XBMC

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Streaming media around the home, is something which is becoming a more commercial viability, if you look at the amount of hardware available for the Task, the Big Boys, Buffalo, Dlink, LinkSys, Freecom and NetGear all have Network Media extenders which attach to your network, and TV, and allow you to stream music and video off a NAS Server or computer to your TV.

It is possible to do this on the cheap however using Linux. and a low spec PC. mainly due to apps like MythTV or Geexbox which run on Linux, and provide uPnP or DLNA access to your media, as well as looking at mapped Drives.

The former there, MythTV is the Big boy in this arena, however is notoriously difficult to setup, infact, so much so, there is actually a spin of Ubuntu, called Mythbuntu which does all the hard work for you. Its a great distro, however still its not the most intuitive interface around. and the GUI itself is a little retro.

Competition is however, a great innovator, and as such XMBC might actually push the Myth team forward.

So what do we have here? According to the Webpage, the sales pitch is...

XBMC MEDIA CENTER
XBMC is an award winning media center application for Linux, Mac OS X, Windows and XBox. The ultimate hub for all your media, XBMC is easy to use, looks slick, and has a large helpful community.

The system, is essentially a very slick looking system, for delivering your Server based media to a PC, running on either Windows, Mac or Linux and surprisingly the xBox. Actually its not that surprising.. because the wikipedia entry for the software states.

XBMC Media Center (formerly named "XBox Media Center") is a free and open source cross-platform media-player and entertainment hub. It was originally created for the first-generation Xbox game-console, but is now available for the Linux, Mac OS X (Leopard, Tiger, Apple TV), and Microsoft Windows operating systems. There is also a bootable Live CD version referred to as "XBMC Live"

Essentially, these guys had a good product for the XBox and have ported it to the Big Three, and in doing so, have provided MythTV and TVersity with some much needed kick up the rear..

So, how does it all work from a users perspective?

Installation

I initially installed this on my Macbook, using OSX, and the isntall was very straightforward, the system uses the usual MG pacage, incredibly, on Ubuntu, the system is equally as easy, with well written instructions on installing apt sources for the user, and using apt-get to install the software, and make sure the dependencies are all installed.

First Launch

The first launch of the interface on either platform does so with the app windowed, rather than taking over the full screen, this is a good idea, and the screen size is easily changed. it displays a clean interface for the user, and looks very intuative.

Interface

The interface is themeable, and as such, i'll look at the default one, on lauch, the interface looks pretty, and slick, very modern, its designed i guess for use with a keyboard, however you can point and click with it as well, also on the macbook, the remote control was usable with the interface, which makes using the software when plugged into the TV a little easier.

The interface however is fully customizable, and as such you can use eirher list views, or icon views for seeing the media, and the screen resolution may be changed quickly.

With software like this, the inerface is key, as it may be used as i mentioned earlier on a TV, or as desktop software on the PC itself, its good to see a onsistant interface across multiple platforms as well.

Supported Formats

Format support for Media seems to be very good, and i have been able to play the myriad of video formats the Wiki site, coers the formats supported by the software in some detail:

Wiki Entry:

Audio/video playback and handling
XBMC can play media from CD/DVD media using an internal DVD-ROM drive. It can also play media from an internal built-in hard disk drive, or stream them over SMB/SAMBA/CIFS shares (Windows File-Sharing), ReplayTV DVRs, UPnP (Universal Plug and Play ) shares, XBMSP (Xbox Media Stream Protocol) shares, or stream iTunes-shares via DAAP. XBMC can also take advantage of the Xbox's Ethernet network port and a broadband Internet connection if available, using the IMDb to obtain thumbnails and reviews on movies, CDDBFreeDB) for Audio-CD track-listings), and album-thumbnails via AMG, it can stream Internet-video-streams, and play Internet-radio-stations (such as SHOUTcast). XBMC also includes the option to submit music usage statistics to Last.fm and a weather-forecast (via weather.com). It also has music/video-playlist features, picture/image-slideshow functions, an MP3+CDG karaoke function and many audio-visualizations and screensavers. XBMC can in addition upscale/upconvert all standard-definition (480i/480p/576i/576p)720p, 1080i, and 1080p high-definition resolutions. (via resolution videos and output them to


Format support
XBMC can be used to play/view all common multimedia formats. It can decode these in software and optionally pass-through AC3/DTS audio from movies directly to S/PDIF output to an external audio-amplifier/receiver.

Supported formats:

Addons

Addons, are something which can make or break an application, it may be pointed out, that firefox's greatest strength are its plugins and themes. This software seems to have a core system for this, and provides an example Weather Theme as part of the package. As well as addons for finding Movie covers from IMDb as well as other places. However as Wikipedia states:

Wiki entry:

XBMC features a Python Scripts Engine and WindowXML application framework (a XML-based widget toolkitGUI for widgets) in a similar fashion to Apple Mac OS X Dashboard Widgets and Microsoft GadgetsWindows Sidebar. Python widget scripts allow normal users to add new functionality to XBMC themselves, (using the easy to learn Python programming language), without knowledge of the complex C/C++ programming language. Current plugin scripts include functions like Internet-TV and movie-trailer browsers, weather forecastcinemaguides, TV-guides (EPG), e-mail clients, instant messaging, train-timetables, scripts to front-endPVR software and hardware (like: MediaPortal, MythTV, TiVo, ReplayTV, Dreambox/DBox2), Internet-radio-station browsers (example SHOUTcast, Xm radio, Sirius Satellite Radio), P2P file-sharing downloaders (BitTorrent), IRC, also casual games (sometimes also referred to as mini-games or party-games) such as Tetris, Snake, Space Invaders, Sudoku, and much more. for creating a in and control

Skinning is also a great way to add freshness to an application, this is also covered, there are a few default skins bundled as standard, and they do a good job of showcasing different ways of accessing the media.

Wiki entry:

A mainstay of Xbox homebrew applications is skin-ability in the tradition of case modifications. XBMC is noted as having a very flexible GUI toolkit and robust framework for its GUI, using a standard XML base, making theme-skinning and personal customization very accessible. Users can create their own skin (or simply modify an existing skin) and share it with others via public websites dedicated for Xbox and XBMC skins trading. "Project Mayhem" is the official skin; which is now in its third version, commonly know as "PMIII" or "PM3". Many third-party skins exist and while some are original designs, most are clones or an exact replica of other multimedia software, such as DivX Connected, Apple Front Row, Windows Media Center Edition (MCE), MediaPortal, Meedio/MeediOS, HDeeTV, Kaleidescape, Xbox 360 Blades (MC360), Xbox 360 New Xbox Experience, and others.

Linux

It may be of note, to get playback on Ubuntu, you should make sure mplayer is installed, as well as w32codecs and non-supported codecs from Medibuntu.

Hardware

So what about hardware, what do you need to run this? Well i have had it running with AVI's and MP3 MP4 fiels on a Macbook Core 2 Duo on OSX and Ubuntu and a Dell Mini 9 quite well, it seems to be well programmed, however like most apps of this type if you are running compiz, there may be some clipping with the interface. However if youa re using this as a media centre, then you probably don't need the compiz eye candy loading anyway.

Wiki entry:

XBMC has greater basic hardware requirements than a traditional 2D GUI toolkit, but this basically means that it needs 3D capable GPU for all rendering; on the other hand, 3D GPU chips are common today. Other than that, XBMC was designed to be resource efficient and runs extremely well on what (by Intel Atom standards) are pretty underpowered OpenGL 1.4 GLSL capable systems that are x86 or x86-64 CPU based. In order to allow for smooth playback of 1080p high definition content without dropping frames, an Intel Core 2 Duo 3.0 Ghz processor or better is required.

Final Thoughts

If you are looking for a home media Centre, and have had it with figuring out MythTV, this is a VERY VERY good alternative to MediaCentre, Myth or TVersity. I think the interface is well written. and the software seems to be very well supported.