HTPC

Back in September, I posted about evaluating an Intel D510MO board for HTPC applications, and determined that it wasn’t good enough.

Now, I am trying again with an Atom 330 / ION motherboard. This is a slower CPU, but a faster Nvida graphics chipset. Last September it still wouldn’t have done the job, but as of a few weeks ago it comes closer. The key change is Adobe’s Flash 10.2, which finally supports hardware assisted video decoding.

With this new box, I first tried XBMCLive. My plan was to use the launcher feature to launch Hulu Desktop as well. After the install, things somewhat worked. It took some fiddling to make HDMI audio work, but it turned out that the answer was on the XBMC faq. However, it used a lot of the CPU power, all the time, and I could never get Hulu desktop working acceptably.

Yesterday, I reloaded with Ubuntu 10.10, then installed the current Nvidia drivers, Hulu Desktop, and XBMC. Things are much closer to just working. It took me a little to figure out how to enable HDMI audio, but I found the setting in Sound Preferences. On the Hardware tab, there is a drop-down labeled “Profile:”. From there, I just had to select “Digital Stereo (HDMI) Output”.

Hulu Desktop is usable, but it still under performs. I have to keep the video quality set to low to prevent dropped frames. When I flip through the menus performance suffers and frames are dropped, but when I just leave it be, it behaves. This is when the display resolution is set to 720p though. When I had the display set to 1080p, it still dropped frames in low quality mode.

I think that Flash is still inefficient and that it just is running out of power. I have to say that I would probably recommend someone trying to duplicate this should use a good Core 2 Duo or better, along with 9400 or better Nvidia graphics to get more satisfactory results.

To control the system I am using a semi-generic Adesso USB remote. It uses IR to a receiver dongle. It acts like a keyboard and mouse, so no messing with LIRC is required. I am having trouble with Wake On USB. When I enable that, the computer won’t stay off. I have no way of knowing if Linux, the computer, or the remote are to blame. With that caveat, I would recommend this remote. I think it cost $25. Sometimes you want a real keyboard though, so I am going to have to look into getting a small wireless keyboard to use with this system.

Things I still want to explore is setting XBMC to launch Hulu desktop. Also, can I find another remote friendly launcher program to have Ubuntu auto-run on startup? I would like to try adding Boxee to the list. And I would like to find something better for image viewing, either a sepe