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Installed OpenELEC (XBMC OS) Last Night


Mike Eckman
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Ive been using XBMC for years, and most recently, its been on my HTPC running Ubuntu 11.04. It ran reasonably well, but I had a screen jitter problem I could never shake, plus, I had issues where the PC would lock up randomly after a day or two of not being used (the machine is on 24/7).

 

I had been reading about OpenELEC which is a dedicated Linux operating system specifically for XBMC and nothing else. For as great as Ubuntu, it has become bloated and contains a lot of unnecessary stuff, especially if you are solely using the PC for XBMC.

 

By building a custom OS with just XBMC in mind, you only need the drivers and libraries to make it work. This not only simplifies the whole operation of the PC, it improves the boot up time considerably. My HTPC has modest hardware. Only 2 GB of DDR2 800 RAM, and is running an Intel Celeron E1400 2.0GHz dual core CPU. Under Ubunutu, it took between 45-60 seconds to boot from POST to XBMC. After loading it last night, it is literally 10 seconds!

 

You can read more about it at OpenELEC's website: http://openelec.tv/

 

For a basic walk through of installing it, you can read the one that Lifehacker made here: http://lifehacker.com/5851924/openelec-is-a-hassle+free-xbmc-distribution-for-home-theater-pcs

 

A couple of notes that arent really explained well in the docs that I found were that for most people, you want to use the Generic installs. There are dedicated installs for Ion, and all Intel systems, but for most of you who have a home-built unit, you'll need the Generic installer.

 

Another thing is that installation can take a while depending on your hardware. There is a step during the setup where it says "Installing System" and it sits there at 75% minutes for what seemed like 15-20 minutes without any updates on the screen.

 

Another thing I came across is that after its installed, you have to reboot the machine. You will see an error message saying that the add-ons folder was not found. This is actually OK, as long as it only happens after your first boot after a clean install. This message should only be visible for a few seconds. If this message sits there for more than a few seconds, most likely the machine is locked. This happened to me, and the reason was because I was installing using the incorrect build of OpenELEC. After switching to the Generic build, it went past this quickly.

 

Once you have it up and running, its just like using XBMC, except, there is no desktop or terminal environment to drop down to. Most of the "behind the scenes" maintenance is done from another computer on your network. By default, OpenELEC enables file sharing on most of the important folders. You can access these shares by simply typing \\192.168.#.# Whatever the IP address is of your HTPC. See this article for more information: http://openelec.tv/find-help/documentation/usage/network-shares/item/57-samba-windows-network-shares-in-openelec

 

There are a few things you might actually need to get to a Linux terminal for, and in order to do that, you need to use a program to SSH into the machine. OpenELEC recommends a free utility called PuTTY that can do this. For more information on how to install and use PuTTY, see the following article: http://openelec.tv/find-help/documentation/usage/linux-terminal/item/66-useful-ssh-commands

 

Another thing that seems to be common for some people is manually adding shares to OpenELEC for media on your network. I did not have to do this, as XBMC recognized all of my shared folders on my WHS2011 server without any additional work. However, this article shows how to do it on a NAS. It might be helpful to you: http://openelec.tv/find-help/documentation/usage/network-shares/item/56-mounting-network-shares

 

After installation, you can configure XBMC exactly how you would in any other environment. By default, OpenELEC loads a 10.1 version of Dharma. If you prefer using pre-Eden nightly builds, you can upgrade your environment very easily. As always, when loading a pre-release of any software, you risk having things break, so do this at your own risk. But assuming you know the risk, you need to download an OpenELEC version of a nightly build. Most of the newest ones are posted here: http://sources.openelec.tv/tmp/image/openelec-eden/

 

Simply download the build to another PC on your network that applies to your installation of OpenELEC. UnRAR the archive and extract all 4 KERNEL.* and SYSTEM.* files into the Update share that is already on your OpenELEC server. There is no need to copy anything to a flash drive and reinstall anything. Simply copying the KERNEL and SYSTEM files into the Update folder, and then rebooting OpenELEC will upgrade everything for you.

 

You can change the skin if you dont like the stock Confluence skin. You can enable any of the add-ons that are available for any other version of XBMC. You can even add new repositorites to XBMC to get even more skins and add-ons.

 

Basically, without only a couple very minor differences, XBMC under OpenELEC is exactly the same as it is under any other platform. I was able to modify my advancedsettings.xml file to sync XBMC with my MySQL library running in WHS2011. I was able to turn dirty regions back on. I was able to import all of my thumbnails and playlists from my original installation without any issue.

 

After getting everything setup the way I wanted, all of my hardware, from my HDMI video, ethernet, and Windows Media remote worked perfectly. The only problem I had was with menu sounds.

 

Fixing menu sounds was probably the least easy thing I had to do as it involves editing asound.conf. This had to be done using PuTTY through an SSH terminal. Instructions on fixing menu sounds can be found here: http://openelec.tv/find-help/documentation/howtos/sound/item/195-making-menu-sounds-work

 

So, after doing this, what have I noticed? As I mentioned earlier, boot times are super quick. Also, when you Shutdown or restart XBMC from its built in menu, it actually shuts down or reboots the whole PC. Everything else works great. I havent had any actual problems so far (granted it hasn't even been 24 hours yet).

 

From what I've read, people are very happy with OpenELEC due to its streamlined Linux installation. Things just work, and stay working. I used to have occasional lockups which I hope will be eliminated using it this way.

 

So far, it gets a big thumbs up from me! :)

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I wanted to update everyone on my topic.

 

I ended up going back to a full Ubuntu OS with XBMC. OpenELEC impressed me at first, but after a day or two of usage, I found certain stability issues that bothered me. I had issues with the sound. Reading the forums for OpenELEC, menu sounds are a big issue for users. I can deal with losing the menu navigation sounds, but this also affected non "digital passthru" audio, like playing MP3s or TV shows encoded with MP3 as a codec. Under Ubunutu, both digital passthrough and regular digital audio went to my speakers, but under OpenELEC, I could only get the passthru to work.

 

I tried several suggestions on their forums, which involve editing ASOUND.CONF and several other files, but actually made things worse, and I couldnt get any audio. I reloaded everything and started over from square one and couldnt get it to work. I also discovered that it would randomly lose connection to my network. I would reboot it and it would come back. This was the deal breaker for me as I never had network connectivity issues under XBMC on the same hardware running on Ubuntu.

 

I still think OpenELEC is an awesome idea, and for some people with different hardware, it might work perfectly. I also know its still a pretty new project, as its current version is only 1.0.2, so these issues could be resolved in future updates.

 

I will eagerly await to see how this project matures and will more than likely give it another look in the future! :)

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Mike thanks for all the great Info. and for the follow up with your longer term testing. OpenELEC definitely looks like an interesting project and I hope it matures into a stable product over time. Please update us again if you give it another try with better results. I for one and always interested in hearing about the various system people use for HTPC's and how they work out.

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I will say that XBMC is better, at least for me, on an Atom based machine for delivering content from my WHS. Media Center is just too heavy for the same gear.

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An interesting project. However, I use my HTPC for other things besides streaming video, like surfing to show wife and friends stuff. It's much easier for everyone to view pages on a 60" TV.

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I will say that XBMC is better, at least for me, on an Atom based machine for delivering content from my WHS. Media Center is just too heavy for the same gear.

 

You might already know this, but just in case you dont, but OpenELEC *is* XBMC. It is just a custom Linux operating system built entirely around XBMC, So everything XBMC under any other OS can do, it can theoretically do under OpenELEC.

 

For what its worth though, your Atom system is the exact type of hardware OpenELEC is geared towards. By eliminating all the overhead from a traditional operating system and bringing everything down to just the bare essentials, OpenELEC could in theory allow XBMC to work on lesser hardware. Atom based PCs are actually one of the target markets for a project like this.

 

I will definitely update everyone if I venture into this again! I am sure I will, cause I love to tinker! :)

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