Turn your PC into a media hub

For those who have not yet come across this awesome software, here’s a shout-out to all those who donated (and still do!) their minds and heart to the Open Source XBMC project. The project involves developers and programmers who have poured their collective creativity and “mind power” into turning your Personal Computer (PC) into a slick and user-friendly “media and entertainment” hub. This means that you are able to install the software and enjoy watching your favourite movies or browse your picture collection.

The first thing you need to do is to grab a PC that has been gathering dust since its hardware requirements simply do not “stand up” to the requirements of the modern memory and processor-hungry software. Make sure you find one with:

  • A decent graphics card – one which knows what “24 bit” graphic display resolution is.
  • A decent enough processor, one that’s just above the 400MHz+ range. I suspect anything slower, with at least 256+ RAM will find the going a bit tough. Processing video is no mean feat, thus the higher the specs of the machine, the better it will perform – the graphics will be smoother, little or no movement drag (jerky pictures) and the sharpness will be greatly enhanced. On the other hand, since it will only be used as a “HUB”, it won’t be smart to use your latest PC for this. It would be like using a fighter jet to do cropdusting – complete overkill.
  • A hard disk of about 10G for the installation only. Make sure there are some USB’s on the motherboard since you’ll need them to plug in that terabyte USB drive with all your picture and movie files on them.
  • A LCD (or equivalent) flatscreen. The rule of thumb here is, the bigger the screen size, the better. A word of caution though … if you want to go HD (High Definition), you’ll need a HD capable video card and screen.

I scratched around a bit and found an old PC with a  VGA (yep, they used to be top of the line way-back-when) and installed the Linux Version of XBMC. My 32 inch HD Ready (.. not full HD 🙁 ) has never looked better. Original DVDs play like I’ve never seen them – the software allows you to “zoom in” and get rid of those pesky black bars on the top and bottom of your widescreen movies. So, you lose some of that “widescreen” details but you get the full screen experience. The software also allows you to adjust the ratio of the display. Have you noticed how some screens “stretch” your videos and the faces become “squashed” – this one has a handy “square” tool that will let you “correct it”.

Linux install

There are two versions, Windows and Linux (and others for the XBox, etcetera). Having given both a whirl, my vote goes to the Linux installation. The Windows version works fine but is best described as “moody”. It  was installed on an XP and Windows machine and a number of the functions simply refused to work or would lock up the Windows PCs. On the Linux box, for which it was originally written, it’s been running without any hitches (yet). Hopefully this will continue to be the case over the next couple of week.

I salute all those who donated their time and know-how to produce this awesome piece of software. You’ve got all three thumbs up from me – if I had three. Keep up the good work!

Now… back to watching my video collection all over again….! I’ll start with the Matrix trilogy, full screen, with surround sound.