NASA have recently started doing a live broadcast of the view from the ISS (if it's black, the ISS is over the night side of the Earth). http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/HDEV/

How can I set this broadcast (or better, somehow obtain a periodic screen-cap of the feed) to become my desktop background? So that everyone benefits, solutions for Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows are desired.


7 Answers 7


VLC has a wallpaper mode that allows to set any media it's currently playing as a wallpaper - the documentation mentions "DirectX" but I'm pretty sure that option exists on all platforms.

Now you need a way to open the stream directly inside VLC, unfortunately nothing is that easy and every streaming platform will do whatever they can to use their awful Flash-based solution.

However, they also need to provide streams for mobile devices that don't support Flash, and here's what this undocumented URL is for : http://iphone-streaming.ustream.tv/uhls/17074538/streams/live/iphone/playlist.m3u8.

Once you have the URL, you just need to put the VLC command line (with the wallpaper option) inside a shortcut in the Startup folder of your start menu.

Here's a preliminary command line I came up with, however it has several issues like not being fullscreen, so you'll have to tinker with the --zoom parameter (--width and --height have no effect unfortunately).

vlc --video-wallpaper --zoom 2 --no-osd --qt-start-minimized --qt-notification 0 --qt-system-tray http://iphone-streaming.ustream.tv/uhls/17074538/streams/live/iphone/playlist.m3u8

Open your Startup folder, you can just use copy/paste this path directly in your start menu to open it : %AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup.

Create a new shortcut in that folder, it should point to vlc.exe, the path itself should be quoted and the options should be appended after the quoted path, like this :

"C:\Program Files\VideoLAN\VLC\vlc.exe" --video-wallpaper --zoom 2 --no-osd --qt-start-minimized --qt-notification 0 --qt-system-tray http://iphone-streaming.ustream.tv/uhls/17074538/streams/live/iphone/playlist.m3u8

Finally you can test your changes by clicking on the new entry you just created in your start menu (it's in the Startup folder), or log out and log back in.

Note that you have to enable display of the desktop icons, otherwise it won't work, not sure why.

  • eh this doesn't work that great, i wonder if there are other solutions May 8, 2014 at 0:20
  • @Sickest yeah it's not very good but it's the most efficient solution, way more efficient than running software that displays a web page (with the Flash plugin) as a wallpaper. The best would still be to have a script that only takes a screenshot of the stream every X minutes and sets it as a wallpaper.
    – user256743
    May 8, 2014 at 11:46
  • @André Do you know of a solution for Mac 10.6.8? I want the same URL but can't figure out how to do it... May 17, 2014 at 14:08
  • Could you expand a bit on "enable display of the desktop icons"? I can't figure out how to do it.
    – TMH
    Jul 11, 2014 at 19:38
  • @TomHart Windows allows you to hide the desktop icons by right-clicking on the desktop and unchecking "Display > Display desktop items", you need to make sure it's checked.
    – user256743
    Jul 11, 2014 at 19:40

There's an easier way that I found that involves downloading a screensaver that allows you to set html pages as your screensaver.

To get the feed to fill your entire screen, use the link for the pop-out rather than the channel. So for the ISS stream, you'd want to use:


This method worked perfectly for me and required little set up.

EDIT: Just now realized he was looking for a solution to set it to the background, not a screensaver. However, I'll leave this up as it is extremely relevant.

Edit 2: Archive.org link since the website is now down.

Edit 3: HD feed

  • This may be useful, but it isn't an answer to the question (so it may get modded down / deleted). Here is an idea: ask a new question on how to set the ISS video stream as a screensaver, and then answer it yourself with this same answer. Then delete this answer from this question.
    – lzam
    Sep 23, 2014 at 2:10

Here is a way around using livestreamer. Se also this answer.

First step : installing livestreamer.

Install livestreamer

Simple HD stream with VLC :

This command displays High Definition Earth-Viewing System (HDEV) on full screen on wallpaper mode.

livestreamer http://ustream.tv/channel/iss-hdev-payload best --player 'vlc -I dummy --video-wallpaper --no-video-title-show --noaudio'

HD stream with Audio (crew/control conversations)

This displays the High Definition Earth-Viewing System (HDEV) and add sound from another stream, Live ISS, accompanied by audio of conversations between the crew and Mission Control.

livestreamer http://www.ustream.tv/embed/9408562?html5ui best --player "cvlc --no-video" & livestreamer http://ustream.tv/channel/iss-hdev-payload best --player 'vlc -I dummy --video-wallpaper --no-video-title-show --noaudio'

Bash ON/ OFF script (tested on Ubuntu)

PS=`ps -ef`
if echo "$PS"|grep -q 'vlc -I dummy';
    then echo "off";
    kill $(ps aux | grep 'vlc -I dummy' | awk '{print $2}')
else echo "on";
    livestreamer http://www.ustream.tv/embed/9408562?html5ui best --player "cvlc --no-video" & livestreamer http://ustream.tv/channel/iss-hdev-payload best --player 'vlc -I dummy --video-wallpaper --no-video-title-show --noaudio'

Improved bash script (Ubuntu specific)

(just select the path of a icon you want to be displayed with notifications, or delete the "Icon=" third line and both "-i $Icon" options)

PS=`ps -ef`

if echo "$PS"|grep -q 'vlc -I dummy';
    then notify-send -i $Icon "  ISS background OFF" \ "\"Houston, We've Got a Problem !\"";
    kill $(ps aux | grep 'vlc -I dummy' | awk '{print $2}')
else notify-send -i $Icon " ISS background ON" \ "Dowloading data from ISS...";
    livestreamer http://www.ustream.tv/embed/9408562?html5ui best --player "cvlc --no-video" & livestreamer http://ustream.tv/channel/iss-hdev-payload best --player 'vlc -I dummy --video-wallpaper --no-video-title-show --noaudio'
  • Very good suggestion, works like a charm, but do you have any idea how to make this work on dual monitors? Nov 10, 2015 at 21:15
  • It works fine for me with dual monitors. What do you want exactly ? Same video on both ? Different stream on each ?
    – mxdsp
    Nov 11, 2015 at 16:04
  • Extend the stream on both both monitors. Just like you would watch a movie on 2 monitors, half on the left and half on the right. Nov 11, 2015 at 16:06
  • Sorry, never done that, but I guess you can find what you're looking for here. Take a look at --video-splitter option.
    – mxdsp
    Nov 11, 2015 at 16:29
  • It seems it doesn't work anymore
    – Antzi
    Jul 12, 2016 at 8:01

This guy made a System Preferences extension for the Mac. Works on Mac OS X Yosemite... not sure how far back the compatibility goes.



You can try livestreamer. I had to do a bit of work to get Python libraries installed to be able to view the higher def stream on Ubuntu. There are prepackaged Windows binaries that might not have that problem, I haven't tried them.

I'm using it right now to watch the ISS feed directly in VLC at 720p. The command is

livestreamer http://ustream.tv/channel/iss-hdev-payload 720p+ --player vlc

Finally, use VLC's wallpaper mode as explained in André's post.

Thanks to this tutorial about streaming the ISS feed on the Raspberry Pi, which pointed me in the right direction.


In VLC, you can choose to align the video to the left, centre or the right. In addition, set the ratio of the display you want the feed to be placed on in the Aspect Ratio or Crop settings. I have it playing perfectly in full screen on my left monitor of a dual head setup.

Also, you can open the playlist file mentioned above and edit it to only have the 480 feed within it. This can be done in Wordpad or a competent text editor. Notepad will corrupt it, since the linefeeds are not completely windows-compatible.

Your playlist.m3u8 file should look as follows:


To make the video display only on one screen, go to VLC settings, then go to the Show Settings box at the bottom and choose All.

Next, go to the Video section in the left tree, near the bottom, and click on it. In the right pane that appears, scroll down to the bottom of the Video settings and, in the Video alignment section, select Left, Center or Right, depending on your preference. Left will align to your left screen. Center will display the video across both displays with black bars on either side, and Right will align to your right display.

Finally, switch back to Simple settings, then under Video make sure your Output drop-down in the Display section is set to Automatic.

Close the settings for now. Next, in the main VLC window, go to the Crop settings and choose the correct ratio for the display you are using. In my case, the ratio is 16:10.

This will both align and crop the video to a single display only. Perfect! The crop is important so the VLC viewport doesn't spill onto the other display. Try experimenting with it until you get the desired effect.

Update: Maybe I was incorrect about the display switch. I can't get it to show on my right display! Any ideas? It still sits perfectly on my left screen though. Aspect ratio seems to be a better idea so it doesn't chop off the video, even though it smooshes it a little bit as the feed is wider.

If anyone has suggestions on how to create a desktop shortcut for this, I'd greatly appreciate it!


For macOS, you could use my Plash app. Just enter the video URL in the app and it will set as your desktop background.

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