Friday, December 20, 2013

The best Linux for your Home Theater system is Xubuntu

For me Xubuntu kicked the pants off of Fedora 19, and Ubuntu.  First, it does everything I need it to do relatively easily.  Secondly it's a relatively lightweight installation compared to the default Ubuntu.  Thirdly, the UI itself is really CPU light, giving you extra horsepower for watching movies and playing games.   Lastly, SteamOS is built on Debian, with official out of the store support for Ubuntu/Xubuntu. 

In case you dont' know, Xubuntu is Ubuntu - (bunch of fat apps and an ugly default UI) + Xfde.  From a binary perspective, Xubuntu IS Ubuntu in a different, leaner packaging.  Anything you can do in Ubuntu you can do in Xubuntu using the native Ubuntu installs.

A lot of people may be wondering why I'm not recommending XBMCubuntu which is in fact a distro specifically designed to give the home theater experience.  The answer is simply that I found XBMC really not ready for the casual user.  If you want something to install, to just work, and not be Windows, Xubuntu is a much better idea in my mind.  Below you will find some examples and installation instructions.

Squeezebox Server

Due to missing and impossible to resolve conflicts in the Perl graphics libraries, Fedora can no longer install squeezebox server.  It has to do with a native image compression library and that there is no way to resolve it without going backwards and some serious hackery.

Xubuntu installed Squeezebox server with no issues at all.

Perhaps the best source of legal anime on the web, AnimeCrave uses some Windows specific codecs which are hard to reliably implement in Fedora.  On the other hand on Xubuntu they are installable reliably from the Software Center.   Search for "totem."  Click on "Videos."  Scroll down to the list of "Optional add-ons".  Select them all.   Click on the "Install" button near the top when it's done updating.

[Update January 6, 2014]  There is an issue with the default gstreamer settings which causes repeated audio stuttering.  It has an easy fix.  Type the following in a command line terminal:

     gsettings set org.gnome.totem network-buffer-threshold 4.0

Someday Linux will just work.  Until then we are faced with these silly quirks. 

Congratulations, you can now watch everything on AnimeCrave in high quality.


Installs directly from the Ubuntu Software Center though you will need an UbuntuOne and Steam account. 

Netflix and Amazon


 Video and Network Drivers

This part is really easy but it takes a little patience, because the application takes a while to update itself.   In the system menu select "Settings Manager" then under "Hardware" select "Additional Drivers".  Click on Ubuntu Software tab.  Turn on all of the checkboxes.  Click "Other Software" tab.  Turn on "Canonical Partners" but you can leave off "Canonical Partners (source code)" unless you want to do some compiling on your own.

Now comes the patient part.  I'm not sure if this is related to other software updates, so you may want to go to your command line and try:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade

After that, restart the "Software Updates" app, and click "Additional Drivers" where you will see cool things like proprietry nVidia and Broadcom (Wi-Fi) drivers show up if they are compatible with your hardware.  You may need to wait 1-2 minutes for this screen to correctly populate, or even try it a couple of times.

Audio Devices

This is the one place where Xubuntu sucks.  The audio device management should be integrated into it's otherwise great Settings Manager application but it's not.    If, like me, you are using S/PDIF outputs to feed your home theatre processor, it won't be on by default.  Now, you'd think you'd go into "Settings Manger" scroll down to "Hardware" and find a "Sound" app.  But noooooooo.  << sigh >>

Fortunately, it's relatively easy to find.   From the main system menu, or from the Application finder (the magnifying glass icon in the bottom of your screen) select "PulseAudio Volume Control. "  This is where you will need to enable your fancy digital audio outputs, whether it's via HDMI or an S/PDIF connector on the back of your motherboard.   You may have to dig around a little bit. 

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