In Part 1, we reviewed the who, why, and how of preparing good quality video for your event booth. Now we’ll take that video file and make it play on a low-cost device such as an Amazon Fire TV Stick.
Here are the steps we’ll follow:
- Get your content ready, optimizing file size/quality
- Fire up the TV stick
- Install apps
- Prepare for content download using a local web-server
- Download video to the stick
- Check the videos play in a loop
- Stop the local web-server
- Play video at the event
OK, that seems a lot – it will probably take you at least a couple of hours elapsed time, but it doesn’t need your total attention while doing updates, for example. Let’s dive in!
1. Get your content ready
In Part 1, we mentioned the tool MediaInfo, for checking video file formats in detail. Here’s what it says about our original file:
It’s a broadcast-quality file with a high bit rate of 43 Mbps. It’s over 350 megabytes for just over a minute duration. Apart from using lots of space, it will take a while to transfer to the stick – a pain if you’re stuck in the creative review/edit process.
Let’s recode that using the free command-line tool FFmpeg, to have smaller file size, yet good quality:
ffmpeg -i "Sparkpost-GDPR-original.mp4" -c:v libx264 -c:a copy -preset slow gdpr.mp4
Parameters here specify the input file, the video codec (libx264), the audio codec (copy-through). The “slow” preset is a shorthand way to say “give me the best compression”, and finally the output file. You can see the difference in input and output file size here:
-rw-------@ 1 stuck staff 355M 6 Aug 2018 Sparkpost-GDPR-original.mp4
-rw-r--r-- 1 stuck staff 17M 15 Feb 12:05 gdpr.mp4
I saw no obvious quality difference between the original and the re-coded file, and it plays perfectly on QuickTime and VLC. MediaInfo shows it as:
2. Fire up the TV stick
Firstly, follow the instructions to get your stick connected to wifi. I suggest using a guest network rather than your personal or corporate wifi, for security reasons. That way your main wifi access point (SSID) and your password never needs to go on the stick. There’s no need to “save wifi passwords to Amazon” when you’re asked this.
Register with an Amazon account. Leave plenty of time for this, as the stick will probably download and install updates first. You can create a specific new Amazon account just for this task, or use an existing one.
After going through the built-in intro videos and skipping the usual streaming apps, you get to the home screen. You don’t need a Prime account for this project.
Using local storage on the stick
The Fire stick, in a domestic situation, is usually connected to stable wifi, streaming content from commercial services such as Prime Video, Netflix, or YouTube. Here, we are not going to rely on wifi or streaming to play the videos, We will only need wifi to download content to internal storage.
We’ll use an app that can download content to internal storage, and an app that can play content from it.
3. Install apps
Get VLC app
Go to the Home screen, select the Search icon. You might have to press “left” to get it to appear. Search for, and install the video player app VLC.
Get AFTV Downloader app
Older sticks have an SD card slot, which you can use to transfer content; the newer ones have internal Flash storage but no way to access it physically. Mine has around 4.5GB of internal storage, which is enough for a lot of video.
Follow these instructions to get the AFTV Downloader app. This will enable you to download files from a URL you enter using the remote.
4. Prepare for content download using local web-server
I’ve tried the usual file-sharing methods, however, the simple browser on the downloader app doesn’t make it easy to enter the needed long URLs, usernames and passwords.
There is a pretty simple solution to this: use your own local web-server, with a nice short URL and no usernames/passwords. If you already have a public server, then just drop your video file on there, enter your URL and download. The risk, of course, is that anyone (including web crawlers) could potentially find your file. You may not care – after all, the video is about to be seen by everyone at your event – but at least you know.
The simplest and most secure way is to run your own web-server locally. While this used to be a geek thing, it’s now simple. I recommend using a package such as MAMP (free version), available for both Windows and Mac OS X. If you run Linux, you probably know how to set up a web-server already!
MAMP is easy to install and configure. It supports PHP and MySQL, but here we will just use it to serve static files. You go to Preferences and select the specific folder to serve your files from. I recommend using a separate folder with nothing else in, as you are exposing the contents of that folder to anyone on your network.
As an additional safeguard, I connect my computer and the Fire TV stick only to my phone’s wifi hotspot at this point. This is protected with a password. The hotspot also gives my machine an IP address from a specific range.
As an additional check, my phone tells me exactly how many devices are connected, and I can shut down the hotspot as soon as we’re finished downloading. This doesn’t even use your phone’s data allowance, because the traffic is local.
Put your finished video file into the selected folder. Check your machine’s IP address, and open your browser at this address + the port number MAMP is using (the default is 8888). You should see something like this:If you click on the file, the video will play in your browser. Congratulations! You’re nearly there.
5. Download video to the stick
Ensure your Fire TV stick is on the same wifi network as your computer. Open the Downloader app and type in the same URL of your computer’s MAMP server, using the remote control, for example:
Download your file:
When it’s downloaded, you can choose “open” and VLC will play the video.
You can set a single video to repeat via the menus:
Next time, you can just open the VLC app, choose the file, and play. If there’s no obvious thumbnail of your video shown, you can find files in the “Downloader” folder, under “Internal Memory”.
6. Stop the local web-server
Now you can ramp down your MAMP by selecting “Stop Servers”.
You could leave your stick still able to access your phone personal hotspot in case you need to adjust things at the event, but this is not strictly necessary – you could remove wifi credentials from the stick to be sure. As an extra precaution, shut down your phone’s personal hotspot. You’re now ready for your event.
7. Play video at the event
On startup, the stick may nag you to connect to wifi. You can simply ignore this, but it becomes a nuisance trying to get to the home screen. If your stick still has your hotspot credentials, you can briefly enable your phone hotspot to get the message to go away; but there is another, better way. Just go to Settings / Applications / Manage Installed Applications / VLC / Launch Application. This works when you have no wifi connection.
Choose your video file, play, and set the repeat options.
Multiple videos in a loop
If you have multiple videos and want to play them in a loop sequence, go to the Video folder, press Play, and you’ll get a “Play All” option. Set the Repeat option but without the “1” in the middle:
You should see each video play in sequence.
It’s a wrap!
We’ve gone through a lot of steps here, so let’s summarise what we did, from start to finish:
• Get your content ready, optimizing file size/quality
• Fire up the TV stick
• Install apps
• Prepare for content download using a local web-server
• Download video to the stick
• Check the videos play in a loop
• Stop the local web-server
• Play video at the event
That’s it for now! Happy eventing.