Home Made Media Center with Ubuntu

07 Jan
2013/01/07

During the Christmas holidays I spent some time “refurbishing” a netbook me and my girlfriend have, but is not used, into an home-made media center, running (at the moment) plain Ubuntu 12.10.

We watch some TV, during and after dinner, mostly for TV series and movies, and we used to do that loading everything on a USB key attached to the TV. A boring, and repetitive task. So why not giving some new life to that small netbook?

Ingredients

All the ingredients for this recipe are:

  • A netbook (this one has an Atom N570 CPU, 1GB RAM, 500GB disk)
  • Copy of Ubuntu 12.10 32-bit
  • VGA cable
  • 2 USB hard-disks
  • A Hi-Fi system (optional)

Installing the operating system, the necessaries codecs and all the updates is an easy-peasy experience nowadays. Nothing special to report, everything works flawlessly. After connecting all the cables, safely hidden from the eye (the back of the TV is turning into a jungle), the netbook-turned-media-center is now stored in a shady place in the living room, connected to the TV via its VGA cable (unfortunately the only video output), linked to the Hi-Fi via Bluetooth (hurray! one cable less!), with close to 2TB of USB-connected disk space, sharing videos and music on the internal network.

At the moment I’m piloting the media center via a VNC connection from a Nexus 7, but I’m planning to find a (or write my own) keyboard and mouse app for the tablet to pair up via Bluetooth with the netbook. Or a special Ubuntu oriented Android app to control an Ubuntu machine in an easy way.

I tried installing Rygel to serve media files, but had no luck in making it work. I will have to dig deeper and give it another try. The other solution I was pondering was to install XMBC. Time permitting, I’ll probably try it out.

Of course everything is not perfect: I have some high quality videos, Matroska files weighing from 2 to 8 GB, that the system is not handling in a good way. The smallest ones are not reproduced correctly, audio and video are out of sync, the biggest ones are not reproduced at all: or you get video, or you get audio. Guess the decoding is not that fast to handle everything is a smooth way. Listening to music via the Bluetooth connection to the Hi-Fi, is not as bad as I would have thought: it actually provides a really enjoyable experience.

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  • Marius

    The Android App “Remote for PC” works well for me. Mousecontrol, Keyboard and Mediaplayercontrol via Smartphone + Youtube via Leanback. I installed KDE because it was easier for me to make big buttons on my homescreen.

    • http://www.milo.name/ Milo Casagrande

      Thanks for the tip! Will definitely give it a try.

      • Marius

        ah. one more thing. i installed subsonic for playing music from my mediacenter on my smartphone and installed amarok remote (not perfect but it works) to control amarok on my mediapc. So you can use your media pc as sound system.

        • http://www.milo.name/ Milo Casagrande

          Never heard about Subsonic, looks interesting that one too. Will have to find some time and try them out all. Thanks.

  • Ping-Wu

    MythBuntu.

    Do you thinik it is possible to turn your netbook into a true multi-media center by installing MythBuntu, by being able to record TV shows?

    • http://www.milo.name/ Milo Casagrande

      I considered MythBuntu, but I do not really record TV shows off the TV channels, so I would have used MythTV as one of the many media center available. Also, most of the shows I watch are not available in original language on TV where I live, so I would have never used it for DVR.

  • http://nighthawk.co.za/ Clifford W. Hansen

    Personally I’m using XBMC running under Ubuntu 12.04 and it’s works really well (also get the video/audio lag with bigger files) and I use Yatse remote on android works like a charm.

    • http://www.milo.name/ Milo Casagrande

      What kind of PC is the one running XMBC? More powerful of the one I’m using? Thanks for the Yatse suggestion, will try it too and compare it with the other suggestions I had.

      • http://nighthawk.co.za/ Clifford W. Hansen

        Intel(R) Atom(TM) CPU N270, 1GiB memory, and 500GiB Hdd (upgraded from 120GiB)

        And it’s also plugged in to the TV via VGA (and 3.5mm audio jack) and this runs fine at 1920×1080, most video runs fine (well is watchable) but when it has DTS or AC3 it lags.

        Most of my media is stored on the network and I access it via an NFS share, and have all the XBMC’s (Netbook, Work Laptop, Android phone) sharing media via MySQL