XBMC Linux update + HDTV commentary

I’ve been puttering on the XBMC Linux box but I’m not very happy with it. I am using it as my primary video player these days, instead of the XBox, but I think I might be tempted to go back to the XBox more often if I had two ethernet cables under the TV (or an extra 100MB router). Suspend on my Linux box doesn’t work reliably, which means I keep having to get on the keyboard and fix things. XMBC crashes somewhat regularly, which means I need to get on the keyboard and fix things.

XMBC does seem to work pretty well, feature-wise, but there’s just something not quite right about the picture. I swear that DVD’s played back via XBMC don’t look as good as when they’re played from my DVD player, like they’re not quite as smooth — though I relize that description is vague. And there’s sometimes some “tearing” in the video. I need to map a key on my remote to the “context menu” action, because right now I can’t get to the context menus.

I’m slightly optimistic that AMD/nVidia will release Linux drivers that support video acceleration say in the next 6 months, and that should make things much better from a video quality and CPU load perspective. MPlayer works great on this machine but XBMC doesn’t use it (MythTV does) because MPlayer uses all the registers of the CPU. This makes the junction between MythTV and MPlayer obvious at times (e.g., keyboard/remote button mappings become reversed), while in XBMC things are seamless.

I keep building XMBC from source. One thing I’ve noticed is that it’s good to delete your UserPreferences folder every few weeks and let XBMC give you a new default one.

I have not yet migrated the TV tuner card into this machine, like I had intended. It’s currently in the server machine (that runs this blog, among other things) which is upstairs, and the antenna seems to get over-the-air recption better upstairs. Plus I have to leave the server on all the time, while I’ve been tending to suspend the home theater machine (though suspend doesn’t work reliably). I like being able to record PBS shows (yeah, that’s me) and watch them in HD at my leisure. I really end up compressing them to HRHD (half rate HD) but they still look a ton better than SD shows, and they’re widescreen. The XBMC upsampler really does a good job, as does my Panasonic plasma TV.

BTW, if anyone is thinking of buying a HDTV, my recommendation is to pay particular attention to the electronics in the TV. Too many people buy a set that looks great in HD but has cheap upsampling electronics so SD broadcasts look terrible. Some even think that all HD sets look terrible on SD programming, but you should check out the Panasonic plasmas, which look great in SD, and Sony LCDs too. My theory is that TV price = display price + electronics price +/ deals. So you can get a cheaper HD “only” tv with cheaper electronics.