lowbrowculture

collects stories and ideas from John Kelly

Soft-modded Xbox Media Centre!

Remember a few days ago, I wrote about the TV shows I love? Well. apart from Grand Designs and the Channel 4-led shame-fest of Supernanny, Brat Camp and It’s Me or the Dog, I don’t tend to watch much TV on er… TV. The ease of availability of just about any show I want to watch (thank you Uknova and Mininova) means that I find it easier to just download the shows I want to watch. If I wanted to be fancy, I could call this “time-shifting” or something, but let’s just call a spade a spade and say “laziness.”

This generally means watching them on my computer in work (during lunch, honestly!). I’m not particularly delighted with this. A dodgy CRT with a crappy set of speakers can’t really compete with my setup at home. And it also adds another layer of hassle with shows that my girlfriend also wants to watch, like Lost. In these cases, I’ve got a DVD player that will play DivXs, but is extremely fussy about what kinds of DivXs it wants to play. So I end up

  • Downloading the file

  • Using FfmpegX to convert the file (even on my dual G5, this takes 20 minutes)

  • Burn it to a CD

  • Bring it homeAnd this doesn’t take into account the loss of sync between the audio and visuals that FfmpegX tends to helpfully drop into its newly-converted files. Nor the amount of hassle involved in doing this for multiple episodes. It also means that once I’ve watched the episode, I’m left with a lovely new CD coaster taking up space on our already-overflowing shelves (visual evidence of overflowing shelves).

What I needed was a media centre. Something that would let me download episodes, bring them home on my iPod and watch them on my TV. Originally, I had planned to use a G4 Powermac with Front Row at home for the media centre but lack of a graphics card with decent TV-out put an end to this idea. I thought about buying myself a mod chip for my Xbox and installing Xbox Media Center (XBMC), but even this struck me as too much work (and in the couple of weeks it would take for my mod chip to arrive, I would probably be bored of this idea already).

Luckily, I stumbled across a bunch of articles last week about soft-modding the Xbox. This meant I could install XBMC without a chip. So on Friday, I gave it a go.

I used a hacked save game for Splinter Cell which, when launched from within the game, ran a program from within Linux that did all of the hard work for me. Once I installed the softmod, installing XBMC was simple. Now, I can stream movies (I tried it against .avi, .mov, .wmv - all worked) off that same G4 Powermac and still play Xbox games - even play on-line with Live! And the cherry on top of all this is that these movies look absolutely beautiful on the TV. Way, way better than my converted DivXs ever did.

The total cost to me for doing all this was the princely sum of… nattin. I had all the tools lying around (Xbox, memory card, usb/memory card convertor, media server) and it only took a few minutes to complete. Next up: putting a new hard drive in the Xbox. Let’s see if that’s as easy.