our new media box

Last week, I was at OSCON. I have to write a lot more about that whole experience. For now, it’s only relevant because it mean that when my Popbox arrived, I wasn’t home. I checked some of the reviews and they were bad. Like, shockingly bad.

When I arrived home, Popbox had issued a few firmware updates, so I remained hopeful. Unfortunately, they utterly bricked the box. I sent it back and ordered an Acer Aspire Revo to use as an Ubuntu machine with XBMC. It showed up today.

It was pretty frustrating as attempt after attempt failed to get the darned thing working. I just finished watching an episode of Batman: The Animated Series, though, so I’m hoping that everything is now right with the world.

First, I couldn’t get the XBMCLive system installed. I could get it onto a USB stick, but that would boot to a login prompt, not the XBMC system with an installer. I tried this a few times, and gave up in disgust. Then I tried to install it to a hard drive, but grub died. The drive changed its device name between setup and attempted install, but grub was dying too early for me to fix the setup.

Finally I installed Ubuntu 10.04 to a micro SD card and installed Ubuntu from there. After that, I let it do all of its upgrades, installed xbmc-standalone, and set it up to run that automatically on boot. This was progress!

Next up, it couldn’t find my RaLink RT3090 wireless chip. The guys in #xbmc-linux were alternately helpful and not, but they kept my brain active while I kept looking. Finally, I found this bizarre solution in a forum:

As root:

mkdir -p /etc/Wireless/RT2860STA/
touch /etc/Wireless/RT2860STA/RT2860STA.dat
service network-manager restart

…and that’s it. Wuh? Well, it worked.

So, I took the thing downstairs and hooked it up. Everything seemed okay, until I tried to play my first video. It took ages to buffer anything and playback was unacceptable. I’d gotten some grief from IRC about using wireless for streaming video, but I do this all the time already to my Xbox 360 and PS3. Further, I wasn’t getting any audio over HDMI. I struggled with that for a while before finding another useful forum post suggesting that the HDMI output was muted, and that the only way to find it was to run the terminal alsamixer program and hit the undocumented “m for mute” command. That did the trick!

After that, I tried to play an episode of Batman, and it worked. Why was the wireless weird before? No idea. It would be nice to get a cable run, somehow, but I am in no hurry.

I also installed XBMC Remote on my iPhone, but I think it’s sort of underwhelming. I’m not sure what I’ll do in its stead, but I don’t think it’s a long term solution. I might just get an IR receiver and set up the XBMC in our Harmony remote.

My hope is that we can use this device to let Martha see whatever of her DVDs she wants without having to fumble with discs. Any other application is pure gravy.

Written on July 29, 2010
⚙️ hardware