Posts Tagged xbmc

More on XBMC — ‘Lets go to the movies!’

My experiences with XBMC are still happy ones.  I’m learning to live with its lockups (usually caused by me making vicious, unprovoked attacks on it by doing things like pressing buttons on the remote)…  No, that’s too harsh 🙂  In seriousness, I’m very impressed — almost as impressed with it as I am with how much disk space I’m going to have to buy if I want to rip my DVD collection to play on it!  (I’m beginning to wonder why I’m entering this in the Fun topic…)

I was explaining to a friend just the other day about how DVD was different to CD.  “Audio CDs,” I said, “are a completely different format to data CDs, which meant that the first CD drives for computrs could not even read music CDs.  With DVDs it’s easier because all DVDs are basically data discs — the ones with movies on just have a special directory layout, and the movie is just simple computer files on the disc.”

What an idiot.  How I regret ever saying anything so stupid!

Over the last week I have tried more than a dozen combinations of software on Mac OS X, Linux and Windows to do the job of getting thosse “simple conputer files” off the DVD and onto my server so that we can view them on XBMC.  First complication is the fact that XBMC currently does not understand DVD menus, and only understands how to read a VIDEO_TS directory if it’s on a physical DVD.  So my first grand plan of simply copying VIDEO_TS to my server was a failure.

Here started my journey into ripping and transcoding.  A journey that has taken me from Mac the Ripper and Handbrake, through drip and quickrip, past countless forum pages and mailing list archives and a side-trip into Forty-Two, to arrive at ffmpegX (Mac) and dvd::rip (Linux).

I almost gave up on dvd::rip when I first set it up.  It has a cluster mode, and I naturally assumed that my Pentium-4 2.4GHz-HT clustered with my dual-Opteron server would make mincemeat of my DVDs (figuratively of course).  Unfortunately the Opteron is not strong on this sort of work (or perhaps the Gentoo ebuilds for the transcode package are not well optimised for AMD64), and the Pentium-4 was held back because it accessed the files over NFS.  That, combined with the fact that I had repeated errors and failed transcodes, drove me back to the Mac.

Not that that’s a bad thing.  Most of the software around is optimised for and benefits greatly from the Altivec engine.  Having a w00ty dual-G5 Power Mac is also a help 😉  Mac the Ripper takes no time at all (well, okay, about 5 minutes) to rip a DVD — maybe a bit longer for a hefty DVD9 — although I do only rip the main feature to save a little time.  Then, using either Handbrake (for simple jobs) or ffmpegX (for better access to tweaking knobs) I make an AVI or MPG out of it.

There are two costs to all of this: 1) time, and 2) storage.

Time: this is actually a double-edged sword.  Not only does it take a sodding-long time to actually do the transcode (luckily you don’t have to sit by it) but I then have to transfer the file to the server, then light up XBMC and give it a test.  Not necessary to watch the whole thing (usually the first minute or so is enough to tell you how far out of sync the audio is).

Storage: I thought that editing Mini-DV and mastering that to DVD takes storage…  There is no way I will rip my whole DVD collection.  Apart from the fact that there are some movies that you just have to watch in original quality (oh, didn’t I mention that?  Yes, transcoding does require you to sacrifice some picture quality, although you do have a little control over just how much you do lose), I can’t justify putting more storage in the server just to watch the occasional movie.

So what will I use this for?  Some things are ideal — I can see the kids videos that get played on endless repeat being done this way.  Nicholas will be able to do it himself without us worrying about DVD drawers and smudges on discs (just have to make sure I can lock out the “educational videos” from his set 😉  And, some things like the Bottom stage shows and episodes that we put on just for a laugh sometimes.  But not Matrix — not in MPEG4, anyways 😉

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XBox Media Centre

Only a couple of weeks after going all gooey over SqueezeBox and SlimServer, I’ve found another way of doing media streaming at home.  I’ve now joined that rebel group known as “XBox-modders”, and have a machine at home now running the XBox Media Centre.

XBox Media Centre requires a modded XBox to operate, though as I found out a software-mod-only XBox is fine (given the apparent illegality of mod-chipping in Australia).  See another post for more info about how I modded.

XBMC lets me play my library of MP3s, listen to Internet Radio, watch movies (including ripped DVDs, apparently), and (perhaps most importantly to us right now) browse our digital photo gallery — all using the XBox DVD remote.  It comes with its own streaming protocol server, which appears not to stream as such but rather just serve files, but does run on Linux (an ebuild for Gentoo was all ready to go).  The interface is via TV, which makes sense for viewing movies and pictures but not so much for audio (of course you can turn the telly off once you’ve made your selection, or buy/build one of the LCD screen modules that XBMC knows how to address).  For the truly keen there is a web server built into XBMC as well, that lets you control some functions from a browser (it worked alright with IE, but Safari on our Power Mac gave it trouble, and there are reports of unfriendliness with Firefox).

Cost-wise, XBMC has really only cost me an XBox (yes, I already had one, but unfortunately for one who said that he only ever bought an XBox in order to run Linux I’ve built a bit of a game collection, and until only very recently I believed that the only way I could run Linux or XBMC from bootup was to replace the XBox BIOS, an operation that would have rendered the XBox unable to play games.  So I bought a new XBox for playing games, and modded the existing one.  Then I found out that I didn’t need to replace the BIOS…  Sigh…).  I also bought the “Advanced AV Pack”(?), the little output box that gives you S-Video and optical audio output from the XBox.  XBMC knows how to handle the digital output, and generates a superb-sounding AC-3 stream to our Yamaha amplifier (I never thought 128kbps MP3 could sound so good).

So is XBMC the “way to go”?  Well, I’ll let you know.  I’m happy so far — except for the freezes that have happened a few times, and the extraordinary amount of noise that comes out of the thing to keep the heat down (heat being a possible cause of the lockups, because I had not turned on a setting in XBMC that instructs it to increase the fan speed in response to rising temperature).  I’ve yet to try a DVD in it yet, and the promised visualisations do not appear when playing music…  Its competition is media streaming boxes like the Netgear MP-101 (which only does audio, has no digital output and requires proprietary Windows-only server software), the D-Link Media Gateway (?) (which does video and pictures but again requires Windows-only server software), Pinnacle’s media box (similar to the D-Link), and the SqueezeBox (great design, terrific software and community, but ghastly expensive by the time it lands in AU, with no video or picture capability).  For now I think I’ve made the right call.

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