Of late, I have been trying to wean myself off Windows systems. First my Laptop, then my desktop and now my HTPC unit. Linux systems just feel snappier and they have come a really long way in terms of “just working” on common hardware.
Yesterday I did full volume install of XBMCbuntu (“Gotham”), wiping out the old Windows 7 OS installed on the unit. Once again, the results were extremely impressive, and reinforced my belief that Linux systems (esp ubuntu/debian based distros) are here to stay. Based on my experience, I can confidently say that unless you have archaic hardware, Linux should provide a much better experience than Windows.
Here is the config of my Zino HD HTPC (purchased in 2010):
1.5GHz AMD Athlon X2 3250e
3GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM (SODIMM)
256MB ATI Radeon HD 3200 (integrated ATI graphics chip)
250GB, 7,200 rpm HDD
Dell Wireless-N WLAN 1520 Half MiniCard
Lenovo Wireless Multimedia Remote (A fully working remote when I tried the live cd was a welcome surprise:-)
Connected to a 40 Inch LCD TV (Sony Bravia KDL-40S4100) via HDMI.
The setup itself was super smooth – pop the installation media, select install, standard Ubuntu installation steps. ALL hardware was detected and fully functional right after the install and reboot. The system takes about 3.5 GB of disk space. Suspend, Hibernate, Shutdown work as expected. The UI is very intuitive and responsive, and I definitely consider it an upgrade over Windows Media Center!
To make the UI align perfectly on your display, there is a setting (they really have thought of everything !)
If your TV is like mine, you will not see the corner markers shown at http://wiki.xbmc.org/index.php?title=Calibration#Video_calibration… (Pay close attention to the top left and bottom right screen markers in the images – You want them to perfectly align with the corners of your TV screen). Move your mouse cursor to the top left – the caption will change to indicate that you are adjusting the top left corner, then use cursor arrows to move the markers into position. Repeat for bottom right corner, and subtitles.
I tried a bunch of themes (after installing the Fusion repository), however none were as sleek and well rounded as the “Confluence” theme installed by default. The linux open source driver (Gallium 0.4) DOES NOT support hardware decoding (yet). However the CPU seems perfectly capable of rendering videos smoothly – The max load I noticed using the video overlay option was each core at 50% while playing some videos on my NAS).
I am quite happy with 720P video playback as my internet speed is definitely a bottleneck for streaming 1080P videos.