FLOSS Weekly 57: XBMC

The beauty of XBMC media centre

XBMC Media Center, the free, open source, cross-platform media-player and entertainment hub.

Running time: 1:04:09

Guests: Scott Davilla and Jonathan Marshall for XBMC

XBMC is a free, open source (GPLv2+) media center application available for Linux, Mac OS X, AppleTV, Windows and the original XBox. It allows users to view, organize, and play back media from an attractive user interface. It utilizes many other FLOSS projects in order to play back almost any media available, and can obtain additional metadata information for albums, artists, TV shows and movies from online sources. And all of this can be achieved from the the couch via a remote control.

There are many skins that allow users to theme the look and feel of XBMC to fit into a user's current system, and many plugins and addons that extend functionality, offering access to online content such as Hulu or Apple Movie Trailers from within XBMC.

The project originated in 2001-2002, with XBox Media Player being developed for the original Microsoft XBox. XBox Media Center was a rewrite of this in 2003, and in 2007 it was ported to Linux and later to Mac OS X, Windows, and the Apple TV, becoming known simply as XBMC. The first, official stable release of XBMC in its current incarnation was XBMC 8.10 (Atlantis), released at the end of October 2008.

Boxee was also discussed. Boxee is a freeware cross-platform media center software with social networking features that is a fork of the open source XBMC media center software with some custom and proprietary additions. Marketed as the first ever “social media center,” Boxee enables its users to view, rate and recommend content to their friends through many social networking features. Boxee is still under development and is currently only available as Alpha releases for Mac OS X (Leopard and Tiger), Apple TV, and Linux for computers with Intel processors, with the first Alpha made available on the 16th of June 2008. A Microsoft Windows alpha version of Boxee was released in January 2009, but is currently available only by private invitation.

TWiT Wiki for this show

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Vertical City: Beetham Tower, Manchester

When I first saw the Beetham Tower or the Deansgate tower I quickly liked Manchester. It says a lot about where Manchester is and where its going. It was great to see Vertical City cover it, a shock because I never really thought of it as anything special compared to the rest of the worlds skyscrapers. Lovely looking and almost affordable to live in but nothing like 1 Canada Square or 375 Park Avenue. I think you can catch up with the whole thing on 4OD if you missed it.

As the tallest residential skyscraper in the UK, Manchester's distinctive Beetham Tower is turning heads and dividing opinion.

Heading up a new generation of skyscrapers that are regenerating Britain's post-industrial cities, Beetham is at the heart of a battle between traditionalists and modernists.

Despite producing some of the world's leading architects such as Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, Britain isn't exactly enamoured with skyscrapers.

And this reluctance to embrace the high-rise even extends to the country's future king, Prince Charles.

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Hulu removes its self from Boxee

This is so insane. Boxee is doing nothing wrong and even the Hulu team have no real problem with whats going on. But oh no the content providers can't understand the whole situation and have demanded Hulu be removed from Boxee. The users are going to lose out big time in this. We really need to educate the content providers about this new world of digital distribution. This is from the Boxee blog

we love Hulu. they have built a great product and brand (including one the best Superbowl ads this year). since our early days in private alpha, Hulu was the most requested site by our users. so we built support for browsing Hulu on boxee, reached out to Hulu, and on Oct 20th, 2008 shared it with our alpha testers. the response has been amazing. people love watching many of their favorite shows on Hulu via boxee. last week we generated more than 100,000 streams for them…

two weeks ago Hulu called and told us their content partners were asking them to remove Hulu from boxee. we tried (many times) to plead the case for keeping Hulu on boxee, but on Friday of this week, in good faith, we will be removing it. you can see their blog post about the issues they are facing.

our goal has always been to drive users to legal sources of content that are publicly available on the Internet. we have many content partners who are generating revenue from boxee users and we will work with Hulu and their partners to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.

we will tell them how users love Hulu on boxee, why it represents a great opportunity for them to better engage with fans of their shows, how boxee can help in exposing their content to new people, and why they should be excited about future opportunities of working with us.

In the i'm a pirate and what you going to do about it session at Beebcamp, it was identified that streaming could be the answer to bit torrent downloads for most users. But with decisions like this one, there's almost no choice but to look to the darkside for the same content. I'm really hoping the BBC is stronger that Hulu and won't remove the unofficial iplayer plugin from Boxee. I actually just helped a friend get boxee setup because he would like to watch BBC content on his TV instead of his laptop. There a family which don't really watch live TV and own a Apple TV, Boxee with iplayer makes tons of sense for them and I'm sure many others…

Fear not the users of Boxee, the Boxee team are collaboratively working out a pitch for the content producers. If its any good, it could be very useful for other content producers large and small. I highly suggest everyone get in there and add to there pitch.

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Enjoying the Pet Shop Boys

My love for dance music is wider that most would imagine at first. One of the genres I actually quite like but generally wouldn't admit to is the electro-pop/syth-pop stuff. The Pet Shop Boys seem to fit right in the middle of that genre of music perfectly. So it was great to see and hear them perform the other night on the Brits, which I only tuned into because I happen to be in the hotel room flicking through the limited channels for something to watch. Anyhow, The Pet Shop boys they won the 2009 Outstanding Contribution to Music award. Although they play a good selection of tunes, Go West, Its a sin, West end Girls and my favourite Always on my mind. Enjoy the performance before it gets taken down…

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BeebCamp 2.0


Yes believe it or not the BBC is also involved in the BarCamp movement but currently only through its own internal BarCamp titled BeebCamp. For those who don't know sometimes the BBC is called Antie Beeb, I don't quite know why either it seems to be a legacy thing. Anyhow this is the 2nd Beebcamp, I had missed the first one due to it being not as widely advertised. The main guy behind it Philip Trippenback did a good job bring together a diverse group of people from around the BBC to the event which was held in the White City main building. It felt more like a external BarCamp because of some of the regular characters being at the event. We invited about 10-15 non-BBC people to join us and stop the usual internal chatter which you usually get with internal events.

Shooting on small cameras
at the table
This was the first session and I got to say a really good one. I didn't say anything till much later in the session because it was a joy to finally hear someone saying what I've been saying all along. The premise was that we (the BBC) should be able to shoot on small cameras including Flip Cameras and even Mobile phones. Reasons? Many, including purpose, cost, reaction to the camera, conversational media and what is broadcast quality? The last three were very fitting with some problems we've been having recently.

There was a really good talk about the reaction people have to the camera and how we move to a more conversational media of the internet, rocking up with a complete camera crew even a person with a camera and boom mic causes people to act and can disrupt the environment. Huey from Radio one talked about a example when Jo Whiley was filming backstage and some rock star asked her if she was broadcasting? She replied nope its just for my blog and he then said ok and threw up.

The debate then turned around to what is broadcast quality and this is one of biggest bug bears. The BBC does have a standard for broadcast quality but what it doesn't have is a standard for internet video. This could be partly because there assuming you will shoot for television then convert it to the internet. Well thankfully not everyone is thinking that way. Although I do remember having a conversation with a work friend about PAL and NTSC recently. She said we should shoot in PAL because we live in the UK and I said yes maybe but what I was actually wondering was when you encode the final video file does 30fps instead of 25fps work better in the video codec we choose?

I'm a pirate and what you going to do about it?
I decided to run this one myself again off the success of the conversation at Amplified08. Once again this one always brings out the pirates in everyone and frank conversation about the state of on-line media. I wish I'd recorded this one as it was that good. Anyway I can't remember much of the details because we covered a lot of things including the pirate bay case which Rachel Clarke pointed out Sofia Metcalfe is covering it via Twitter, which is handy because its all in Swedish. The notion of how scared the BBC is of being associated with BitTorrent came out too, which was very interesting, even with stories like LegalTorrents and LinuxTorrents.

The general consensus around the table was that BitTorrent is a neutral technology and the BBC should be using it when possible rather avoiding it, its almost unstoppable. I say unstoppable because there was discussion about streaming and how the ability to upload videos to youtube, viddler, vimeo, blip, etc, etc. Has grown very fast and the audience for that kind of watching is maybe more that the bittorrent users. Even Boxee came up in the 20min discussion, which is currently having to remove Hulu from Boxee because rights holds just keep on moaning.

Actually I think thats where we ended. Maybe the BBC has a vital role in educating and advising the rights holders about Free culture. Interestingly Jason was thinking about the future of the Licence Fee. I certainly like the idea of our audience (people formally known as our audience) being participations but I think we need both processes to work hand in hand otherwise yes you will get something which is more like Epic 2014/5.

What should the BBC do with twitter.com/bbc? [video]
Another good session this time from Jem Stone and Arron. I twittered this one on the day. So the question has been asked and my answer is “do nothing for now.” I can't imagine what BBC would twitter. Jem makes the point CNN has a person whos the voice of CNN but the BBC is a really diverse beast and I don't believe anyone person even Mark Thompson (the director general) could be the person behind twitter.com/bbc. I'm totally open to change my mind if someone comes up with a good idea but right now the best we could come up with is for the account to follow all other BBC people. But then someone did rightly ask, would they follow people working for the BBC such as myself or just personalties like Stephen Fry??

There was so much more including an attempt to build the BBC's organisational using grassroots methods,

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Windows Mobile 6.5 yawn….

Steve Ballmer talks about Windows Mobile 6.5 at the Mobile World Congress today. Pretty screenshots float around the web but honestly where the innovation and new features? Good thing this is a point release otherwise I'd be even more critical. I mean a cloud service for windows mobile phones? So what? I already backup and sync with both Plaxo and Google. A application store (because we never saw that coming) yes well ok nice, good there also keeping it open like the googlephone appstore. New version of Pocket Internet Explorer? Ummm Opera is well ahead of you guys and fenric (Firefox) is just days away from beta. New style lock screen and home screens? Why Microsoft haven't just bought the Point UI? I just don't know.

Don't get me wrong its all reasonable stuff from Microsoft. They have moved up a gear but there really not cooking on gas yet. Windows Mobile 7 better have some serious changes in it. Its frankly embarssing to move between the Touchflo interface and the standard Windows mobile interface. One minute your browsing around using your thumb next moment your using the edge of a finger nail because of the legacy windows mobile interface.

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Evernote != Tomboy Notes

Evernote on WINE

The reality of the same information on multiple devices and platforms is starting to become a reality. But there's always a edge case. Take for example Notes. I use Tomboy Notes on my Ubuntu Laptop because its lightweight, fast, wiki based and saves in little linked XML files (great data portability). And rather that get sucked into using Outlook notes again or even one note, I've switched to using Evernote on everything else (thanks Nicole for the heads up on this service) including my windows mobile phones and the ipod touch. But does Evernote have a Linux client? No. Instead I'm forced to use the web version which is no good when I'm in a meeting room with no connection. What the notes world needs is for Tomboynotes to support Evernote's API and i'm not the only one saying this…

Use the Evernote API (http://www.evernote.com/about/developer/api/) to sync Tomboy notes –> Evernote, and possibly Evernote –> Tomboy (though obviously images, etc. wouldn't sync into Tomboy…perhaps include a link to the note online in that case?)

I was thinking this would be the perfect reason to use something like Conduit if it supported the Evernote API. Its all a pipe dream, in the end I broke down and cheated by installed Evernote under wine. Boy its ugly and gets on my nervious, I really would like a native version or better still the sync option.

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Want to buy my old Home Cinema setup?

So if you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen I bought a new Home Cinema amp on the weekend. I had planned to upgrade in the near future but when I was out getting my mobile phone upgraded, I come across a great deal in SuperFi. It was a ex-display Onkyo 7.1 Channel Home Cinema amp (Onkyo TX-SR505E). I had planned to buy the next one up from Richersounds but for over double the price. The one I bought was on shop floor for 120 pounds but I knocked them down further again by another 20+ pounds. 97 pounds exactly which is very good for a 7.1 home cinema amp. It took me ages to get it setup because its very different from my previous setup and I didn't have all the cables.

Anyway all this begs the question, what do I do with the old Home Cinema kit? It still works and is still really good but its going to be a real pain to sell on ebay, computer exchange are not going to take it and I don't really think I'll get much for it. So I have made a video to prove it all works and hopefully someone might be interested enough to drop me a offer. I'll add the specs below but here's someone with almost exactly the same setup I had.

Dolby Digital/DTS Decoder: Technics SH-AC500D Surround Processor. Supports 2x Optical and 2x Coxial connections, Supports Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 and Pass through Stereo with automatic switching, fully working remote, Dolby midnight mode support, Solid american power adapter included. Bought for 300 pounds brand new from a specialist importer

Dolby Prologic Power Amp: Sherwood Newcastle R725 RDS. 100 watts per channel (5.1) 130 watts in Stereo. 8 analog audios in, 2 tape loops, phono input, A/B speakers modes, supports dolby prologic, 4 surround modes, composite video switching, 2Eq's plus Cinema bass, 6 Channel input (the technics decoder uses this). Remote sometimes works. Bought for 299 pounds from Richersounds in the UK

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Unboxing the HTC touch HD

All my current phones

So I have a new phone to add to the line up (watch the unboxing), the HTC Touch HD (far left). Its not like I'm collecting them, the ipod touch isn't really a phone at all (I just use it for reading rss feeds and ebooks but that may change now I got the Touch HD). After that there is my old phone the HTC Kaiser/Tytn II and finally my work phone the HTC Touch Diamond. Yes I like Windows mobile phones but I'm certainly still interested in turning the Kaiser into a Android phone some time soon.

So far the HTC Touch HD is good, the touch flo3D interface is so much faster that the Touch Diamond. Its also so much more usable with its extra resolution. Browsing the web using Opera is much more like the iphone browsing experience. I'm still typing faster with the stylus that my fingers right now, but I'm sure that will change soon. Thumbs up to the Touch HD right.

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Time for a phone upgrade

HD Touch

This time things are less interesting. Because I'm on a 18 month contract with Orange and only done 15 months come Feb 14th I can only upgrade within the Orange range of phones. This isn't such a problem because the only other network I would consider switching to is Tmobile and thats only because they have the Google G1. I already found out that O2 and Vodafone don't let you use your phone as a modem, actually the guy in the Vodafone seemed shocked why I would do such a thing. I explained I don't want two contracts and a modern phone can do everything those USB modems can but then he tried to bulls**t me about the speeds of 3G/HSDPA, claiming I would struggle to reach a fifth of the speed.

Anyway the selection is pretty poor from Orange, there coming soon phones really don't fill me with amazement. The only phone worth upgrading to is the HTC Touch HD and I got to say i'm having douhts about that choice even. Don't get me wrong its a very nice phone but I'm quite liking my HTC Kaiser with its keyboard. If I had any choice I would upgrade to the SonyEricsson X1 or the Touch Pro. To tell the truth the only interesting phone out there outside of the previously mentioned is the Palm Pre and who knows when the UK release will be.

So it looks like I will end up with the HD Touch HD from Saturday.

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The Sync wars, Google just kill Plaxo?

Everything was fine, Plaxo would sync to my windows mobile phones via there propitery sync application. And I could grab the specially crafted ical feeds for use with Evolution. Then Google released Sync for mobile devices. My world would never be the same…

Synchronize your contacts. Get your Google contacts quickly and easily to your Windows Mobile phone. With Sync, you can have access to your address book at anytime and place that you need it.

Get calendar alerts. Using your phone's native calendar, you can now access your Google calendar, and be alerted for upcoming appointments with sound or vibration.

Always in sync. Your calendar and contacts stay synchronized whether you access them from your phone or from your computer. Add or edit contacts or calendar entries right on your device or on your Google account on the web.

I tried to add Google Sync to Evolution directly, but evolution seems to get hung up on the fact theres no mail attached. Once I find a way around that, every single device I own will be syncing with Google Sync. I'm really going to have to consider what I use Plaxo for in the future.

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Wanna-be dj applications

Samsung 7600

I'm getting a little fed up of seeing all these crazy wanna-be dj applications. Seriously I'm not against them but most of them are so very lame, there not even trying to take advantage of the fact there on mobile devices.

DJ Party Mixer for Windows Mobile doesn't even support pitch control. IPJ for the iphone and ipod looks much better but fails for not supporting 2 or more tracks. You have to use a external mixer which ruins the whole concept of mobile. The shaking effects is interesting but ultimately its all a bit of a joke again. Also a expensive one at 50 dollars. Pocket studio seems to have most of the features needed to get a decent-ish mix but this is the rub why all these devices suck for mixing. The Pacemaker not only has everything sorted for a real time performance but it also has dual sound outputs. One for monitoring and the other one for audience output. This is simply not possible on any of the mobile devices to date. The Samsung M7600 is selling its self as a dj phone but once again theres only one output. And even the most advanced Windows mobile phone can not seperate the audio out between the headphone jack and the bluetooth sound connection which could count as two. If it was possible it would be interesting to monitor on a bluetooth headset and have the main output plugged into a amp, system, etc. No I'm sorry to say but Tonium have totally got this area covered at the moment. I do hold out hope (I still remember the first digital dj app – virtual turntables and they said it wouldn't take off) for clever IP djing but right now, its not even close to interesting. What is interesting is Wiijing

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Is the BBC talking too much about Twitter?

BBC Technology blog

Answer: No, well maybe… (I've been convincing my friends from Bristol for ages.)

This came up on the Backstage list via (Frank Wales) today along with another actually related topic which I pitched into the list. Seems the BBC might be annoying some people with its talk about twitter. Some have even suggest the BBC setup its own microblogging service.

Obviously I don't speak for the BBC but I thought I'd twitter it and see what comes back. Here's some of the responses.

dogsbodyorg @cubicgarden No idea if it's too much but surely it's better to talk about Twitter (an open company /w API & no ads) than Facebook / Myspace

euan @cubicgarden talking about it as individuals is one thing – appropriating it as an organisation is another

oliciv @cubicgarden I can remember thinking the same thing about Myspace when it was the hot new place to go on the internet and all over the media

lancew @cubicgarden wondering if BBC is obsessing over twitter, maybe they should setup a laconica server for BBC folks?

SoullaStylianou @cubicgarden nope I don't think BBC's mentions of twitter is OTT. Its basically of the moment is it not?

digitalmaverick @cubicgarden i think Twitter is as important as email, so I have no problem with BBC mentioning it lots at the moment

mmetcalfe @cubicgarden I thought the protesters were complaining about the Gaza situation, not a bloody microblogging platform!

So everyone keeps shouting we should setup our own.

I thereby recommend they have a look at laconi.ca. It’s ‘micro-blogging’ software which functions in a very similar manner to twitter, but would allow the BBC to set up their own service, without having to lend commercial support to an entity. It’s also used to power identi.ca – a ‘free’ rival to twitter. They’d have to think of a new name for the service though… what would you call it?

Well I'm happy to say we did. We used Laconi.ca but haven't really made use of it yet. I was also thinking with the change in Jaiku's licensing we should set that up too. The main purpose of the setups was to interop on to and off Twitter and Jaiku at the time plus kill off the internal twitter system Yammer which I'm still not totally convinced about (although others are). At least someone should have told Peter about Yammer.

So whats going to happen? I think as the BBC gets its heads around microblogging it will quickly notice that not only is it somewhat promoting a single startup through its wording but that Microblogging is much bigger and like how we don't host our blogs on wordpress.com, we will want to host it ourselves. There's all type of things we could do with our microblogging system, things which are forbidden on Twitter or even not possible because of the way Twitter is setup. The obvious example is a children's microblogging service. This will resolve its self and it will be the geeks who had a hand in the new bright future of the BBC.

And at the end of the day, some fun.

imran @cubicgarden not only can't the bbc stop talking about twitter, but now the bbc is talking about the bbc talking about twitter /images/emoticons/wink.gif

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