Editor’s Note: As always, below is a developer’s diary. All of the opinions found below are only those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the team. Also, sorry for not posting last week. I was just a teeny bit busy.

scalezappyTo say that SCALE this year was eventful would be an understatement. Over the past three days, we performed releases, we hung out with open source hero Jon “Maddog” Hall, and we demoed hardware that virtually no one has seen before.

As is always the case when preparing for Expos, SCALE started for the team several months earlier, during the call for exhibits and speakers. This year, XBMC did not participate in any speaking events, though that’s certainly something I wouldn’t mind seeing change for next year. We did, however, decide to provide an exhibit.

Until fairly late in the process, our plans for this exhibit were reasonably limited. The previous year we’d demonstrated XBMC Dharma on two Zotac Ions, and we saw very little need to mess with a winning formula. Simply put, the NVIDIA ION htpc experience for XBMC is one of the best experiences around. Naturally, we planned on demoing XBMC Eden, but that was the only planned switch.

And then Raspberry Pi emerged on the scene. A great deal of internal chatter made it clear that Edgar (gimli) and Scott (Davilla) were making extremely rapid progress in porting XBMC to the little computer that could. Meanwhile, international attention turned to the British nonprofit foundation preparing to set the computer industry on its ears in a way that hasn’t been seen since, possibly, IBM sold a PC using interchangeable parts.

About two weeks before SCALE (around the same time as a certain eBay auction occurred), Pike and I proposed to Cory (theuni) that it’d be pretty cool to demo XBMC on the Raspberry Pi at the Expo. Cory agreed and contacted the fine folk at Raspberry Pi to see if we could get our grubby hands on one of their diminished supply of non-production alpha and beta boards. My major goal was not to step on any toes. If Raspberry Pi wanted to demo XBMC themselves, they were more than welcome to.

Yet Dom and the Raspberry Pi foundation was gracious enough both to furnish us with a working board that already had the most recent version of XBMC for RPi ready to go and to give us the opportunity to be the first to show off XBMC on the RPi to the world.

We all arrived Thursday night. Cory, Keith (keith), and I had an eventful trip to Denny’s. We also hung out with Keith’s friend and took this picture.

LAX_night

The XBMC Band: Keith's friend, Keith, Cory, and Nathan

The RPi board arrived Friday afternoon. we got XBMC up and running on the board in short order using the USB to Serial connection to connect it to Cory’s laptop. Keith provided a keyboard, and we were up and running. Below is the first public video demonstrating XBMC on the Raspberry Pi.

Keith walked us through the various functions. Cory kept an eye on the attached PC to make sure nothing glitched. And I recorded.

The impression we all had was basically the same. This is a $25-$35 ARM-based computer, made by a non-profit company, and worked on by two XBMC guys for probably less than two months. We are EXTREMELY early in the development cycle. Honestly, it would have been unreasonable to believe that XBMC could do anything more than startup without immediately crashing.

Yet it did much, MUCH better than that. We had no trouble navigating menus, playing back full 1080p h.264 encoded video, and even creating a library with our Blender videos and movie trailers. Everything was slower than, for example an NVIDIA ION htpc, but this was before any optimizing for the platform. Simply put, this is arguably the most amazing $25-$35 computer we have ever seen (also, the only non-used $25 computer we have ever seen). It’s going to be several months before we’ll know exactly how well XBMC will perform after being more fully optimized, and codec support may always be limited, but the future is certainly looking bright right now. Every single person in the open source community should be excited about this one.

Sean (Malloc) met up with us that evening with monitors to use on the Expo floor, and for the next two days, we displayed XBMC on our trusty NVIDIA Ion computer from Zotac, on an Apple TV 2, and on the Raspberry Pi.

XBMC_Crew

From left to right: Sean, Cory, Gareth (SCALE Organizer), Keith, and Nathan

In that setting, it remains clear that the NVIDIA Ion computer from Zotac is one of several near-perfect XBMC HTPCs. It is smooth, clean, and fast, and it has no trouble with nearly any video content thrown its way, regardless of codec. The Apple TV is capable of only displaying at 720p resolution, even though it can decode 1080p content just fine. Meanwhile, the Raspberry Pi is still quite definitely in proof of concept mode. Actions are slow. Nothing has been optimized yet. Random things might break for no obvious reason. Nevertheless, XBMC on Raspberry Pi was the talk of the town (surrounding our booth) not so much for what it is, but for what it can be. At this point there seems to be little doubt that ARM-based computing with System-on-Chip video decoding, as demonstrated by Raspberry Pi is a big step into the future.

At the same time as all of that, the entire team was working feverishly to release Beta 2 of XBMC Eden. Numerous bugs were being hammered out. Last minute fixes were worked in. I spent a few hours slowly winding my way through our Github history trying to identify the items that I thought would most interest our user base. (Needless to say, my job was the least important.)

This was all made dramatically more difficult by team members also busily answering questions at SCALE and fiddling with the Raspberry Pi. What might have been a 24 hour process on any other given week turned into something closer to 48 hours. At one point, Beta 2 became available on some, but not all, planned platforms, and we were forced to semi-announce it on Facebook and Twitter before we were ready, simply because so many users had already pointed out to us that they’d found the download. If I haven’t said this before, XBMC has some of the most internet-savvy, die-hard users in the history of the internet, and their ability to find XBMC info is unparalleled.

Nevertheless, because we have one of the best unpaid development crews I’ve ever personally worked with, XBMC 11.0 Eden 11.0 Eden: Beta 2 was made ready and officially released on Saturday night at about midnight Pacific Time, during the SCALE conference, as planned. Likewise, SCALE went off without a hitch. We made some awesome new contacts. We gave those users who came to see us in person a unique show. All in all, this was a fantastic weekend. Thanks to all the people who showed up and all of our awesome users who downloaded Beta 2.

In my opinion, only one thing could have made the weekend any better. And if you are wondering, the answer is no. I did not see Natalie Portman while in L.A. It appears she doesn’t exclusively hang around LAX. A guy can dream though. A guy can dream.

Natalie_Portman_LAX

Natalie doesn't always fly, but when she does, she chooses LAX.

SCALE, we’ll see you next year.


  • http://joelinux117.blogspot.com JoeLinux

    This is super exciting. I swear if time was a little more on my side, I’d love to help you guys out! Can’t wait to start playing with RPi soon!

  • migwell2

    Awesome!!!

  • pd

    Great news when this gets ramped up. Might finally bring down the stupid prices of media players. That said, sometimes it is still true that you get what you pay for. Any chance a future refined version of XBMC for RPi will be less crashy than ever version I’ve ever tried (and subsequently dismissed due to crashing and other issues) I’ve ever tried?

  • Christopher Smith

    Hey, I remember taking that picture in front of the LAX sign! It was great meeting you guys.

    • https://plus.google.com/111375213934404408615 Nathan

      Thanks for taking the picture! Hope to see you next SCALE!