One remote to stream them all

We’d bet that most readers stream video as the lion’s share of their entertainment consumption. It’s getting easier and easier thanks to great platforms like XBMC, but not everything is available in one place, which can be a bit off-putting. [Tony Hoang] is trying to simplify his viewing experience by creating one remote to rule all of his streaming software. He’s got an HTPC connected to his entertainment center, and used a bit of scripting to add some functionality to this Lenovo N9502 remote control.

The hack is entirely software-side. The remote already works quite well, but he remapped the home, end, and page up buttons, as well as the mouse controller. The three buttons will launch XBMC, Hulu, and Netflix respectively. They are also set to kill the other applications before launch so that one button will do everything needed to switch between one another. The mouse remapping takes care of up, down, left, and right keys for navigation in the UI and control of the playing videos. See a demo of the setup after the break.

Everything was done with autohotkey scripts for Windows. But this should be easy to code with other OSes as well. If you’re prone to have a slip of the finger you might want to work out a double-click to launch the applications so you don’t accidentally hit a key in the middle of your favorite show.

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XBMC hits Android

XBMC just issued the announcement we’ve been waiting to hear for some time now. The Android platform is now officially supported. Having seen the popularity of this open source media center software, and the willingness of some to spend hundreds of dollars on small computers to use it as their set-top-box interface of choice, we knew it was only a matter of time before a hardware manufacturer stepped up to the plate. In this case it is a company called Pivos Technology Group, who helped fund the push to bring XBMC to Android.

The good news is that the Android version of XBMC should work on a very wide range of devices. The bad news is that it will take a bit of time for that wide range of devices to support hardware video acceleration. Right now the only platform that has the hardware accelration for all video formats is the Pivos XIOS DS unit seen above. Looks a bit like a white version of the Apple TV huh? This turns out to be a great alternative to the Apple hardware, which requires a jailbreak to run XBMC and there is no jailbreak available for the current generation of that hardware. You can grab the XIOS DS for about $100-120, and as you can see after the break, it runs XBMC without a hitch, shows the ability to navigate menus while 1080p video is playing, and demonstrates working video plug-ins.

Plus, it’s an Android device with access to apps like any other. We looked around and it seems the Netflix app will work, but there is currently a problem with the video driver on units which have been upgraded to ICS. You can check out an unboxing of the device in this forum post, which is where we got the image seen above.

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Hands on with Raspbmc

Have you heard of the Raspberry Pi? Surprisingly enough, they’re starting to trickle into the hands of thousands of hackers, and we were fortunate to get our hands on one (second-hand since we didn’t jump in time for the initial preorder). We’ve longed for a tiny embedded option for running XBMC and this is one of the best opportunities we’ve seen yet. The Raspbmc project, created by [Sam Nazarko],  is tailored to getting XBMC on the Raspberry Pi just a few minutes after it arrives in the mail. And that’s exactly what we did.

If you’re familiar with writing an image to an SD card (or any device for that matter) this is a simple process. Raspbmc is distributed as a single image file which starts up the RPi hardware, then copies itself to RAM while it downloads and installs the filesystem for the distribution. Once the card is flashed just pop it in, power up, and wait about 20 minutes until XBMC shows up on the screen. After that it’s a quick boot each time.

The good news is that its works. XBMC runs pretty fast, with just a hint of lag when loading some menus. We felt at home using the confluence skin we’re familiar with, and had no trouble setting up our samba shares to the video library. The one problem is that it won’t play any of the video files we have on hand. None of them. So we downloaded the Big Buck Bunny trailer. It wouldn’t play that either. This is all a codec issue. Although the chip used on the RPi is capable of hardware decoding MPEG2 video, the foundation didn’t license that ability. So it can’t play that format, period. With the movie trailer we tried the OGG format and that’s not currently supported, but the MOV version did play, in full 1080p without trouble.

So the verdict is, if you’re looking to get an RPi just to run XBMC you should wait. So far the package is promising. But we record ATSC video, all of which is MPEG2. If you use MakeMKV to store your DVDs on a server, that also uses MPEG2. Of course there is the option of transcoding everything. But you’ll want to be careful if you have other XBMC frontends which may not be able to play alternative encodings.

Raspberry Pi runs XBMC; reliably decodes 1080p

This is the Raspberry Pi board, an ARM based GNU-Linux computer. We’ve heard a little bit about it, but it recently garnered our attention when the machine was shown running XBMC at 1080p. That’s a lot of decoding to be done with the small package, and it’s taken care of at the hardware level.

Regular readers will know we’re fans of the XBMC project and have been looking for a small form factor that can be stuck on the back of a television. We had hoped it would be the BeagleBaord but that never really came to fruition. But this really looks like it has potential, and with a price tag of $35 (that’s for the larger 256MB RAM option) it’s a no-brainer.

Now there’s still a lot of rumors out there. We came across one thread that speculated the device will not decode video formats other than h.264 very well since it uses hardware decoding for that codec only. We’ll reserve judgement until there’s more reliable info. But you can dig through this forum thread where the XMBC dev who’s been working with the hardware is participating in the discussion.

Don’t forget to peek at the demo clip after the break too.

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extMEDIA: An XBMC disc changer interface


A while back, [Ben Gilstad] built his first HTPC, loading XBMC on it to manage all of his digital media. He loved XBMC’s features and flexibility, but he needed a way to enjoy his DVD and Blu Ray collection on the device without too much hassle. Far before [Ben Heck] considered fitting his Xbox 360 DVD drive into a CD carousel, this [Ben] was busy hacking a Blu Ray player into his.

He bought a broken disc changer at a garage sale, and tore apart a standard SATA Blu Ray player in preparation for the optical drive transplant. An ATMega168 controls the changer’s mechanics, monitoring the carousel’s position and triggering the proper motors when discs need to be swapped out. The AVR currently takes its direction from the HTPC over its serial port via a UDP proxy as XBMC did not support a serial interface at the time he was building the changer.

The second half of [Ben’s] project is an XBMC add-on that he uses to manage his huge collection of optical discs. In order to get XBMC to recognize each disc as a valid ‘file’, he created a clever workaround involving blank WMV clips. This enables him to view his DVDs as if they were digital files on his hard drive, complete with cover art.

It’s a fantastic project, and [Ben] says that his system should be able to support any number of physical disc changers simultaneously, without much issue. Unfortunately the project went on hiatus when he lost his job, so it’s packed away in storage for the time being. Once he gets back on his feet however, he has a whole list of planned changes and improvements to work on – we can’t wait to see it once complete!

Keep reading to check out a video demonstration of his XBMC add-on in action.

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XBMC controller is an all-in-one usb solution for HTPCs

On the original Xbox, XBMC was a software-only solution (assuming you had a chipped or soft-modded console). That’s because the Xbox was already meant to connect to a television and work with an IR remote control. Now that the XBMC software has transitioned to focus on a wider range of hardware, it may be more complicated to get the same functionality on an HTPC. Realizing this, [Dilshan] developed a USB connected XBMC controller that features an IR receiver, character LCD, and a rotary encoder with two buttons.

As long as your HTPC has a way to connect to the audio and video inputs on your TV, this should take care of the rest of the presentation. LCD screens were popular with XBMC from very early on because modchips included an interface. Because of this, XBMC is already setup to provide navigation and media information this way. So you can use XBMC for audio playback without needed to have your TV turned on. Add to that the ability to control your box with either  a remote control or the navigation tools on the front bezel and you’ve got a winning solution.

You can download an archive that includes all the info about this device over at the project repository. For your convenience we’ve embedded the schematic and PDF description of the project, which we found in that package, after the break.

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SCART hack automatically selects TV’s AV mode

We’re sure there’s still a lot of folks using their original Xbox either for gaming or as an XBMC device. If you ever owned one yourself you’ll remember that you can’t turn it on with a remote control. If you have to get up and push a button on the front of the black box, as least this hack will take care of tuning the television to the correct channel. That is, if you are using a SCART adapter to connect it to your TV.

[Karl-Henrik] figured out that mapping a voltage to pin 8 of a SCART port tells a TV that the port is active, and allows it to select the proper aspect ratio. Check out the Wikipedia SCART page to see that pushing 5-8V is the signal for a 16:9 aspect ratio, and 9.5-12V translates to 4:3. So he added an audio jack to the back of his Xbox and a matching one on the plastic case of the adapter. Now just tap into the wires on the power connector for the hard drive inside, connecting them to the newly installed jack. There’s a 12V and a 5V line, just choose the one based on the aspect ratio you prefer. He uses a jumper wire with the appropriate plugs on each end to make the connection. Now the TV will automatically tune to the correct AV input when the Xbox powers up.