So It’s taken a while to get my Aspire Revo set up as a home theatre pc. The machine came with the rather lackluster “Linpus Linux” preinstalled. It didn’t support the onboard wifi or hdmi sound which seems downright sinful for a preinstalled OS. I tried to install windows 7 from a USB hard drive but didn’t have much luck. A dd’ed image didn’t boot and unetbootin didn’t work either. I didn’t have a windows machine to try the Windows 7 USB preparation tool so I gave up and decided to give Ubuntu 10.04 a shot.
I expected the usual adventure into bad UIs and obscure CLI commands to get things set up properly. Happily, I was dead wrong. I used unetbootin to write the LiveCD/installer to my usb hard drive and rebooted. Shortly after I was presented with a shiny desktop at my tv’s native 1080p… complete with nice looking dark bars top and bottom, a pleasingly subtle background image, stylish monochrome tray icons in the top right and a nice antialiased mouse pointer! So I thought “Progress! A nice theme!”. I made the decision to install to the internal drive before further investigation. I can’t remember the exact menu titles but I found the installer in seconds. The UI was clean and logically arranged. I was asked the bare minimum of questions, all written in plain simple english. Before long the system was copying files and showing me bullet points outlining how awesome ubuntu was going to be. I turned back to my mac, thoroughly impressed at an installer that rivaled anything apple or microsoft have come up with.
After the reboot I started to play around in a bit more depth. Left right and centre I was greeted by a surprising lack of basic UI flaws. The PaperCuts project seem to have done a pretty good job. Other parts of the OS were equally pleasing. The menu structure was logical, the default tray icons had built in social features, the preinstalled software selection was thoughtful, and the ubuntu software gallery thingy was like iOS app store (but where everything is free).
I played around for a while, installed an irc client I had been looking to try (smuxi) and Chrome from googles website (didn’t realise chromium was in the ubuntu package repo). I also installed nvidia’s proprietary drivers, and enabled superfluous desktop effects. Yum, drop shadows, titlebar transparency and elastic physicsy windows :P. I tried an OS X dock clone called Docky, which was amazing. Drag and drop functioned as I expected. Youtube worked (though hdmi audio didn’t seem to, despite being detected). I tried a few UI themes (none were perfect but they were a hell of a lot better than gtk themes of old). All these mini delights and not once did I have to open a terminal. By the end of my investigation I was left thinking “Wow, I would actually be happy using linux on a daily basis”. Amazing!
Of course I had a slightly different task in mind for the machine, which required venturing outside the ubuntu sandbox. Terrain is a little rougher there. First task: install video decoding acceleration (VDPAU) so my puny atom/ion box can display HD movies. After some quick googling I find an nvidia webpage with sources for the latest drivers and VDPAU, adding these sources involved a little copy and paste command line work, before opening synaptic package manager to update the system packages. For some reason the latest drivers didn’t have a release for 10.04 and thus didn’t show up in synaptic. Oh well. VDPAU seemed to install ok. I downloaded a couple of hd clips and installed boxee to test it out. Blurgh, CPU usage was low but the videos chugged along at a low framerate. Maybe boxee has a dodgy vdpau implementation. Tried XBMC, same issue. Mplayer - same issue. Found another nvidia page with sources for “cutting edge multimedia”. Added sources again, noticed they use an alternative video acceleration framework. Who knows why. Tried to upgrade my media players but synaptic reports an error. I can’t remember the message. I tried to fix it myself and I tried googling with no luck. End result: mplayer/smplayer crashes on opening. No other media player will play my HD sample files smoothly. Fail. :(
So going outside the box is still a bit iffy. It would probably require a fair bit of troubleshooting and RTFMing to convert ubuntu into a media centre. But then again, that’s not really what it’s for. It’s a desktop distro. I might have had better luck with XBMC’s Live CD.
In the end, my external optical drive arrived, and I went with windows 7. Yes, it’s Windows. Yes, it still has the registry and dlls and C:\ and antivirus. On the other hand it plays my 1080p mkv’s as smooth as glass (at 24 25 and 30fps) and hdmi audio works. Overall I’m pleased. The machine is quiet enough to sleep in the same room as and doesn’t use much power, so I can leave it downloading nzbs all night. I only wish windows could share files over AFP/Bonjour. But it would be no fun if everything worked perfectly now would it? :)