Attention, would-be cord cutters: If you’re going to tell the cable man to shove it, you’re going to want a full-featured media center app to make browsing your digital movies, music, and pictures as pretty and painless as possible. Two of the top no-cost contenders are the open-source XBMC and Plex, a partly proprietary fork of XBMC that focuses on streaming media to multiple devices. Which is the blockbuster and which is the dud? Let’s find out.
Note: This article first appeared in the December issue of the magazine.
The latest version of XBMC takes the media center platform to a whole new level of awesome.
XBMC 12.0, codenamed "Frodo," is now available for public consumption, though we must warn you that nergasms are likely to occur. Just peeking at the list of new features is enough to set one off, and we fully understand why the developers confidently state this latest release will "blow you away." HD audio support, including DTS-MA and Dolby True-HD? Check. PVR support? Check that too. Support for Raspberry Pi and Android? We need more checks.
Windows Media Center may not make it into default Windows 8 installs, but the team of crack programmers behind the highly excellent XBMC media player is working hard to dull the pain. The newest addition to the open source software completely revamps XBMC's audio code and brings support for 7.1 HD audio formats, along with a lot of other goodies.
XBMC has been the 10 foot interface of choice with HTPC enthusiasts for years now, and with Boxee stepping aside in favor of dedicated hardware, they now virtually own the market. Version 11, codenamed “Eden” has finally stepped out of beta, and the final product looks incredibly slick. Eden adds better support for unencrypted Blu-Ray content, support for Apple Airplay, and even boasts impressive performance gains.
The soon-to-be-released Raspberry Pi stretches the definition of a PC: the ARM/Linux board is credit card-sized, capable of performing basic computing tasks, and only costs $25 (or $35 for a 256MB model, doubling the RAM of the $25 offering). Oh yeah, it plays 1080p HD video over HDMI, too. It's that last bit that brings us today's news: with the Raspberry Pi's launch looming, the team just released a video showing the board running a fully-working version of XBMC. That's right; it's a $35 1080p HTPC. Not tempting enough? It also supports AirPlay, even sans XBMC.
Back in October, Canonical shared its vision for the future of Ubuntu at the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Orlando. It’s a strategy that will see Ubuntu venture beyond PCs with a fair amount of abandon. According to Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth, the company plans to put Ubuntu on tablets, phones, TVs and other “smart screens” by 14.04 LTS. The Linux distro vendor seems to be on track with those plans, having managed to get an Ubuntu TV prototype ready in time for the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
There’s never been a better time in the history of geekdom to give your cable or satellite television the slip. Over the past few years, consumers been spoiled for choice, with just about everything we once turned to our televisions for now available online. Add to this the countless steaming video sites that pumping out fresh content to the interwebz on a daily basis, and you’ve got the makings of a viewing solution that has cable companies and satellite providers running scared. To keep track of it all, many resort to software solutions like XBMC, MediaPortal or Windows Media Center. If you’re a Chrome user, you’ve also got the option of rocking Clicker.TV, our Chrome web App of the Week.
One of the things XBMC setups could truly benefit from is a solid remote control, and coming soon, it'll have one. It's called the Motorola Nyxboard Hybrid, and according to Motorola, it's the first remote in the world designed specifically for XBMC. It's also super simple to use and works right out of the box; just connect the remote and the keys will instantly be recognized, Motorola says.
So, you’ve got a terabyte of media on your home PC—movies, music, TV shows, the works. On top of that, you like to watch streaming videos on the web and listen to Internet radio. Isn’t the future great? But how are you getting at all this media? Do you keep all your files in folders on your desktop, or are they just sitting on a NAS box? Maybe you use something like iTunes, and then fire up your browser to get at streaming content. There’s a better way.
What you need is a media front end, which can help you organize and access all your media, whether it’s files on your system or in the cloud. In this article, we’ll show you everything you need to do to get XBMC—a popular media front end—up, running, and customized.
"Very sad. As an XBMP user from back in the day, and still using XBMC on the original Xbox, thank you XMBC team," an XBMC user wrote in response to the XBMC team's latest announcement.
What he's referring to is the dissolution of the original Xbox branch from the team's subversion repository. What that means is no more releases or updates to the XBMC platform for the original Xbox, and instead 100 percent of the focus will be on other, more modern platforms.
"The last official release for the XBOX by the XBMC team was Atlantis, over 18 months ago," the XBMC team announced in a blog post. "Since then, one brave soul (Arnova) has been merging code from the main codebase into the XBOX branch in our repository. Because there were many users out there that took advantage of these updates, we had no problem with this.
"But times have changed. The XBOX has hard limits for what it can handle. Some users are satisfied with these limits, and we encourage them to use XBMC there if they are happy. But it is a popular misconception that official XBOX development is still taking place by the team, so we have decided to set it free. We have enough on our plates already, and worrying about a deprecated platform just increases our workload."
On a positive note for XBMC for original Xbox users, Arnova does still plan to continue development on the Xbox, just not at XBMC. You can find his new project homepage at SourceForge.
"We're leaving it in his hands to decide how to handle the project's administration. How he manages the forum, bug tracker, scm, developers, etcs. is up to him. In other worlds, don't complain to us," the XBMC team wrote.