Sunday, March 22, 2015

Using a Minix X8-H Plus media player as a torrent box

Update:  Flud has begun consistently crashing (without errors) on the Minix.  It only runs for a few minutes and then unexpectedly disappears.  This makes it pretty hard to use the Minix for torrenting.

Update #2:  Gave up on using the Minix for torrenting because the torrent software is simply not up to the task.  Flud seemed to work best, but has absolutely no support, and started downloading very, very slowly all the time.  I purchased an Asis Veriton with an SSD and, though costly, it does what I need it to do very, very, VERY well.  (It also has a serial port - yes, real RS-232 DB-9 style - for running my antique Zebra Z6Mplus thermal printer.)

After noting how slow my Eeebox PC was compared to the Android-based Minix player, I wondered if I could move my torrents from the PC to the media player.

The short answer is: not quite.  The main reason is that the torrent clients for Android are not quite there yet.

To be fair, a torrent client aimed at a phone or tablet is not really supposed to have the same functionality as a torrent client aimed at a mainstream PC.  The devices have different functions.

Note that I am not talking about applications intended to remotely control a torrent client on a PC.  These are a different thing entirely.

There are several torrent clients for Android: aTorrent, tTorrent, uTorrent, Flud, etc.  I tried all of them.

I installed a 32 Gb flash drive for storage on the media box, but wanted finished torrents to end up on my Samba server - because this is what uTorrent on the PC does for me.  As it turned out, of all the torrent clients available, only tTorrent and Flud had both RSS feeds and the ability to move finished torrents to a different location.

Also - as it turned out - neither tTorrent nor Flud could actually do it.

Neither tTorrent nor Flud is network aware, and are unable to natively browse a network.  XBMC (now Kodi) is aware, and has this functionality built in, but not these clients.  To make network locations available as part of the default Android file system, you need to install a CIFS/SMB-style file server on your Android.  This is fairly easily done with the right app.

The problem here is that searching for this requirement always brings up file mangers.  I'm not going to list them here because I don't want them to show up as keywords in this post.  The problem with these is that they will let you move files your network manually, but don't make paths available for non-network-aware applications to "see" the network.  This is not what we need.

What we *do* need is CIFS Manager.  This app will mount your network shares into native Android paths so that any application can access them.  You can decide where the mapped path appears in the Android tree.

Yes, you need root, but rooting the Minix is pretty trivial.  See here for the instructions.

(Note:  the only sure-fire way to execute the process is to put the root file on an SD or USB drive and press the "recovery" button on the back of the unit.  Using the flash update command from the internal menus stopped working on some firmwares.)

Having done this, tTorrent and Flud could both "see" the file server.  And they got as far as creating new directories for the finished torrents.  But then they stopped - no actual files were transferred.

After some trial and error, it appears as though this is a permissions issue with my specific Samba setup.  The file server is running on OpenSUSE, and a somewhat old build.  The share permissions ARE set up correctly (duh), but when the media player creates a new directory in the share, the permissions for that directory are NOT set up correctly.  So the Android apps end up creating a directory that they can't actually access, and error out.

This is not a deal-breaker, and I was willing to work around it.  I could have set up a share on a Windows machine, for example, or even resort to manually moving files from the Minix to the network using a network-aware file manager.

But there was another issue: proxy service.  Namely:

-  tTorrent has limited RSS filtering, but was NOT able to work with a SOCKS5 proxy service.  Worked fine without a proxy, did not work at all with proxy enabled.  uTorrent and Flud both worked fine with that same proxy, so it is not an issue with the service.

-  Flud works with the proxy, but is not able to set up RSS filtering.

So neither one was able to completely replace my Eeebox PC, which uses uTorrrent.

(Note uTorrent for PC has both proxy and RSS filtering features - uTorrent for Android has no RSS support.  So they are not the same.)

Right now I'm using Flud when manually searching and downloading torrents, and using uTorrent on the Eeebox to automatically scan RSS feeds.  Not the most efficient, but downloading on the Android is still faster than the Eeebox.

I would really rather use tTorrent because of the way tTorrent handles magnet links from the Android browser - specifically, it can add downloads to the queue without switching away from the browser, while Flud forces you to switch to Flud to add each item.

This is a minor problem, however, and searching/downloading on the Minix X8-H Plus using Flud is still faster than doing the same on the Eeebox using Firefox and uTorrent.

So, while not entirely successful, it's early days yet for Android torrent clients.  I'm hopeful that one or more Android clients will eventually get to the point where it can replace the functionality of uTorrent on the PC.  But they're not there yet.

Space bar stops working on VLC media player

My media player / TV PC has always operated fine with a cordless Logitech keyboard and mouse combo.  As part of this, the space bar was play/pause, as is the default for VLC.

However, the mouse was not a convenient control for the kids or wife, because it requires a surface to operate on.  After buying a Minix X8-H Plus media player with an Neo M1 air mouse, I picked up an additional air mouse to run the TV PC.  It is way more convenient and includes a built-in play/pause button, which is more intuitive.  I plan to replace it with a Mele F10 for consistency with the other systems - the F10 has controls more like a DVD player.

However, after installing the M1 air mouse, the space bar on the keyboard no longer acts as the play/pause for VLC.  Only the air mouse play/pause button will work.

I am using version 2 of VLC - I don't know what revision.  And it worked fine before.  And the keyboard itself works fine in all other respects, including spaces when VLC is not active.  So something must be assigning play/pause to the remote button to the exclusion of the space bar.

I don't know why any system would do this.  Surely if you have a mouse and a keyboard, you might want to use one or the other, so both play/pause keys should work.  Or, if you have two air mice, both should work.

Oddly, if I remote in to the system with Teamviewer, the space bar works as expected.  So it must be a hardware issue in the actual PC - maybe between the keyboard and mouse, or mouse and air mouse.

[Update]:  Removing the mouse and re-installing the air mouse seems to have resolved the conflict.  Both the space bar and air mouse play/pause button now work as expected.

So, if your VLC space bar is suddenly not working as expected, try removing any potentially conflicting input devices.  It should be possible to get them all working, but a little creative reinstalling might be in order.