Project XBMC Machine

Discussion in 'all things UNIX' started by NGRhodes, Jan 30, 2009.

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  1. NGRhodes

    NGRhodes Registered Member

    Joined:
    Jun 23, 2003
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    Location:
    West Yorkshire, UK
    http://xbmc.org

    I am currently nearing completion of my Xbox replacement.

    I have for a long time run XBMC on my Xbox (which an upgraded hdd in).

    The DVD had started sticking and I was thinking about what to do for a replacement and XBMC for Linux was stabilising, so I decided that I should have a go at building my own machine.

    Also I decided that this machine would also replace my old desktop (laptop my main machine nowadays) that I used as a printer server, data backup and downloading and thought why not make sure that my replacement machine can handle XMBC and my old desktop machine.
    Also, this machine needs to be small to sit in our TV cabinet and I didn't want to spend too much money on this incase doesn't work as well as expected.

    I originally managed to obtain for nothing a Athlon based Micro ATX machine, which would JUST fit in the TV cabinet by taking some of it apart.
    I managed to find a 300gb Seagate HDD with a 2 years warranty left on it for £25 from Ebay (took months of bidding to get one).

    I already had a good DVD drive.
    The GFX card was an ATI Rage (ancient), plan was to upgrade to a faster card when I knew the setup would work.
    I looked at GFX cards with TV out, I currently don't own a HD TV yet as not enough TV Channels on HD and my movie collection is all DVD and not to be replaced soon. So I wanted RGB Scart , the best quality I can get, but it appears something that is not available, so I managed to get a PCI scan converter for £5 off Ebay that does VGA to RGB Scart.

    So last weekend I finally got round to installing Ubuntu on my old desktop, changing the drive into the MicroATX machine and copying the data from my 3 80 gig HDDs in my old desktop onto the new 300gb hdd and the motherboard failed on the MicroATX machine.

    I also obtained a Dell Windows MCE remote off Ebay for £15 which according to the XBMC forums will just work with XMBC. Tested it on my laptop using LIRC and worked flawlessy.

    I had a quick look on Ebay and spotted a nice machine so bought it asap - IBM S50 http://reviews.cnet.com/desktops/lenovo-thinkcentre-s50-8183/4505-3118_7-30413604.html?tag=mncol. £45.
    This tiny machine is narrower than the Xbox and a bit longer, same height, tool-less design and vibration proof HDD cradle.
    And a good linux friendly spec for the money, P4 2.8, 512mb ram, on board intel GFX (so no need to mess with 3rd party drivers) 8 usb ports, SATA and IDE connectors, 2 full size PCI slots.

    It arrived yesterday so I swapped the 300gb hdd in and had it up and running in 5 minutes due to the tool-less design.
    Runs really quiet and unlike Windows, Linux just works when transferring to a different machine (3 machines in 7 days), no need to mess with any additional drivers.

    But its not all plain sailing, the PCI Scan converter has the VGA right at the top, and is obscured by the tool-less PCI card clip. This will be an easy fix - I can remove the clip and use a screw instead.

    For sound output, what I plan on doing is using a Scart cable and splicing in a cable from the speaker out on the back of the S50 into the Scart cable audio wires, this will run then through our cable box where the sound goes to my stereo.

    This weekend I will install XBMC and spend time configuring the machine and will let you know what I did and how it all runs, but hopefully I should end up with a nice machine for less than £100.
     
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2009
  2. NGRhodes

    NGRhodes Registered Member

    Joined:
    Jun 23, 2003
    Posts:
    2,331
    Location:
    West Yorkshire, UK
    Progress report.

    Its all plugged in and working.
    My scan convertor only works with VGA resolutions (I tried configuring X to run at PAL), but on the bonus side, I can set to output at good size resolution and then XBMC has a great screen sizing/position tool to get the display to fit exactly correctly on the TV.

    I am currently investigating stability issue with XBMC, watching movies and playing music through Rythym box and Totem is fine.
    I suspect that its an issue with pulse audio, not had time to investigate, but I will simply disable pulseaudio to test.

    I've installed openSSH server and VNC viewer so I can remotely admin the machine, these required no fiddling.
    I installed LIRC and selected the MS Media Centre remote from the config dialog and this worked first time, I tested by using a little app called irw that simply outputs keypresses.

    This is a useful guide for LIRC in Ubuntu/debian - https://help.ubuntu.com/community/InstallLirc/Hardy

    Next I need to set up an XBMC user that will Auto Login and will only load XBMC up, no gnome desktop, though I will leave gnome installed for other uses.

    This user will get read only access to my media files that are on my users home folder.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2009
  3. NGRhodes

    NGRhodes Registered Member

    Joined:
    Jun 23, 2003
    Posts:
    2,331
    Location:
    West Yorkshire, UK
    Its been a long time, but I've managed to finish this project.

    Stability issue, took a bit of head scratching, but turned out to be video memory set too low (on board gfx shared memory), turning it up from 1mb to 32mb solved that.

    Spent a long time sorting out the display settings in Xorg using: http://www.tkk.fi/Misc/Electronics/faq/vga2rgb/calc.html and http://www.mythtv.org/wiki/Modeline_Database#PAL_625 I found that my scan convertor was happy with standard vga frequency settings but I could use any resolution, so I picked a pal with overscan resolution and played with the timings a little correctly centre the screen.

    The final thing that I needed to do was set XBMC to auto login, this was done by logging as my xbmc user opening the login manager as root and setting auto login option, picking the xbmc session.

    All working a treat. As an example uses about 30% cpu to play a divx at this resolution (sadly my gfx card is not supported for any hardware decoding/scaling), which is ample for my low definition setup.


    Next thing to do is provide some photos...
     
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