How to sideload VLC on Fire TV

Many of you may be familiar with the VLC video player from its Windows version, but they also have a version for Android which also works on Fire TV devices. VLC is a great addition to Fire TV for moderate to advanced users, as it allows you to stream videos from internal storage, from Windows Shares over your local network, or from standard video streaming services. I use it mostly to access videos from Windows/Samba shares on my local network. Unlike other solutions like Plex which require additional software to be installed and index your content, VLC can play a video straight over the network share. Just share a folder to the network, and you can play anything in there without any complications.

Why sideload though? Amazon Appstore has the VLC for Fire app already there. You can just click to install and you’re ready to go. Unfortunately the version in the appstore is old, flaky, and rarely updated. At this writing, the Amazon Appstore has version 2.1.11 of VLC, while the latest available is 3.0.5. With the version from the appstore, I was having frequent problems with hangs, crashes, buffering during playback, and problems playing some files. After sideloading the latest version, all of these problems disappeared.

Sideloading is a bit complex, but it’s not too hard. Even if you’ve never sideloaded before, you can go through this step by step and be running the latest VLC in no time.

There are a couple of things to prepare your Fire TV to sideload VLC:

First, you need to turn on the ability to install sideloaded apps. This may sound a bit scary, but all this does is let you install things that didn’t come directly from Amazon. As long as you are careful to install only apps from reputable sources, you should be fine. On your Fire TV, go to Settings at the top right of the home screen, then click on “Device”, then “Developer options”, then look if it says ON or OFF under “Apps from Unknown Sources”. If it says “ON”, you’re already set. If not, press it and then select “Turn On”.

Second, you’ll need to uninstall VLC if it you’ve already installed it from the appstore. If you don’t do this, it will try to upgrade it during sideloading but fail because the application source was different, so you have to uninstall what you have first. Go to “Settings”, then “Applications”, then “Manage Installed Applications”. Scroll down to VLC and if it is there, click on it, then click on “Uninstall”. When it is done, repeat these steps again to confirm that VLC is no longer listed.

Next you have to get the APK which is the application package installer loaded on your Fire TV. If you’ve ever done sideloading on a phone or tablet you probably just hooked it up via USB to your computer and dragged and dropped the file to the device’s storage. You can’t really do things that easily with Fire TV. Fortunately there’s an app for that. Go to the home screen on your Fire TV device. If you have an Alexa enabled Fire TV device, just hold down the microphone button and say “Downloader” or, go to the main screen’s search feature in the upper left and type in “Downloader”. You should see a big orange button called “Downloader”. Click on that and install it.

Now that “Downloader” is installed, go to the home screen and click on and run “Downloader”. If it isn’t on the apps list on the main screen you may need to search for it in your apps list. It will then prompt you to enter the source you want to download and install from. For VLC, you want to enter “get.videolan.org” and then press the “Go” button. This is the official VLC website. Be careful not to get it from any other source. Next scroll down and click on “vlc-android”. On the next screen select the version you want to install. You’ll usually want the latest version.

On the next screen you’ll see a list of APKs for various platforms. Which one should you choose for Fire TV? If you have a 4K Fire TV device, then you probably want the ARMv8.apk package. If you have a 1080p Fire TV device, you want ARMv7.apk. Click on the appropriate version and a few seconds later the download should start. It may take a few seconds or minutes to download depending on your network speed. Once it does it should prompt you to install. Scroll down and click “Install” and a few seconds later it will say “App installed” if it was successful.

If for some reason it says “App not installed” then something went wrong. If you were trying to install the ARMv8.apk package, go back and try the ARMv7.apk package instead. Otherwise go back to the start of this guide and make sure that unknown sources is turned on, and any existing VLC package is uninstalled.

Once it installs successfully you can go back to the home screen and look for it in your list of apps or search your apps for VLC and run it. Then scroll down to the “Other” menu and make sure “About” shows the correct version number. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

One thing to keep in mind is that since you manually installed VLC, it will not be automatically updated by the appstore. You should periodically upgrade to the latest available version if you want to keep up to date. If you upgrade using the same source then you can install it without needing to uninstall the current version.

Mantis living on Renai Circle

On Saturday I posted this pic on my twitpics account:

There’s a bit of a story behind this. For those not familiar with Taipei, Renai Circle at Renai Road and Dunhua South Road is one of the largest roundabout intersections in Taipei (if not the biggest). Emily has a weekly class near there where she plays different games intended to develop problem solving skills. A week prior to this picture being taken, while walking to her class we saw a mantis sitting on a window of a building located on the circle. I didn’t think to take a picture of it at that time. The following week as we were walking to her class I jokingly said to Emily we should look for the mantis again. I didn’t actually think we would actually see him though. But sure enough, there he was, sitting on top of a bush and nibbling away at some leaves. He even turned his head to look at us. So, in the middle of a busy city at a busy intersection, there’s a 4 inch long mantis happily living in a bush.

PowerDVD 8 HD-DVD and MoovieLive Tweak on 64-bit

If you are on a 64-bit OS and having trouble getting the PowerDVD 8 HD-DVD pack and MoovieLive tweak pack to be effective, it is probably because your registry structure is different. Here’s how to fix:

HD-DVD Pack:
Edit HDDVD64.reg and change all instances of “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Cyberlink” to “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Cyberlink” and then run Install64.bat again.

Tweak Pack:
Edit Disable_MoovieLive.reg and do the same changes as for the HD-DVD Pack and then add the file to the registry. DO NOT change “HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Cyberlink”.

Going back to cali…

For those not paying attention to my twitter account, we’re headed to California tomorrow morning. We’ll be visiting Santa Barbara, San Jose, and Anaheim. I’ll be there for two weeks and Maggie and Emily will be there for four weeks. Emily will spend one week at Summer Camp in San Jose and another week of Summer Camp in Santa Barbara. I’ll leave it to your best guess what we will be doing in Anaheim. 😉

I’ve set up a trip schedule wiki so you can see what we’ll be up to. If you are around we would love to get together with you. The wiki is editable so you can pencil in a suggested meetup if you want to do something. Just hit the edit button next to the day and write whatever you want. Please give some idea who it is that is talking though.

Recovering Digital Photos From A Formatted Memory Card

We won’t get into details. Let’s just say that somehow a memory stick in our camera got reformatted.

All the pictures are gone, right? Fortunately the answer is no. Most format processes only put a new filesystem on the memory card. The data for the photos is still there, there’s just no longer any information on where they are.

Fortunately image files are in standard, recognizable formats, so it is possible for a specialized program to search the raw data on the memory card and reconstruct most, if not all of the image files. The image files can then be copied onto your computer as good as new.

Things aren’t completely foolproof though. First and most important is to stop using the memory card immediately as soon as you realize you have mistakenly formatted the card or erased an important image. Since there is no longer any information on where the old pictures are stored, any new pictures taken will overwrite the old, deleted pictures. To be safe, take the memory card out of the camera, switch it to “read-only” if possible, then keep it in a safe place until you can use recovery software on it. If you have kept using the memory card, it’s still worth trying a recovery. You probably would get back less than if you stopped using it immediately though.

Second, in most cases you cannot get back the original filenames or creation dates if the card is formatted. (If on the other hand the file was deleted instead of formatted then you may be able to reconstruct the file names and creation dates too.) However image files usually have some embedded metadata in EXIF format in the file which contains further detail on the images. In my case I am able to see the date information, but the filename information is not there. So at least I will be able to name the files in order by the time the picture was taken.

Third, depending on how fragmented your memory card is, the recovery program may not be able to piece things together exactly, so it is possible you will not be able to get back 100% of your images automatically. Different software will have different results in how accurately they can reconstruct the files.

I tried a few different programs and found I had the most success with PhotoRescue. PhotoRescue comes in three different versions depending on if you need it to run completely automated, or whether you are more of an expert in reconstructing images. The automated method will usually work pretty well but it is not 100%.

I used PhotoRescue Advanced, which is their most sophisticated version, however it is also much more challenging to use. With this version you can get a few percent closer to 100% recovery of your images. When I tried a competing product, it found 530 images on my memory card. However after I looked closer I found that close to a hundred were recovered corrupt, truncated, or otherwise unusable.

In comparison, PhotoRescue Advanced found a more modest 482 images, however all but 8 of those were undamaged. If using an automated reconstruction, this is the extent of how much you could recover. However, using the advanced features of PhotoRescue Advanced, I was able to completely reconstruct all but one of the damaged images manually.

The next problem was that it recovered not only the images that were on the card when it was last formatted but also older images that I had already copied off onto the computer. I was able to use the thumbnails and EXIF date information to sort out the files I already had. At the end of it all I had 411 image files that otherwise would have been gone forever. This all had to be done manually though.

The remaining problem is that the files were recovered in the order they were found which is not exactly the same order as they were taken. As I mentioned previously, this information is stored in the EXIF data, however for 411 images it’s a bit too much to sort through by hand. Instead I will be writing a perl program to read in the EXIF data and sort the files by date and restore the file timestamps as well.

For now though, I at least have the satisfaction of having the 411 pictures back and safe.

UPDATE: Windows XP’s explorer has a column for ‘Date Picture Taken’ which can be added to the view when using ‘details’ view. This can help you sort if you want to do it manually.

UPDATE2: I wrote a quick script to sort and rename from EXIF date. PS: For those of you who don’t watch Law & Order SVU, this also means your naughty pictures are still there after being deleted or formatted.