Like many other people, my TV watching habits have changed over the years. I’ve never been a big TV watcher, often preferring books or reading online. I wanted a way to make the watching process less painful.
Remember when we’d actually wait for a particular time and date to watch a show? It seems so alien now. My 6yr old can’t understand that sometimes he needs to wait for the show he wants to “air”, and can’t just hit play to see the show he wants at that moment. We have a PVR, and that does wonders in assuring that Simon and I don’t miss an episode of Wipeout, but for movies we have on DVD, finding and dealing with physical media seemed so backwards compared to the rest of our setup that I longed for a better way.
I really wanted to pick up a Mac Mini to dedicate as a home theatre PC, but I couldn’t bring myself to accept spending that kind of cash for the TV. I kept looking for a better (Cheaper!) way. I ended up picking up this little beast :
It’s basically a screenless netbook with a heavy-duty video card. It’s got HDMI out so it plays nice with the TV, and comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse. I added a remote (super cheap on ebay) and I was set. I’m not a spec-monger, if you want to pour over CPU cycles and thingies like that, go to the product page. Anyway, this $199 (Canadian!) beast comes with FreeDos (though they said Linux), but I didn’t care, I wanted to install the open source XBMC media centre software on it.
From the download of XBMC to actually navigating the menus on the TV, the entire installation process took under an hour. There’s a great community behind XBMC, and there are tons of plugins available for it – I settled on basic settings: Local Weather, Movies, TV Shows, Music (online or my network drive) and Pictures (from my network or flickr!) .. Very easy to set up, very quick to get running..
The longer part was ripping DVDs to my network drives. In fact, it was often quicker to download movies I already owned (!) from bittorrent, and store them on the network.
So now, when we want to watch a movie, it’s right there, right away. I can watch IT Crowd comfortably in my living room even though it’s not available in Canada, and we’re once again enjoying the movies we paid $30 a pop for without having to worry about dirty or scratched discs or the forced 60 second anti-piracy message that only legitimate buyers ever see anyway…
Quick, cheap, and XBMC rocks – I’m quite happy with this solution…