Archive for the ‘Home Entertainment’ Category

XBMC in Windows 7 on Acer Revo 3600 HTPC

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

This post is a guide to setting up XBMC (XBox Media Centre) on an Acer Revo 3610 running Windows 7. I’ve already blogged about why I chose the Revo as a HTPC and how to install Windows 7 on it.

XBMC is the best HTPC software available. It’s free, highly customizable, lookgs good and supports loads of codecs and is great for navigating large collections, even using a remote control… did I mention it’s free and open-source? Awesome. XBMC is great for playing movies, TV shows, music and viewing photos. It manges libraries well and is skin-able with loads of slick eye-candy interfaces.

Setting up XBMC

You can install XBMC-live if you want to boot directly into it, but if you’ve got the Revo 3600 you’ve more than enough power to run it from within Windows 7 which is what I recommend. This way you have the benifit of running other windows software which I’ll mention later in this post.

Here’s the steps I took to set things up:

  1. Install XBMC, well duh of course, this is straightforward right? err, no it isn’t actually. The latest stable release for windows doesn’t support hardware accelerated HD video playback. So if you plan on watching some sweet blu-ray rips you’ll need to get a nightly build from svn. It’s officially unstable and dangerous but I’ve had no major problems and need HD video playback.
  2. Install the nvidia ion audio drivers. This will enable 8 channel sound output over HDMI. My Revo already had the latest video drivers after installing Windows 7.
  3. Install flash 10.1
  4. When you run XBMC in the video settings set it to use DXVA so that high def movies play smoothly.

Other useful HTPC software

If you like to get your TV shows via torrents then there’s two programs that are essential.

  1. utorrent: marked as ‘a very tiny BitTorrent client’ and indeed it is, but good things come in small packages. It’s the best torrent client. Free, light, configurable, easy to use and no bundled crapware – Azureus I’m looking at you.
  2. Torrent Episode Downloader: TED is great idea and I’m not even talking about the awesome TED or even better Ted. You select what TV shows you like and it checks for new epiosdes and downloads them as they become available. The app is nice and user friendly. It’s light and easy to add the shows you like specifiying at what episode you want to start downloading. It still doesn’t work perfectly though, it rejected some of the proposed downloads for me, but it’s the best I’ve seen for this purpose thus far./li>

Remote Control

It’s a pain using a keyboard and mouse to control your HTPC. Even if they’re wireless they still don’t belong on the couch in my opinion. The best solution is a dedicated remote control. I found a good budget one in the Empirex 3009URF. It’s 16 quid and RF not infra-red so you don’t need to worry about line of sight to your Revo. It’s designed for controlling Windows Media Centre but using the excellent free Event Ghost application you can use it for XBMC.

Installing Windows 7 on Acer Revo from an SD card

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

So now that you’ve decided on an Acer Revo as a HTPC it’s time to get the software sorted. I bought the cheaper Revo with Linpus Linux on it by default. I then replaced this with Windows 7. What you’ll need are:

  • A Windows 7 ISO image
  • An SD card (at least 4gigs)

First download and install Virtual Clone Drive from here. It’s free and spyware free. Afterwards right click on your Windows 7 ISO file and mount as a drive.

Then follow the steps in the video carefully, it’s important that you copy the files exactly as instructed:

Once you’ve followed the steps to make the card bootable and have Win 7 on it, put the card into the card reader of your revo and start it up and quickly press F12 to enter the bios and set it to boot from the SD card first. Restart and proceed with the installation.

Acer Revo as a Home Theatre PC (HTPC)

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

I *love* digital media. I like all my movies, music and TV shows ¬†to be available whenever I want to access them by browsing through them on a nice graphical display. I hate having to use any physical media like CDs or DVDs, I just want one magic box in the living room with everything available at the click of a button. I finally have a great solution but before I talk about that lets have a look at the what I’ve tried in the past.

Media Playing External Drives

Freecom Media Player

Freecom Media Player

First I got a Freecom external hard-drive with embedded media playing software and buttons on the case for navigating it. This was the cheapest option at the time but the UI was basic, ugly and navigating a large music collection was pretty much unworkable. It also had no remote control, but the market of consumer electronics for this purpose was relatively young back then.

Archos 605 and DVR docking station

Archos 605 DVR

Archos 605 with docking and remote

Next I got the docking station and remote control for the Archos 605 30gig portable media player that I already had. The archos wasn’t cheap (300 euro and another 100 for the docking), but it was a brilliant portable media player for its time and it worked surprisingly well in the home with this upgrade.

The downside was limited storage and eventually lack of support for newer video codecs and containers. Recent mp4s and mkvs just weren’t working on it. It is still handy as a portable player though, especially on holidays.

Playstation 3


Playstation 3

After this I got a Playstation 3. I was already tempted to get this purely for the gaming side of things, but apparently it could play (and stream from networked PCs) music and video too. Perfect I thought! but it was another case of the hardware being capable but the software and UI being under developed and painful for large collections. Also Sony annoyed a lot of people by not improving the codec support.

It is great as a DVD and Blu-Ray player and I’ve rediscovered the joy of gaming after a 10 year hiatus. Excellent value for money, but not a full featured media player.

The Acer Revo (aka media playing heaven)

Acer Revo 3610

Acer Revo 3610

This brings me to the conclusion I made a month ago: PCs are now small enough and cheap enough that it’s worth buying one for the specific purpose of playing media – a Home Theatre PC (HTPC) as they are known. I had a few hard requirements:

  • Ability to play Hi-def video without skipping
  • HDMI out providing HD video and 5.1 surround sound
  • Small and quiet when in use
  • Low power usage
  • 200-300 Euro price range
  • Wired and wireless networking

There were other common requirements that didn’t matter to me such as DVR functionality and an optical media drive. I don’t care about recording live TV and I already have the PS3 that covers gaming, and the rare cases that I’ll want to play a DVD/CD/Blu-ray.

The Acer Revo 3610 matched my requirements perfectly! For only 230 euros delivered (from ebuyer) I got these specs in a tiny quiet box:

  • Intel Atom 330
  • 2 Gig Ram
  • 250GB drive
  • 6 USB ports
  • HDMI out

There are both lower and higher spec’d Revos, but I felt 2GB of RAM was necessary but 4GB was not and I also wanted the Atom 330 over the 230. You can buy it with either Linpus Linux or windows 7 but Linux is about 50 quid cheaper. I went for this and decided to put Windows 7 on manually myself.

Follow-up posts provide guides to setting up the best software for a HTPC: