A few months ago I wrote a post about choosing a device for streaming media from the web and the NAS on my network. At the time I was trying to choose between an updated AppleTV and a net top running XBMC. Since then I discovered Boxee. Boxee is built on top of XBMC but incorporates extra social features and makes viewing web based content easier. For a while I considered picking up the dedicated Boxee Box build by D-Link but at £200 I thought it’d make more sense to buy a Atom based net top and install Boxee on that. That way I get the same functionality but with the option of installing other useful applications.
I quickly realised that the price of the Boxee Box is definitely worth it if you don’t have time to fiddle. I always knew that running an HTPC (Home Theatre PC) was going to take some time to set up but I still wasn’t prepared for the amount of hassle.
My first attempt at installation was with Ubuntu 10.10. Everything went smoothly until I came to shut down after the installer finished. The screen locked up. ‘No problem’ I thought and did a hard reset. After installing the NVidia drivers I restarted and it hung again. Turns out the wireless driver for this hardware in 10.10 has a problem unloading. I couldn’t find a solution that evening so decided to have a look at Windows XP.
Installation was fine until I was greeted with that long forgotten about issue of searching for drivers. I managed to get everything working and Boxee installed. This is where I find out that Boxee relies on DXVA (Direct X Video Acceleration) to offload processing to the GPU. This is only available in Vista and Win 7. Every video played like hell… even 240p Youtube videos.
In the mean time I managed to stumble upon a fix for the previously mentioned wireless driver bug in Ubuntu 10.10. Post number 9 on this thread. Hurrah! The hard disk was formatted and Ubuntu was reinstalled with the fix doing its stuff. I can now shut down/hibernate/suspend without the system locking.
Video performance is much better under Ubuntu. Boxee in Ubuntu uses VDPAU for its GPU acceleration which is obviously available to 10.10 as it’s the most up to date release. Flash content can still be a bitch but that’s down to Adobe not building GPU acceleration into Flash 10.1 on any OS except for Windows. 10.2 fixes this so once that’s out of beta hopefully Boxee will build it in and even 1080p Flash content will play smoothly.
I was hoping to be able to stream most things wirelessly but I’m starting to think my ISP supplied N router has an issue with sustained data throughput over wireless. I can copy a file from my NAS (gigabit ethernet) to my Macbook Pro (wireless N) and get about 3-4 MB/s. That should be enough for any video file to play smoothly but when watching a DVD rip in Boxee it’ll stop randomly for a few seconds every 10 or so minutes. I think I’ll just run a cable round at some point. At least then I can plug in my Blu Ray player and XBox 360 as well.
There are still definite issues with this set up but overall things seem to be running smoothly. I’ll maybe make another post with my actual views after a few weeks usage. I think once I put down an ethernet run things will become a lot more useful and I can actually make a proper judgement on the set up.