An update to my Geeky computer post back in Feb 2012.
I have used my Network Attached Storage (NAS) to record free TV from the antenna and store my Movie and TV Show collection. To play the video files on the TV, I joined the crowd of teenage girls and ordered a $35 Raspberry Pi (RPi) when first released and received it in mid-June 2012. Raspbmc software was released soon after to allow the Raspberry Pi to easily connect to the TV and use XMBC to play video files from my NAS. I’ve used the RPi for the past year and I must say that it does nearly everything I want: play movies, TV Shows, recorded TV, and occasional sporting event. The RPi supports MPEG-2 decoding to play HDTV after purchasing a license for $3.84. Because the RPi includes hardware decoders for all the video codecs I use, watching HD-quality video is easily handled.
My favorite part is that I can quickly browse my video library using Yatse on an Android device, then with a simple touch the video starts up on the TV (see Yatse screenshot to the right). Browsing the video collection shows poster art, summaries of the movie or TV show, and other interesting info like user ratings. It sure beats sifting through a closet full of DVDs to find the movie or TV show I’d like to watch, taking it out of the sleeve, putting it in the DVD player, having to skip through all the previews, and then having to sit through all the FBI screens. That’s too much work compared to the measly hours that I spend setting up the NAS, the RPi, and Yatse.
When it comes to tasks that need some processing umph such as skipping commercials in recorded HDTV or using video plugins that provide easy access to online video streaming services, the Raspberry Pi starts to show its limitations. When skipping commercials on HDTV recordings, for each 30s skip forward I have to wait 3-5 seconds before it begins responding again. When browsing for online video content, switching directories can take up to a couple minutes. I have to keep in mind, though, that the RPi is a $35 device with a single 700Mhz processor based on a 12-year-old architecture, so it’s not fast enough to be a media pc killer. Recently, however, some devices have come out that very well could make the claim.
I was eyeing the Ouya which is a 3″ cube with 4 processors @ 1.7GHz each, 1GB RAM, HDMI 1.4 w/ 3D support, and 8GB SSD internal storage. It started as a Kickstarter project in July 2012, earned $8.5 Million from supporters, then recently shipped in June 2013. The Ouya was made primarily as a cheap gaming console and 3rd-party applications are available that can run old Nintendo games. XBMC is shown to be a snappy interface when running on the Ouya. I, however, found a showstopper with the Ouya: it does not support MPEG-2 decoding which is needed to watch recorded HDTV. Also, some have complained about fan noise. It is nicely priced, though, at $99.
Fortunately, the CuBox-i was announced this September. The CuBox-i4Pro is 2″ cube, has 4 processors at 1.0Ghz each, 2GB RAM, HDMI 1.4 w/ 3D support, and IR receiver/transmitter. Best I can tell, each of the 4 processors run about 2500 DMIPS which is about as fast as the single processor in the Boxee Box that launched three years ago. The CuBox-i is fanless and supports out-of-the-box decoding of MPEG-2, MPEG-4, H.264, DIVX, and more. Interestingly enough, emulators are soon to be integrated directly into XBMC so the CuBox-i in theory should support playing Nintendo games. The processor, however, is clocked slower than the Ouya (I assume to keep it small and fanless), so the decrease in performance may hinder emulators from running properly. Usually with pieces of hardware like this, it’s risky to order before users have reviewed it. To put those worries at ease, two software packages already have been announced to run the same XBMC software as the RPi: linXBMC and GeeXbox. This signals lots of community support for this device to get it up and working.
The Quad version of the CuBox-i is $147.99, including 5V power supply and shipping from Israel where they are made. As of now, they only offer black but their website shows a video with a red device. As soon as they make the red available, I’ll be ordering one. Go CARDS!