Softer! development has been stopped at version 0.4 .

Last Softer! published version: 0.4


Softer! Manual (version beta4)
This manual purposes is to accompany user to the use and configuration of Softer!.

  1. Introduction (what is"Softer!"?)
  2. System requirements, hardware and software
  3. First installation
      
    Configuration: external applications
       Configuration: Softer!
  4. Using Softer!
1. Introduction (what is "Softer!"?)

Short answer
Softer! is a small application that allows ProgDVB and budget DVB boards to finally have OSD impressed over the video, with name (and logo) of the channel, titles of transmission currently in progress and the next one, and a bunch of other informations, even if you're using video board overlay, so without VMR, VMR9 or ProgDVB renderer use.
Moreover Softer! doesn't "read" TV schedule informations from satellites, but from a single XMLTV file: you've just to download it (or update it with Softer! web parser) once a week; in this way you can have schedules even of channels that usually don't transmit EPG, and/or to use tables with complete TV programming, currently running or future.
Softer! introduces itself with an interface studied and conceived for the use in a "Home Theatre PC" system, with large fonts, to watch TV programs (eventually) on a TV connected to the PC and through use of remote control.

Long answer

Softer! is an application conceived to place side by side ProgDVB, probably the most diffused and known program for the visualization of digital TV (via satellite or terrestrial) on PCs.

It tries to exceed two limits: the first one is the impossibility by ProgDVB to visualize TV informations through OSD with "budget" DVB cards, (for example the Technisat SkyStar2 (the one I own): they don't have any MPEG-2 decoder on board, therefore they cannot manage impressions over video. ProgDVB satisfies this limit demanding, in order to enable OSD, to use a modality of rendering like VMR or VMR9 (in place of the overlay of the video card), ma but this often involves elevated CPU charge, some problem and/or minor quality of reproduction. Softer! it is instead based on the simplest of ways: it appears like a normal window, overlapped to the video (and without Windows-like border), therefore it works also with overlay (Default renderer), even if, for obvious reasons, it cannot have effects like transparency on the video.

In addiction, Softer! is not based (as all the other, also "alternate", OSD for DVB) on the programmations that come transmitted, channel by channel, via satellite; it uses a single file as data source, with the whole week programmation (therefore you've to update it every 7 days) and that you can download via Internet (with Softer! automatic web parser) or via satellite, with external free applications. It's in XMLTV format already in use by several TV-guide applications. So users don't depend anymore by the choice (by single channels) to trasmit or not instant programmation via satellite and also offers the function to browse future transmissions (in fact, in the overwhelming majority of the cases, TV channels transmits only EPG of the single program in progress and the one that follows immediately after).
Softer! allows also piloting ProgDVB and programming future recordings with a comfortable table interface: it's sufficient doing a visual selection of the program(s) you want to record and Softer! will set up the PC to launch ProgDVB at the right moment and to record it.
Another totally new function is the possibility to set up a margin of "security" (the "RecLag") of a custom number of minutes, to make start recording before and to make it finish it after, in the case of transmission begins in advance and/or if it ends in later.

2. System requirements, hardware and software

Hardware requirements

  • Whatever PC with some hundred of Mhz of power it's ok (Softer! can work also on old PCs, but ProgDVB or any other TV-viewing programs require a recent PC;
  • Obviously, a card for the reception of digital TV (DVB-S or DVB-T) and an antenna to connect it. I use a Technisat Skystar2 , it's cost is a little more than 65 USD;
  • A remote control is strongly raccomended (whichever control... also the one of your old broken TV!) and a small interface to connect to the COM port of your PC, to receive signals of the remote control. The interface is realizable with no more of 10 USD in electronic components, or it can be bought ready to use. In this last case I suggest asking Paolo Sancono, the author of ideegeniali.altervista.org, the website that publish also the clear and useful guide for the self-construction of the interface (I learned how to make it with his guide!): He sells ready interfaces at honest prices (about 15 Euro).
  • If you don't have a remote control, from version 0.1.491 I added a keyboard shortcut (ALT+A) that allows to show/hide Softer! window when you want, and so to use PC keyboard to send commands to Softer!. In the last part of this guide ("Using Softer!") you can discover the keyboard correspondent for every function of Softer!.

Software requirements

  • Microsoft Windows© :-)
  • Softer! is devised in order to pilot and to work with ProgDVB, MyTheatre or RitzDVB (the first is free and downloadable from the official web site of the application, the 2nd is not free, anyway you can download a version of MyTheatre with limited features, the 3rd is free: you can download it from the official web site). Therefore, it requires one of these applications installed on the PC.
  • Girder, a (shareware) application for the management of remote controls, is indispensable: it can be downloaded from the official site. In alternative, it's possible to use some similar program (you can find a lot of them, one of the more famous is UICE). I supply the already configurated group for Girder in the downloadable installation of Softer!.
3. First intallation

Get last version of "Softer!" from the download area of this site; decompress the ZIP archive to a folder of your choice (eg: on your desktop).

I't's presupposed that:

  1. ProgDVB or MyTheatre are already correctly installed in your PC;
  2. Also Girder must be installed, configured and working in the PC;

Configuration: external applications

- PROGDVB
(if you want to use MyTheatre or RitzDVB, skip this point)
Created a new "Favorite" channel list with... your preferred TV channels, in the order that like (you can do it easy with copy/past and then with drag'n'drop). Assign a number for every channel in channel's "Property" windows, for example:

BBC World (1)
CNN (2)
CNBC (3)
Fox TV (4)
and so on...

Open keyboard shortcut configuration window ("Settings" menu -> "Controls") and assign:
- Fullscreen mode switch: TAB key
- Escape from fullscreen mode: ESC key
- Exit: X

If you want to use Softer! to record (manually or with record scheduling), go to the folder where you want to save your recordings with "My Computer" (this folder can be on whatever hard drive, partition, etc... we'll configure Softer! to know where this folder is) and create a subfolder named "softer_rectemp".
Then open the ProgDVB record option window ("Service" menu -> "Record options") and set the folder you've just created as the record folder (eg: C:\documents\recordings\softer_rectemp). Recordings in progress will be saved here, and when a record is ended, Softer! will move it in the parent directory.

Now open a random channel from your Favorite list and close ProgDVB.

- MYTHEATRE (if you want to use ProgDVB or RitzDVB, skip this point)
MyTheatre users have to download an addon: SendToGirder_plugin.zip: this is a plugin, developed by Chixfuler that "grabs" the opened channel in MyTheatre (and some other data) when it changes (in fact, getting this information from the outside the is not so easy as in ProgDVB).
Originally, as you can see by its name, this is released to send data to Girder, but we'll use it to send data to Softer! with the little addon "event.exe", that you can find in the archive.
Open MyTheatre main folder and put in qtintf70.dll and event.exe. Then open "plugins" subfolder and put in SendToGirder312.dll and SendToGirder312.ini. Edit this last file inserting after"GirderPath=" the installation path of your MyTheatre folder (don't worry even if it's "GirderPath" and not "MyTheatrePath" ;-).

Open MyTheatre and its settings (CTRL+ALT+S); open "EPG" sheet and remove checks from: "Use DVBcore parser", "Serve only favorites", "External EPG grabber", "Delete events" and "Compact upon exiting".
Set a favorite channel list with your personal channels (it's better if you delete every other favorite channel list) and assign a progressive number to every channel (right mouse button on every channel -> properties -> Channel number).

If you want to use Softer! to record (manually or with record scheduling), go to the folder where you want to save your recordings with "My Computer" (this folder can be on whatever hard drive, partition, etc... we'll configure Softer! to know where this folder is) and create a subfolder named "softer_rectemp".
Then open the MyTheatre record option window (CTRL+ALT+S-> "Recording") and set the folder you've just created as the record folder (eg: C:\documents\recordings\softer_rectemp). Recordings in progress will be saved here, and when a record is ended, Softer! will move it in the parent directory. "Name format" must be set to the default: yymmdd_hhnnss [channel] [event]

Now close MyTheatre.
Rename "epg.mdb" file in MyTheatre folder with an another name (eg: "epg.mytheatre"): this is because we will replace it with epg.mdb of Softer!.

- RITZDVB (if you want to use ProgDVB or MyTheatre, skip this point)
MyTheatre users have to move files in "RitzDVBplugin" folder of Softer! to the "plugin" folder of RitzDVB: this is a plugin, directly developed by Herby, the author of RitzDVB (thank you!!!) that "grabs" the opened channel in RitzDVB when it changes (in fact, getting this information from the outside the is not so easy as in ProgDVB).
Open RitzDVB PLUGIN folder and put in the three files that you found in those folder. Edit SofterCmd.ini file inserting the installation path of your RitzDVB folder (that must contain also Softer.exe and the other files of Softer!).

Create, if you don't have it, a channel list in RitzDVB with your favorite channels, and assign a number to every channel ("Channellist" menu -> "Channel editor").
If you want to use Softer! to record (manually or with record scheduling), go to the folder where you want to save your recordings with "My Computer" (this folder can be on whatever hard drive, partition, etc... we'll configure Softer! to know where this folder is) and create a subfolder named "softer_rectemp".

Open RitzDVB options ("Hardware" menu -> "Options") and set the folder you've just created as the record folder (eg: C:\documents\recordings\softer_rectemp). Recordings in progress will be saved here, and when a record is ended, Softer! will move it in the parent directory.
If you want RitzDVB to start in fullscreen mode, go to "options" and select "TV fullscreen".
RitzDVB has an internal OSD that you can't deactivate, that is shown when channel is changed; maybe you want to make it less visible (eg: move it in a very low position, and/or resize it to a smaller size).

- GIRDER
Import a new group ("File"->"Import group") and choose the Softer.GML file (included in the installation of Softer!, you'll find it in the folder where you decompressed it before). This will create a new group in your Girder, with the keys already configured for you in order to pilot Softer! and ProgDVB.
Now you have only to associate the keys of your remote control to the imported functions (just select the various "Eventstring" that are for every command, click on "Learn event" and press the key of your choice on your remote control, so you'll replace your code with mine :-D).

Please note that subgroups "Start" and "Exit" presuppose that Girder plugin "XP OSD" is installed (this is a really nice OSD that I chose to have an "immediate answer" when pressing key on remote control, since ProgDVB employs a little time to start and to close, and without having an immediate reply... you could though that you didn't correctly pressed the button). You can download XP OSD from this page.

Configuration: Softer!

Move every other file from the archive you've decompressed into your DVB app main folder; you've to move also "loghi", "softer_lang" and "softer_epg" folders (this is empty... and this is normal, don't worry :)

Inside of the "loghi" folder you can already find some GIF file, with logos of some Italian channel. If you want to use them in Softer! (they will appear contextually to the change of channel) and if you want to add any others for the channels that you have inserted in your favorite list, you can download them from the SatLogo.com web site... they have channel's logos from all the World :)

Open the configuration utility SofterConfig.exe, that must be present in your DVB app's folder (because you moved it before, together with the other files).

- Choose your preferred language, for the configurator and for the final interface;
- Select the DVB application you want to use with Softer!;
- Select your ProgDVB.exe or (for MyTheatre MTStart.exe, or for RitzDVB RitzDVB.exe) path;
- If you want to use Softer! to record, set the path of your record folder in the right field (the same you set before);
- Save your settings.

Channel identification mode (only RitzDVB users)
If you use Softer! with RitzDVB, you've to choose the channel ident modality: throught name (caption) of the channel, or throught its SID and NID codes.
Herby's plugin ("SofterCmd") sends (for compatibilty and future purposes reasons) only "original" named of the running channel (then if you rename channels in RitzDVB, it will send anyway their original captions), users in trouble because they have a lot of channels with same name (eg: PPV channels of some North America providers, every with same name) can use (since version 2.00 of SofterCmd) SID and NID codes of channels; you will see them in internal channel editor in RitzDVB.
This modality is anyway raccomended because Softer!, if SID/NID codes of some channels in its list are missing, tries ident throught channel caption. So, if you've problems only with some channel, you can activate this mode and insert SID+NID codes of only channels with same names, Softer! will recognize other channels with their captions. But if you DON'T have problems, "Caption" mode is raccomended because it should bring some more speed, because SID/NID check is skipped.

The most important step is the configuration of the internal Softer! channel list, that must be synchronized both with that one of ProgDVB/MyTheatre/RitzDVB and with that one of the week EPG, since it works like an "interface of connection" between these two.
Then open SofterList.exe utility: you'll see a table like this, filled with example configuration you took from the installation archive:


The first column, with simple and short numbers, indicates the numeration that you have assigned to the channels in your DVB application.
In the 2nd column you have to write names of channels of your list in ProgDVB/MyTheatre/RitzDVB. They must be EXACTLY as they are in ProgDVB, MyTheatre or RitzDVB.
The third column indicates the name of the channel, as it written in the EPG file (only channels with available TV guide in EPG.MDB);
4th and 5th columns must contains SID and NID codes of channels. These columns are useful only for RitzDVB users that chose SID+NID ident mode in SofterConfig.exe (see above);
6th column indicates the name of the logo file that you want to associate to the channel, and it's optional. If you do not want to use them, or for the channels for which you haven't found any logos, just leave it blank.
Last column contains the web address web from which the Softer! web parser must read in order to download TV programming, and in future releases it will be configurable. For the moment, don't touch it.

It's important, once filled up the list with the names and the numbers of "preselection" that you have chosen in ProgDVB, is to check that in the first column, for every channel, there is the right code, correspondent to the channel of the line. Browsing with a database editor (compatible with MDB file format, eg: Microsoft Access®) the epg.mdb file and looking to the programs you will understand which code corresponds to which program, for example if you see:
"00000002";"20041216025500 +0100";"20041216031000 +0100";"News";"Fox News 1/2 hour";"Half an hour with News from Fox news, the leader news channel";""
you will understand that 00000002 corresponds to the Fox News TV channel, and so you've to write it down in the right channelnames.csv line ;)
I think that, in future releases of the Configuration utility, I'll add a small manual browser to read and edit the EPG.mdb file, so user without a compliant database application will be able to have access to the file.

The channelnames.mdb file that you've found in the installation already includes the right Softer! web parser configuration (see below), in addition to other channels without EPG; included codes are right ("EPG CODE" in the config utility), so if you want to use the internal web parser to update the EPG, you haven't to change the "channel name -->> EPG code" correspondence; if you prefer another way to get your EPG.csv file (and if you're not italian this is probable, since (for the moment) Softer! web parser is able to automatically download EPG of italian channels only, in addiction to BBC World and CNN international), just change codes with yours.
Depending from the application that you used to get the TV guide, codes could correspond to the alphanumeric names of the channels, so don't worry if you'll not see only numeric codes.

Last operation is to download the week EPG, for your selected channels (this is the only operation that you'll have to repeat every week, all the others are at-once, unless that you change your channel list).
To download it you've several ways:

a) you can download it manually, via satellite, and then convert it to the MDB format that Softer! uses (see box below);
b) you can download it from the Internet and then convert it in the same way, with the Softer! configuration utility (see box below);
c) Since version 0.1.491 of Softer!, it's possible to get an automatic update, with the Web parser of the application (for the moment, only italian channels + BBC World and CNN). If you prefer this last choice you've only to delete from the folder the epg.csv file (extracted from the archive you've download) and start (finally!) Softer! (double click on its icon, or start with your remote control button). You DVB app will start and Softer! will automatically update for the first time the whole EPG of the week, for the following channels:

- Rai 1, 2 e 3
- Rete 4, Canale 5 and Italia1;
- La7 ed MTV
- CNN and BBC World
- SkyTG 24
- Odeon

In Softer! future version it will be possible to select how many and which channel you want to get the weekly EPG, but for the moment the web parser is totally experimental, and it has these limitations. If you want to get more personalized TV-guides, you have to download them manually :)

If you prefer this last choice you've only to delete from ProgDVB folder the epg.csv file (extracted from the archive you've download) and start (finally!) Softer! (double click on its icon, or start with your remote control button). ProgDVB will start and Softer! will automatically update for the first time the whole EPG of the week, for the following channels:

- Rai 1, 2 e 3
- Rete 4, Canale 5 and Italia1;
- La7 ed MTV
- CNN and BBC World
- SkyTG 24
- Odeon

In Softer! future version it will be possible to select how many and which channel you want to get the weekly EPG, but for the moment the web parser is totally experimental, and it has these limitations. If you want to get more personalized TV-guides, you have to download them manually :)

If you want to download the TV guide manually

via satellite:
(this works only with Canal+ format TV listings "Media Highway")
- Download the EPG4Cplus plugin (for example from Scaistar.com web site) and insert it in your ProgDVB folder;
- Open ProgDVB and open the channel that transmits the EPG. It depends from the TV provider you want, for example for Sky Italia the channel is:
Ecco i dati del canale:
Frequency: 11881000 Mhz
Polarity: Vertical
SR: 27500

- Open EPG4Cplus (Plugins->EPG4cplus->Show window): its window will appair;
- Click on "Scan". If it's everything ok, you'll see in the lowest part of the window "Programmes:" followed by numbers that quicky change. When scan will be completed you'll see the programming guide for the week, for every channel offered from the provider.
In the left part of the window, where names of channels will appair, click with left mouse button to select every channel you've inserted in your personal favorite channel list, in ProgDVB, and then with right button, and select "Favorites Ins".
If you can't find some channel that you inserted in ProgDVB channels list, don't worry, it will means simply that Softer! will not show the EPG for this channels (it will show only the name (and maybe the logo) of the channel.
When you finish to insert channels, click on "Favorites", in "View" menu: EPG4Cplus will show you only the channels you've selected. Click on Save -> CSV and save the list in ProgDVB folder, over-writing the example "epg.csv" file.
- You can now shut down ProgDVB. If you experience errors or crashes don't worry: EPG4Cplus often has problems when closing.
- Convert the .XML file to EPG.MDB with the Softer! configuration utility (see below)

via Internet:
Several applications can download XMLTV programming files, you've only to surf the Net to get the one you most like (one of the most popular is XMLTV automate). When you'll get your .XML file with TV guide of your favorite channels, go to file conversion.

XML -> MDB CONVERSION
Open SofterConfig.exe and choose "Import an external XMLTV file in Softer!". Si aprirà questa finestrella:

Choose the folder where you downloaded the XMLTV file before (via Internet or via satellite) and click on "Import!". In a few seconds your EPG.MDB file will be filled with every TV listing data contained in the selected XML file.

 

4. Using Softer!

- If you don't have a remote control: I specify in green the correspondant keyboard shortcut for every function.

- Softer! is currently available only in italian language (in the future multi-language versions will be available). Anyway localized phrases are really rare.

Press on you remote control the button you've chosen for "Start" command in Girder. After some seconds ProgDVB/MyTheatre/RitzDVB will start in fullscreen mode, and it will show the first channel of your favorite channel list, Over the video, if everything was correctly configured, you'll see the Softer! window looking like:

Channel name, current time (from Windows date/time properties), channel logo (if previously configured), start and end times of the transmission currently in progress and times of the following one (if available in EPG file). In addiction, a progress bat that graphically shows you the advance of the tranmission now on air.

The window will hide itself after a bunch of seconds, it will unhide only if you change channel (with commands you've configured on your remote control as CH+, CH- or numeric buttons), or if you press (on your remote) the command to hide/unhide Softer! (ALT+A), or if you click once with left mouse button on the little icon in the systray (near the Windows clock):

Otherwise, if you click with right mouse button on the little systrat icon, you'll get a window with some quick features:
- "OSD" ... shows main Softer! window;
- "Exit" ... closes Softer! without quitting TV.

If you press the RC button you configured for "Update EPG" (W) you will start the internet update of the week EPG, throught the internal web parser. The operation can take from 5 to 10 minutes.

If you press your "record" button (R), Softer! will start immediatly a new recording, saving video (temporarly) in the folder you created during configuration. Softer! window will show you something like this:

... when you'll press same button a 2nd time, Softer! will stop recording and will move the file in the parent folder.

Now press the button you've associated to "Timeline" (G) .
You'll see something like this:

It shows you programmation from now (in this example it's 22.34, so it starts from 22 o'clock) to the (maximum) next 7 transmissons, for the first 7 channels configured in the channel list. With your arrow button on RC you can move the cursor on the time line, or up and down to move it between channels. Try to move to some channel and press ENTER (E):

>> Commands and texts are different depending the language you selected in
configuration tool,anyway commands positions are always the same
<<


With arrow buttons you can choose an option (ARROW KEYBOARD BUTTONS): "Vai al canale selezionato" closes the time line and move ProgDVB to the selected channel; "Annulla e torna alla griglia" closes the white window and come back to time line, "Programma questa registrazione" opens this screen:

"Annulla" closes everything and come back to ProgDVB, "Conferma" schedules the PC to record the transmission, "Aggiungi RecLag" opens this little sub-window:

Here you can use Left/Right buttons to adjust the RecLag. For example, a 5 minutes RecLag on the transmission of the screenshot will make recording start at 23 o'clock and it will stop it at midnight.
1 minute before the beginning of scheduled recording, Softer! switches to the right channel and e doesn't allow any user action (of course you can quit Softer! to block the scheduled actions), until the end of recording.

This is Softer!. I hope it will be useful for as it is for me :)