Updated: August 12, 2010
With Internet lines growing fatter by the year and disk space bulging up, home entertainment is flourishing. Woe a TV that does not support Wireless or has no USB ports. Many of us having large, colorful catalogs with hundreds of high-definition movies stored on a disk. Streaming movies live is another pasttime commodity many of us all take for granted. Mostly, we do this on our computers, far from the leisure of the big plasma in the living room.
But how about doing that with style? Would you like to transform your television into a powerful media center with Internet connectivity, network sharing, video and music playlists, photo albums, weather forecast, maybe even games? Enter XBMC.
XBMC is a free, cross-platform media player and home entertainment sofware. It is not a stranger to Dedoimedo, having featured here before. Indeed, I tried XBMC in the past and liked it quite a bit. It came bundled with Sabayon Linux and did a splendid job of co-existing and cooperating with the operating system. Then, I tried the solo version, which you can boot from live CD, test on your machine and then decide whether to install. The live version performed less well than the one integrated with Sabayon. Well, today, I'd like to give it another chance. The latest version of XBMC is 9.11 Camelot.
I decided to try XBMC in Ubuntu, since this is something I've never done before. I did play with MythTV, with mixed results. Overall, MythTV setup was fairly complex and required a lot of expert user interaction. I wanted to see how well XBMC handled this. My test rig was a T60p machine, dual-core, 2GB, with a modest ATI Mobility card, running a 32-bit version of Ubuntu Lucid, the latest Ubuntu release.
Getting XBMC installed was an extremely simple deal. XBMC is not listed in official repositories, but there's a PPA repository available. Following the instructions on the XBMC site, I issued these four commands:
sudo apt-get install python-software-properties pkg-config
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:team-xbmc
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install xbmc xbmc-standalone
After a few minutes, the packages were downloaded and installed.
XBMC Camelot behaves much better than its predecessors, both in terms of good looks, overall look and feel, the transparency of use, as well handling the hardware. While I had difficulties with XBMC detecting Wireless network or using remote shares, no such issues with Camelot.
The first thing I did was load my favorite science fiction movie and watch it. Yes, you guessed it right, the Turkish G.O.R.A. XBMC had no qualms. The movie played well, with subtitles automatically loaded.
Likewise, if you stop the movie, the media center will remember the last position and suggest it as a start point the next time you launch the movie. Furthermore, the movie will continue playing, even if you open the menus, providing a vivid, animated background while you configure XBMC. The program is configured to automatically download movie information, including thumbnails, actors' biographies, teasers, and whatnot, enriching your media experience.
Music was my next attempt. I connected to a Windows Samba share over Wireless; no problems. I tried one of the available shoutcasts. Again, everything work as expected. Smooth, seamless streaming of music.
You can load family albums and entire galleries into XBMC. Again, you get style as well as functionality - high-quality previews and picture slideshows with subtle, soft transition effects, which add to the overall experience.
Another nice feature ...
XBMC has tons of options in the menus, allowing you to configure the system any which way you want. If you're really keen on home entertainment, you will invest time learning all the little bits this lovely software offers you. Stuff is sorted into categories, allowing you more control and easier navigation. You can include custom scripts or add programs. For example, playing games is a smart choice.
XBMC Camelot is a far cry from its predecessors. There were none of the problems I encountered the last time. Wireless networking worked, the sound was smooth, there were no read/write issues with external devices.
You have Wireless connectivity, Samba sharing, live streaming. The media center properly identified the native screen resolution and initiated the graphics card. Furthermore, XBMC is fairly lightweight and did not weigh on system resources. Movies played smoothly, without freezes or jitters. Fast and friendly. On top of all that, XBMC ups the ante with even better looks and a more intuitive interface. It simply works. That's the best praise you can have for software, especially home entertainment software, which is designed to be as simple as possible. XBMC is truly plug-and-play.
I have never considered myself a media-man and never placed much focus on running a media center at home. But
with XBMC, I'm starting to feel tempted to test this whole new horizon of possibilities. XBMC looks sharp and
crisp, it's a joy using it. And this whole ocean of high-definition TV and whatnot is beckoning me. XBMC
Camelot is a beautiful product. At the very least, you should try it.