XBMC 10.0 Released

[...] we strive to play all of the current media formats available, including the new WebM/VP8 codec that is the latest buzz. Hardware acceleration has been added in windows (Vista or 7) via DXVA2, CrystalHD has been added for all platforms (best supported in OSX and Linux), VDPAU support has been improved in Linux, and VAAPI support has been added for the hardware that supports it in Linux. There are far too many improvements to list here, so check out the changelog for a full list.

Automatically login to Spotify in XBMC

I recently wrote about the Spotify integration in XBMC. The problem with the current state of the plugin, is that it does not automatically remember account information. This means that you have to enter it each time you start xbmc, which is quite frustrating.

To remedy this, open up your advancedsettings.xml in your userdata directory. If the file doesn’t exist, just create it — it’s not there by default. Then paste the following information into the file. Note that if you have other settings there as well, just accommodate the xml to fit.

<advancedsettings>
<spotify>
<enable>true</enable>
<username>username</username>
<password>password</password>
<cachefolder>a temporary directory</cachefolder>
<maxsearchartists>30</maxsearchartists>
<maxsearchalbums>30</maxsearchalbums>
<maxsearchtracks>150</maxsearchtracks>
</spotify>
</advancedsettings>

Just remember to set the username, password and a directory for the music cache and you are good to go!

XBMC and Spotify

XBMC is a superb media center application for your Home Theatre PC, and thanks to OpenSpotify it is now possible to do all sorts of integration — for instance integrating Spotify in XBMC!

The project is called spotyxbmc so just download it and try it out. It is built from the latest XBMC release so you should be good, just copying over your user profile.

Cool features include the ability to import Spotify albums into your own music library, which blurs the lines between local and remote music in a beautiful way. It is also possible to browse your playlists and the various top lists. Just one thing, it requires a Premium Spotify account.

Remember that this is alpha, so it does crash occasionally. Fortunately, just restart xbmc and you are good to go.

Hide samples in XBMC

XBMC is an excellent media center application, and there are some beautiful themes available like Alaska. There is one problem though, some movies have previews or “samples” which clutter up the otherwise excellent movie wall. To fix this problem, just create a file called advancedsettings.xml in your user profile with the following text.

<advancedsettings>
<loglevel>1</loglevel>
<video>
<excludefromscan>
<regexp>utorrentpartfile</regexp>
<regexp>sample</regexp>
</excludefromscan>
<excludefromlisting>
<regexp>utorrentpartfile</regexp>
<regexp>sample</regexp>
</excludefromlisting>
</video>
</advancedsettings>

This will surely make your life a lot easier. Sorry about the strange formatting, I blame WordPress.

Project HTPC: Hardware pictures

I took some pictures when putting the Shuttle together. They may not be all that informational, but they are at least quite pretty.

Project HTPC: HDMI to Toslink via the TV

I have two devices connected to the TV using HDMI, one xbox 360 and the HTPC. This is great as long as the sound plays on the TV itself (since HDMI carries video and sound). The thing is that I want to use my surround speakers as the sound output when playing games on the xbox or watch movies on the HTPC.

The surround system accepts an optical Toslink cable and has a decoder for DTS and Dolby Digital, and it just so happens that my Samsung TV has an optical Toslink output! Great … or is it?

While the TV does output 5.1 sound to the optical cable when watching TV, it does not when the sound source comes from HDMI. The TV recodes the audio to standard 2.0 sound and forwards it. I haven’t been able to find a way to disable this “feature” as of yet.

This leaves me with three options.

— Live with it. Accept the fact that I only get 2.0 sound from the xbox and HTPC. As you might have guessed, this is totally unacceptable!

— Get a new TV. Getting a TV which supports forwarding 5.1 sound from HDMI to Toslink, if one exists. While this is an option, there is a cheaper option I will need to try first.

— A switch for multiple Toslink sources. A cheap switch which switches between different sources can be bought for a reasonable amount of money (plus two extra Toslink cables).

I found the following switch which seems to do what I want.

Toslink Switch

Toslink Switch

The main disadvantage with this solution is the manual switch which has to be turned when changing sound source. It is not that bad I guess, if it works as advertised. I will pick one up as soon as possible and try it out.

Project HTPC: Hardware list

Ok, so I finally decided to get a HTPC. I listed the requirements in a previous post, but the time has come to realize the requirements into real-word parts.

There is of course always a need for an abundance of storage, so I decided to go with eSATA drives in a Raid 5 configuration. Using a RocketRaid eSATA card, it will be possible to expand the storage long into the future, with support for 16 drives on a single controller.

Since the HTPC will be located in the living room right next to the TV, it has to be stylish, but most importantly, it has to be quiet and not too bulky. After some research and recommendations from friends, I decided to go with the newly released Shuttle SG45H7 with the new Intel G45 chipset, S/PDIF, HDMI, HDCP  support and other important goodies. It does not however have an embedded IR receiver, so it is important to get a remote with a bundled receiver.

There are not many remotes with a bundled receiver, but I found the Pinnacle PCTV Remote Kit for Vista, which I decided to buy. It is the standard Vista Media Center remote bundled with a Vista compatible Infrared receiver — works like a charm!

On the storage side of things, I decided to get the Highpoint RocketRaid 2314, which has 4 eSATA ports and support for various RAID levels, including Raid 5. To these ports, I decided to connect 4 Western Digital 1TB My Book, since I have never had any trouble with WD disks, and they look great and are quiet!

I of course want support for playing Bluray discs, so I got a black LG Bluray/DVD/CD reader/writer and for internal storage I decided on a Western Digital 1TB Caviar GP.

Other internal parts are 2 2GB Corsair XMS2 memory modules and an Intel Core2Duo E8500 3.16 GHz CPU.

Building the ultimate HTPC

There are lots of benefits when connecting a computer to your TV, such as the ability to easily play video and audio. My old HTPC is sadly unable to smoothly play high-definition h264 files, which are usually found in Matroska containers. It’s really time for a new one!

To follow in the sturdy footsteps of software development, I need a list of demands and a functional specification. Okay, it’s a bit overkill, so a standard bullet list will have to suffice.

The HTPC must:

  • play Matroska / h264 in 1080p without frame drop
  • play DVD movies
  • play Blueray movies
  • play music
  • have an easy and beautiful interface who anyone can use
  • have redundant and expandable storage
  • have a nice chassi which fits nicely into the TV bench world
  • have a remote control

I will continue this series of posts as the chassi and the rest of the parts arrive. In the mean time, I will expand on the above points. Follow the series using the htpc tag.