Specs of old and new XBMC box

People keep asking me for the specs of my XBMC boxes. Although I thought I'd done that here (old) and here (new). I've got them line by line now.

Compaq EVO D510 Small Desktop with Intel Pentium 4 2.8ghz processor. 512meg of Ram and 13gig ATA hardddrive. 5x speed creative (no-region) PC DVD drive and GeForce 6200 128meg AGP card (low profile card with DVI output). Came with 2 full PCI slots free and one low profile AGP slot, now have a Trust 7.1 sound card slotted in the PCI slots. Power usage is 185 watts sounds silent unless playing a disc.

Lenovo ThinkCentre M55p Small Desktop with Intel Core 2 Duo 1.86ghz processor. 2gig of Ram an 80gig SATA harddrive. 16X speed DVD-ROM and Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 3000 (onboard with VGA output). Came with 1 full PCI slot free and 1 weird (swear its not, some forums say its a ADD 2-R or PEG slot) PCI Express slot, now have a Trust 7.1 sound card slotted in the slots. Power usage is 225 watts but still also silent unless playing a disc.

Both machines are running Ubuntu 8.04.1 with Pulseaudio savaged to not run. The Lenovo has the latest beta of XBMC 2.2 while the Compaq is running the mainline 2.1. The main difference is in the CPU usage.

I ran the Lenovo through some of the most challenging trailers and films I own and it made mince meat of everything. The Sony Advert where the colour balls are bouncing down the streets of San Francisco, you know the one. Well I got that in sub 1080p (1440×1080) and on the old machine playback would drop to sometimes 12fps on intense scene changes. Even the audio would sometimes break up and you could see the CPU running at 100% through out. Now with the new machine its running the whole thing at 40% on one CPU! My ultimate test was the Spiderman 3 trailer which was not only the full 1080p but at a high bit rate only reserved for BluRay. The old box would give up playing this half way through, while the new one got stuck in and hit a CPU peak of 60% for both CPUs. Playback was flawless except 3 frames it had dropped the whole 2mins. On other stuff like my HD Back to the Future and Matrix collection, it was perfect, even with DTS sound. This is what Home entertainment should be like…

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Boxee’s app repository, a game changer?

Plex apps store

I adore XBMC, I really do but I do rate Boxee for everything its doing. The social features are not perfect but far better that I've seen elsewhere so far. While the competition plonk twitter an facebook intergration on top of everything they do, Boxee has weaved in the social to be a core part of the platform instead of on top.

Another key thing I noticed about Boxee since my upgrade is the Apps changes. I've said for years XBMC is the best platform to demonstrate whats possible when you move away from broadcast television to ip based vision. Python supplies XBMC, Plex and Boxee with incredible scripting power and new APIs to manipulate the video and interface. So far the scripting has been all the obvious stuff like scraping websites for multimedia content but recently there's been more DVD like experiences to stuff which you may be downloaded or streamed. So maybe a menu or options to dive into more content that just what's in the linear storyline. Nothing too interactive, just options to play more linear content. But you can certainly see that changing in the near future. And unlike before its going to get very easy to see these apps deployed on your screen.

XBMC has always had the ability to download scripts from the net while sitting in the sofa but its been not very clear or popular. Plex from what I gather (I don't run plex) has a apps directory like you would expect from the Apple store but Boxee has gone one step further by including the option to subscribe to your own repository. So for example, the BBC could have not only its own apps with everyone elses but have a total repository of its own which only includes maybe BBC approved apps. This guy from the Boxxxee adult network raves on about what a game changer this could be and to be frank where the porn industry goes, others do follow.

The “open-ness” of the Boxee platform is what, I believe, will ultimately make it wildly successful. The ability for content creators to instantly distribute their creations to monitors and TV sets around the world is a game changer. Unfortunately, installing a Boxee app manually is a task only a developer (or hardcore tech geek) would feel comfortable with. Surely, for those who are using Boxee free from any keyboard (maybe with the awesome iPhone remote app?) manually installing an app is impossible.

Fortunately, Boxee has a killer little feature called the App Box. Within the App Box, users can add “Repositories,” essentially directories that house third-party applications. Once a repository is added, installing the apps from that repository is a one click process. Developers can add additional apps and they’ll show up automatically in a viewer’s App Box as soon as they are available. I love it!

He's quite right to be excited, I expect the apps will become much more mature and boost levels of interaction which will surprise most traditional broadcasters off guard. If that doesn't get them the ability to redefine the rules of TV within the stream and the media of the box will. Avner Ronen of Boxee asks TV programme producedrs to start changing the way they write programmes to fit with a audiences who don't need a cliff-hanger at the end of each show. Why is a show 22 or 44 mins, why the tricks to persuade the viewer to stay on board in stead of a solid plot?

The issue is that today writers create artificial suspense before commercial breaks and at the end of each episode (to ensure viewers will tune in next week), and they also feel the need to remind the viewer of key plot themes (since it’s been a week and the viewer may have forgotten). When you watch a few episodes over a short period of time these “tricks” are clearly apparent and they hurt real story telling.

The on-demand experience should also put into question other axioms. For example, why stick with the format of 22/44 min long episodes? some plot lines could be longer and some shorter. A show could also be non-linear, letting the viewer follow different paths from different angles, putting new story telling tools in the hands of the writers.

Lastly If you had any doubt, you should be looking at XBMC, Boxee and Plex for game changing ability just consider the amazing things been done in the field of dual screen ability with Xmote (video). Yes its iphone only right now but there has been remotes for other platforms like Android, Symbian, PocketPC and Blackberry. Generally most of the hardwork has been about connecting the two but now that has been solved your starting to see some amazing enhancements like being able to pull up the cast and crew of the film your watching on the big screen without a break in the viewing. So imagine combining this with the ability to script and manipulate the content? Heck imagine doing this with 4 of your friends or the family. What would be possible? I don't know but rather that dreaming about it, the people working on XBMC, Plex and Boxee are prototyping the future, now! Why don't you get involved now?

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