How to Install a Preview of Ubuntu TV

Ubuntu TV featured videos

At CES, Canonical announced its latest major project that it is calling Ubuntu TV “TV for human beings”. Much of the Ubuntu TV interface will be based on the groundwork that has already been established with the development of Unity, Canonical’s revolutionary, and sometimes polarizing, desktop environment.

In keeping with tradition, Ubuntu TV is free and open source. Therefore, you can install it now, while keeping in mind that it is still under heavy development. If you have the time and wherewithal, you can try installing it from source. If not, there is also a PPA available with binary packages.

PPA Install

Before proceeding, I want to reiterate that this is not a fully-functional version of Ubuntu TV. It is a development build and should be viewed as such. It will, however, give you an idea of how the interface looks and functions on a basic level. This install will essentially take over your Unity 2D install, so if you do not want to risk contamination, you should try using a virtual machine instead.

1. If you have the YouTube video lens for Unity installed, you will need to remove it to avoid conflicts:

sudo apt-get remove lens-video

2 Install Ubuntu TV using the PPA provided by Alin Andrei of WebUpd8:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:nilarimogard/test3
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
sudo apt-get install unity-lens-video

Make sure you do not skip the “dist-upgrade” step, as it will likely not function properly without it.

3. In this step, you will tell Ubuntu TV to generate thumbnails of your current videos. You can safely assume that this task will be automated in later versions. You will need to copy your videos to /home/username/Videos/unity/local/featured before proceeding.

/usr/lib/unity-lens-video/ ~/Videos/

Note: I was not able to get video thumbnails to work correctly. Hopefully, you will have better success.

4. If you are not already logged in to your normal desktop (either Unity or Gnome), do so, and run this command from a terminal:

gsettings set com.canonical.Unity2d form-factor tv

5. Kill off your current desktop features.

If you are running Unity 2D:

killall unity-2d-{panel,places,launcher,spread} && killall unity-2d-{panel,places,launcher,spread}

If you are running Unity 3D or Gnome Shell:

metacity --replace &

6. Start Ubuntu TV:

unity-2d-shell -opengl

Ubuntu TV playing Sintel

You will now notice that Ubuntu TV has taken over your entire screen. When you are finished with it, you can end it by Alt-Tabbing back to your terminal and then pressing Ctrl+C. To get your desktop back, type:

unity --replace


gnome-shell --replace

Once you are finished getting a taste of Ubuntu TV, run the following commands to get rid of it and get Unity 2D back:

sudo apt-get install ppa-purge
sudo ppa-purge ppa:nilarimogard/test3
sudo apt-get remove unity-lens-video

What Works

From my test of Ubuntu TV, video playback seems to work with multiple codecs (probably any codecs currently installed on my system). It has a very nice pause, skip, and browse feature built into the video player. When you select a video to watch, it will give you the option to view trailer, rent, or buy. Only the “view trailer” button will work for your current videos.

Ubuntu TV skipping through Sintel

The search feature works as expected and was fast on my aging laptop.

The TV function shows a generic UK broadcast schedule that appears to be just for show. As far as I know, there are no specifics on how the TV integration will work.

Ubuntu TV broadcast TV schedule

The YouTube feature did not work at all on my installation, so it is something that will probably come later. Because Ubuntu TV is extensible, the potential for other “apps” to be added is pretty much limitless.

If you want to compile Ubuntu TV from source, you can find instructions on the Ubuntu Wiki. It does not look terribly complicated and should be easy for intermediate users familiar with compiling programs. For more information about Ubuntu TV in general, see the Ubuntu TV website.

Tavis J. Hampton

Tavis J. Hampton is a freelance writer from Indianapolis. He is an avid user of free and open source software and strongly believes that software and knowledge should be free and accessible to all people. He enjoys reading, writing, teaching, spending time with his family, and playing with gadgets.

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