The Lounge Media Box

Posted: June 24, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

I love XBMC (xbmc.org), I personally think that it is the best media playback software available. I started playing with it on the original Xbox. I bought the mod chip, soldered the cables, burnt out the traces, repaired the traces and flashed the new BIOS all to get it to work. Video, MP3 and photo happiness!

Running next to that was a Topfield 5800 PVR….. an older bit of kit, but one that is still used on a daily basis. Pause live TV, record 2 programmes while watching a recording, skip commercials –  all of which exceeded the WAF.

These two bits of kit have spoilt us…. between them, they gave us almost total control over our media. Then the world started going HD and the poor old Xbox started to show its age…

I’ve played with Microsoft Media Center (MCE) ever since it first came out as a specialist Windows XP version. Trouble is, I’ve always run it on a ‘second machine’ one that isn’t as good as my main desktop, so it’s never really worked. The video card wasn’t good enough; CPU wasn’t powerful enough, not enough RAM….. and because it’s never quite worked, I’ve never really been able to justify the purchase of better hardware. This has led me to play with loads of open source/alternative media centre applications – Meedio, GB-PVR, MediaPortal to mention a few. All of which are great, but never quite managed to hit the sweet spot.

Using Linux (MythTV & Freevo) has always produced better results on the older hardware, but my limited knowledge has always prevented me from being 100% satisfied with the end result. The ability to tweak is great, but I lack the knowledge to roll out my inept tweaking often resulting in broken systems.

I recently got hold of a Mini-ITX Atom 330 ION board from Asus. I’ve bunged the latest version of XBMC on to the box and it’s great, both the XBMC Live and the slightly more complex XBMCBuntu version! Combine XBMC with a skin like Aeon and it looks like a high end CE device, especially if you put it in a small discrete case. However the current releases don’t yet support TV. There are huge strides being made in the XBMC community to integrate PVR functionality, but these aren’t necessarily stable or easy to configure. So with huge regret, I sloped off back to the Windows world.

To my surprise, the ION board combined with Windows 7 and a dual card Freeview tuner is proving remarkably good. Channel changes are a bit slow, but it is more than happy to play back all of our media. I know I should finish the build, get all the plug-ins working correctly, optimise it by killing unwanted services etc etc. The missus hasn’t objected to the nicer interface, she can still get to all her programmes, music and photos. The PVR functionality isn’t the same as the Toppy, but that’s more about familiarity than usability.

Links:

XBMCBuntu – http://wiki.xbmc.org/index.php?title=XBMCbuntu

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