Revo HTPC
2Mar/111

Linux Powered Revo Guide and Review

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For a long time everyone has asked me to do a write up on how Linux works with the Revo 1600. I am not a huge Linux fan so I went straight for Windows 7 and Windows Media Center for my Revo. However since I built a new HTPC my little Revo has just been hanging out waiting for some love, so I decided to install my age old enemy Linux and see what happens. The goal in mind was to first simply get a system installed that would play back my media and perhaps get some streaming video. There are a lot of options out there including XBMC, Boxee, and of course Hulu Desktop for streaming. I will eventually want to expand this to include Linux powered DVR, but let’s start small.

Installing Linux

WP_000079There are a lot of Linux distributions out there, however the most popular by far has to be Ubuntu. Not only is it the most popular, but it is really easy to install. You can run Ubuntu straight off a USB drive, install it side by side a Windows install, or just install it fully. I like Ubuntu for data retrieval, but this is the first time I will be using it as the OS. All you need to do is head over to the download page and download it. I selected USB stick and that I will be creating it with Windows. It will guide you through the process, but it is extremely easy. Once you have it installed you are good to go. It is important that you remember your password because every time you install something you will be prompted to enter your credentials. You will also want to install the latest NVidia drive for Linux. A nice little guide is located here.

Installing Software

I decided to give three different pieces of software a try. The first install is the easiest by far, which is Boxee, all you need to do is download the Linux .deb file and double click to install it inside of the Ubuntu Software Center. Let’s keep is simple again by installing Hulu Desktop by just selecting Ubuntu 32-bit to download the .deb file and again simply install it inside of Ubuntu Software Center. Now it is time to get all difficult and install XBMC, alright not that difficult. All you really need to do is follow the first step on their wiki page, which is to bring up the terminal and follow what they tell you.

Performance

XBMC:

WP_000080While XBMC might not have my favorite user interface in the entire world, it seems to play back content great on Linux. You can add content in tons of different ways including local content, network content (mine was on my windows home server), and even through plugins. There are a ton of plugins for XBMC including Revision 3, Grooveshark, NPR, Engadget, TWit, Trailer Addict, Youtube, Facebook photo, flicker, picasa and so much more. The plugins can all be installed straight from the user interface as well. I will say that media playback was great streaming across my network. Music, standard DVD rips, and even 720p video files played back very smooth.  The install is a bit odd, but overall I really enjoyed the experience.

Boxee:

WP_000078Boxee is great because it is an all on one solution and has great streaming potential. Boxee is also great because it automatically grabs all of the meta data for all of your music, movies, and television episodes for you. Streaming music across the network was just fine, however when it came to video it was a different story. Stand DVD quality movies played just fine but when I through 720p content at it the choppiness started right up. Even after a few minutes the video seemed to improve but just wasn’t as good as XBMC. Boxee still has a lot of plugins however. I tested out Revision 3 and Onion News and overall the quality was good and playback was pretty smooth, but XBMC still did it better. As for streaming content, what a disaster. Just like the Revo on Windows 7 with Boxee nothing worked at all. The video seemed to buffer and play but it kept to a small tiny box in the corner. Perhaps this could be fixed, but I am not sure.

Hulu Desktop:

WP_000081Oh Hulu how I love you for being able to play back the latest episodes of my favorite shows for free (some ads of course). When flash 10.1 came out it was a revolution for the Revo as Flash content finally played back smooth on the low powered Revo. Hulu Desktop worked pretty well on Windows, but on Linux it was a different story. Usually I am able to play back High quality, but it was just choppy as it could be. I tried Medium and the story was the same. If I brought it out of full screen mode then it seemed to play better. The UI was about as responsive as it was on the Windows, which isn’t saying much so overall fail for Hulu Desktop.

Netflix:

Doesn’t work at all from what I can tell.

Youtube & the Web:

I wanted to give Youtube a try on Linux since thing thing came pre-installed with Flash 10.2 & Firefox. I tried out the same video that I tested with the Revo which was the Nvidia 1080p test video and it was all over the play. 1080p completely chugged so I tried 720p and it was the same. Lowering the quality down to 480p seemed to work just fine. I tried out southparkstudios.com and after a few attempts and a lot of buffering it kind of worked… Let’s just say it had a lot of problems as did vimeo. I thought perhaps it was Firefox so I decided to give Google Chrome a try. After a short download and install I tested out the sites again. First off Chrome on Ubuntu is way better then Firefox even for browsing. It was faster and oh my goodness flash videos actually played. Southparkstudios.com was able to stream all sorts of videos even at full screen just like it should. Vimeo seemed to play back just fine as well if HD was not on, after buffering of course. HD youtube still didn’t play and I had to go down to 480p to get it streaming smooth.

Summary

Overall I am really impressed with XBMC on the Linux powered Revo. I feel as though I need to go out and get a wireless dongle for it to put it under my television in the bedroom. I still need to test out some remotes with it for it to become a true HTPC. I also plan on testing out mythbuntu for a Linux powered DVR. I still think that while the Windows Media Center interface might have been a bit slower overall it was a better HTPC compared to this setup. However if you just have a lot local files and music and don’t want to purchase Windows 7 this might be a pretty good route to go. Hey it is free, so give it a try if you want!

Video Review

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  1. Great article! I run XBMC on my Revo off a usb drive and love it. You are definitely correct in that XBMC is more for if you have a large amount of local files rather than streaming. Streaming is good in XBMC, but no where near the amount of stuff in WMC. Netflix will (probably) never work due to MS’s Silverlight being incompatible with Linux.

    Also wanted to give you the heads up on getting a remote that works with XBMC/Boxee. I’m not aware if you know, but there are 2 different IR protocols that work in WMC. Only one will work with XBMC right out of the box and it’s not the RC6 protocol. It’s whatever the other one is called. I learned this the hard way and wanted to share the info with you. This is the next up model from the remote I have – http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16880121002 The model I have is out of stock.

    Love you site since you put it up, keep up the great work!


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