PCTV tripleStick 292e with TVHeadend

I’ve blogged before about my home AV set up, but something I’ve not talked about is the recent addition of a couple of TV tuners so that I can watch and record live Freeview channels. Until recently I’d been using TVHeadend version 3.2 on a Raspberry Pi, with a PCTV nanoStick T2 that worked out of the box on Raspbian for me. However, the time came when I wanted to be able to record and/or view multiple channels at once, so I set about getting a second tuner to be able to do this. Through a lack of attention paid while ordering, I ended up with a PCTV tripleStick rather than a second nanoStick, and this one sadly was not as easy to set up. I bounced around a lot of forums and blog posts in getting mine working, so I thought I’d consolidate my learnings here, in the hope that someone else may find this useful!

First off, the chipset on the tripleStick (Silicon Labs Si2168) is different to the nanoStick (Sony CXD2820R), hence the incompatibility with the old drivers. There’s a very detailed teardown and comments at Antti’s LinuxTV Blog which does a great job of explaining what’s under the hood, and the comments do offer some useful guidance (but also some misdirection!). I was previously running an older version of Raspbian (kernel 3.12 if I recall correctly), which failed to recognise the tripleStick as a DVB tuner at all, but several sources suggested that firmware was included in 3.16 and higher. I updated my Raspberry Pi with the usual apt-get update; apt-get upgrade; apt-get dist-upgrade to move up to a newer kernel version (3.18) which did get the dongle recognised in TVHeadend, however it appeared to not get any signal, despite being plugged in to the same aerial as the working nanoStick.

At this point I attempted upgrading to TVHeadend 4.0, something I should have done a considerable time ago anyway, however this had no effect and the dongle continued to show no signal through TVHeadend. Checking my logs, I found that my /var/log/syslog had repeated entries referring to “found a 'Silicon Labs Si2168' in cold state“, and claiming that firmware files had not been found. Many different message boards carried many different links to firmware, and suggesting different combinations that needed to be installed, several of which I found to be corrupt, however the one that worked for me was installed using the following:

$ wget http://palosaari.fi/linux/v4l-dvb/firmware/Si2168/dvb-demod-si2168-02.fw -O /lib/firmware/dvb-demod-si2168-02.fw

There are many suggestions that the file dvb-demod-si2168-b40-01.fw is also needed from that same source, however it seems to be working fine for me without this present. I’ve seen some reports that the tuner should appear as two separate entries in TVHeadend (one as a DVB-T tuner, and another as a a DVB-S), however since I’m only using DVB-T I’ve not seen any problems – your mileage may vary!

XBMC – My Experience

Over the Christmas holidays I got a bit bored (as you do), and decided to experiment with an old projector, turning my bedroom wall into a giant monitor!

I’ve been looking for some time to find a decent ‘10 foot UI‘, and from initial glances at the internet all fingers were point towards Apples FrontRow, however I didn’t want to sacrifice the Mac Mini to run as a media PC (although it would do a very good job – virtually silent!). I decided to go slightly off the beaten track and try XBMC (Xbox Media Centre as was).

I must say I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to set up and configure – within a few minutes I had a working interface that looked great, it was playing nicely with my network to drag videos off my main PC and download box (headless machine running get_iplayer and rtorrent in a cupboard, more on that in another post). My only major gripe is that the navigation is fairly awful – whether you’re using a keyboard or mouse (or a remote I presume), I can’t seem to figure out whether I’m needing to go forwards/backwards/up/down on the menus, and a lot of functionality seems to be duplicated.

The process of gathering TV and film information is pretty seamless, the scanner seems to run nicely in the background gathering data on my files, even though they’re sat on another machine. I’ve noticed a few false positives for TV shows, and you definitely need to do some config file editing to get TV files picked up.

I unfortunately don’t have the right kit at the moment to try and get live TV displayed through XBMC as well (from forum browsing it seems possible), although I have installed the iPlayer and YouTube extensions, both of which seem to be quite buggy. The iPlayer extension inparticular has some pretty major issues – trying to pause a video will cause the whole program to lock up!

Overall – I’m pretty happy with this solution for the meantime. Anyone who’s happy hacking around with setting files to get things working just how they want should be right at home, but I wouldn’t really recommend to anyone who’s after an ‘out of the box’ solution.