XBMC moves to Gotham beta 1

xbmc 11 beta home screenXBMC began life as Xbox Media Center, but the platform has come a long way since those early days. It’s become one of the hottest platform for HTPC enthusiasts, though it is far from the only one. Now XBMC is moving towards its latest release, announcing beta one of the new Gotham release.

“After a year of hard work, improvements and testing since the release of version 12.0, we are delighted to announce the Beta release of the upcoming XBMC 13.0, codenamed Gotham”, the company states.

New features include Android hardware decoding, Raspberry Pi  and Android speed improvements, stereoscopic 3D rendering, improved touchscreen support, improved UPnP capabilities, dramatic audio engine improvements, settings improvements, better subtitles and more capability for developers.

“If installing XBMC for friends or family, it is highly encouraged that you move the settings down to Beginner level”, the company warns.

It’s available now, but you don’t have to install it and, as it is a beta, you may not want it powering your home theater.

Little Black Box brings XBMC to the set-top box market

XBMC has long been a darling of the HTPC crowd, bringing a free and open source alternative to Windows Media Center. Now a Dutch company wants to bring the platform to a set-top box. Known as “The Little Black Box“, the device has just become available for pre-order.

The box will contain 1GB of memory, 4GB of Flash storage (800MB for the system, 3.2GB for XBMC) and a Meson3 single core processor capable of running at 1Ghz but clocked at 800Mhz.

little black box

The box is available now for €99.99 and according to the site “The first batch will be in limited numbers. As that limited amount needs to be divided between the different distribution channel, availability will most likely become sparse very fast”. The company is accepting pre-orders world-wide.

XBMC and AirPlay

XMBC I have an Apple TVand iPad. One of my favorite things is the ability to take a video that’s on my iPad and then send it over to the Apple TV by using AirPlay. Let’s face it some videos are better on a bigger screen. Plus everything sounds much better on the Apple TV, which is connected to my sound system than it does on the iPad. The problem is I only have one Apple TV and there are times when I’m sitting up late at night and looking at my iPad and I see a video that I want to see on my large screen TV in the bedroom. To that TV I have attached a Mac Mini which I use as a media center. As part of that media center I installed Banana TV to AirPlay my videos from my iPad to that Mac Mini. However Banana TV no longer works with the iOS 5 update.

My favorite media center application is XBMC. XBMC is a free open source cross-platform media center. It is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Apple TV and many other devices. XBMC is highly customizable thru the many add-ons that are available. As a media center it was great however without Banana TV there was no way to get my video from my iPad to my Mac Mini, until now. XBMC has just gotten an the official update from Dhama to Eden and with this update AirPlay from the iPad to the Mac has become available. If you already have XBMC than go ahead and update to Eden. If you don’t have XBMC you can download it at the website. Once you’ve either updated or downloaded it, you want to go into Systems, then Network and then Services and tap down until you see where it says allow AirPlay and click enable. Now you can AirPlay videos from an iPad to a Mac, PC or Linux machine. There is one caveat it does not work with videos that have DRM installed, despite this caveat I am really glad this update has occurred.

Ending A Relationship

Our relationship had always been so full of promise and fun. Being gone so much of the time due to my job was certainly a strain. Even so, when I was around, I didn’t make many demands.

Something was coming between us. Lately I’ve been looking elsewhere and slowly began finding satisfaction on the Internet. The thought of divorce has been crossing my mind over the past few months. It was a painful decision, but I knew it had to be made.

Today I decided it was time to sever our ties.

I’ve been a Dish Network customer for about 10 years – until today.

What came between us? I’ve been experimenting with the idea of getting TV content from various sources on the Internet. I’ve tried connecting both Mac with Front Row and Windows Media Center laptops to an LCD HDTV. A full-fledged computer is very flexible in that it can play virtually any file type, but the clunky, complex hands-on Interface is not designed to be operated from an easy chair. I want as much content as possible integrated into one place.

In the meantime I stumbled across some software called Playon TV available at http://www.playon.tv. The software comes with a 30 day trial and works with the DLNA and UpNP network device standards. The software sells for $39.95. Playon TV is designed to be installed either on a computer or a home server on the home network. Playon TV enables streaming of Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Videos, Pandora, etc. to a DNLA/UpNP device like the WD TV Live Plus, X-Box 360, etc. There are also plenty of free third-party plugins for Playon TV that add a mind-boggling and growing variety of content to the Playon TV network share. It works well with my hacked Apple TV with XBMC.

Yesterday I visited my local Best Buy store and bought a Western Digital WD TV Live Plus to connect to the small HDTV in my kitchen. The WD TV Live is a very small set-top box that comes with a small remote control that has an Ethernet port in and an HDMI port out. Straight out of the box it does an excellent job of playing Netflix and is capable of playing back 1080P content. Only the Plus version plays Netflix.

The WD TV Live Plus combined with the Playon TV software convinced me it was time for radical measures. This afternoon I cancelled my Dish Network account and will save $97 dollars per month. I also bought a second WD TV Live Plus unit to connect to my main HDTV/surround sound setup.

At $97 dollars per month savings the two WD TV Live Plus units will have paid for themselves within 3 months.

Can I live without access to Dish Network? I think it’s going to be similar to a few years ago when I dropped my wired phone line. There was a bit of an emotional attachment that I had to let go of, but once I cut the cord it was no big deal.

Pursuit Of The Ultimate Media Extender

Hacked Apple TVFor some time now I’ve been experimenting with different ways of getting Internet-based video to my widescreen LCD HD televisions.

Often people think, why not simply hook up a regular desktop computer up to the TV. A desktop computer can be set up to play back virtually any video file type. The problem is, desktop and laptop computers are optimized for use on a desktop, not from a living room chair.

Is the ultimate media extender a set top box of some sort? The trouble with most set top boxes is that they are either walled gardens, or they miss the boat in very important ways.

A media extender should be able to play files stored on a home network, as well as be able to easily stream from services such as Netflix, Hulu, etc. Once set up, everything should be accessible through a simple remote control. Also, for my purposes, I’m willing to pay up to $250 for a box for each television in my house. It should also be able to play ripped DVD collection files that have been ripped to a central home server or network attached storage device.

I’ve hit on an interesting combination that seems to do everything I want it to that involves hacking a standard Apple TV and adding Playon TV server software to another computer on my home network. Playon TV software sells for $39.99.

Recently I purchased a commercial Apple TV hack called ATV Flash, which sells for $49.95. You download either the Windows or Mac version and install it on your computer. When you run the program it will ask you to insert an empty USB memory stick that it will write the installation files to. Then you plug the USB memory stick into your Apple TV and power it up. It will upgrade the Apple TV to be able to play a much wider variety of files, as well as adding Boxee and XMBC playback. It also retains all of the standard Apple TV functionality.

Next, I added the Playon TV software to my HP Windows Home Server. It could have easily been any other computer on my home network that meets the software’s minimum performance requirements. Once Playon TV was installed, I added my credentials for my Netflix account, as well as my Hulu account.

Finally, on my hacked Apple TV I simply start the XBMC application and navigate to UpNP devices on my home network, where Playon TV shows up. I now have access to Hulu and Netflix right on my Apple TV.

The Apple TV itself does not have enough processor horsepower to play back Netflix or Hulu Flash streaming without stuttering and freezing. However, playing it through the Playon TV software causes much of the processing to take place on my Windows Home Server machine, which has plenty of horsepower. Playon TV works by converting the Hulu and Netflix Flash streams into UpNP streams that the hacked Apple TV running XMBC can easily play without stuttering.

So, with this setup I’ve got access to all of my regular iTunes material, including HD and SD video podcasts, as well as a wide variety of streaming material from popular services such as Netflix and Hulu. It would be easy for me to buy additional Apple TV units, apply the ATV Flash hack to them, and attach them to other HDTV’s in my house.