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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Install flash 10.1
- 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.
- 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.
- 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>
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.