I’ve had a quick minute or two to play with the latest XBMC 10.0 release. So far it is a nice improvement over prior versions. Here are my thoughts on the Windows version so far. I will have to get some time to play around with the Linux version before I post a followup detailing how that release is coming along.
The BD directory structure support has come along quite nicely since the beta versions and is rather workable. With a default install of XBMC Dharma, I can add my Movies share and it recognizes all of my blu-ray dumps perfectly. It even pulls in all the previously scraped metadata and fan art from Media Center Master. What surprised me most about the implementation of this, was that not only does it support the BD directory structure for properly populating your library, but choosing play will actually play the blu-ray dump with the built-in XBMC player. However, on my aging Athlon X2, the internal player seems just slightly sluggish. So I’m curious if it is actually offloading to the GPU for decoding. Regardless, I was able to easily setup TMT3 as an external player for these blu-rays and I know that it supports the hardware acceleration from the GPU. I am having issues getting TMT5 setup with it though.
Since most of my movie collection is dumps of my blu-rays to BD folder structure and XBMC hasn’t been able to properly handle these until now, I honestly hadn’t played around with it much. Now that the support has greatly improved and things almost work great, I have been spending much more time in XBMC. It was always my preferred HTPC software back when I had it running on my old Xbox and I have been missing it ever since then.
Being back in the game, I’m impressed with how far along the skins and add-on functionality have come. I had been using the Night theme for a while here. The use of the small logos for the TV Show showcases was pretty slick and what initially drew me to it. However, the color scheme was a bit fruity for me and the sounds were just flat out annoying the hell out of me. So now, I’m currently using the Aeon MQ2 skin and loving it! I wasn’t too happy with the original Aeon release when it first came out, but the Aeon MQ2 version seems to have ironed out any issues I originally had with it. It is the embodiment of “slick” and has a nice dark theme to it (I can’t stand bright themes for some reason). Having spent most of my time recently in the Movies library, it has balance between focus on the media and fan art while still providing quick and easy access to all the pertinent information for each movie. This skin really makes your media shine just right. My only complaint is that things have been a little sluggish navigating within this theme, but considering my CPU has been pegged around 50% with it running, the blame falls to my “ancient” hardware and not on the Aeon MQ2 skin.
As I mentioned, the add-on functionality has come leaps and bounds from where it was in the last version I tested. The use of repositories and ability to quickly browse through available add-ons and easily install them all from within XBMC itself is a vast improvement. Not only that, but the amount of quality add-ons available is greatly improved as well. I haven’t had too much hands on with it yet, but the XBMCflix Netflix add-on seemed to be working properly and quite nicely for the brief testing I did. It was a quick and simple process to authorize it on my Netflix account just like any other Netflix streaming device. There are add-ons for just about all of your other online content as well such as: Revision3, TWiT, and TEDTalks.
Now on the other hand, there are still a few drawbacks. The most notable so far has been the frustration of setting up TMT5 as an external player. It seems like no matter how you set it up, it just doesn’t want to work properly. Some folks have been able to get it working by passing it the drive letter of their BD-ROM as the args, but that was only for setting it up to play actual blu-ray discs instead of from the blu-ray directory structure. Looks like the only option, at this point, is to write a batch script to load it via console/command line and then set the external player to call the batch script. I think that’s a bit messy of a workaround though.
Then there is the main reason to need to use TMT5 as an external player in the first place; XBMC doesn’t support properly bitstreaming HD audio codecs. My blu-ray dumps are mostly using the TrueHD and DTS-MA HD codecs which I bitstream to my Onkyo receiver for a pretty epic sounding home theater experience! The internal XBMC player doesn’t support this yet. The other main need for the external player was mentioned previously; the lack of proper hardware acceleration with the internal player. Hopefully we will see some progress on these two fronts in the 11.0 release. Until then, we’ll still need to use a third-party player such as TMT5, TMT3, or PowerDVD.
I will post more updates as I get more time to play around with XBMC Dharma and will try to get some screenshots for you guys. In the meantime let me know what you think of the latest XBMC release or what sorts of neat setups you have been able to get working with it. Also, if you have been able to get TMT5 properly setup and working as an external player please get in touch with me and let me know how you got it working!