Why you should get XBMC
So you might have seen my previous blog on how to go about hot swapping your xbox harddrive. That all came about because for the last few years I have been using XBMC on my XBOX. There’s a lot of pressure on everyone at the moment to be a bit more environmentally friendly, you know the drill, use less power, recycle more, try not to turn the heating on until you have icicles hanging from your nose etc. and one of the ways that I think I can help the environment (computationally) is to re-use old hardware in new ways. Enter the original XBOX.
It’s far from cute, or engineered – in fact it really is just a PC in a box with a big X written on top of it – which works out brilliantly for people like me who want to hack it. I’ve got an XBOX 360, (in fact I’ve got two but one is currently suffering from a RROD) so the hardware was going unused. With the help of a friend, I managed to softmod it (break open the software so that I could install my own software on it, without actually opening the box – for some strange reason I didn’t want to break the warranty on it or something, but softmodding it *IS* voiding the warranty, so it doesn’t really make a difference). Softmodding really is the cleanest way of getting XBMC on the machine, but there is a lot that can go wrong, so it’s probably best that you do learn how to hot swap the harddrive.
Anyways, after installing the XBMC software, you can use the XBOX for more than just what the original offered you in terms of features – in fact, there are more video codecs supported by XBMC than even the XBOX 360 so it makes for an even better media centre solution! It also has a DVD player, which is another good reason for doing it! (I like the bit where the XBMC Media Player skips through all the logos and adverts on DVDs for you.) So the list of features that I think are important for getting XBMC up and running are:
- Videos can be played from anywhere (I have a NAS which everyone on the LAN can read from, including the XBOX – makes watching anything unbelievably quick and easy – can also read from any shared drive on a computer)
- DVD player – why do you need another set top box, when this one will do?
- Music – sometimes it’s just nice to put some music on and just _listen_.
- TVCatchup plugin – allows my house (which doesn’t have aerial cable to plug in to the tv) to watch live tv
- iPlayer plugin – need I say more? TV on demand is awesome.
Features that it has that I don’t really use are old game system emulators, like SNES, NES, older even than that; YouTube videos can be played on it; Apple Movie Trailers; Lyrics that automatically download for the song you’re playing making it into some sort of karoke machine.
Asside from the troubles that I have had with the maintainence of the damn thing, I think that I’ve now got it all sorted and set up for the future, and if you are willing to take a bit of a risk with your (as was with me) beloved hardware, then the benefits far outweigh the costs of alternative media centre solutions available on the market. Plus the fact, XBMC is an entirely open sourced awesomely supported bit of kit that runs on so many devices, you’d be shocked how there isn’t really a real commercial competitor that is as good as it. I think the closest you’d come would be, Boxee Box but that has affiliations to XBMC anyway.
Something that I should note however, is that specifically for the XBOX version of XBMC, it is no longer supported by the main dev trunk, but it was so popular that there is a spin off branch which attempts to include all the main trunk additions optimised for the XBOX – you can get to it here: XBMC4XBOX. Probably the most important link to get you started is on the community wiki about how to install and update the firmware: http://xbmc4xbox.org/wiki/index.php?title=Installing/Running/Updating/Uninstalling_XBMC
If you need a media centre solution for your home, I would seriously recommend spending the very little money on an XBOX and having a go at building your own awesome setup – or even dusting off that old bit of hardware lying in a cupboard somewhere and do your bit for the environment! 😀