I finally “modded” my XBox Classic so that it will run XBox Media Center. And I am thoroughly impressed with the quality of the software, and the great functionality available.
For those of you who may not have a clue what this means, here is a breakdown: The XBox is a console game system from Microsoft, released originally in 2001. It is essentially a 733Mhz computer with a super-fast bus and video card, internal hard drive, DVD/CD reader, up to 1080i video output, and networking capabilities. The games for it can be a lot of fun, but when I purchased it a year ago, the primary reason was to make this recent modification.
A standard XBox does little more than let you play games, though it will allow you to listen to CDs and watch DVDs. It ends up that a very creative and organized group maintains a set of code that can be installed on the XBox to make it much more useful than just a simple game machine. This “hacking” is slightly involved, requiring the box to be opened (for the cheapest route; for about $40 you can keep the box closed and do the same thing). It is probably not for someone unfamiliar with the inside of computers, but I did not find the process to be overly difficult. I followed the steps over here and here (and will be doing some of this here soon), did some additional reading and poking around, and ended up keeping my time to about three hours total. And the only reason it was that long was that I had to keep swapping my monitor and keyboard between two PCs and did not read everything as well as I should have the first time.
Anyway, the point is that I now have a game console that seconds as a top-notch media center in the living room, through the use of XBox Media Center (XBMC). This means, when connected to my home network (I have not run the permanent wires yet), I can, in the comfort of my living room, access and view pictures and videos from my main PC directly on the TV. I can listen to any of our music library, watch Apple.com movie trailers, check the local weather, and more. In other words, I have vastly simplified my life and made a couple of computers reasonably useful.
The video playback has already been great fun, since I recently recorded a bunch of Hi-8 videos to the PC for eventual DVD archival. With XBMC, I can browse to these using a graphical interface and a game controller, and then select and play the video, and navigate just like with a DVD player. This also works for any TV shows I may have recorded on the PC using the TV capture card.
The MP3 playback is amazing, too. Since the machine is built for graphics, it includes some really great-looking “visualizations” that can be displayed when music is playing. It allows for playlist setup, and lots of options around playback, crossfading, album art, album info, and so much more.
And because the new iMac is on the network, too (perhaps another post on that), I expect to be able to retrieve files from it through the XBox. I have not have the time to test this fully yet, though.
And I could not say enough about the XBMC software itself. It looks better than anything else out there, is easy to navigate, and feels crisp and fresh. And I only have a 27″ tube TV!
Yes, it is a toy, but it is one that reduces overall life complexity. Once I get more hard drive space, I will be ripping most of the kid’s favorite DVDs to the PC, allowing us to access them without swapping out DVDs, using a graphical menu system that includes cover art and full info for each of the videos. I just do not know how I made it this long without XBMC.