All posts by Pete

How to turn the eeePC into a media centre (and get iplayer to work in fullscreen)

I must admit to being a bit of a fan for the Asus eeePC. I have a black 701 model which I impulse bought after the price hit £150, and i’ve found it to be a really superb machine.

Although the default Xandros boots up very quickly and is handy for checking emails on the fly, I eventually installed Ubuntu eee onto a removable SD card. It took me a while to work out how to get it to work, so I’ve added some instructions to the Ubuntu eee wiki to make the process easier.

I remember when I first got my eee one of my friends commented on using it to watch BBC’s iplayer – now one of the most popular ways to watch telly in the UK. However when I tried the video was very choppy – and only worked when not running in the full screen mode.

Initially I put this down to the eee’s fairly paltry celeron processor – at 600 mhz it’s fine for a simple bit of web surfing and word processing, but for anything more taxing it’s a bit underpowered, so I assumed that full screen video was beyond the reach of the eee. However after a bit of digging I found a discussion of Linux v Windows on the eee Forum here, which indicates that it a problem with the firefox / linux flash plugin. Rather than install Windows XP – which once i’d spent additional money on buying anti virus would be almost as much as I spent on the machine itself, I wanted to find an open source way of getting round the problem.

I’ve been running XBMC (X Box Media Centre) on my old modded xbox for some time now – hooked up to a telly it makes a handy way of watching DVDs, online media and networked media off a NAS drive. Given that XBMC works flawlessly off a machine with 64megs of ram and eeePC should be no problem.

So a visit to http://xbmc.org/ later and an install I got xbmc working – and it works really well.

Note that there are a few steps to go through rather than rely on Ubuntu’s built in add new software tool – you have to add the sources to the software sources control panel:

deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/team-xbmc-gutsy/ubuntu gutsy main

deb-src http://ppa.launchpad.net/team-xbmc-gutsy/ubuntu gutsy main

then type the following into the terminal application:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install xbmc

but once I’d got that over with XBMC appeared in the applications folder like normal.

Next step is to install the iplayer plugin:

See http://code.google.com/p/xbmc-iplayer/

The iplayer plugin works by using the BBC stream intended for ipod / iphone users .

(See comment below) The iplayer plugin uses the same streams as the Flash interface on the iPlayer website, in all it’s VP6 quality (higher-res than the iPhone stream), and with future improvements to the XBMC RTMP client, may also be able to stream the high-quality H264 streams also offered via the Flash interface instead.

Which explains why it looks better on the eeepc than on my iphone.

And I can report that it works in full screen no problem with the eee. Which makes the possibility of the eee becomming a handy ultra portable media centre. There are a few issues – very occasionally it freezes after watching a programme, and it doesn’t work smoothly with compiz, but these are really minor – the more I play with XBMC the more it impresses me.

Vespiforms

Vespiform attacking a 1920's aeroplane

It’s always curious to see real life and fiction blur – this week’s Dr Who adventure which was inspired by a cover of an Agatha Christie book:

Although Russell T Davies recounted that he was disappointed the book didn’t actually feature a giant wasp.. the book makes it into the final minute of the episode the Unicorn and the Wasp as the Doctor recounts to his assistant that Agatha Christie novels are enjoyed after the year five billion.

The book was Death in the Air, and the cover art was by Tom Adams – there’s a good website with more information about the artist, and a selection of prints available to buy, although sadly none of the giant-wasp-attacking an 1920’s aeroplane. Perhaps they’ll get bombarded with requests from Dr Who fans.