Ideal XBMC setup?

I  thought I might do a post on my current media playback setup, but more than anything, highlight how far a modded XBOX1 can and can’t go using one and XBOX Media Center (XBMC). Via modding the XBOX has turned into the ugly little console that can. I’ve had more fun on it in the years since it was discontinued than I ever did when I got it.

Despite what you may have thought, the XBOX can output HD. With the right bits you can have your setup looking beautiful in  HD and outputting true 5.1 sound. You can have you favourite movies/shows processed and upscaled to HD.
It can decode up to 960×540 videos, and upscale them. XBMC can also render the whole interface in HD and numerous skins have become HD specific – No more SD for you. Some of the awesome skins that are popping up check out AEON (below) or MediaStream.

And this is where I should mention the downsides – no true HD content. It has got enough CPU/GPU power unfortunately the 64mb of RAM the XBOX sports just isn’t enough to store all the decompressed frames to keep fluid playback. Solutions are numerous but all pretty much involve throwing away the XBOX1 and running XBMC on a more powerful machine.

So how did this happen, you ask? In a slightly advanced move, Microsoft added the then new buzzword ‘HD’ support. Some games actually were released that support them. They enabled the ability to output resolutions of 576i, 576p, 720p & 1080i – keep in mind they only added this to the XBOX360 last year!

For a full list of games supporting HD resolutions theres a  good list here. Only a few games truely supported 1080I though but a solid handful featured 720 support – for me the best being Amped 2 which supported up to 720P with 5.1. The only downside is that once they had announced the XBOX360, there was no real need to develop the XBOX’s support for HD in other Territories. NTSC only folks. Pooo to you PAL regions.

Or not if you have a modded XBOX and can run a simple app (Enigmah-x v2) to switch your XBOX from PAL to NTSC, and thus enabling the HD resolutions in the original green dashboard. Once you’ve enabled them, you can also enable it in XBMC

My Setup
I’m running a soft modded XBOX V1.1, with 80gb drive installed and a no name 3rd party component/optical breakout box ($NZ35 Delivered from USA). There are other no-names, but not all boxes are created equal. I’ve brought a couple of others from elsewhere and found them to have fuzzy images and slight colour sync issues.
The XBOX is running into my 37″ Samsung Series 5 1080P 60hz LCD and a Pioneer VSX-915 Receiver. Media wise I have a D-Link DNS-323 NAS with 1tb storage, it’s running via a 10/100 connection under the house to the lounge. I’m running XBOX and XBMC in 720P.
I’ve noticed some slowdown at 1080i in transitions.
My XBOX is softmodded with Auto Installer V4 for 007:AUF. I use a Mega-X Key 32mb USB key to copy hacked saves around. You can make your own controller port -> USB adaptor quite easily. With this system I can have a modded XBOX running XBMC in HD in about 20 minutes.

Obviously the biggest ones (for me at least) is the inabilty to play and HD content. But as I cover below, there are ports of XBMC popping up all over the show. Rule of thumb for downloads is look for the HR in releases eg – ***.HR.HDTV.AC3.5.1.XvID.avi. The HR stands for High Resolution (wiki) and is encoded at the max dimensions of 960×540 – which is the limit to the XBOX to decode easily.

I also don’t really recommend upgrading the harddrive in your XBOX as it involves a PC with 2 IDE ports and a bunch of faffing around, and the chance you mess

up and the XBOX becomes a parts machine. If you must, maybe try this tutorial. It’s a annoying as the default drive is usually only 8gb, although some shipped with 20gb drives inside. You can access the extra space but it requires formating the F drive in EVOX via RAW ftp commands (or a script).

Finally, the FAT-X Partition system only supports 8.3 DOS file names which is one of the reasons I don’t really think the internal drive is really the way to store media. It’s great for ROMs and other Apps but not large collections of media.

Also the depending on which XBOX revision you get, the DVD drive can change brands/models – some were really picky as far as playback of burnt media goes.

Next Step
PLEX – This my dream. Either a AppleTV or MacMini running OS-X and with Plex, the OS-X Port of XBMC. Unfortunately neither the ATV or Mini have the power to deal with HD – the ATV doesn’t have the CPU/RAM for OS-X and the Mini is still stuck back in the world of Intels GMA-950 graphics chipset. Of course if Apple release an updated Mini on the X1300 chipset or better – we’d have the best XBMC machine around – and with support for the iTunes movie store.

Of course theres other options – specifically MythTV or Vista MC. I just don’t need a PC in my lounge. I need a basic (yet complete) end playback unit.

Theres also the Playstation3 which I must say looks quite promising, add the forthcoming PlayTV Freeview tuner and that it can serve via uPnP to my NAS. Also support for HD file playback, albiet picky on formats. No MKV files, no FLV. I like the openness of XBMC. Oh and the Bluetooth remote – not good for anyone who tries to stick to a Universal remote.

And of course the XBOX360, which I already own, but as anyone who has one knows, it’s horribly noisy. It also doesn’t support the uPnP DLNA standard. Instead it has some ‘not quite standard’ implementation of uPnP. Good job Microsoft – its IE all over again. I also have no faith that Microsoft will ever improve beyond the basic support its added for formats now.

phew…. I’m tired. Time to go watch some media and not type about it.

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