Figure 13: XBMC Home
The first thing that struck me about XBMC was the beautiful Project Mayhem III skin. The menus and animations are really well done. Most of the menus and features are very intuitive and "just work" right out of the box, definitely a credit to the XBMC team. A quick glance at XBMC's features shows support for virtually every video format, audio type, and streaming protocol in use today.
Looks great, right? But what about HD support? The good news is, there is support... sort of. With the Xbox High Definition AV Pack, the Xbox is capable of displaying up to 1080i. According to the FAQ, XBMC is capable of upconverting 480i to 720p or 1080i, but it just doesn't have the computational horsepower to decode native 720p and 1080i (like HD-DVDs) on the fly.
I didn't have a component video cable handy to test this claim, but I can't say that I'm surprised. Video playback does look fantastic however, thanks to MPlayer, even without HD resolutions. I tested it out on a 36" TV and a DLP projector, neither of which left me wanting more. The convenience of having all your media at your fingertips and so easily accessible outweighs any lack of cutting-edge video quality.
The control system for videos was very smooth as well. You can control almost every aspect of playback with the Xbox controller alone. I was very excited to see that XBMC is really centered on playable media, things like Divx movies, MPEG Top Gear episodes, etc. The majority of the other media center applications I've used seem to be, in my opinion, overly focused on TV.
One feature that I particularly like, and one of the project's great strengths, is a robust architecture for 3rd party add-ons and scripts. Bundled with the XBMC package was a number of great scripts and as a movie junkie, one of my favorites is the Apple Movie Trailer viewer.
Figure 14: XBMC Apple Movie Trailers
In the viewer, you can stream movie trailers from Apple's site, watch exclusive behind-the-scenes trailers and special featurettes—all from the comfort of your couch, not hunched over in front of a computer.
XBMC also came bundled with a YouTube movie viewer. But I had trouble getting this script working. It seemed to be able to connect to YouTube and download lists of movies. But it had a hard time playing them, even crashing XBMC occasionally.
Figure 15: XBMC YouTube Script
Another great feature that I found particularly inventive was the web-based control panel which allows for full control of XBMC via the web. You can work on the computer in the other room and change the music from the comfort of your desk, without having to step into the next room and find the remote.