Posts tagged ‘Media Center’

TEDTalks and XBMC

Recently there has been a convergence of sorts here on the farm. After nearly two years, I took a few hours and upgraded my media center to XBMC 11.0. Shortly there after my Verizon phone service (plain old telephone service aka landline) went dead. When the service tech came to resolve the issue (a dead switch a half mile down the road) I made my usual plea for faster Internet. After just 15 minutes and two phone calls my “barely life support” 1.0mbps down and 330kbps upload was improved to 1.6mbps and 700kbps.

Yes, those numbers are still so embarrassing I cringe to say then in civil conversation. However, they are *just good enough* that I can stream TEDTalks.

XBMC has a nice plugin for TEDTalks an it could hardly be easier to install and enable.

Now I can watch lots of inspiring speakers on lots of inspiring topics! (This translates to feeling inadequate but that’s life at the speed of 1.6 megabits per second).

Two ways to organize your cables

neat and discrete cable labels
neat and discrete cable labels

There are few things a neat freak hates more than lots of random wires going willy nilly! (not that I’m claiming to be such a person) In the process of bundling and wrapping and hiding wires, inevitably there’s confusion – “does this go to the new box of the old one?”

The obvious cheap solution is to label both ends of the wires before they get bundled, tucked, and routed. A simple bit of tape with a number or a name works well.

Not all cases lend themselves to little flaps of label tape. In these situations there’s an equally easy but more discrete option. You can “band” the wires. In the picture there are four identical USB cables so each gets a different number stripes/bands – just make sure the other end of the wires has the matching number of stripes and you’ll easily be able to follow the wires even after they’ve been bundles, tucked, and routed through and behind cabinets!

XBMC – the most stable media player I’ve ever had

The title says it all. I just looked at my XBMC "server" and I’ve been "not paying attention" to it for 53 days.

I’d bet I could look back 53 days and discover that was when we lost power last.

The only "work" to using XBMC is organizing TV shows or movies to get all the nice cover art, synopsis text, etc. Since I don’t like extra work, I don’t bother. I have folders for shows and just watch "the next file" in the folder. It’s not pretty but I’m interested in the show and not the synopsis. Sue me.

I should point out that my XBMC is running on a no frills Acer Aspire Revo 3610 and the software is the "XBMC Live" installation which is Linux based. But since it is a media player, I never see the gorp. I also don’t see the myriad of Microsoft patches, memory bloat or driver issues.

It just works!

XBMC (on the Acer Revo) is *the* new media player

Screenshot of XMBC Live running on the Acer Aspire Revo to a 1080p TV I think Popcorn Hour shot themselves in the foot when they launched their next generation C-200 media player. For about $300 (US) you get a box that does what it does and nothing more, has not native disk storage, has a small but fervent following and is not hugely customizable.

On the other hand, for $330 (US) you can get the Acer Aspire Revo with the ATOM 330 (dual core), ION hardware accelerated video processing, 2GB RAM, 160GB drive (plus a cute and usable wireless keyboard and mouse) and for $0 and about 10 minutes with a very easy guide, you can have a great XBMC media player that can do just about anything you want because it is standard PC hardware in a tiny little box. (OK, so that was too much of a run on sentence, but you get the idea.) Oh, if $330 is too much, there is a $200 version that has the same graphics !

What surprised me was that the Revo came with Windows 7 64bit Home edition. What surprised me more was that the obvious way of using XBMC was not the fastest or the easiest.

I first tried installing XBMC for Windows and it looked to be working perfectly. Then I tried playing one of my HD TV shows (a 1.1GB h.264 MKV file) and it shuddered – badly.

Next I tried the special DSPlayer version of XBMC that is setup to use the ION graphics. After about 5 hours of messing around with guides and trial and error, I threw in the towel.

Finally, I downloaded XBMC Live and using a handy guide, spent less than 10 minutes to create a bootable SD card (could have as easily been a USB stick) and had the Revo flying along perfectly. I even tried an action scene in an HD movie (performance hit 8Mb/sec video stream) from my NAS and the Revo was not even breaking a sweat – CPU(s) were about 20%-25% load.

My final setup – all anyone sees is the TV and me using the iPhone as a remote …

  • Acer Aspire Revo R3610-U9022 (hidden behind the TV)
  • network connection (the Revo has wireless ‘N’ but I don’t)
  • HD (1080p) flat panel TV connected to the Revo with a single HDMI cable
  • wireless mouse and keyboard (bundled with the Revo) (hidden in a draw) for the occasional upgrade or new feature
  • NAS for most of my video
  • XBMC Live installed to the Revo’s hard drive
  • iPhone XBMC Remote (collect3)

So, my advice ? Get the Revo. Get XBMC Live. Try it with the SD or USB instructions. If you like it, format the drive and install it for good. Later, if you want, you can follow other guides and install downloaders for podcast, streaming video, and more. Even if you don’t leverage the Revo for all of it’s idle time and other capabilities, it is still a great deal for a great media player.

My next media player will likely be a nettop

500x_2009-04-04_162054[1] I’ve been on the fence about building / buying a replacement for my Popcorn Hour media player. It now looks like even the low end new NetTop PCs with the ATOM+ION combination are "good enough".

I liked the price of the new Acer AspireRevo entry level hardware ($200) since it has the ION graphics which handles 1080p for my TV. However, I was concerned with the underpowered ATOM 230 (single core 1.6Ghz) CPU. I really like the idea of the big brother with the ATOM 330 (dual core 1.6Ghz) CPU but it has the pricier $330 wallet sapping. has a good walk through of setting up the Acer with XMBC and credits burgemaster with the details.

Popcorn Hour – iPod Touch Controller (take 3)

Popcorn Hour iPhone / iPod Touch Controller The Network Media Tank community has come together and through Niels has generated a significant upgrade to the Popcorn Hour iPod app.

Performance is great and it has a lot of changes. I did rearrange the buttons and did a bit of add/delete. Here is the control screen. The real advantage is the music, video, image navigation – both on an internal HDD as well as a network sources via explicit connection (SAMBA, NFS, etc.) as well as interrogation (like a UPnP).