HDTV and Kodi in your living room - based on Nvidia VDPAU, VDR and Ubuntu Linux

4th anniversary: Looking back... at the meaning of Launchpad.net

Avatar of hepihepi - 16. January 2014 - yaVDR

The basic idea behind a VDR distribution is to simplify the installation and configuration of a fairly complicated bunch of open source software components. To have more fun with it and more time to spend on extending its functionality with new features. Sadly, we were not the first to have that idea. In fact, we were far from being first.


If you have been a regular reader of German language vdr-portal.de for the last twelve years (well, I haven't) you might know that yaVDR was not the first attempt to bundle VDR and its extensions within a single attractive package, hence the acronym "ya" which stands for (you guessed it) "yet another" VDR distribution.

This acronym should indicate that we are well aware of all the hard work of other VDR enthusiasts since 2003 to build the perfect VDR distribution: Projects like LinVDR, c'tVDR, MiniDVBLinux, Gen2VDR and easyVDR - just to name a few - stayed around for quite a while until some of their maintainers lost the fun or the spare time but others managed to continue. Most of them are still quite popular and in the wild: Some VDR boxes built ten years ago are still up and running. (An almost complete list of VDR distributions can be found on the VDR Wiki.)

So why the heck add yet another distribution? Why add to the already existing fragmentation? Because as of 2009 the time was right for

  • an Ubuntu based distribution and for
  • a distribution capable of HDTV recording and playback.

The experimental VDR developer versions that supported HDTV and the VDR frontends were working well enough towards the end of 2009 to give it a try (we used 1.7.10 for our first release). To wait for the official stable VDR release supporting HDTV would have meant to look for a different hobby until March 2013 when Klaus Schmidinger decided to publish VDR 2.0. (No nagging intended: Many thanks to Klaus for all his efforts and his work on VDR core dating back to the year 2000!)

Although Debian based distributions like LinVDR or c'tVDR have already existed for years (at least c'tVDR was IMHO based on the Debian packaging skills of e-Tobi and TomG), nobody had started to build a distribution on top of the Ubuntu platform before 2009.

Of course, Ubuntu always offered VDR as an installable package together with a limited number of plugins. So it was always possible to use an ordinary Ubuntu installation and manually turn it into a VDR. But the packages available in the official Ubuntu repositories used to be far behind the current development done by the patch and plugin authors. Within the VDR community, a more or less chaotic patch infrastructure was in place for years to bridge gaps between VDR 1.6 core and some plugins that introduced new features. Those patches were not part of the official Ubuntu packages and many VDR plugins and addons were missing in the official Ubuntu repositories.

This is when Hanno Zulla published his own Ubuntu repositories and started to fill this gap, IMHO as of Ubuntu Intrepid: Up to date VDR 1.6 packages for Ubuntu based on e-Tobi's packages were suddenly available. The common way to get to an extendable VDR setup on Ubuntu in those days was to use Hanno's repositories.

But in 2009, stable VDR 1.6 suddenly wasn't "good" enough any more for those users who wanted to try out a VDR capable of HDTV.  At the end of 2009, the first Ubuntu based distribution featuring VDR+HDTV+XBMC was announced within VDR-Portal.de: det and his team presented their distribution freeVDR 2.1. (The initial release of freeVDR was published in June 2008, but wasn't based on Ubuntu at that time.)

At the same time, the members to be of the not yet existing yaVDR team (back then we called ourselves the-vdr-team) were convinced that using Launchpad.net was the best way to go to create and distribute Ubuntu based packages. Ubuntu's Launchpad.net provides anybody with an easy way to

  • create repositories
  • build Ubuntu packages for different platforms and
  • host the packages  publicly side by side with their source packages in Personal Package Archives (PPAs).

Furthermore, it is possible to pick and mix packages from the PPAs of other Launchpad.net users to profit from each others work. With this reliable infrastructure at hand, it was relatively easy to build a rudimental HD playback capable system equipped with the latest Nvidia driver, the latest VDR packages and the latest XBMC PVR-enabled version.

A cooperation with freeVDR was never considered because of the different repository and hosting approaches and other conceptual differences. A fusion of two separate VDR distributions has yet to happen in the universe of VDR development efforts: Diversity is very common in this universe. There are always several people trying to solve a problem in a variety different ways (that can be considered as an advantage most of the time).

But not only freeVDR and yaVDR were keen on Ubuntu: The comfort of Launchpad.net combined with a multimedia friendly distribution also convinced the team behind the easyVDR distribution to swap the underlying Debian Linux for Ubuntu as of 2010: Starting with their 0.9 development version that led to the easyVDR 1.0 release they decided to use Ubuntu as the new basis, combined with package repositories hosted at Launchpad.net.

The only big drawback of Launchpad.net always was and still is that they don't offer to build and host Debian packages.

As of 2011 Launchpad.net provided their users with another nice new feature: It became possible to obtain detailed usage statistics of any PPAs hosted on the platform through an API.

Until then, our ISO image download statistics were our only way to measure how many people were interested in yaVDR. We didn't really have a reliable way to measure how many people really installed the downloaded ISO image and continued to use yaVDR after an initial test. Well, we still haven't got that today, but the Launchpad PPA statistics are very helpful to give a reliable estimation. (We envy the MiniDVBLinux distribution in this regard because they have added a feature to their distribution that provides a nice usage counter, statistics and a map.)

Being able to use the API we then needed a tool to generate visually attractive PPA statistics. Luckily we came accross the tool ppastats written by Jean-Philippe Orsini. ppastats does the trick. Thanks to Jean-Philippe for his good work!

We have had a close look into these statistics and tried to dig out some of the interesting bits for you. In the following days, we will post some of the results here on our blog.

For now, we would like to publish the complete PPA statistics that we have generated so far. If you are familiar with our PPAs it might be interesting for you to take a look.

stable-yavdr | testing-yavdr | unstable-yavdr

stable-xbmc | testing-xbmc | unstable-xbmc

stable-vdr (possibly incomplete)

Please stay tuned for the next blog posting in the upcoming days where we are going to really bore you with numbers.

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