Creating and configuring an E350 based media player running XBMC

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Introduction

This post briefly tells how I put together my media center using a mini-ITX board and XBMC.

The last couple of years I used an Asus O-play as a mediaplayer. While in 2010 it was really nifty, after 2 years it didn’t meet my needs anymore. The thing I really missed was watching Youtube movies on my TV and maintaining web-based radio station was also a PITA.

“Time for something else”, I thought in the end of 2012. Using XBMC on a small computer was still the hot thing to do back then. I tried XBMC on my laptop for 5 minutes and I was sold. Just do an apt-get install xbmc and a 6 year old laptop suddenly is a mediacenter. Well then it should also be possible to do it on a new cheap computer. Very cool open source stuff. At this moment I’m doing a software upgrade and that creates a great opportunity to write down how you build a nice home media center.

Here’s a brief intro on XBMC and how it works:

Note: This article might be late to the game after everybody and his uncle is now running XBMC from a Raspberry pi. But when I first build this system, there were still severe delivery problems with the Pi. Also I wasn’t convinced of the performance. Using a mini-ITX was the safest and fastest option. Also the Pi doesn’t run x86 code.

So these were my basic requirements:

  • The system shall get its content from the local network.
  • Doesn’t need an internal hard drive
  • Looks nice.
  • I choose what software runs on it.
  • Hardware should be future proof somewhat.
  • Low power during operation.
  • It should also run games and a normal desktop based on x86 binaries.
  • 100 mbit ethernet interface for receiving the content.
  • It doesn’t need to receive satellite television or record television shows.
  • It must show Youtube movies without too much hassle.
  • Adding and obscure radio station like pinguinradio.com or dubstem.fm should also remain easy.

Figuring out the software part was not that hard. The Hardware was a bit more of a puzzle.

Hardware

Choosing what hardware to use required some research. Using a mini-ITX form factor was a given and also I try to use AMD parts when possible. Fortunately a mini-ITX board with an E350 processor on it only costed around 60 EUR. I just needed to check if it had all the necessary interfaces

So just before Christmas I settled on the following parts:

  •  E350 based mini-ITX board A friend of mine has a E350 based laptop and is very pleased with it. This board has everything except the RAM memory on it.
  • USB flash drive with 8 gB of space For 10 EUR you have 8 gB of storage space to run the system on, it even is future proof with USB 3.0.
  • 4 gB of RAM memory Just remain on the safe side and be able to use 2 matched 2 gB modules to get extra speed from Multichannel.
  • Enclosure with PSU Since it will remain visible just next to the receiver and under the TV, You want something small and looking nice and with an external fanless power supply.
  • Keyboard and Mouse (wireless) I’ve mainly used the mouse during normal use. The keyboard is handy for gaming and troubleshooting.
  • 2 quiet fans, size 40 mm. The stock fan on the board are quite loud.
  • HDMI cable Connect the audio and video of the PC to the receiver/TV
  • Optical audio (optional) If the HDMI goes to the TV, you need a separate digital  audio connection towards the receiver.
  • Network cable Otherwise there is no method for delivering the content. I don’t trust wireless for media applications. Especially with Full HD blue ray movies.
  • USB stick for installation (optional) Installing the system can be done

Putting everything together went without a hitch. It’s just like a regular PC, but everything is smaller. The biggest hurdle was getting the fans quiet. The CPU fan worked flawlessly. The fan providing airflow through the enclosure provided a bit more trouble. The fan for the enclosure was mounted on the side and only fastened on the bottom of the chassis and the top side was resonating at a really annoying pitch. I was able to get it quiet by squeezing the power line for the fan between the fan and the upper lid of the enclosure.

Getting XBMC and installing

XBMC provides an image with Ubuntu i386 and the latest XBMC called XBMCbuntu. You can get it from their website here.

Just download the XBMCbuntu image and put it on a bootable USB stick using a tool like unetbootin.
note: You will only know if a USB stick is bootable after you tried it.

Start up the system using the bootable USB stick containing XBMCbuntu distro and install it on the 8 gB flash drive of the media center.

Future upgrades:

Getting the Android remote going.

note: photo’s will be added shortly.

 

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