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Ask Slashdot: How Can I Build a Private TV Channel For My Kids? 163

Long-time Slashdot reader ljw1004 writes: I want to assemble my OneDrive-hosted mp4s into a "TV channel" for my kids -- so at 7am while I sleep in, they know they can turn the TV on, it will show Mr Rogers then Sesame Street then grandparents' story-time, then two hand-picked cartoons, and nothing for the rest of the day. How would you do this? With Chromecast and write a JS Chrome plugin to drive it? Write an app for FireTV? Is there any existing OSS software for either the scheduling side (done by parents) or the TV-receiver side? How would you lock down the TV beyond just hiding the remote?
"There are good worthwhile things for them to see," adds the original submission, "but they're too young to be given the autonomy to pick them, and I can do better than Nickeloden or CBBC or Amazon Freetime Unlimited."

Slashdot reader Rick Schumann suggested putting the video files on an external hard drive (or burning them to a DVD), while apraetor points out many TVs now play files from flash drives -- and also suggests a private Roku channel. But what's the best way to build a private TV channel for kids?

Leave your best answers in the comments.
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Ask Slashdot: How Can I Build a Private TV Channel For My Kids?

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  • by jwhyche ( 6192 ) on Monday January 29, 2018 @07:40AM (#56025609) Homepage

    Well I would start with a system like Plex and build a custom play list for them. I just say use plex because that is what I use but there are any number of plex like systems that would accomplish the play list part.

    I"m not sure how you would do the timing.

    • Plex would also be my route for something like this.Quick cronjob with a playlist pointing at the streaming endpoint.

    • by jdavidb ( 449077 ) on Monday January 29, 2018 @09:10AM (#56026071) Homepage Journal
      I'm a father of 8 and have gotten a lot of good use out of Plex. I also use VLC with playlists a lot.
    • There's two other advantages to this - you can create a profile for your kids so they can only see the videos and movies you choose. The other is that there is a browser bookmarklet for sending video URLs to Plex's "Watch Later" queue so you can review Youtube vids and send the approved ones to your kids Watch Later queue. (https://support.plex.tv/articles/200392326-using-the-plex-it-bookmarklet/) I use this all the time and it works great with a number of video services, not just YouTube.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Monday January 29, 2018 @07:45AM (#56025625) Journal
    The unfair and unconstitutional infringement of infant's right to information will be strongly opposed by the Alliance of American Advertisers Astroturf Organization.
  • Kodi + PseudoTV Live (Score:5, Informative)

    by StormPooperSmith ( 1165643 ) on Monday January 29, 2018 @07:46AM (#56025629) Homepage
    I'd recommend Kodi [kodi.tv] with the PsuedoTV Live [github.com] plugin, which lets you set up channels from your library with various rule sets to determine what is shown and when.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'd recommend Kodi [kodi.tv] with the PsuedoTV Live [github.com] plugin, which lets you set up channels from your library with various rule sets to determine what is shown and when.

      Exactly what I thought of as reading. PsuedoTVLive is pretty much exactly what he is describing.

      I'll just recommend an OpenELEC box (I prefer on ODROID C2) for the KODI platform.

      • Thanks for that info.

        I haven't had any kind of TV service (not counting a useless basic cable package that came with my Internet access I didn't even use) in ten years.

        I'm fine with this but it seems to completely blow my visiting relatives/inlaws minds. I may set this up just to make them more comfortable while they're visiting. My Kodi system is plenty full of movies. I may have to get more TV.....

    • by plloi ( 1055946 )
      Actually found something useful on slashdot... thanks for this.
  • by zabbey ( 985424 ) on Monday January 29, 2018 @07:46AM (#56025631)
    I did something similar with a Raspberry Pi, a simple BASH script, and OMXPlayer. I loaded tons of old 80's Christmas shows/movies on a USB thumb drive and plugged it into an old 13" crt television. The Pi played all my shows 24 hours a day during the xmas season. Whenever I turned the TV on, I could enjoy an old classic. I did have to reboot the Pi once a day but other than that it works perfectly as a homemade tv station.
  • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Monday January 29, 2018 @07:49AM (#56025645)

    I got a media center, put all the acceptable / 'parent-approved' stuff in a network share, and then gave the media center the credentials for that share - and NOT the shares with the more adult stuff on them.

    It didn't take long for them to figure out how to turn on the box, navigate to their share, and select a file. Kids aren't dumb, they're ignorant... and they have nothing else to do but learn so they're pretty good at it if you give them even half a chance (and don't just do it for them when they whine).

  • Put the stuff on a USB stick and stick in in your TV.

    • by JBMcB ( 73720 )

      I think that, maybe, the OP wants to stream a playlist *once* then stop. My kids would watch their favorite shows over and over again. So the playlist needs a tiny bit of intelligence.

      Only way I can think to do this, without hacking up a custom Plex plugin, would be setting up a time limit. Maybe a tinydlna server brought up by a cron job, then another job that kills it after two hours or so?

      • Buffalo LinkStations are pretty inexpensive, offer DLNA/Samba/AFP and are configured with a cron job for putting it to sleep as well as auto-sleep. It can be awakened again by pushing a button the chassis though, so don't ever reveal that feature, or put the device on your LAN but in a physically inaccessible location.

  • Make a media center PC with XBMC installed on it, load the shows and movies up on there.
  • No (Score:5, Funny)

    by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Monday January 29, 2018 @07:58AM (#56025683) Homepage

    Mr Rogers then Sesame Street then grandparents' story-time, then two hand-picked cartoons

    I will not be complicit to this child abuse.

  • Sounds cool (Score:5, Funny)

    by Trailer Trash ( 60756 ) on Monday January 29, 2018 @08:15AM (#56025767) Homepage

    How much would a 30 second spot right after Mr. Rogers cost me?

  • by fluffernutter ( 1411889 ) on Monday January 29, 2018 @08:16AM (#56025773)
    Why do the shows have to play in order? That was something we put up with when we were kids because we had no choice. Dump a bunch of kids shows in a folder, put it in a Kodi library and let your kids explore on their own.
    • For one thing, it imposes a schedule. You don't have to be worried about the kids waking you up at 7:02 if they'd be missing a favorite show. It also imposes a limit on how long they want to watfch TV without making it an arbitrary (or obvious) rule. For another, studies have show that for educational television, binging a show results in less education.

      Also, it will let the parents know enough about what their kid watched on any given day to be prepared. "Oh, they watched the Sesame Street about rainbo

      • I don't see how this makes a difference to anything you said. If you want them to watch two shows, allow them enough time to watch two shows and the time you want and then tell them to stop. Allowing them a certain allowance of watching and having them decide how to fill that time is far more valuable than the show will actually teach them. Educational shows really aren't, they're entertainment. I don't really understand what you say about studying for a show before hand, since if your child has a ques
  • Bad parent! (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by null etc. ( 524767 )

    Ask any /. member who's not a parent - they'll tell you that what you're doing is BAD parenting!

    You need to be watching every second of every minute of what your kids are doing. What if one of the kids uses the remote to change the channel? You need to make a custom remote for them that only has one button. What if your kids have a question about something they're watching, or oh my gosh, what if they misunderstand something or misinterpret something? You have to be right there, hovering over their shou

    • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Monday January 29, 2018 @08:41AM (#56025891)

      The best part is that - thanks to the information age - there are a lot of parents who believe that, too. I've no idea how they do it, I simply can't watch my kids constantly.

      Anyway, it ultimately leads to full-grown people who can't function without mom and dad holding their hand. As a parent, that's not the kind of result you should be looking for.

  • BBC Cbeebies (Score:5, Informative)

    by coofercat ( 719737 ) on Monday January 29, 2018 @08:31AM (#56025847) Homepage Journal

    I've gotta say, the BBC have done this for me/us. Cbeebies is great for kids from about 2 until about 8-9-10 or so. The iPlayer Kids app is also an excellent idea - basically, you can load that up on an tablet and let them loose on making their own choices, sharing with siblings and whatnot and know that 100% they won't see any adverts for shit toys you don't want to have to buy or even have to deal with explaining to your kids, and they also won't see anything other than fairly reasonable content with some semblance of education thrown in.

    I realise we shouldn't leave kids unattended with a tablet or a TV (which we don't), but even the likes of YouTube, TinyPop, NicJR, and even Netflix etc can't get close to what the BBC offers (mostly because those sources are heavily Americanised, so have 'wrong' accents and words for stuff, or just have really low-quality content).

    As for what you can do yourself, getting the content is of course the hard part. Playing content directly on a tablet, or via a Kodi media client on a TV or whatever is pretty easy (again, it means your kids can choose what they want to watch, within your 'walled garden'). Getting enough variety and keeping up with whatever-the-other-kids-at-school are watching is the hard part - and trying to integrate streaming services into one usable entity is just futile.

  • Best thing my father ever did was sell the TV set, back in the 80s. Forced us kids to go and make our own entertainment, and I think I had a much more enjoyable youth as a result.

    • by Guyle ( 79593 )
      If he wanted advice on how to raise his kids, he'd have posted on a parenting forum. This is a technical site, with a technical question. Maybe focus on that?
    • killing TV entirely deprives your kid of a shared experience with their peers. Kids do 'water cooler' talk same as adults do, they just do it on the playground instead. Shared experiences are a big part of how people socialize. I'm not saying they should share 8 hours of TV a day but don't throw it out entirely.
    • by ljw1004 ( 764174 )

      Best thing my father ever did was sell the TV set, back in the 80s. Forced us kids to go and make our own entertainment, and I think I had a much more enjoyable youth as a result.

      Submitter here. Indeed we don't have a TV - only an iPad. I mostly sympathize with you. But I think there's good educational content to Mr Rogers and Sesame Street that I don't want to keep them from. I also think that a media-free child today would struggle to relate in the playground.

      Also what I see is that with my three kids (aged 2, 2, 4), they get into battles about who holds the iPad. They're too young to resolve this themselves. Also the youngest are at an age where they still need parents to help ma

    • That worked when kids could go outside and find something to do, but now if you let them outside without an adult CPS will take them.
    • Best thing my father ever did was sell the TV set, back in the 80s. Forced us kids to go and make our own entertainment, and I think I had a much more enjoyable youth as a result.

      We had a TV when I was growing up in the 70's - and we went outside and made our own entertainment. TV isn't the problem.

    • I remember the day I was trying to get my kids attention while they were glued to the set. After 2 or three tries, I grabbed a pair of pruning shears and clipped the cable. My kids became avid readers. Having a library two blocks away helped.
  • I am using app.beyourkid.com to make my own video collection. Then by downloading the BeYourKid app I am sure that my kid will only see videos from that collection without receiving any weird recommendations by YouTube. It’s pretty fun because I can also find new and safe content in the ‘Safe Lists’ tab, or search for my YouTube favorites and add them in personal collection!
  • If the answer is yes you should be able to do a one liner bash script that plays the files in sequence fullscreen in a video player.

    Actually come to think of it you could make a .m3u playlist and then load it into VLC.

    The problem is, kids being kids, assuming they're smart enough they'll inevitably work out some way to turn the TV back onto broadcast and watch Bill Nye and the like.

    Thus any sufficiently smart kids must also fall prey to the degeneracy of modern pop culture.

    Another aphorism occured to me. Th

  • Not have the TV as a babysitter. They just got up, no matter what time they went to bed. I could play with my lego or train or stay in bed if it was much earlier.
    Wake up was 07:00 and before that you sleep.

    The TV should not be seen as a babysitter.

  • Record a tape of those shows, and pop it in. Then all your kids have to do is hit "play". Sometimes old tech is better.
  • Pretty much any NAS has a media server now days, and pretty much every TV has some sort of player app. If not, a Roku stick is dirt cheap and works well. This one is easy, and there's so many options to make it, technically. The question, of course, comes down to ridiculous draconian licensing making it "illegal" to do so.
  • by techdolphin ( 1263510 ) on Monday January 29, 2018 @09:27AM (#56026173)
    Or you could just leave some good books for them. (There is one in every crowd, and today, I am the one.)
    • by ljw1004 ( 764174 )

      Or you could just leave some good books for them. (There is one in every crowd, and today, I am the one.)

      Submitter here. We have loads of good books. My kids (aged 2, 2, and 4) will happily sit engrossed in their favorite story books for up to 30 minutes, despite not being able to read a word. They recite many of them by heart. But the youngest aren't yet able to be left unsupervised with soft-page books because they rip the pages, and hard-page books are too immature for them at this stage.

      • by jwhyche ( 6192 )

        Hi submitter, first poster here. I'm going to chime in on this one. Audio books. I listen to al of audio books on the way to work. I would drop my kids off at school and we would listen to audio books on the way there and sometimes at home at night. This started when they where in kindergarten.

  • by ausekilis ( 1513635 ) on Monday January 29, 2018 @09:31AM (#56026215)

    Netflix has a kids section, as does Hulu. Amazon has pretty solid selection by age group too. At least on FireTV - you can lock most things down with pin access. I've got a 5 and 7 year old that can turn on the TV themselves and watch assorted kid stuff. The trick is they know they need to ask first, and that we as parents are in control of the TV. We say when it needs to be turned off. It's perfect for when we need an extra hour or so in the morning, or as we get ready and the kids have woken up a bit too early.

    It's certainly not perfect since our kids can somehow find the most god awful shows in the mix. It's not that they are age inappropriate, they just kill braincells for any adult in a 10 mile radius.

    • I'm following this with interest. Right now the 5yo can't even turn on the TV because it's controlled from a remote switch hung where he can't reach it, but the prospect of sleeping past 6.30/7am on weekends is most intriguing.

      If you're using a Roku, there's no way to stop them switching profiles to watch whatever they want. Or channels.

      Also, Amazon/Netflix's definition of things categorized as "suitable for children" is drastically different from mine. Some are too scary, others too violent, and some ju

  • You should be able to fully control the device via the hotel interface system available on many TVs. You can brute-force the same thing with an IR Blaster covering the IR receiver on the TV. A little bit of scripting on a Raspberry Pi to glue it all together and you are done.

  • How about a VLC Playlist, a cron job to start VLC, and an Amazon "RCA Compact RF Modulator" http://amzn.to/2FnqowT [amzn.to] (Amazon Link) to pipe the output from composite to Coax.

    Long live channel 3!

  • I think the OP didn't highlight and bold and triple-underline the most important part of the design -- the not showing anything more. He's looking for a solution that turns off after use.

    I'm weary of media servers and the like, only because they are designed for unfettered access. Similarly, while the easiest solution is the usb stick in the modern tvision, there's no way to stop them from watching repeatedly.

    What about something much much simpler.

    Any old computer. No keyboard. Run a script at startup (

    • >I think the OP didn't highlight and bold and triple-underline the most important part of the design -- the not showing anything more. He's looking for a solution that turns off after use.

      I know I overlooked it before I responded. I like the idea of a home 'television channel' for kids. Maybe something that plays random files from folders that are chosen by schedule..

      And you know what else? I'd love it to detect good points to insert homebrew ads (based on how much time has passed and finding a scene

    • Avoiding the whole quagmire whether or not he SHOULD do this; but rather address technical feasibility of if he wanted to I think all of the suggestions above, about media servers etc. are all over thinking it.

      If the media files are already hosted online, why go through all of the trouble of cron jobs, or other messy solutions when this was already solved some time ago with the advent of m3u files: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      Fire up vi, emacs (insert your text editor of choice) and curate your l

  • by mark-t ( 151149 ) <markt.nerdflat@com> on Monday January 29, 2018 @09:59AM (#56026413) Journal

    If this is an issue at all, a parent is well advised to cancel their cable subscription entirely.

    If an adult can't go on living without the television shows they want to watch, then why on earth should they expect their kids to?

    • by tepples ( 727027 )

      If this is an issue at all, a parent is well advised to cancel their cable subscription entirely.

      And then use what for Internet? Some cable ISPs offer only the slowest peak speeds and the lowest monthly caps to subscribers who do not bundle TV.

      • by mark-t ( 151149 )
        Nobody said being a parent was supposed be fun, easy, or convenient.
  • Buy one and get a hard drive. Then grab Noobs or BerryBoot and unpack it onto the SD card. When you turn it in, you will have a lot of operating system install options. Pick OpenELEC. This will basically to the Raspberry Pi into a Kodi box. With the hard drive, you can just add episodes as needed. No reason to pay and risk privacy for PBS shows. Matter of fact, I'm pretty show Kodi has a few PBS addons. Free and open source is the way to go. It also should have parental controls in the settings or password
  • You could give them an analogue TV set and use an RF modulator to broadcast a single channel on VHF. Then, in another room you could use a Raspberry PI with the composite out, or even a cheap DTV receiver with the ability to play the files in the usb drive in a loop. Retrocasting with a Raspberry PI [oiepoie.nl]
  • ... babysitter.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As a single parent father, my 12 year old doesn't even want to watch TV. She is in two bands, one choir and is currently in my practice Forex account.

    In a couple years I might consider handing over the keys to daytime trading whilst I semi-retire and take over the EMEA market hours.

    If your child isn't earning you a million a year, you've done something wrong.

  • Assuming you have a DVR, you can record on it some shows for the kids to watch, then unplug the cable input before you go to bed. When the kids wake up they will only have access to what is already on the DVR. When you wake up, plug in the cable and you're good to go. The downside is that nothing you have scheduled will record overnight. But it would work and costs nothing.
  • The Flixtape feature will let you build a "playlist" of up to six titles. Even include "cover art" for the list. It's not automated, you'll have to build the list yourself first... but at least it would play through up to six episodes of whatever you want in the right order. I like the idea of a virtual channel too. Pick the shows I want, in the order I want... each day they just "advance" by one episode per show.
  • I have Kodi installed on my PC in my room... (Windows 10) Hooked up to my TV (HDMI), with this I run a UPNP server through Kodi - (Kodi has the capability built in) - UPNP allows for computers using Kodi (or other UPNP players) that are hooked up online through the same network... to share audio and video media. Then in the kids room I hook up the computer to the TV and run Kodi. then from there I can control what I want in the library the children can view. In my room I have movies and shows they cannot
  • You seem to have forgotten to schedule ads for Unhappy meals etc.

    • forgotten to schedule ads for Unhappy meals etc.

      That's what'll get the OP McSWATed and dragged off to McJail to become a McBitch. The very idea of not ramming profit-making adverts into the childs eyes from the womb is so un-American that probably it would be best to exterminate the family back to the biblically approved seventh generation. How is the programme of installing advertising screens into wombs going? I heard they got the dates of eye and visual cortex development figured out, so we know when to

  • Install a media tank with what you want on it and password lock out the cable box. Job Done!

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