Posted by: reformedmusings | November 13, 2009

Sky.FM Premium in Ubuntu with Rythmbox and VLC

I spend a good bit of time in my home office, and I like to listen to music while doing stuff. I listen to different types of music, so having a variety available is ideal. Since I have decent speakers with a subwoofer for my computer and a reliable broadband connection, Internet radio fits the bill perfectly.

I’ve tried a number of programs and stations over the years. In my old Windows XP days, I used Screamer Radio. It’s small, fast, and will run from a USB stick. I sometimes listen to it while working on others’ machines. In Ubuntu, I usually use either Rythmbox or VLC Player.

I have come to settle on Sky.FM as my Internet radio source. They have a wide variety of stations and a reliable connection. I’ve been listening to their free stations for quite a while, putting up with the occasional commercials. I had copied links to the stations I used the most into Rythmbox under the radio section. While Rythmbox sounds OK, VLC sounds much better. However, Rythmbox kept all my links nicely organized in the radio function.

I recently noticed that Sky.FM had a 2-day free trial on their Premium service. It was over a weekend, so I decided to give it a shot. The normal service sounded OK, so I was skeptical that the premium service could sound any better. That skepticism was misplaced. Premium sounds great. I was hooked.

The only problem was the when I cut and pasted the links to the Premium playlists, Rythmbox couldn’t play them. VLC had no problem with them, even when I downloaded my entire set of playlists from my custom page. VLC 0.9.x would not display the changing song titles on the premium service, at least on my setup. This required further work.

The solution turned out to be quite simple. Open a steam in VLC by clicking on the media type of your choice. When asked what program to use to play it, choose VLC. If it isn’t in the list, navigate the file system in the dialog to /usr/bin/vlc. This will open the stream in VLC:


Now select Tools -> Codec Information (or Media Information, your choice):


Note that I picked the 96 kbps mp3 format for this example. Also note the address in the Location box. That’s the address that you want to paste into Rythmbox. I added my favorites this way to Rythmbox one at a time.

But I found that in Karmic, this is no longer necessary. VLC 1.0.2 under Karmic will display the song titles as they change and also if you hover the mouse pointer over the icon in the system tray. Since I can also download all my favorites in one shot into VLC (won’t work in Rythmbox), so as long as I don’t close VLC I always have my music at my beck and call. So unless you have an unnatural attachment to Rythmbox and prefer your music slightly muted, you can get the great sound of VLC plus the song titles on the premium service.

One additional hint for both Rythmbox and VLC. If you left-click on their icons in the system tray, the player window will collapse into the icon while continuing to play. I developed the habit of always keeping a player loaded in the system tray and ready to play at a click. Very handy, and doesn’t make a dent in my 8 GB of RAM.

BTW, the best mp3 coding on the free service is 96 bps as you saw above in the screenshot. The best from the premium service is 256 kbps:


Even at this rate, it doesn’t begin tax my 20 Gbps FIOS connection:


But I normally listen to the 64 kbps aacplus stream, which sounds about the same for less bandwidth.

It all sounds awesome! Well worth the price of admission.


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