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My OpenELEC Setup - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly - calris - 11-14-2012

Hello Everyone,

A long time ago (~2006, in a galaxy far far away) I started playing around with the concept of a media centre PC. I started with a VIA EPIA EN15000 running MythTV. I even build a custom IR receiver for it. It had a TV Tuner and worked well enough for me. Unfortunately it had a very low WAF.

Later on, I happen to upgrade from Windows XP to Vista - Unlike XP, there was no 'Media Centre Edition' in Vista, so I decided to give it a go. The WAF was high enough for it to take centre stage - I bought a SilverStone LC17, Asus M2A-VM HDMI motherboard and an AMD Athlon (might be an X2, can't remember now). After a while, this system got upgraded to Windows 7. I put a new graphics card in it because the on board graphics were pretty average.

In the meantime, I also had a quick play around with XBMC but figured it was not quite mature enough. In particular, live TV support really had me worried the WAF would not be high enough. So despite the shortcomings of the Windows media centre software, we kept going with it.

From there I bought a HP N40L Microserver. I installed Fedora 17 and setup a software RAID5 array on it. I migrated my entire media library (ripped CDs, DVDs, Recorded TV, Pictures, Home Movies, etc) over to the N40L.

But the WAF of Vista Media Centre started to plummet - Huge slabs of our massive music library was going missing and it kept hanging. Occasionally we would get this weird 'warp mode' thing happening where it would look like it was displaying 10 copies of text all slightly out of line with each other. Other times it would 'Black Screen of Death' - mouse would still work and we would have to kill the media centre front end and restart, or restart the machine entirely. All this was happening before the N40L came along, so it wasn't network related. And the fan noise was starting to bug us.

So I decided to find a cheap AMD E350 or E450 based ITX motherboard and give XBMC another go. From what I was reading on the forums, the live TV experience was much improved. We wanted to be able to play, pause, rewind, fast-forward and record. XBMC wasn't perfect, but there were hacks that could make it happen, and PVR was 'just around the corner'.

My goal was a fanless HTPC that looked and performed beautifully.

So I started with an no-name (Qotom) PC. It was less than the cost of a 'name' brand motherboard and came with HDMI output, RAM, SSD, power supply and case. The case was ugly, it had no ODD or S/PDIF output and a small fan on the CPU heatsink. So after a bit of research, someone suggested I try an 'Arctic Cooling Accelero S2 VGA heatpipe cooler'. After a bit of gentle 'persuasion' (involving Scissors, a Dremel and some bending) it ended up looking like this:

[Image: _MG_8350_.jpg]

After getting it mounted, I had the core of my HTPC:

[Image: _MG_8351_.jpg]

Reading the XBMC site, I noticed that OpenELEC had reached 2.0. So I downloaded the Fusion build and gave it a try. I was very pleased to have it fire up and work straight away. I could connect to the SAMBA shares on the N40L and play all the music, videos, DVDs and pictures. Thing were starting to look great, and I'd only spent a little over $200 so far Smile

After much consideration, I ended up buying a Wesena ITX6 case (I wanted the option of using the PCIe port, just in case). With the case I also bought a DVD drive (I'm not up to needing BluRay yet), a Pico PSU and a IR remote receiver & transmitter. Getting it all in was a very tight fit (I'll add some photo's later) but I got it all in.

My stereo has S/PDIF inputs but no HDMI inputs. So in the meantime, I also started looking at cheap USB S/PDIF adapters. I accidentally bought a cheap analogue output adapter. Realising my mistake, I then ordered a proper S/PDIF version. Neither have arrived yet. As it turns out, my TV has a S/PDIF output which is a HDMI passthrough! So I didn't need to spend the ~$50 on two cheap USB audio adapters.

So I had a really good looking HTPC - time to start investigating live TV. The planets aligned and version 0.5 of the cMyth addon with full PVR functionality got released Smile - I had already downloaded and build OpenELEC from source (just for kicks - I am a hacker after all) so it was a pretty simple matter do a fresh build (with the latest XBMC source for completeness).

I had a spare single DVB-T tuner lying around, so I threw that in my dev machine and setup a MythTV 0.25 backend. Perfect - seamless live TV experience Smile

So the plan was to use the N40L as the MythTV backend. But the N40L only has PCIe slots and I only had PCI DVB-T tuners. Time to upgrade to a DigitalNow Quad! The Linux drivers for the DigitalNow Quad have reached the git repositories on their way to full-blown mainline support. So I pulled down the source and got building (I had to mess around upgrading Fedora on the dev and N40L so I could compile compatible kernel modules). The Quad sprang to life instantly.

One last finishing touch was buying a Logitech Harmony 600 from Officeworks for $35. But this, alas, is an unfulfilled pleasure (for now)...

The Setup
  • Silent (unless playing a DVD) HTPC
    • AMD E350 (no-name) motherboard
    • 2GB SDRAM
    • 4GB8GB SSD (I think it's a MMC/SD to SATA converter)
    • Arctic Cooling Accelero S2 VGA Heatpipe Cooler (heavily modded)
    • Wesena 150W DC/DC Pico PSU
    • 240VAC/12VDC Power Brick
    • Sony AD-7640S Slot Load ODD
    • Wesena IR Receiver
    • Philips RC260 Remote
    • Wesena ITX6 Case
    • OpenELEC r12458
    • XBMC Media Center 12.0-ALPHA7 Git:860cd91
    • XBMC cMyth Addon Version 0.5
  • Backend Server
    • HP N40L Microserver
    • 2GB SDRAM
    • 3x 2TB HDD, Software RAID5 (3.6TB usable)
    • DigitalNow Quad DVB-T PCIe Tuner
    • Linux 3.6.6-1.fc16.x86_64
    • MythTV v0.25.3
The Good
  • Silent Front End
  • Very responsive UI
  • Plays everything including previously recorded TV shows
  • Four simultaneous TV channels
  • Seamless live TV experience (yet to be fully WAF rated)
  • Fast boot. If I turn on the TV and OpenELEC at the same time, OpenELEC wins the race Smile
The Bad
  • The frontend temp can soar (85+ degrees C)
  • Setting up MythTV was a PITA - manually creating MySQL databases and setting up permissions when every other piece of the puzzle is almost embarrassingly trivial. Com'on Myth guys Wink
  • The Wesena IR receiver is not MCE compatible (despite vendor claims) (UPDATE: Apparently the firmware for the IR receiver got updated and the RC6 protocol was removed - Rylun are arranging to send me an older model)
The Ugly
  • DVDs missing from library (folder name / scrapper issue, not a bug)
  • Lots of DVDs named as 'Videograss' (again, naming issue, not a bug)
  • Music library browsing would be better as a 'Wall of Albums' Now using the Aeon Nox skin which has gorgeous library browsing
Whats Missing / Left To Do
  • DVD ripping from the front end to the backend. I've seen XBMC addon scrips targetting Windows, so I'll have a look
  • Have to rename the entire DVD library so the scrapper to work properly
  • Get a new internal MCE compatible remote
  • Tweak the Harmony so I navigate straight to the media libraries
  • Choose another skin
  • Get my Raspberry Pi connected
  • Get my Mele A2000 (Allwinner A10) connected
  • Get my HP TouchPad (CyanogenMod) tablet connected (running Android XBMC)
  • Get my wifes Acer Iconia tablet connected (running Android XBMC)
  • More I'm Sure Wink
Overall impression
OpenELEC is seriously good. It thumps Windows Media Centre in almost every regard out-of-the box and I've yet to really start customising it. The Wesena ITX6 case looks great and having a silent front end is so nice.

If I were to build the system, knowing what I now know, I would probably choose an Asus E45M1-I Delux motherboard. The build might have cost ~100 more (basically RAM + SSD - Heatsink) but the extra grunt of the E450 and the massive heatsink on it might prove to be a much better solution. I also would not bother with the Wesena remote (I'm still on the lookout for a good, compatible, internal remote receiver). Oh, and I would not have bought two useless USB audio adapters Smile (as it turns out, the end cose would have probably been almost exactly the same)

A massive thanks to all the XMBC, OpenELEC, MythTV and cMyth addon teams as well as everyone on the XBMC and OpenELEC forums who have help me through.

Re: My OpenELEC Setup - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly - ryanjennings - 11-19-2012

Thanks for your great write up. I have had a similar history. Moving from one thing to another. Still amazed at how great the original tivo was for its day.

Anyway, what are you using for the 4gb ssd? I haven't heard of one that small. I am thinking about booting from usb. I recently got a biostar A68I-350 Deluxe board with 8gb ram.

Re: My OpenELEC Setup - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly - calris - 11-20-2012

ryanjennings post=54436 Wrote:what are you using for the 4gb ssd? I haven't heard of one that small.
It's actually 8GB (I'll update my post), and I think it might be something like an MMC/SD to SATA converter wrapped in a 2.5" shell (I haven't pulled it apart)

ryanjennings post=54436 Wrote:I am thinking about booting from usb. I recently got a biostar A68I-350 Deluxe board with 8gb ram.
I was doing that for my N40L Microserver, but for some reason the USB drive was occasionally dropping out, killing the system.

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