Submission by Paul Gale – Following a post by one of the members of the UKHA_D mailing list, I recently bought a home brew product that enables control of a Sky or Sky+ box from a PC (Windows or Linux) and ultimately, the Internet. I’ve been looking for something to do this for years so thought I’d share my findings with my fellow HAers.
The box has a USB connector at the end of a short lead, two RF connectors (although the box is available with one as standard) and a red LED to show when it’s connected to the PC. This box enables the PC to send remote commands to the Sky box via RF2, the RF connector on the back of Sky and Sky+ boxes. The result is exactly the same as if you just pressed a button on the remote but without the associated problems and possible unreliability of IR transmission. It also makes Home Automation control of one or two boxes a breeze. Even more excitingly is the possibility of finally being able to easily control a Sky box from the Internet, something Tivo owners have long enjoyed. OK, so this is already possible by using an IR distribution system and controller such as HomeVision, but this is a much simpler and cheaper way of doing it provided you have a PC available.
The official software that Joseph supplies is as follows (taken from his web site):
- Command line utility for linux and Windows to control sky/sky+ box
- Script to integrate with mythtv on linux
- Windows and Linux cgi scripts to enable control of sky+ via internet (you’ll need a TV card as well)
- Example prototype visual basic application for controlling sky box from Windows
At the time of writing, I’ve only tested the Windows command line utility and the Windows CGI scripts (installed on a Windows Apache server). The other items are available but I can’t vouch for what they’re like or how well they work.
Windows Command Line Utility – After receiving the box, the first thing I did was to search a large stack of boxes for a suitable RF cable – RF cables are a rare sight in this high tech house! Plugging the USB connector into the PC resulted in the automatic install of a ‘USB human interface device’, no drivers needed. The LED reassuringly glowing red.
Next came the first test – the command line interface. The command line interface is pretty simple and follows the syntax:
sky-usb-control.exe 0 12 1
This simply sends a ‘1’ to a Sky+ box on output 1 (shown by the ‘0’).
A full list of all remote codes are supplied for both the Sky and Sky+ boxes, an example of some other codes are:
8: 12 8
9: 12 9
sky: 12 128
key_tvguide: 2 204
up: 12 88
I typed in the example shown above and hey presto, a ‘1’ appeared on the Sky+ TV output. A good start.
Internet control – As mentioned above, there are also a set of CGI scripts to enable Internet control of a Sky/Sky+ box. The setup for this is a little more complex but I still had it working in around 20 minutes. This requires several items to be installed on a Linux/Windows PC:
- A TV or video capture card
- Apache web server software
- Activestate Perl software
- The CGI scripts and associated support files (SkyWeb)
I had a couple of old Hauppauge ‘WinTV’ cards lying around so I installed one of these in one of my Home Automation PC’s. I had two choices of PC, one being my main Windows 2003 Server and the other, my Geovision CCTV server. As the Windows server was full to bursting, I opted for the Geovision machine. I was a little worried at first that the specialist Geovision CCTV video capture card might interfere with the WinTV card but all went smoothly. I also installed the Windows WDM drivers available from the Hauppauge web site.
Next came the Apache and Activestate Perl software installation. I’ve never installed the Windows versions before and was pleasantly surprised how easy the whole process was – just by following the default install options. The whole install took just a few minutes.
The last step was to copy the two SkyWeb directories across to the Apache install directory. There was just one variable to change in the main CGI script (text file) to set which output to use on the controller. In my case, however, this didn’t need changing.
All installation done, I excitedly (is that sad?) opened an IE window and typed in the relevant address. The following screen greeted me:
It wouldn’t take too much effort to change the still image grab for a streaming feed using one of the many streaming video software packages around. Maybe my next task?Clicking buttons on the picture of the Sky+ remote sent the relevant command to the Sky+ box and updated the still image in the video window a second later. Fantastic! The one second delay between pressing a button and the video screen updating is needed to allow the Sky+ box to update – especially important when in the TV Guide screens as the planner can be a little slow to update at times. The delay is adjustable in the CGI script but after brief testing I left it at 1 second which seemed to be optimal. In use, the delay isn’t too much of a problem and it’s certainly useable.
As can be seen from the last screen shot, the web page could do with a bit of attention. After a couple of hours work, I knocked up the following skin to tie in with my HA home web pages. I’ve made the new graphics available to Joseph should he wish to use them.
The following shot show the controller in use:
For me, this is surely one of those ‘must have’ bits of HA hardware, apart from Internet control I’ll now be able to use the controller instead of my flaky IR control that normally requires sequences to be sent several times. A xAP interface to it would be nice too.I’ve not yet tested the Linux version of the command line utility or the VB app (which comes as source code rather than a compiled executable). At the time of writing, I’ve yet to see the Linux Mythtv script although I’ve not used Mythtv either.
Ok, you’re probably asking how much I paid – well for the dual output version including shipping, I paid £47.50. The single output version is £5 cheaper – a bargain I think. Joseph currently hand builds only a few of these devices a week and sells them on Ebay although he has expressed an interest in building a larger number if he knows they will sell. A really great device! Bulk buy anyone?
More information can be found on the developer’s web site: www.heenan.me.uk