Why leave the comfort of your desk or table to watch TV when you can take advantage of multitasking and super fast Internet speeds and watch your favorite channels and shows on your computer? You’ll find a great selection of Internet TV apps for Linux, ready to stream live and on demand content.
You don’t have to have a brand new computer either; old computers can also be used for Internet TV. They still work, although perhaps not quite as well as a brand-new machine might. In the past, we’ve looked at using them as web servers, and file servers. Even media centers. But what about as an Internet TV box?
It’s easier than you think. All you need is a spare computer, your favorite Linux distribution, and one of these Internet TV applications. Happy streaming!
First launched in 2005, Miro (which we reviewed in 2012) is one of the oldest pieces of software on this list. But it’s also one of the best, and most feature-complete.
Formerly known as Democracy Player before rebranding in 2007, Miro provides an easy avenue to online streamed content, as well as your own personal video and music collection.
Out of the box, it can stream directly from PBS, YouTube and Hulu. Adding other services is trivially easy.
But what gives Miro an advantage over its competition is the BitTorrent client and RSS reader that comes bundled. This means you’ll never miss an episode of your favorite podcast or TV show, as it’ll automatically download it for you.
As a bonus, Miro can also synchronize content between Android and Amazon devices, and convert between file formats.
Miro is free, open-source software, available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and iPad.
One of the lesser-known items on this list is FreeTuxTV. It’s so obscure, it doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page, but that shouldn’t deter you.
Because, despite its warts (and there are a great many, believe me), FreeTuxTV is a pretty solid web streaming package. Its coup de grace is the thousands of TV and radio channels that come bundled with it. It’s hard to understate how massive this is. It boasts content in almost any language you could care to mention, from every corner of the world. The depth of variety on display is breathtaking.
It’s not all good news though. FreeTuxTV seriously lets itself down with some woefully bad performance. I tested it on a generously provisioned virtual machine, with 4 gigabytes of RAM and a sizable chunk of video memory. But despite those specifications, it ran like a dog, stuttering and hanging constantly, which lead to an utterly frustrating streaming experience. I dread to think about how it’d cope on a particularly old computer.
It’s also worth adding that at the time of writing, FreeTuxTV is suffering from a pretty severe (and unpatched) bug where if you have VLC 2.0 or greater installed, it’ll refuse to play any channel. You can get around this by installing an earlier version of VLC, ideally version 1.0, or thereabouts.
We live in an on demand world. Our food and our transportation is on demand. The music we listen to is subject to our fleeting whims. We’re used to getting precisely what we want, when we want it. This culture has been, in my opinion, fundamentally destructive, and has eroded our ability to concentrate and tolerate boredom and frustration
Which is why Pluto TV is such an incredible breath of fresh air.
Because Pluto TV comes from a radically different school of thought. One that has eschewed the on demand, all-you-can eat model for one based around quality, linear programming, dedicated channels, and scheduled shows, with an ethos of concentrated viewing.
So, what makes it so different to the rest?
Pluto TV takes pre-existing Internet content – like music videos, short films, documentaries, and news footage – and compiles it into dedicated, scheduled stations. There are hundreds of these stations covering a diverse smorgasbord of topics, like extreme sports, space, nature and current events. Pluto TV can satisfy even the most niche of interests.
There’s even a Taylor Swift channel. Trust me, I know. I’ve watched it.
Above all, Pluto TV encourages you to focus on the content you’re watching, by ensuring you can’t skip forwards or backwards. Much like traditional TV (prior to the DVR) and radio does.
Pluto TV’s diverse repertoire is backed up by more mainstream TV programming, provided by a number of household names. Bloomberg, Russia Today, and QVC all feature.
There’s no dedicated Linux app to speak of, nor are there apps for Windows or OS X. Yes, I cheated a little bit here. Pluto TV runs in the browser. But I felt that the idea behind it is so novel, so unique, I couldn’t not mention it.
The original Xbox was one of the most iconic games consoles of all.
Not just because it boasted some of the best games of the era (it did), and had the best controller of any console, ever (it definitely did). But also because it was fundamentally and endlessly hackable, and inspired a new generation of homebrewers and tinkerers.
By exploiting a bug in a specific version of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, hackers were able to ‘soft mod’ the Xbox, allowing it to run custom software and pirated games without having to install a hardware modchip.
Some chose to install an Xbox-ready version of Linux. Hardly surprising, given that the Xbox was effectively a PC. The controller ports were oversized USB 1.1 ports, it had a 10GB hard drive, and it ran off a Pentium III CPU. It was a computer wearing the clothing of a console.
Others decided to extend the functionality of the Xbox with a piece of software called the Xbox Media Center (XBMC). The Xbox could already play DVDs and MP3s, but XBMC took it even further, transforming consoles into a fully-fledged media centers that could watch a variety of file formats and films downloaded from the Internet.
As it turned out, XBMC was actually a really good media player. It was great at what it did, and rapidly gained a legion of fans. Eventually, others started to take notice, resulting in being ported from the original Xbox, to a variety of platforms. So far, Android, OS X, Windows, iOS, and yes, Linux have been graced with the Xbox Media Center.
This resulted in the popularity of the XBMC surging even further. It rapidly became the media-center of choice for tech savvy cord cutters. It also rebranded to Kodi, since it was no longer exclusive to the Xbox console.
So, what makes it so great? Well, besides the fact that it looks incredible, works incredibly well, and supports a massive menagerie of file types? It’s also incredibly extensible and customizable.
Everything from its core functionality, to its aesthetics can be tweaked to your heart’s content. At the core of this is a WX/Python-based development toolkit, which makes it accessible to even the most journeyman of coders.
In addition to playing your own library of content, XBMC/Kodi can also stream content from elsewhere, thanks to the plethora of user-built extensions. There are enough of these to justify an article in itself, actually.
Some of them sit on the vestiges of legality, much like PopcornTV Time, allowing you to watch premium live TV without having to pay for a subscription. Many of these are focused around sports – in particular soccer. But then there are the ones that build off existing, legal streaming services, like NetflixXBMC which (predictably) offers a window to Netflix.
No matter what your tastes – and regard for international copyright law – there’s a Kodi plugin for you.
Fellow MakeUseOf author Justin Pot is a huge Kodi/XBMC enthusiast, and has written a guide to setting up your media center for the first time.
Once upon a time, Canonical realized there wasn’t much money to be made in giving away a free operating system. In a desperate attempt to fill their rapidly depleting coffers, they started looking into alternative revenue streams.
One of the first things they did was partner with Amazon, and inject advertisements for books and DVDs into Unity Lens – Ubuntu’s built-in search tool. Predictably, this was about as popular as a turd in a swimming pool, and the denizens of Ubuntu revolted en masse.
Not long after, they decided they wanted to get into the content business. To do that, they’re transforming Ubuntu into a batteries-included, ready-to-eat Internet streaming platform called (obviously) Ubuntu TV. With it, Canonical hope to give you your movie, music and TV fix, all without having to even leave the comfort of the Unity Lens.
Ubuntu TV was first announced at CES in 2012, to a great deal of fanfare. But since then, there’s been little news on the project, and virtually no progress has been made according to the project’s Launchpad page. Although the webpage still remains, you could be forgiven for thinking it vaporware.
However, the demonstration video is enough to whet anyone’s appetite, and hopefully one day Ubuntu TV will become reality. I’m not holding my breath though.
Did I Miss Any?
From Kodi, to Pluto TV, we’ve looked at some incredible, Linux-oriented Internet TV apps. We’ve also looked at some that could use a bit of work, and one that we hope eventually gets released. But did we miss any?
Let me know. Drop me a comment in the box below, and we’ll chat.