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.

Our beloved XBMC hits iOS devices

For those who have been longing to unlock the power of the Apple TV 2 the wait is over. XBMC is now available for iOS devices. This isn’t limited to the tiny ARM-based set-top box, but extends to the entire family including iPad and iPhone 4. Included is the ability to play high def video up to 1080p without transcoding. But we think the best feature might be XBMC’s ability to easily stream media over the network from just about any operating system. Goodbye iTunes tethering.

If you’re comfortably using SSH to work with a Jailbroken device, ATV2 installation will be a snap as there’s already a source repository to install from. iPad and iPhone 4 are even easier, just add the repository in Cydia and install. Wow, when we first looked in on the new generation of ATV we really thought it would take longer than it has to see a port of our favorite open source media client. Thanks Team XBMC!

IR receiver as USB keyboard

[Arthur] built an IR receiver to use with XBMC. Because it’s software specific he identifies the device on USB as a keyboard, and passes the IR commands as keystrokes used by the popular media platform.

Normally, homebrew IR receivers would use LIRC, the Linux Infrared Remote Control software. But this method doesn’t require you to have that running. In fact, it doesn’t need any setup on the PC end of things. Any remote that uses the Sony SIRC protocol will work off the bat.

[Arthur] chose a PIC 18f2550 for the project. It is a popular microcontroller because it has built-in USB handling. We’re a bit skeptical of the hardware design though. We didn’t see specifically which IR receiver he’s using, but many require some type of filtering so check the suggested layout in the datasheet for your module.

The new Apple TV

You’ve probably already heard about the Apple TV 2. It retails for $99 and packs a punch with HD video, optical audio, and WiFi in that tiny package. But as always, we like it for its hackability. Even though it’s just starting to ship, the hacks are already rolling in. The firmware is available from Apple’s servers and has already been unlocked with the yet-to-be-release SHAtter exploit. [Das_coach] even sent us a link to a video of the new Frontrow ported for the iPod touch (embedded after the break).

But the holy grail has to be XBMC. We’ve seen it on the first generation Apple TV and it was good. The second generation switches to the A4 processor which is an ARM Cortex-A8. Not quite as easy to port for as the Intel chip on the first generation was. But there is hope, one of the 2010 Google Summer of Code projects worked to port XBMC to another ARM device, it’s just a matter of inspiring some developers to take on the quest to make it happen. We can’t wait for the day that we can just velcro one of these to the back of our TV and be done with it, that first generation Xbox isn’t going to last forever.

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