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Slow TV

A basic Raspberry Pi video player, designed to play with Very Long Videos such as BergensBanen minutt for minutt. All players synchronize their playback, so that when you're watching you see the same thing as everyone else.

When the Pi boots up, it updates its time using ntpdate, pulls down any updates from this git repo, then plays back starting from a specific timestamp based on the current UTC time. This allows for a communal slow TV viewing experience.

If you're paranoid, you might want to comment out the part where it auto-updates. I put that in there so that I could add new features later.


  • Raspberry Pi (tested with Pi 1 Model B+, and Pi 3 Model B)
  • HDMI-capable screen
  • HDMI cable
  • Micro USB cable and power supply
  • USB keyboard
  • 16GB Micro SD card
  • 16GB USB thumb drive formatted for Mac OS HFS+
  • A working wifi network
  • A Mac with an SD card slot

This guide assumes you are using a Mac to set things up, if you're using Linux or Windows some of the details will be slightly different.

Download the video

First, install youtube-dl, then use it to download the video you want to play. You could play a completely different video, but we'll assume you're going with the BergensBanen. Depending on the length of video, this may take a really long time and will require 8.64GB of free disk space. Luckily youtube-dl supports resuming partially downloaded videos, so don't worry if your connection gets interrupted.

youtube-dl ""

You can leave this running in a separate Terminal tab. You should end up with a file whose name matches the title of the video you downloaded. Rename it to video.mp4 and then copy it to the USB thumb drive.

Prepare Raspbian SD Card

You should see a list of mounted filesystems, and you need to figure out which one is the SD card. It will probably be last in the list, and will likely be called something like NO NAME. The left-most column will say which device number the SD card has. Look for something like /dev/disk2.

If you're uncertain, try checking df before and after you insert the SD card and check for a new item appearing in the list.

Important: if you get the device number wrong, you could easily format the wrong disk. Don't do that, it will ruin your whole day. Seriously, it sucks.

Next, type in the following variables. Yours will likely be different. Don't continue if you're not sure if you've chosen the correct values.


Now we can write to the SD card using the variables we just set. That second dd command is the one to be careful about, it can overwrite disk data and cause a huge ruckus. It will take a while to complete.

diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk$disknum
sudo dd bs=1m if=$raspbian of=/dev/rdisk$disknum
sudo diskutil eject /dev/disk$disknum

Setup the Pi

Insert the SD card into the Pi, plug in the HDMI cable, the keyboard, and power. You should see a boot sequence, and end up on a console login screen.

Username: pi
Password: raspberry

Now you should run the Raspberry Pi config utility.

sudo raspi-config

Depending on what kind of keyboard you have, and what your language and timezone preferences are, you should choose the following items from the menu:

  • Change User Password
  • Network Options
    • Hostname (give your Pi a name)
    • Wi-Fi
  • Localisation Options
    • Change Locale (I choose en_US-UTF-8 UTF-8)
    • Change Timezone
    • Change Keyboard Layout (I choose US English)
    • Change Wi-fi Country
  • Interfacing Options
    • Enable SSH
  • Finish and reboot

When the Pi comes back from rebooting, login with the new password you just set and use the following to figure out the IP address of your Pi:

ifconfig wlan0 | grep inet

In my case I got the following:

inet  netmask  broadcast
inet6 2600:1010:b15e:211f:7171:e902:e23b:a30b  prefixlen 64  scopeid 0x0<global>
inet6 fd00::ff98:a29b:12b:a31a  prefixlen 64  scopeid 0x0<global>
inet6 fe80::4466:76a0:10a2:6612  prefixlen 64  scopeid 0x20<link>

The first line includes the current IP address,

Continue Pi setup via SSH

Use the IP address to SSH in from your Mac, which should make copy/pasting commands easier (note that you will need to substitute your Pi's IP address in here):

ssh pi@

Then type the following commands to finish the Pi setup:

sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade -y
sudo apt install -y git hfsplus hfsutils hfsprogs omxplayer ntpdate

Setup smol-slowtv

Clone the smol-slowtv repo:

sudo mkdir /usr/local/smol
sudo chown pi /usr/local/smol
cd /usr/local/smol
git clone

Setup the cron job:

crontab -e

Choose which editor you want to edit your cron jobs with. If you don't have an existing preference, you should probably pick nano.

Add the following line to the bottom of the crontab:

@reboot /usr/local/smol/smol-slowtv/

Optional: If you're using a video that's not the BergensBanen, you will want to assign the video path and video length (in seconds) as arguments to the shell script:

# arg1: full path to the video file
# arg2: the video length, in seconds
@reboot /usr/local/smol/smol-slowtv/ /home/pi/video.mp4 26053

If you omit those arguments the script will assume your video is 26,053 seconds long.

Make sure to end the line with a line break, by hitting the return key. The cron job will not work if the last item doesn't have a line break. Save and exit the editor.

Setup the video

Take the USB thumb drive with the video you downloaded above and insert it into the Pi.

Mount the disk using the following command:

sudo mount /dev/sda2 /mnt

It's possible your specific USB thumb drive won't be /dev/sda2 but that's a good first guess.

Check to make sure the video file is there:

cd /mnt

You should see video.mp4. Copy it to your home directory:

cp video.mp4 /home/pi/video.mp4

That will take a while.


Ready to see if it works? Reboot the Pi.

sudo reboot

Once you reboot your Pi and plug its HDMI cable into a TV, your video should start playing automatically, on a loop. You can remove the USB thumb drive once it reboots.

How to shutdown your Pi

One annoying thing that happens from time to time is that the Pi's disk can get corrupted from pulling the power. When possible, it's best to login via SSH and shutdown using this command:

sudo shutdown -h now

See also


Synchronized slowtv player







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