Internet Protocol Television

iPlayTV Channels Tab

Ever since I went all-in on Plex in 2016, I’ve been slowly but surely moving away from bigger streaming services and toward more self-hosted and distributed, open alternatives. Up until a few weeks ago, I was primarily using Plex, Pocket Casts, and YouTube for everything I watched. The latter of which I’ve been trying to cut back on by replacing it with more podcasts, Odysee, and other alternative platforms.

I would occasionally dabble with Pluto, Plex’s Live TV feature, and even Channels paired with an HDHomeRun for over-the-air television. But none of it ever stuck for me. Pluto’s Apple TV app has always been dreadful to use. Plex’s Live TV feature didn’t have many good stations and randomly lost Buzzr — one of the few I actually enjoyed. And there was a restructuring of over-the-air stations in my area a couple years ago, which made it nearly impossible for us to consistently get more than a channel or two.

I’ve found something better, though. Something distributed and something that feels like the heyday of over-the-air television or C-band satellite for the internet age. Internet protocol television or IPTV.

Now, that’s often used as an umbrella term to refer to any and all video streaming on the web. In this case, though, I’m referring specifically to .m3u and .m3u8 playlists. There are for-pay providers that sell access to these, but those all seem to be of questionable legality and not the kind of sites I would want to enter my credit card information into.

There are, however, legal and freely available streams on the web. There’s probably a bunch of resources for finding them, but I came across a GitHub repository that looks to be regularly updated and has a wide variety of streams available. They’re categorized by region, language, genre, and more.

So how does it actually work? Well, it works a lot like podcast apps did back before they all included integrated indexes. You copy a link to the playlist file you want to use and paste it into your IPTV app of choice. The app will parse the playlist file and give you a list of channels to watch.

In my case, I copied the link for the United States playlist and pasted it into iPlayTV on my Apple TV using the excellent keyboard/remote control feature on my iPhone. You can give the playlist any name you like within the app, I simply went with “Internet Protocol Television”. You can also, optionally, enter a link to an electronic program guide (EPG) file, which the app can use to indicate what’s playing on a given station. I used the United States one from the sister repository.

I have access to about 1900 stations with this setup. To be fair, the overwhelming majority of those I will never actually watch. But I went through and saved all of the most interesting streams as favorites, which gives me about 35 channels to choose from

iPlayTV Sidebar Guide

In frequent rotation is Laff, MeTV, the aforementioned Buzzr, and Rewind TV. It’s a lot of old sitcoms and game shows, but that’s kind of my jam anyway. There are plenty of other channels, of course, from a wide variety of genres — you’ll likely find something you enjoy regardless of the type of content you tend to watch.

I’ve never been too much of a fan of linear television programming. With ads and a limited number of channels, you’re kind of stuck watching what’s available and often times have to sit through a bunch of ads to do it.

Those problems still exist, but there is something nice about having a smaller number of options to choose from. And within those options, not having to decide what episode to watch. With the size of my Plex library, analysis paralysis is a common occurrence. With this IPTV setup, it’s nice to just glance through the channel list and only have to decide whether you want to watch Dick Van Dyke or Match Game.

Aside from the existence of ads, there are other downsides. One of the most notable is that the guide feature within iPlayTV, appears to display every single channel it has guide data for, regardless of whether you have access to that channel or not. So I just stick to the Channels tab and, while playing a channel, use the swipe gestures to view program guide data, which will only show you information for your current category — favorites, in my case.

There is a bit of work to get it set up. As I mentioned, I went through and favorited all the channels I might want to watch — that takes a bit of time. Some of the channels are non-English, some streams just isn’t working, or the content it’s playing doesn’t match what the playlist thinks it is. That can be tedious to wade through. Luckily, the app supports syncing over iCloud, though, so I don’t have to add the playlist and favorite channels on each of my three Apple TVs individually.

There’s also the occasional issue of channels being removed or added to the playlist — as channels get taken down or are no longer accessible. The day after I got it all setup a few of the channels I favorited just disappeared on me. One of them eventually returned and luckily iPlayTV still had it saved in my favorites section. The app also does a great job of highlighting newly added channels — giving them a red border in the channel list and their own dedicated section in the sidebar.

None of this is a deal breaker for me, though. Once it’s all configured, there’s very little effort to keep it up and running. Sometimes a channel I watch will disappear, but I haven’t had this happen with anything I watch regularly. It’s always been one of the oddball channels that I have favorited because I might watch it.

There’s still a lot to explore for me in the world of IPTV — I’ve only set it up on the Apple TV so far. Unfortunately, iPlayTV is Apple TV-only. I’ll have to do some digging to see if there are good options on iPad and iPhone. I have Awesome IPTV on my list of resources to dig through, which includes options for apps, providers, and more. It’s been a pretty fun and entertaining experience so far and I’m looking forward to spending more time on this little project going forward.

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iPad Home Screen

iPad Home Screen

Since iPadOS 15, I’ve been struggling to find an iPad Home Screen layout that I actually like. I still haven’t found one, but this is the least offensive I’ve been able to come up with.

The biggest problem for me is that Apple decided to crunch the vertical spacing between icons when you don’t have a widget present. And no matter how hard I try, I can’t find a good use for widgets on my Home Screen. I’m just too accustomed to having them hidden in the Today View (or whatever it’s called now).

Hopefully Apple will give us a bit more control over the layout of our app icons in iPadOS 16. But until then, I guess I’ll just try to focus on the apps that are on my Home Screen instead of how they are organized.

The Apps

Messages — My friends and family still predominantly use iMessage and text messages work just fine for those who don’t.

Battery Widget — The only reason I have a widget on my Home Screen is because it’s the only way to get sane spacing on my app icons. The battery widget is one of the least obtrusive available and provides me with reasonably useful information (but I’d still rather keep it hidden in the Today View).

Fantastical — The best calendar app by far.

Automattic — A shortcut that displays a list of work-related apps and launches the one I select. I could use a folder for it, but I like having a nice clean icon without any notification badges.

Code Editor — It’s no longer available unfortunately. There doesn’t seem to be another app on the platform that offers the same functionality with even close to the same polish.

Plex — I maintain a large Plex library with all of the DVDs, Blu-rays, and iTunes content we own. Almost everything we watch as a family lives in Plex.

Screens — A great VNC client for managing my home server and for helping with some family tech support.

Broadcasts — I’ve been getting into radio a bit lately — it’s distributed and most stations are regionally owned, two things I absolutely love. Broadcasts let’s me setup collections and have quick access to the streams for my favorite local stations.

Odysee — I’ve been trying to reduce my usage of YouTube lately. To help with that effort, I’ve been trying to go to Odysee first in those instances when I just want to watch some random videos. Since the Odysee app doesn’t support the iPad, this is just the web app saved to my Home Screen.

Kiwix — A nifty little app that can be used for accessing archived websites offline. I have Wikipedia and Wikitionary saved locally, so this primarily fills the role of my dictionary app.

Day One — I started journaling more seriously before my son was born and I continue to this day. There’s less writing in each of my entries now, but a lot more photos.

1Password — My favorite password manager.

Pixelfed — An open source, federated photo sharing service. I manage my own instance and you can follow me on your favorite ActivityPub-compatible service (including other Pixelfed instances) —

Photos — Apple doesn’t let you set another app as the system photo library, so here we are.

Balance — Like Automattic, a shortcut that let’s me launch all of my finance-related apps.

⌘ Folder — This folder houses all of the other apps I have installed on my iPad.

Files — For managing files, obviously.

Prism — I maintain a music library in Plex and use Prism for playback. It reminds me a lot of the iPod app from the early days of the iPhone.

Unread – The best RSS app, which I have synced with FreshRSS.

Mastodon — It’s missing some features when compared to apps like Metatext, but the official client is rock solid and there’s been steady development since it launched — including the addition of iPad support.

Wallabag — A read it later service that I self-host. This is the web app that I simply saved to my Home Screen from Safari.

Spark — I recently tested just about every email app available on the platform. None of them are perfect, but Spark comes the closest.

Safari — I wish there was a healthier browser market on iOS, but Apple really hinders what third-party developers are able to do. Until they correct the error of their ways, we’re stuck with Safari.

Things — The first to do list app that really clicked for me.

Ulysses — Where I write everything that’s published on Initial Charge.

SimplenoteI’m likely biased, but I appreciate the simple nature of this app for note taking.

Calcbot — You need a calculator app and Calcbot is a great option with a lot of character.

Pocket Casts — It was acquired by my employer last year and I’ve fallen in love with it. It’s so nice to have a well-designed podcast app that also supports video podcasts.

Notes on Email Apps

— April 14, 2022

More on the PSP

— February 28, 2022

Skepticism by Default

— February 21, 2022

PlayStation Portable

— February 14, 2022

On Photo Sharing

— January 28, 2022

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