Feb. 15th, 2011

This has been something of an ongoing saga over many many years. I've sunk a fair bit of money into it -- far more than should really be necessary -- and every solution has sucked to one degree or another.

The immediately-prior approach was streaming with Mediatomb from a Linux box to a PS3. This mostly works, except when it doesn't, but more importantly has some serious UX problems. The PS3 media browsing experience is pretty woeful and there's no tracking of state.

What I've settled on, at least for the past few weeks, is the same Linux box serving up the same data over SMB to the current release of XBMC running on a hacked first-gen AppleTV. Previous experience with XBMC hadn't been great, and while Boxee had shown some promise it didn't do too well either.

But the current version does quite well. Ignoring the whole attempt at library management -- I can't quite get it to usefully scan my media stash -- and just playing through the "Files" interface works adequately. The key improvements from my point of view are:

  1. Massively improved playback interface. Older releases didn't play nice with the extremely limited Apple remote, play/pause involved hitting the "ok" button to bring up an overlay, then navigating around that to find the pause button, then pressing "ok" again. Now you just hit "ok" and it pauses.
  2. If there's a delay starting playback there's now feedback, by way of a little box in the bottom-right with the text "Working" and a little spinny icon. Old versions gave no indication anything was going on. This matters when you're stuck with a crappy disk that spins down frequently...

The #1 key feature XBMC has over the PS3 is that it tracks what's been played and how far. No more trying to remember where you're up to in a TV series. If you had to stop watching something, no more trying to remember where you were up to in the file and then fast-forwarding, just hit 'ok' to play the file and a popup offers to take you back.

I'd still really like to get something working with proper library support, metadata, and all that fun stuff. But the core "play my media, damn it" function is more important. If my TV could do HDMI input (it's going on for ten years old now and maxes out at 576i component) I'd consider new hardware, but for playing random SD DVD rips this arrangement is more than adequate.


Abort, Rephrase, Ignore?

October 2011

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