Version 1.2 Photoeon Backgrounds Available for XBMC Media Center

January 4th, 2011

After several hundred downloads of version 1.1 of the Photeon (Photo + AEON) backdrops/backgrounds for XBMC Media Center a more subdued version 1.2 is now available for download.

Download Photeon Backgrounds version 1.2

If you download and use the backgrounds please leave a comment. I’d love to know what people think of them or what could be improved!

Movies - original by Jean-Luc ST-Hilaire (clasixart) of Quebec, Canada.
Photeon 1.2 Movies XBMC Media Center sample

TV Shows - original by Miroslav Sárička (v_hujer) of Prievidza, Slovakia.
Photeon 1.2 TV Shows XBMC Media Center sample

Videos - original obtained from skunkmonkee.
Photeon 1.2 Videos XBMC Media Center sample

Pictures - original by Piotr Lewandowski ** (LeWy2005) of Gdynia, Pomorskie, Poland.
Photeon Pictures XBMC Media Center sample

Music - original by Bart Noszka (noszki) of Dabrowa, Slaskie, Poland.
Photeon 1.2 Music XBMC Media Center sample

Play Disc - original obtained from skunkmonkee.
Photeon 1.2 Play Disk XBMC Media Center sample

Games - original by Stephen Davies (steved_np3) of the UK.
Photeon 1.2 Games XBMC Media Center sample

Arcade - original by Sas Van Veen (xtrapink) of the Netherlands.
Photeon 1.2 Arcade XBMC Media Center sample

Apps - original by Brian Lary (blary54) of the United States.
Photeon Apps XBMC Media Center sample

Weather - original by G Schouten de Jel (gabriel77) of Den Haag, Z-H, Netherlands.
Photeon 1.2 Weather XBMC Media Center sample

Settings - original obtained from skunkmonkee.
Photeon Settings XBMC Media Center sample

The backgrounds are all 720p BMP images so will work with both original XBox hardware and Linux/Windows HTPC solutions without any rescaling.

Legal Stuff

Most of the images in the Photeon series of backgrounds were obtained from stock.xchng, a free stock photo site, and then modified as necessary by David Teirney.

Images remain protected by the original terms and conditions of stock.xchng. Please respect the original license conditions as also noted in the enclosed License.txt file.

Changes from 1.1

  • Desaturated all the images so they are black in white, as in the 1.0 release. Let the media art shine, not the backgrounds.
  • Fixed the color speckled area in the background of the “Music” image.
  • Changed the “Play Disc” image.
  • Changed the “Settings” image.
  • Changed the “Videos” image.
  • Removed the “Clips” images.
  • Removed the “Extras” images.

Installation

Download the photeon-backgrounds-1.2.zip file (9.6 MB) and follow the instructions within the enclosed Readme.txt file.

The download is hosted by Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) so tell all your friends as it’s hardly costing anything to host and share this with everyone.

Linux Backup Strategy Using Backupninja

August 30th, 2010

No-one likes to loose digital data, especially precious memories in photos that can’t be replaced. I’ve had two pretty major hard drive failures in the last year and there’s nothing like the thought of having lost photos or other important information to give you the kick in the arse you need to make sure you have a backup strategy that is being followed.

About 9 months ago I had a 1TB hard drive start to fail. It had 360+ identified reallocated sectors and had numerous I/O errors while trying to access specific areas of the drive. That drive had all our photos on it. Luckily I got most of the data off it and, combined with a simple manual backup I was doing to an external drive, I didn’t loose a thing. It was a painful and somewhat stressful process restoring and checking the recovered data and could have easily resulted in significant data loss.

I needed a more robust backup process. Our entire home computing system is based on Linux - Ubuntu Lucid Lynx 10.04. This includes a desktop computer and a HTPC that triples as NAS, VDR using MythTV, and media centre using XBMC Media Centre. After review of the backup options available I finally settled on using backupninja. It’s a piece of cake to install as it’s available in the Ubuntu repositories, is easy to setup, has good documentation, and has just the right amount of notification related bells and whistles to let me know that things are running when they should, and when things don’t go as they should.

The backup strategy I use now is pretty straight forward, with all the important information on those 2 machines being backed up to 3 places using backupninja:

  1. Automatically to the other computer on a daily basis
  2. Manually to an external drive stored in our detached garage (in case the house burns down or we are burgled) on a weekly basis
  3. Manually to an external drive stored at work (in case both the house and garage burn down) on a weekly (turning out to be more like monthly) basis
  4. Future: Automatically to an Amazon S3 account in the cloud (only for the very most important information since bandwidth is an issue here in New Zealand)

Backupninja provides built in support for all the types of information I needed backing up and includes support for setting them up using the curses based ninjahelper interface. Configuring the necessary files manually is also ridiculously easy.

  • System Information dump - e.g. hard drive partition information, installed packages
  • MySQL database dump - for all of the MythTV recorded TV show information
  • File backup using rdiff-backup over SSH or directly to a locally mounted drive - for all our photos and other multimedia
  • Future: File backup using duplicity to Amazon S3 - for all our photos

To install backupninja and the other utilities that it can leverage, use the following command line:
$ sudo apt-get install backupninja, debconf-utils, hwinfo, rdiff-backup

Below is part of a sample configuration file for an rdiff-backup configuration to show how easy it is to configure:
include = /etc
include = /home
include = /root
include = /mnt/drive1/multimedia
include = /usr/local/*bin
include = /var/backups
include = /var/lib/dpkg/status*
include = /var/spool/cron/crontabs
exclude = **/.ccache
exclude = **/.local/share/Trash
exclude = **/.thumbnails
exclude = **/.Trash*

There is oodles of other useful information in the Backupninja Wiki so go and have a look at that if you want to know more.

I’m also using smartmontools to monitor the SMART status of the hard drives in all our machines totalling ~3TB of data across 5 drives. Getting a heads up that you might need to move data off a drive onto a new one before it fails is sometimes the easier option than restoring from a backup.

Putting a backup strategy in place is only something most people consider once they’ve already lost data - the same way that most people only get a house alarm after they have been burgled. If you need to go into your house to access any important digital information, then you are at risk of loosing something. Be smart, do something before you lose something.

New Zealand Freeview|HD running on XBMC from Myth TV

June 8th, 2009

UPDATE (20-Aug-2009): The bulk of the patch has now been committed to XBMC in revision 22285. A few extra goodies added to the patch now. Might cause some conflicts once these are committed, but that might not be for a week or more.

UPDATE (18-Aug-2009): A recent update of ffmpeg in XBMC (revision 21993 on 04-Aug-2009) meant that the original patch and instructions no longer worked. The instructions below have been updated and a new patch released. Much of the original patch is now directly in XBMC Media Center due to the ffmpeg update so it is much smaller.

I maintain the Myth TV page in the XBMC wiki. Some people in New Zealand have contacted me to get instructions on what needs to be done to get recorded Freeview|HD content playing in XBMC from a Myth TV backend.

Well, here those instructions are. Luckily there isn’t as much voodoo magic as there used to be. There will be even less voodoo once some of my other patches make it into XBMC proper, and Paul Kendall’s patches for LATM encapsulated AAC decoding finally wiggle their way into ffmpeg.

These instructions assume:

  • You already have Myth TV working as expected with the digital terrestrial Freeview|HD broadcast. Getting this working isn’t covered here. Go to Myth TV NZ as a starting point or join the mythtvnz mailing list for more information.
  • You have seen the light and are using Linux and not Windoze
  • You have a level of confidence with Linux
  • You are happy to compile XBMC Media Center from source code (and have some concept of what compiling is)
  • You have a smoking fast CPU. A dual core 3.0GHz or faster CPU is needed or an nVidia video card / chipset that supports VDPAU. Decoding 1080i H264 content from TV3 is super CPU intensive or needs to be offloaded to the GPU.

The New Zealand Freeview|HD digital free-to-air transmission DVB-T video stream uses the H264 codec (along with PAFF interlacing for TV3). The DVB-T audio stream uses either AC3 or LATM (Low-overhead MPEG-4 Audio Transport Multiplex) encapsulated HE-AAC. The audio and video streams are transmitted within an MPEGTS container.
Read the rest of this entry »

Upgrade to Wordpress 2.5 went more or less to plan

August 10th, 2008

I have finally upgraded Wordpress to the latest version after becoming stagnant on some old 1.x version. It’s more or less gone to plan, although for some reason all of my category names have become empty!

The Wordpress administration UI improvements are a welcome and refreshing change but there are still some confusing parts with quite different background colors behind some of the buttons. I can understand why they did it, but for some reason I didn’t even see some of the buttons first time round “where is the Publish button?” Generally the important stuff is much more accessible so great job!

As expected since there is no plug-in management to speak of in Wordpress all of the plug-ins I had were well out of date. I’d really appreciate some form of management for these (similar to the package management on Linux) so I can just be told when there is new stuff and say “yes, please download and update to the latest version, thank-you”. Trawling around the internet to get the latest versions is a bit painful.

Anyway, watch this space for a slowly updating Wordpress theme based on Deliciously Blue, which was curiously based on the previous theme I was using (Glossy Blue). I’m going to try for a strictly gray-scale theme with a splash of two contrasting colors to see what I’ve learned from my typography reading.

Version 1.1 Photeon backgrounds for XBMC AEON skin released

July 27th, 2008

After several hundred downloads of version 1.0 of the Photeon (Photo + AEON) backdrops/backgrounds for the XBMC Media Center AEON skin, a bigger, better, brighter version 1.1 is now available for download.

Download Photeon Backgrounds version 1.1

If you download and use the backgrounds please leave a comment. I’d love to know what people think of them or what could be improved!

Movies - original by Jean-Luc ST-Hilaire (clasixart) of Quebec, Canada.
Photeon Movies XBMC Media Center sample

TV Shows - original by Miroslav Sárička (v_hujer) of Prievidza, Slovakia.
Photeon TV Shows XBMC Media Center sample

Clips - original by Melanie Kuipers ** (yum) of Germany.
Photeon Clips XBMC Media Center sample

Pictures - original by Piotr Lewandowski ** (LeWy2005) of Gdynia, Pomorskie, Poland.
Photeon Pictures XBMC Media Center sample

Music - original by Bart Noszka (noszki) of Dabrowa, Slaskie, Poland.
Photeon Music XBMC Media Center sample

Games - original by Stephen Davies (steved_np3) of the UK.
Photeon Games XBMC Media Center sample

Arcade - original by Sas Van Veen ** (xtrapink) of the Netherlands.
Photeon Arcade XBMC Media Center sample

Apps - original by Brian Lary (blary54) of the United States.
Photeon Apps XBMC Media Center sample

Weather - original by G Schouten de Jel (gabriel77) of Den Haag, Z-H, Netherlands.
Photeon Weather XBMC Media Center sample

Settings - original by Giovanni Miniato (desmox) of Italy.
Photeon Settings XBMC Media Center sample

Extras - originals by GLS (glspro5) of Argentina, and Laura Shreck (Columbine) of the United States.
Photeon Extras XBMC Media Center sample

Photeon Extras XBMC Media Center sample

The backgrounds are all 720p BMP images so will work with both original XBox hardware and Linux/Windows HTPC solutions without any rescaling.

Legal Stuff

All images in the Photeon series of backgrounds were obtained from stock.xchng, a free stock photo site, and then modified as necessary by David Teirney.

All images remain protected by the original terms and conditions of stock.xchng. Please respect the original license conditions as also noted in the enclosed License.txt file.

Changes from 1.0

  • Added “Apps” image.
  • Added “Arcade” image.
  • Added “Clips” image.
  • Added “Extras” images.
  • Added “Games” image.
  • Changed “Settings” image.
  • Removed the “TV Shows” image and replaced with the old “Live TV” image.
  • Repositioned the existing version 1.0 images to better work with the Showcase view and the AEON menu bar.
  • Cleaned the close-up images to remove unsightly artifacts like small hairs and other imperfections that were blatantly obvious when blown up to 46+ inches on an HD TV.
  • Altered the color curves for most images so they are more consistent across the set of images.

Installation

Download the photeon-backgrounds-1.1.zip file (18.2 MB) and follow the instructions within the enclosed Readme.txt file.

The download is hosted by Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) so tell all your friends as it’s hardly costing anything to host and share this with everyone.

XBMC on XBox is definitely too slow to play HD H264 content

July 6th, 2008

For a while I’ve known that getting the original XBox to play HD content was going to be a big ask. Plenty of places have said it just won’t happen.

Today I tested a 720p H264 movie that is freely available for download called Big Buck Bunny.

With debug information turned on there was still plenty of memory free (~20Mb) but the CPU spiked to 100% and playback was a miserable 17fps. The sound was playing fine, but the video was very laggy.

In the debug log I was very amused to see the following:

16:39:31 M: 18128896 DEBUG: msg:
************************************************
**** Your system is too SLOW to play this! ****
************************************************
Possible reasons, problems, workarounds:
- Most common: broken/buggy _audio_ driver
- Try -ao sdl or use the OSS emulation of ALSA.
- Experiment with different values for -autosync, 30 is a good start.
- Slow video output
- Try a different -vo driver (-vo help for a list) or try -framedrop!
- Slow CPU
- Don't try to play a big DVD/DivX on a slow CPU! Try some of the lavdopts, e.g. -vfm ffmpeg -lavdopts lowres=1:fast:skiploopfilter=all.
- Broken file
- Try various combinations of -nobps -ni -forceidx -mc 0.
- Slow media (NFS/SMB mounts, DVD, VCD etc)
- Try -cache 8192.
- Are you using -cache to play a non-interleaved AVI file?
- Try -nocache.
Read DOCS/HTML/en/video.html for tuning/speedup tips.
If none of this helps you, read DOCS/HTML/en/bugreports.html.

It’s very saddening to see that the Xbox has almost come to the end of it’s usefulness.

I could look at hooking in some of the mplayer options to try and help the CPU out but it really looks like its time to start putting together a new Linux HTPC now that HD TV is available in New Zealand via DVB-T.

How to add page up and page down functions to the XBox remote for XBMC

May 23rd, 2008

I’m using the Aeon skin for XBMC and the skin doesn’t support scroll bars. This makes it a bit time consuming navigating long lists.

To workaround this you can configure the XBox remote to perform PageUp and PageDown actions by altering the Keymap.xml file in the UserData folder.

UPDATE: This no longer seems to work on later versions of XBMC. I will post another article that contains details on the changes necessary.

Change the existing buttons mapped to the PageUp and PageDown actions for the remote.

Change them to be and as shown below (at the top of the Keymap.xml file).

<keymap>
  <global>
    <remote>
      <three>VolumeUp</three>
      <six>VolumeDown</six>
      <nine>Mute</nine>
      <play>Play</play>
      <pause>Pause</pause>
      <stop>Stop</stop>
      <forward>FastForward</forward>
      <reverse>Rewind</reverse>
      <left>Left</left>
      <right>Right</right>
      <up>Up</up>
      <down>Down</down>
      <select>Select</select>
      <!-- Alteration for PageUp/PageDown starts -->
      <skipplus>PageDown</skipplus>
      <skipminus>PageUp</skipminus>
      <!-- Ends -->
      <back>ParentDir</back>
      <menu>PreviousMenu</menu>
      <title>ContextMenu</title>
      <info>Info</info>
      <skipplus>SkipNext</skipplus>
      <skipminus>SkipPrevious</skipminus>
      <display>FullScreen</display>
      <start>PreviousMenu</start>
      <record>Screenshot</record>
      <volumeplus>VolumeUp</volumeplus>
      <volumeminus>VolumeDown</volumeminus>
      <mute>Mute</mute>
      <power>XBMC.ShutDown()</power>
      <myvideo>XBMC.ActivateWindow(MyVideos)</myvideo>
      <mymusic>XBMC.ActivateWindow(MyMusic)</mymusic>
      <mypictures>XBMC.ActivateWindow(MyPictures)</mypictures>
      <mytv>XBMC.ActivateWindow(Home)</mytv>
    </remote>
  </global>
</keymap>

The XBMC wiki has more information about the Keymap.xml file.

Photeon backdrops for XBMC Aeon skin released

May 21st, 2008

Version 1.0 of the Photeon (Photo + Aeon) backdrops for XBox Media Center (XBMC) Aeon skin are now available for download.

UPDATE: An updated Version 1.1. of the Photeon Backgrounds for the XBMC AEON skin have been released!

Download Photeon Backdrops Version 1.0. If you download and use them please leave a comment. I’d love to know what people think of them!

All images in this Photeon series of backdrops for the Aeon skin were obtained from stock.xchng and then modified as necessary. All images are still protected by the original terms and conditions of that web site. Please respect the original license conditions as noted within the photeon-backdrops-1.0.zip file.

Special thanks to each of the image authors for giving permission to redistribute the modified versions of the images:

  • TV Shows - Jayson Gatdula (jaylopez)
  • Movies - Jean-Luc ST-Hilaire (clasixart)
  • Pictures - Piotr Lewandowski (LeWy2005) - no response after a week so I hope it’s OK
  • Music - Bart Noszka (noszki)
  • Weather - Gabriel Schouten de Jel (gabriel77)
  • Live TV - Viktor Hujer (v_hujer)
  • Settings - Kalyana Sundaram (kavitha)

TV Shows
Photeon TV Shows XBMC screenshot

Movies
Photeon Movies XBMC screenshot

Pictures
Photeon Pictures XBMC screenshot

Music
Photeon Music XBMC screenshot

Weather
Photeon Weather XBMC screenshot

Live TV (courtesy of the aeonmod by Rand Al Thor)
Photeon Live TV XBMC screenshot

Settings
Photeon Settings XBMC screenshot

To install:

  1. Download the photeon-backdrops-1.0.zip (9.8Mb)
  2. Unzip the photeon-backdrops-1.0.zip file and transfer to the skin directory of your XBMC installation. This will created a series of named folders within XBMC/skin/Aeon/backdrops/photeon/720p. Each named folder corresponds to Live TV, Movies, Music etc. and contains a single 720p BMP backdrop image.
  3. Open Settings for XBMC (press Up from the main menu while using the Aeon skin)
  4. Choose Aeon from the Settings menu and then configure the backdrop folders for each of the main menu items to point to the appropriate folder under .../photeon/720p.
  5. Configure the Settings backdrop image to point to the image within the .../photeon/720p/Settings folder. If this is not done, the existing Settings image will be used when a Setting menu item is chosen.

The download is hosted by Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) so tell all your friends, it's hardly costing anything to host and share this with everyone.

Abstract backdrops for XBMC Aeon Skin

May 12th, 2008

I’ve created some abstract backdrops for the XBox Media Center (XBMC) Aeon Skin.

Sample photos of the backdrops using the Aeon skin are shown below.

TV Shows
Aeon Skin TV Shows

Movies
Aeon Skin Movies

Pictures
Aeon Skin Pictures

Music
Aeon Skin Music

Weather
Aeon Skin Weather

Live TV (part of the Rand Al Thor Aeonmod)
Aeon Skin Live TV

Live TV recordings listing
Aeon Skin Live TV recordings

Live TV channel listing
Aeon Skin Live TV channels

Settings
Aeon Skin Settings

All of the images were sourced from stock.xchng which is a stock image library with free content. I still need to contact the authors of the images that were manipulated to get their permission to redistribute to anyone else that would like to use them.

I purposefully chose images that were crisp and not colored. I wanted the actual colored content in each menu, such movies and pictures, to pop out of the screen yet still have some level of eye candy for the menus. There could still be some improvements to align better with the Aeon menu overlay and perhaps refining of each image, but these will do for the moment.

If you are interested in using these backdrops with your Aeon skin please leave a comment below (might help convince the photo owners to allow redistribution).

Another place to go for iPhone modifications in New Zealand

April 13th, 2008

There’s now another place to get modifications for your iPhone so it works as well as it can in New Zealand on the Vodafone network.

Kiwi-ise contains a number of packages that can be installed using Installer.app to provide:

  • Caller ID
  • Phone Number Formatting
  • Voicemail button
  • Call Forwarding Active Fix
  • Alerts for Unread SMS messages and Missed Calls
  • Kiwi-ised Google Maps application icon

It includes all of the great stuff that was in the XK72 repository plus some other goodies. I particularly look forward to seeing how the alerts for unread SMS messages and missed calls will work. I really missed that feature off my old Samsung phone.

It’s great to see so much effort being put into making using the iPhone as simple as possible here in New Zealand.

There’s also great reading about jailbreaking and unlocking in general.