XBMC and the Shuttle SD11G5

I recently learned about XBMC, a very nice cross platform media center application.  After encoding all of my music in mp3 format I tried to use the Myth Music plugin.  It works but I found it awkward and difficult to use.  XBMC looks much nicer and can work as a MythTV frontend!

My current frontend is a mini-itx system that uses a VIA chip.  It’s the M10000 board.  It’s been great.  The board is not powerful enough to decode, in real time, any 720p or 1080i recordings that I make (I have an analog tuner card and a digital tuner card).  With the upcoming switch to digital TV broadcasts my options are to transcode everything or to upgrade my frontend.  Transcoding doesn’t appeal to me since it takes a very long time to do.  Besides I couldn’t watch anything as it is recorded.  I sometimes start watching a show 15 minutes after it has started.

I’ve been using a Shuttle SD11G5 for quite a while as my desktop system.  It’s a 2 Ghz Pentium M system with an Intel 915 graphics integrated graphics card.  My hope was that this machine would be powerful enough to decode over-the-air broadcast HD.  I’m happy to report that it does — mostly.

Using the XBMC live CD I booted XBMC.  The default resolution was 1024×768.  At that resolution I saw no significant frame drops on 720p or 1080i recordings.  When I bumped the resolution to 1280×1024, the native resolution of my monitor, I saw hundreds of dropped frames.  I also tried 640×480.  Not surprisingly the system could keep up just fine at 640×480.  I’m going to run XBMC at 640×480 (probably) since I have a standard definition TV (a 27 inch CRT).

When I eventually buy a new TV I’ll upgrade the frontend system too.  From what I’ve read a system with a Core2 Duo at 3 Ghz is fast enough to decode even the toughest 1080p videos (H.264 format) in real time completely in software.  An Intel X4500HD graphics chip should be sufficient to handle the OpenGL work that XBMC throws at it.  Until I buy a new TV I’m hoping to get away with not buying any new hardware!

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