the account. For further assistance or information regarding this error, please contact Xbox Support.

So it is saying its the xbox’s fault for sending the correct date of birth and that they can’t do much about that? The links on the page to xbox support also were no longer valid.

When I queried that it was suggest it talk to …. yes live chat again !

So lets just break this down a little.
There is an underage origin account with my as the parent. I cannot get that removed or changed without verifying who I am again, and verifying who the child is. So how exactly would I resolve that is someone used my email in error? The data flow for this is not really making much sense.

Protection is important. Very important. However the wrong protection is inefficient and potentially dangerous. You don’t go swimming in a suit of armour do you 🙂

**** Update 23/1/14

With a bit of extra clicking around randomly I managed to get onto his web page version.
Using the Origin PC client logged in just using ID not email (as it allows both) I logged in.
When I hit help on that app it then opened up the webpage but this time passed the login credentials.
It has an email address to set to ***************@anonymous.ea.com
I was not able to hit save and change the email, but I was able to set an extra security question on the account?

I manged to find a button to unlink the account from the xbox one. I was hoping that then sparking the Xbox One up and an EA game it would realize the account was not the one I wanted to use.
However instead it tried to login and then told me I could use it until I hit re-link. No option to change the id at all.

This is not a very good system!

DRM our eyeballs?

I had already posted about how I was a little surprised at the lack of streaming media integration and the inability to get the devices I have to do what I need with the Roku streaming box. I tweeted that is seemed media companies would not be happy until they DRM our eyeballs. A screen is a screen, if you can see it you can pirate it, either passively (pointing a camera at it) or actively by bypassing the DRM/electronics/cable blocks etc. It is all a bit of a waste of everyone’s time and money. Though the hardware providers are raking in the cash as I found with my apparently non standard Apple cable charger in my car that the Iphone after a recent update now delights in telling me that this is a non standard accessory that won’t work properly. Its a cable! a bit of wire 🙁
Anyway, this is a journey to try and get to legal content, using consumer facing devices. Not hacking, pirating etc. Though it seems it is much easier to pirate and hack than it is to get to stuff that your are entitled to view or actually own in the first place.
I thought I would try an Apple TV. We have lots of Apple devices, phones, pads and Macbook Pro’s after all. This was now not just for the early morning attempts to watch BBC breakfast which started this, but now to push live and on demand TV into my newly refurbished home office. Working at home all the time I need the background noise of radio or TV. Peace and quiet are not always conducive to getting things done (for me anyway).

We have Sky and a full subscription in the house and a recent order for multi room means we now have the online Sky Go extra with a whole 4 devices able to be registered to view the sky channels we pay for.
So Apple TV is definitely a lot slicker and less jacky than Roku seems to be. To be fair though I already have an Apple account so I didn’t have to do the extra account creation steps. However Roku won’t let you use it unless you register, Apple TV was happy to just startup.
I thought I would try and push iplayer from my older Macbook Pro that I use mainly for testing. After all you can, according to the blurb, just mirror the screen to Apple TV. Well you can… but not on an older Macbook Pro for no real reason I can see. I then tried on my newer MacBook Pro and sure enough it worked. The trouble is my main MBP is often doing other things like compiling code and running Unity3d development so thats a non starter.
I tried using iplayer on the iPhone and just hitting Airplay on the application. Sure enough it worked 🙂 So I wondered if I could do the same mirroring with my Android Samsung Galaxy Tablet. A bit of hunting around and it seems there are applications to beam existing content but nothing to just show the screen as is, and hence bypass any of the apparently inconsistent checks for what you can watch where. This was not overly successful. Certainly not something I bothered chasing up.
I looked around and found that there is a Mirror application that sends screen to Roku and Apple TV from PC or Mac. This is called AirParrot. I downloaded the trial and used it on the 2009 MBP and sure enough it found the AppleTV and sent the screen to the Apple TV connected to the normal HDMI TV. I had to install an extra driver to get it to send sound as well though. The application is only $9.99 so I also bought a license for my Windows 8 laptop.
The Windows laptop is a gaming spec one and only a few months old so I decided to move to use that rather than the older MBP. This was mainly when I tried to use Sky Go on the MBP. I logged in as a subscriber to Sky and then attempted to AirParrot to the Apple TV. However machine seemed to be suffering from having to download over the wifi/internet and then wifi send to the TV so it all got a bit choppy. On windows and a more powerful machine is seemed to be not too bad. This was despite the MBP being on the 5ghz network and the windows machine on 2.5ghz.
I changed the windows to extend to the extra TV and AirParrot does a perfectly acceptable job of pushing content. It is not perfect HD and I am still doing the sound directly on the PC but it works. I now have TVCatchup playing Channel 5 The Wright stuff as I write this.

I went back to Sky Go and downloaded Iron Man 3 onto the Sky Go application on Windows. The aim being to reduce the double network effect of streaming in and pushing back out again. This worked fine on an Airparrot mirror, again it had a lot of compression going on, AirParrot has a few quality settings to tinker with later though. it is good enough to have the films on in the background.
Then it dawned on me that I really should move the Xbox 360 to the office. The 360 has the Sky application on it and so I would not need to use the Apple TV and this extra hope. Unfortunately I can’t even try this until next month. Why? Well Sky Go claims “Watch TV from Sky however you like on your compatible mobile, tablet or laptop wherever you are in the UK & Ireland with an internet connection”. Which is does but… With our multi room subscription we are allowed 4 devices to be registered. As soon as you log into Sky on a laptop or phone and hit play that device is then takes up one of the four slots. Apparently you can only have 2 of those 4 logged on at any one time too. In all my experiments I had gone in to manage the list and I removed 1 device we don’t use. Leaving the original iPad and another windows laptop I experimented with over xmas. Using the windows box and the mac to test Sky Go and mirroring means I had refilled 2 slots. However, the ridiculous terms stop you editing your device list any more than 1 device a month. I can see they are worried we might all just keep chopping and changing but they should look at Apple’s device limits!
I am asking Sky nicely if they will reset my devices now I know the configuration, so I will see what happens there.

So what works after all that?

Live BBC 1 iplayer
Iphone/Ipad airPlay mirror screen to Apple TV
Web new macbook pro live BBC 1 mirror screen to Apple TV
Web old MBP + AirParrot Application to Apple TV
Web windows + AirParrot Application to Apple TV

What doesn’t work
Roku Iplayer application no live stream
Roku and Twonky beam won’t mirror BBC1 Live from Iphone/Android
Apple TV has no native iplayer app

With Roku and Apple Tv there are native applications to get at various services. The one I really cannot understand is why the Sky Now TV is not unified with the SkyGo service? Mind you with the ludicrous device limit and management setup this probably is not a surprise. I should be able to just log on to the Roku and register that device as one of my 4 Sky Go devices with a normal Sky Id?
***Update 16/1/14 Credit where credit is due to good customer service. Having emailed Sky and explained I had maxed out my 4 slots but would prefer to remove the machines I tested with they cleared the required slots and I now have the Xbox 360 connected back to Sky so I no longer need to beam sky go from one device to the Apple TV. Next up I am now trying XMBC and Play To on windows freeing up the Apple TV to replace the Roku and we will just use the iphones/ipads for iplayer. Not totally ideal but certainly getting close to the solution.

Each streaming device should really have Tvcatchup or equivalent for all the terrestrial channels. Excuses about rights management just do not hold water as the combination exist to see these things on a screen, and in particular on “mobile” devices like laptops and phones. However static devices attached to a large non mobile screen are very limited, unless you spend lots of money on doubling up subscriptions or download illegal DRM free copies of movies. It seems, as per usual DRM is just costing us all. Until they get to instal a restrictor chip in our brains to stop us receiving content that they own it is all pretty much a waste of time.

Hello 2014 – The future is nearly here – but with TV not quite

Welcome to 2014, it does not seem that long ago I was a lad reading 2000ad comic books thinking how far in the future the next century seemed. I wanted to start the year of a positive technical note and that is at last we are back on BT Infinity. That means business wise it is possible to be back delivering interesting projects without a 9 hour overnight upload 🙂
Being back on high speed broadband has highlighted a few things to me though. I had thought, with a little whoop of glee that I might be able to finally have streaming media from the outside world across the house.
It turns out though that it’s not that simple!
Just before christmas we seemed to lose our digital TV signal. Both the installed antenna on the main TV and the portable one on the bedroom TV stopped working, well they worked but a lot of break up.
To solve the problem of the bedroom TV, which pretty much is only used for BBC breakfast in the mornings I popped out and bought a Roku2 streaming media box. It said “with iPlayer”. I plugged it in, did the requisite account set up in case I suddenly felt the urge to buy something from them. I installed BBC iplayer and up it popped. However what I saw was far from the iplayer I was expecting. it was a very limited subset of catchup programmes, not at all like the iplayer on the laptops. The main thing it didn’t do, which I really wanted it to, is stream live BBC 1. The BBC News Roku app did not stream the live news channel either, merely a few snippets of things to lookup. I looked at the iplayer app on my “mobile” device the iPhone and iPad and sure enough they stream BBC1. It did not seem to make much sense.

I saw some posts that people were able to use their Apple TV (a similar streaming box) to watch BBC1 by mirroring their ipad screen via the Apple TV box. I thought I would give that a go on the Roku. There is a long standing open source streaming media sharer called Twonky. It has a twonky beam app on the Roku and on the tablets and phones. I sparked it up and it worked to beam photos etc. However BBC1 was not happy to be streamed and it hit a digital wall. It was the same on the Samsung android tablet. Some things would beam, some would not.
Now if this did not work on the iPhone/apple TV combination you could say it was down to not letting streaming live TV for licence fee reasons on mobile devices was the reason. However, my laptop, phone and tables are all mobile, my Roku and TV are not really. So that is no excuse.
As a Sky subscriber (with a dish and account etc) sky multiscreen / Sky Go lets you watch anything anywhere on 2-4 devices depending on the account. So I figured I must be able to forget the BBC a they clearly don’t want me to be able to watch them, and instead Roku stream Sky.
Sky has NOWtv and their own Roku rebranded boxes that lets you pay them £9.99 a month to watch things. So the app it there and it is clearly technically capable of streaming Sky. Sky news is in fact the only live channel I seemed to be able to stream using the native Sky news Roku app. I was expecting my Sky Id to work with NowTV, hoping it would say, welcome fully paying long term customer feel free to use this Roku as one of your devices….. but no…. I needed to enter payment information. So I can’t stream Sky to Roku either. I can of course cart the Xbox 360 upstairs and log in with that and watch sky on this extra TV but that seems a bit odd doesn’t it?
I checked out some of the more private, almost hacky channels like NowwhereTV that re-streams but that was just a not very reliable BBC news channel, and hundreds of US local TV channels.
All in all this seems quite a mess? With the right device or just a full laptop I can get to the channels I pay for both on the BBC and on Sky. However non of it is very user friendly. Waking up in the morning and turning the news on should not really be an exercise in network management, patching, scrolling, clicking. There is room for a pure streaming service surely? Freeview and FreeSat do exactly what you need with a digital antenna or a satellite dish. There does not seem to be a FreeStream? The closest is probably the Youview boxes but they only really do catchup over broadband the rest is just a digital TV tuner antenna combination.
I tweeted about this and @andypiper said he was able to watch BBC and ITV using his Ouya games console using TVCatchup. This would not twonky beam either to the Roku So it seems the right combination of kit that basically supports a web browser and it will all work.
This along with the almost impossible to use ultraviolet and alike to let you see digital copies of the discs you have purchased is making a right mess of enjoying the excellent content. Even my shiny new Xbox one refused to play one of the kids DVD films at xmas. A bought one from the shop, citing some weird error code and saying I needed to be plugged into a different HDMI socket? Other worked fine just this one, but I have not tested very many to see why.
Publishers need to take a look at the industry as it is no wonder people pirate? All I want is to stream the basic TV channels that are on live. Catchup is sorted pretty much.
I did write to Roku and the BBC about this small glitch in the future of TV but I am afraid the help desk responses were nicely canned ones, and generally incorrect and inconsistent.
I wonder if I should be apply to be some sort of media Tsar for the government and sort this all out 🙂