In a previous article, Kevin Herring showed you how to turn an Xbox into a low cost, full function NAS. This is all well and good, but I've always thought that the Xbox would be a perfect platform for media center, and I'm not alone. The Xbox Media Center Project (XBMC) team has created a fantastic, full featured media center for the Xbox.
The project recently rose to critical acclaim in the open source community winning the 2006 sourceforge community choice award in both the "Best Multimedia Project" and the "Best Game Project" categories. (They were nominated this year in six categories, but didn't win any.)
Shortly after Kevin's article came out, I picked up an extra Xbox from a friend, modded it and "rolled my own" media center based in Xebian. This wasn't exactly trivial to do and Freevo 1 just lacks that certain inexplicable "flashy" factor. Even running an extremely efficient Linux OS on the Xbox's limited resources took a toll on overall media center performance.
But, I'm happy to report that the XBMC install and configuration is considerably less demanding and XBMC's interface and features are absolutely fantastic. In this How To, I'll show you how to unleash your Xbox with XBMC.
The Xbox doesn't have a "real" operating system per se; the BIOS handles the startup of game software and all the other lower level tasks like networking, storage, system clock, etc. We need to replace the BIOS with another one that will allow us access to more of the Xbox's capabilities. Part of the game startup process includes checking that the game software was signed by Microsoft. So swapping out the BIOS is not as easy as just sticking in a CD with XBMC on it.
There are two approaches to BIOS substitution. The first is a "softmod" via the MechInstaller crack, which sounds good on paper since you don't even have to open the Xbox. Microsoft, however, is now aware of the crack and has fixed it in recent releases of Mech Assault which makes finding the correct version increasingly difficult.
The other approach is to solder in a chip to house an additional BIOS to extend the Xbox's capabilities. This requires rolling up your sleeves a little, but as avid readers of SmallNetBuilder, this install is a breeze. Not only will an alternate BIOS let you run XBMC, but it can add a whole slew of other functions to the Xbox, all while letting you still play all your favorite games.
In my previous mods, I've always used the DuoX 2 modchip. For this Xbox, however, I decided to go with the Xecuter 3 CE modchip. It's one of the more expensive modchips out there, but all the extra connectors and plugs actually kept the additional soldering to a minimum. The Xecuter chip also has numerous optional add-ons like an external LCD display and an additional IR receiver that'll allow you to turn the Xbox on and off with the remote.
The 3 CE modchip also has the ability to flash its memory banks via HTTP, a very nice feature since the Xbox is extremely picky (especially if you have a Thompson DVD drive) about the media it chooses to read. Having fought the media battle a few times before, I decided to get smart this time. I should note however, that selecting a modchip is a lot like selecting a motherboard; they all bring the same basic functionality (in this case, allowing you to install an alternate BIOS), you just have to choose which bells and whistles you'd like.