XBMC vs Boxee: first impressions

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So, ever since my failed Roku streamer experience I decided to investigate other options. From the silent and small group there’s WD Live and Popcorn Hour. From “stuff lying around” side — old intel box with Nvidia GeForce 310 512Mb video card. Well, in reality it had 9600 GT, but I had Pegatron Nvidia GeForce 310 lying around, pulled from a Dell computer. While 9600GT is obviously faster than 310 (aka GeForce 220 in retail world), the latter has an advantage of the HDMI output, being absolutely tiny (I’d say about half if not less of the 9600, with small fan) and sufficiently fast for displaying HD content on tv. So, off with the old large card, in with the new one.

If only life was as easy in Ubuntu world as in Windows… 10.04 refused to recognize HDMI output of the video card, so I had to go through the exercise of upgrading ALSA driver to 10.0.23, and then using the wiki article to set enable_msi=0 probe_mask=0xfff2 because Pegatron is a rebranded Asus. Several hours of perversions and finally Ubuntu did that tam-tam thingie right through the TV speakers, scaring cat senseless and bringing hope to my heart.

Installing XBMC didn’t take much effort — a few steps from their wiki, and everything was working fine. A word of advise — if you decide to go with one of alternate skins, get yourself a cup of coffee, a nice book, perhaps a bagel to munch on, cause it will take a while. A very-very long while, as skin took about an hour to download and install. I guess their repository was extra slow at night, plus I managed to press ESC inadvertently while it was installing, which, of course, in computer world means abort everything at once, kill the half-downloaded stuff so download can be started from the beginning again.

In the end I left the default skin, as it was much easier to switch subtitles on and off in it. I’m sure once I find a list of shortcuts I’ll be able to go back to more fancy skin.

First impressions were quite favorable — XBMC easily connected to windows computer and showed everything I could find on the hard drive, in great crisp quality, and without any frame-skipping. Fantastic!
But I was unable to play a DVD for some reason. System reported that “removable drive is mounted!” and that’s it, with no chance of playing it. Odd, and perhaps I will find out what’s wrong with it a bit later.

Today I tried Boxee, just for the heck of it. So far I am firmly in XBMC camp. Mostly because I hate it when I’m being forced to be “social”. I like watching tv, movies, series, you name it. But I don’t care as much to broadcast every sneeze of my Netflix queue unless I actually want to do so. Which is not good enough for Boxee, as that system is concentrated on “shared experience”. In practice it means everything is littered with “share!” buttons and you have to create an account in order to use this media-player. Even if you’re just doing it on your local computer, which is extra stupid.

Then there’s a huge UI problem — if I hover with a mouse somewhere, it takes priority over keyboard, which is never a good idea. Normally when people type in username/passwords they just poke the mouse aside and type away. Well, no. In Boxee if your mouse is over virtual keyboard, the real one is completely ignored. What kind of UI idiot “invented” that? I don’t know. Moving between menus is a bit weird, no easy link to go home (though keyboard’s Home button worked and took me home), DVD worked, but remove storage needed to be “scanned”. Huh?

So far I am staying with XBMC.

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