Xbox: a mediaplayer on steroids

Not long ago, I decided to purchase a KiSS DP-1000 DivX player to play all my XviD and DivX AVIs. It required a firmware update immediately, because some movies looked more like slide-shows. After each update some things got better, other things got worse. It couldn’t handle Quicktime and NTSC. It also couldn’t handle QPEL or GMC. But all this I could have lived with, if it could just at least play the media files it did support. I soon found that all too often, and in spite of half a dozen firmware updates, it couldn’t even do that.

In the end, driven by despair, I installed a firmware that was hacked by a hobbyist, in order to finally get it to run smoothly. Although it was much better than anything the incompetents at KiSS ever made, it still crashed. And now, not even a year after buying this thing, it stopped working altogether after I tried to switch it to NTSC mode. Of course installing the hacked firmware has rendered the warranty null and void, so I can KiSS my investment goodbye.

But what then? What to replace this piece of junk with? I briefly considered buying a Waitec mediaplayer, but why make concessions again? I don’t want something that’ll play some of the codecs some of the time, I want something that plays all the codecs all the time! Unfortunately, to this day, there is no such player on the market. They all simply lack the processing power.

So I started having these crazy fantasies about mini ITX computers with a passively cooled VIA CPU, external laptop power supply, a quiet laptop hard disk drive and a Sigma chip PCI card. But all that hardware costs a lot of money. The Sigma card alone costs more than the KiSS player did and it isn’t really practical anyway. But as I was searching Google for a solution, I came across a project called XBMC: Xbox Media Center

To my amazement, I discovered that a “modded” Xbox running the ingenious XBMC software can play anything you throw at it. So I looked for a company selling modded Xboxes and found a small business near my home in Amsterdam. I asked them about the noise and they recommended having a 80mm fan installed to keep the noise down. I decided to go for it.

So now I own an Xbox, with XBMC, Aladdin modchip and 80mm fan. I paid €199,95 for the Xbox and all the mods, which means this is probably the cheapest Media Center PC money can buy. It’s only about €70,- more than the KiSS player, for example.

Sure, there are drawbacks. It does make more noise than a regular DVD player, even with the more silent 80mm fan, and depending on which DVD drive you get (Samsung/Thomson/Philips) it may have trouble recognizing some CD-R, DVD+/-R discs. The positive side is that you can play anything Mplayer can handle (and that’s just about everything) whether it’s PAL or NTSC. You can also connect to a network and play music and movies from shared folders. You can in fact do a lot more, but discussing every single option is beyond the scope of this post.

I’m very pleased with my modded Xbox. It isn’t perfect, but considering the price it’s at least twice as good as any alternative I can think of.

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