I’m always on the hunt for a replacement media player for my MS based HTPC. Over the past few days I’ve been playing around with and open source alternative that seems to look really promising. It’s called XBMC and has versions available for MS Windows, Linux, Apple and MS Xbox. It’s been out for a while, but I’ve never really looked at it before.
I’ve gone through quite a few HTPC front-ends and have always returned to MCE 2005 for one reason or another. Myth TV & Media Portal are great alternatives but I’ve always struggled to get my 3rd party MCE remote to work with them correctly. Both MS Windows Vista & MS Windows 7 are o.k. and look quite polished but I still favor the small resource footprint of XP (it’s a shame the default skin for MCE 2005 is just so horrible though and needs 3rd party apps to make it look a little better).
Also lacking with all of Microsoft’s Media Centre’s are the limited amount of data/images that can be displayed against video files. The best I could up with was to have an image of a DVD cover saved as folder.jpg & placed inside the folder containing the movie .vob files etc.
Here’s a few screenshots I’ve exported from my HTPC to give you an idea what my XBMC setup looks like.
But first, here’s a reminder of how basic MCE 2005 looks!
…and this is XBMC, showing samples of ‘My Movies’ folder.
XBMC’s media library has the ability to download artwork for movies, TV Shows, Games & Music, including a huge selection of fan art which can be used as background images. Once downloaded, the images are stored locally on the PC. A huge range of database repositories are preconfigured such as IMDB, MTV & TVdb or if you prefer you can manually add sources or use locally stored l images. In addition to artwork you can also download movie info, TV episode guides, cast & crews information & IMDB rating.
The media library system is very easy to use and it wasn’t long before I’d obtained information & artwork for my entire collection.
Here’s a few shots of my ‘TV shows’ selection page.
Season selection (complete with DVD cover & fan art background images.
Episode list complete with fan art and episode guide.
As you can see, the visuals are much better than MCE 2005!
Here’s a few other screenshots from various menu screens. I’m still using the default skin ”Confluence’ which I think looks really good. There’s quite a few alternatives available for download/customization but for now I’ll stick with the default.
Main menu showing ‘My Music’ highlighted
One of the configuration menus – plenty to mess around with!
‘My Pictures’ – which isn’t really much different from Vista or Win7.
Here’s the snag, as a front-end, XBMC is gorgeous with plenty of options to boot. However, as an actual media player…hmm, not good..not good at all.
The problem here is that with XBMC (or the opensource player – Mplayer (not sure which)) hasn’t been written to take advantage of the PC’s graphics card therefore all video playback is performed by the CPU. Unless you have a hefty PC (Dual Core/Quad Core), video playback is terrible. The frontend menu does use graphic acceleration so everything is silky smooth in that department though.
However…there’s workaround (actually two that I’ve read about).
One method is to configure XBMC to use an external media player i.e VLC or similar to run within the XBMC frontend. This means editing the configuration files but i found the XBMC Wiki page quite easy to follow.
The second and by far the easiest is to download and install a port of XBMC which has been preconfigured to use DSplayer as it’s primary player. This supports graphic acceleration & runs perfectly on my setup with silky smooth video playback and perfectly sync’d audio.
The only other problem I found was that a few buttons on my MCE remote had to be reconfigured so as not to launch MCE2005 Again, the Wiki page was really useful in providing instructions to edit the remote.xml files
For more information about XBMC, alternative skins & support pages please visit the following -
Here’s the location of the alternative Windows build containing DSplayer (highly recommended)