Feature Friday: XBMC, easy as 1-2-3

Posted By: Team XBMC on Jun 10, 2011 in Site News

For this week’s Feature Friday, we turn to AJ Perkins of the UK. AJ has a pretty awesome living room XBMC, easy as 1-2-3setup, but this week we’d like to take a break from just telling you about how awesome the various homes of users are. Instead, I’d like to ask you to bring a loved one over to the computer. That’s right, we’re going interactive!  This week, we’d like to take a minute or two to show the friends and family members of our XBMC users just how cool XBMC can be.

So XBMC user, please stand up, go grab somebody you like (and, more importantly, somebody who likes you enough to put up with reading the blog you follow religiously), and pull them over to the computer.  We’ll wait.

Hello wife, girlfriend, mother, father, partner, boyfriend, husband, or other statistically likely significant individual! The person who just dragged you over here would like to show you some things about his recent/long-standing obsession with XBMC. I promise to try make this as painless as possible, but can make no guarantees.

XBMC is software that lets people watch movies and tv shows, listen to music, and look at photos all from the comfort of their couch. This means you always get to watch the shows you want to watch. You get to listen to the music you want to listen to. And you get to force Uncle Phil to watch the picture slideshow of your first vacation and/or your baby’s first diaper changing.  So many beautiful memories!

Now, the first thing you need to make the XBMC magic happen is a nice, safe place to hold all of your precious memories (“Look Uncle Phil, this is when we got out the wipes!”), as well as your music and videos. Some people put these in the same machine that will be running XBMC itself. Our friend AJ, who has kindly agreed to make some handy videos, decided to take a different route. He put together a computer whose only job was to hold the important memories and media. This computer is called a “server.”  To make room for his server, AJ kicked Harry Potter out from the cupboard under the stairs.

Let’s let AJ explain.

For those of you who are tech-savvy, AJ’s server has a 2.2 Ghz dual core CPU, 4GB of RAM, and 2.5TB of hard drive space that is always backed up, and is running Windows 7 Professional. For those of you who are not tech-savvy, AJ’s server could hold 625 HD movies, over 3000 DVDs, or a really ridiculous amount of pictures and music.

So now AJ’s got his media squared away, but he’d be living a pretty crazy life if he watched all that media in the cupboard under the stairs. Naturally, he doesn’t, so we need to move on to the living room.

In the living room, AJ’s got a 42 inch Samsung TV and a Logitech Z-5500 speaker system both connected to his Home Theater Personal Computer or HTPC.  AJ, take it away:

Once again, for the tech savvy readers, AJ is running an Intel Core 2 Duo 3 Ghz CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive (it can be smaller, since his server is elsewhere), an ATI HD 4850 graphics card, and a Creative Fatal1ty dedicated sound card.  For the non-tech savvy, AJ has a really cool computer that will be running XBMC.

AJ has the storage for his pictures and media. He has the computer that will run the software. Now, he just needs the software.  AJ?

I believe that requires little explanation. As you can see, XBMC is a clean and simple program designed to get you to your media as quickly and as attractively as possible.  The only unfortunate fact is that XBMC does not, as yet, have a dedicated remote control, which means AJ had to explain how he navigated around using a keyboard, which is simply no fun for watching a movie.

Fortunately, there is another way! If you have an Android phone or iPhone, you can install remote control apps that will do an absolutely incredible job controlling XBMC. I do not have the words to describe how incredible the system is, so I’ll let AJ explain for me.

Just imagine the possibilities of controlling XBMC in that way. Are you playing music in the living room and cooking in the kitchen, but you don’t like the current song? No problem! Just pick a new one on your phone.  Are you trying to decide what to watch next, but don’t want to stop watching your current show? Yeah, the XBMC app can handle that too.

So there you are. A system for “cutting the cord,” as they say. All of your videos, your music, and your pictures, right in front of you, ready to play and be displayed at your command.

Hopefully now you’ll see just a little bit of the draw your husband/boyfriend/son/daughter/wife/partner/”good friend” finds in XBMC.

And if you still aren’t convinced, I’m afraid it’s your loss. All the really cool kids, like little Saffir below, think XBMC is fantastic.  Saffir? Let’s play this story closed!

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Discussion - 24 Comments

  • Alain Jun 10, 2011 

    Saffir showed how it’s really done. Good job! :)

    Good job with the setup, really nice!
    Xbmc gives purpose to all that nice hardware!

  • Gringo Jun 10, 2011 

    Should have spent more money on a decent surround sound syatem and main pc, and made the server a low-cost linux server (Win7 Pro is a total waste of money in this regard). Still at least he got it right with XBMC.

  • Craig Jun 10, 2011 

    Great setup you’ve got there, AJ. Hope you’ve looked into, or already have running, some kind of backup procedure. Off-site (encrypted) backups would be even better. Don’t want to lose any irreplaceable photos/videos/documents!

  • Nathan Jun 10, 2011 

    AJ needs Objectdock to get rid of any desktop icons. Awesome setup! How are your Ethernet cables running through the house? It would be nice if you actually snaked them through the walls and installed jacks.

  • AJ Jun 10, 2011 

    @Gringo I did run Linux on the server originally but hated every bit of it. I’m a Microsoft fanboy and have to say its worked nicely so far! The surrounds are decent enought for what I want and the main PC is fine :D

    @Craig I really should look into offsite backups for my photos (45GB at the mo) but I do back up every two days but onsite.

    @Anonymous there was a Joggler video, but the usb stick that it was installed on b0rked before I could get a second video of it done! I called it Xboc Media Centre in the orginal video which is a faux pa :D

    @Nathan the cables are running along y skirting boards in trunking. I would love to install them in the walls but they are brick walls and the amount of time and effort to do it would be too much!

  • Bootleg Jun 10, 2011 

    Nathan :
    AJ needs Objectdock to get rid of any desktop icons. Awesome setup! How are your Ethernet cables running through the house? It would be nice if you actually snaked them through the walls and installed jacks.

    I set my parents up with a gigabit network like that. And a computer with FreeNAS to house the movies with dual 2TB HDD’s in RAID1. Then a modest HTPC with a ASRock E350M1 mobo, 4GB of RAM. Works nicely on their 42″ HDTV. Only with the HTPC I set it up to dual boot. Defaulting to XBMC but Windows 7 Premium as the secondary OS. Also set up an old Xbox DVD remote on it for ease of use.

  • XBMCUser Jun 10, 2011 

    To get faster boot times on the TV machine give the http://www.openelec.tv/ flavour a try. Up and running in less than 1 minute and ready to play everything!

    I have to agree with Gringo on the linux server – that’s the way to go for storing a lot of stuff.

    Nice job!

  • AbsoluteZero Jun 11, 2011 

    Did something somewhat similar myself.

    Closet:
    -Old AMD headless server running Ubuntu Server LTS
    -Areca HW raid controller with four 2TB WD RE4 hdds in raid5
    -DIR-825 primary router

    LivingRoom:
    -52″ Aquos
    -Custom i5 htpc in low profile Thermaltake ElementQ w/ Win7
    -Vertex2 hdd (cold boot in 12secs) and BluRay
    -Antec Veris Basic (IR control of the system) (did a little custom work to get it how I wanted)
    -Harmony ONE (controls EVERYTHING in my living room; htpc, 360, etc)
    -IOGear mini wireless keyboard w/ trackball (for those few times when I actually need a kb)
    -WNDR3700 w/ DDWRT configured as dual-band bridge

    Running XBMC via Windows may seem like a waste for some but I use the living room system for more than just media (browsing, etc) and running under Win provides an easy way (if you’re patient setting up) to completely control the system w/ a universal remote (anything in XBMC, close/open apps, browse, etc).

    Streams DVDs, music, avis or anything else I want to play from my server with ease.

    I wanted to build one a long time ago but I didn’t really get motivated to put something like this together until Camelot released and I felt it was time to look into it.

  • patux Jun 11, 2011 

    Hi,

    It’s cool to see how other users are doing with the htpc stuff.

    About the Remote Control, i have something to say.

    I have no need to use a keyboard or mouse. I’ve configured a linux htpc with lircd (https://patux.cl/htpc/), so, I use my xbmc based htpc entirely with my remote control, no keyboards, no mouses. In fact, it can be used from MID devices like tablets and phones accesing through the local wifi network.

    I have no android phone now, i’m waiting to get one so i will try the app for android.

    Regards.
    Patux

  • Ronner Jun 12, 2011 

    625 HD movies on a 2.5 tb system? Probably just the short story movies than run about 15 to 30 minutes.

  • bajdec Jun 12, 2011 

    I use XBMC for 6 months now, but on laptop, not HTPC, I tried on HTPC, but I don’t have money to buy HTPC case, so I don’t have it in my living room any more. About remote control, I bought one from DealExtreme, the price is $8.40, and works without drivers (even on my Arch server).

    In summer I will have my birthday and I hope I will get some money to buy miniITX motherboard (Atom) and case for about 130€. It will have 2 GB DDRII ram and 500 GB HDD (the cheapest on – WD Caviar Green). It will run Windows (but I’d like to run Linux) because my TV tuner work on it.

    Sorry for my bad English, I am from Slovenia and 15 yrs old :)

  • Jassi Jun 12, 2011 

    Quite an amazing setup.

    I’m very interested in that server system you’re using that stores all your media, exactly how do you have it structured? Is it just set as a network folder on your PC’s?

  • natethomas Jun 12, 2011 

    @Ronner
    I was basing that number on 4gb 720p films. Obviously, if you upgrade to 1080p, the size will increase and the movie number will decrease.

  • h.udo Jun 13, 2011 

    I wish that we could put all those movies in 2.5TB. The best I can do is ~140 movies per 1TB drive, mixing 720p/1080p. Still, for the non tech-savvy, that must look as a lot.
    Great report, as always, nate!

  • vixducis Jun 13, 2011 

    This is quite an expensive solution. I myself have a €400 all-in solution. I bought a cheap (but pretty old) nas, the ch3snas (=dlink dns323), on which I run a firefly server for my music, transmission for my torrents and some backup tools. I got a 2TB drive in there which serves all my music and movies across the network. For the receiving end, I have a low spec asus S1 htpc (atom D525 and ION2), in which I have a low capacity HDD (it just has to run the OS) and 2GB RAM. This costs maybe a third from the setup in the OP, and plays 1080p equally well.

  • AJ Jun 13, 2011 

    @patux
    I use keyboard and mouse for games like Left 4 dead etc..

  • AJ Jun 13, 2011 

    @Jassi
    Yeah I just share both the media hard drives as shares on the system then set the folders up on XBMC as Windows SMB :)

  • AJ Jun 13, 2011 

    I should point out I do have a remote controll for the HTPC which came with the case (http://tinyurl.com/3j9mr77) but I tend not to use it because there are too many buttons that I dont use :D

    And the reason I am running Windows on my HTPC is because I also play games on it so no other operating system will work.

    I dont use Linux on my server becasue I don’t like it. I did use it orignally but found it quite annoying… I studied IT on Windows machines and Macs at a push and really did want to learn a new OS which would not be fully compatable with all my other systems at home :D

  • Randall Jun 13, 2011 

    Wow… The Android XBMC app is soooo much better (faster/prettier) than any iOS XBMC apps out there… So not fair. :(

  • natethomas Jun 13, 2011 

    @vixducis
    True, but it won’t be a great gaming PC, which is part of the OP’s purpose.

  • hughesw Jun 14, 2011 

    I’ve got a similar setup to AJ, though mine’s different in a few ways:

    Server:
    Core i5-2400S CPU
    ASUS P8H67-M EVO motherboard
    4xWD20EARS 2.0 TB HDDs and a 120 GB Vertex 2 boot drive
    8 GiB of RAM
    Ubuntu 10.04 Server running samba to feed the client, plus several other services (it’s not a single-purpose machine)

    On the server side, I’ve got the 2TB HDDs arranged in an md+lvm setup, running RAID5 for a total available space of 6 TB, which is divided into 600 GiB for backups for all my other computers on the network, and the remainder (4.87 TiB) holding data like video, music, etc. The server uses ~80W while running, and I never shut it down, so running it adds around $100 to my power bill for a year.

    Client:
    Atom+ION Zotac ZBOX dual-core barebones (more on this later)
    80 GB 2.5mm HDD I had sitting around, I think it’s a Toshiba out of a PS3
    2 GiB of RAM
    MS Windows MCE remote (RC6-based, with USB receiver)
    No keyboard, mouse, etc. Remote Control or phone/tablet control only (using XBMC Commander on my iOS devices)
    XBMC Live

    Few main differences: my client uses 30W while decoding 1080p, while the one discussed in the article would probably use 60W at the Windows desktop. The Atom CPU is poky as hell, and really not suitable for heavy use, but it’s fast enough to render the XBMC UI just fine, and with the VP3 decode hardware it’s more than capable of decoding 1080p H264 High@L4.1 streams. I also managed to smack X into outputting 23.976/59.97 instead of 24/60 Hz when talking to the TV. It’s not a gaming HTPC though, and it can’t do anything more than play video/music/slideshows on the TV.

    There are a few complaints though: the zbox wifi controller is a heap of garbage and only speaks 2.4 GHz 802.11n, and to make matters worse the antennas are garbage. Sitting in the same room as the router, it’s incapable of streaming over wifi a 15 Mbps 1080p encode off the network without stuttering constantly. It’d probably do better if I wasn’t in a condo, but basically the wifi is useless if you’re living in a built-up area. I have it plugged in via gigabit ethernet, which negates this problem. Also, it’s not silent. It’s by no means loud, but the CPU fan is a bit whiny.

    At some point I’ll probably build an E-350 based machine to replace it, with only a couple 7-volted 12cm fans in the case (I have an old Antec Veris case sitting around from my previous HTPC build). But it works amazingly well for right now. Hopefully the ARM port will progress well enough to do 1080p decode on lower-power ARM hardware so I can drop that 30W to AppleTV2 levels (10W or so).

  • Ronner Jun 14, 2011 

    @natethomas

    The 720p releases are about 4.5 to 5 gb on average, but just for the sake of argument, let’s keep them to about 4.2. On a 2.5TB drive, you could cram about 609 on them, but you’d have no room for the operating system and XBMC itself. ;-)

    As for the 3000 dvd’s, you probably mean 3000 dvd’s decoded from it’s original mpeg2 format and re-encoded into xvid to a filesize of about 700/800 mb. For 3000 ACTUAL dvd’s (VIDEO_TS etc) you would need about 12,5 TB. And I’ll skip the fact that if you’d use DVD9 in those you’d need some more TB’s.

    But yah, I get that you were just trying to explain how much 2.5 TB could hold to non tech-savvy people but if it was me I’d stick to explaining it a little more and get the full realistic picture :)

    I just don’t like “marketing exagerations”, that’s all.

  • James Riley Jun 21, 2011 

    Running through windows 7 is fantastic.. everything works with ease.. and with some autohotkeying and a harmony remote i can switch over with one click to the media center netlflix app! Also it’s nice to see someone using Confulence!

About XBMC

XBMC is a free and open source media player application developed by the XBMC Foundation, a non-profit technology consortium. XBMC is available for multiple operating-systems and hardware platforms, featuring a 10-foot user interface for use with televisions and remote controls. It allows users to play and view most videos, music, podcasts, and other digital media files from local and network storage media and the internet.