GeeXboX Review

excellent
key review info
application features
  • MPEG 1/2 movies (MPG files, VCDs, DVDs ...)
  • (5 more, see all...)

Most people have watched a DVD film, a show on TV, listened to favorite songs, watched a video tape that was made during holidays or just looked at a photo album. How much knowledge does one person need to do the things mentioned above? Well, that depends, if a computer is going to be used, an operating system would have to be installed or otherwise ran; other needs include a multimedia player for DVD films, regular video files and audio files, plus an application for the TV tuner. That might sound too complex for some people and they might not want to go through all this. What if I had a DVD player, a TV and a VCR? Operating those devices would be easy.

Well, running GeeXBoX on a computer that has a TV tuner and an optical unit that is capable to read DVD discs gives the same result. There's no need to install a system, just put in the bootable disc and start using it (that is only half true, but we'll talk about it later). How hard is it to start using GeeXBoX? There are three options: simply download the image and burn it to a disc, generate an ISO image file with the GeeXBoX ISO Generator or compile from the sources package.

One ISO straight from the server

Users that just want to testdrive GeeXBoX can download the ISO image straight from the website; it's available for i386 (x86) and PPC (PowerPC) architectures. There's no point in running GeeXBoX on an underpowered computer, that's why the first thing the user should do is to download this ISO, burn it to a rewritable disc and boot it on the target computer.

Once it's clear that the computer that's going to be used as a mini home theater PC is powerful enough for GeeXBoX, one can go on and configure GeeXBoX further on, add a configuration file for LIRC, add a list of TV channels for a TV tuner or the configuration for a DVB card.

From the official website of GeeXBoX, I've found out that the slowest CPU that should handle media playback pretty well was a Pentium 2 at 400 MHz. Those that have a spare old PC lying around in the closet or in their attic might have a computer that is even slower than that optimistic Pentium 2 clocked at 400 MHz, so I wanted to test it on a slightly slower CPU, a Pentium 2 at 333 Mhz.

The old PC has gone through a lot trying to playback a DivX file; although it did play it, it was playing at 25% of its real speed. That's not even close to the playback performance I hoped that GeeXBoX would be capable of.

In case your PC is a bit more powerful than the one I used during these tests, let's say something like 450-500 MHz, any CPU from the Pentium 3 series, you can go on and start creating a customized ISO by using the GeeXBoX Generator, which is available for i386(PC) and PPC(MAC) platforms.

One ISO with a custom theme, remote control configuration and more

The standard ISO that is available for download straight from the official website isn't exactly the way everyone would want it to be. That means you can add in a custom theme, change the menu language, choose another font for the menu, configure the sound card and so on. In case some of you were wondering if GeeXBoX can be used with a remote control, yes, you can use GeeXBoX generator to choose from the available remote control configurations.

The generator can also be used for configuring the network, be it wireless or Ethernet (wired). Since we talked about networking, GeeXBoX must offer some kind of services, right? The generator can configure an FTP server, a telnet server and a webserver. While this may not make sense at all in the beginning, it does make sense, you can share files that can be found on the machine that has GeeXBoX running and even more, it can detect all by itself the UPnP devices on the network.

Add-on packages can be downloaded using GeeXBoX Generator and integrated into the final ISO image. Proprietary codec packages that are supported by the Generator can be downloaded just by selecting them and then clicking on the "Download" button, and that's it! The new package is integrated into your final GeeXBoX. Beside codecs, the Generator can download supported packages that contain Wi-Fi firmware, DVB firmware and asian fonts.

After setting everything up in the Generator, only two operations remain before the customized ISO is obtained: clicking the "Compile" button and burning the generated ISO file to a blank CD media. The Compile button might be confusing at first, but people should know that it really doesn't have anything to do with the traditional package compiling process, it just puts together the whole show.

While this Generator will be what most of the people will use, there might be some that want to manually modify and tweak GeeXBoX. Things that go beyond the Generator, can be done by using the development package.

One custom "baked" GeeXBoX made from the source code

While the other two ways of getting GeeXBoX on you computer will be used by most people, this option of compiling everything from source code and configuring GeeXBoX by modifying text configuration files, is reserved to those who have enough patience to go through the whole process or those who really know what they are doing and know what compiling from the source code means.

This process isn't always finalized as it should be, it can fail, depending on the distribution you are using, on the settings that you make in the configuration files and so on. Even if it finalizes correctly and you do obtain your very own customized ISO file, you will have to wait for this as it will be compiled from the source code, a process that will take some time.

GeeXBoX isn't very complex, once you have set it up, you can configure it to use a TV tuner, so you can watch your favourite TV shows, configure it to watch digital TV by setting up a DVB card, make a slideshow from those pictures that you took during your holidays, playback that film you recorded during the same holidays, or watch a DVD film that you just bought. GeeXBoX is easy to use once it is configured.

The Good:

It's very small, the standard ISO which can be downloaded from the website, for the i386 PC architecture, is around 7 megabytes. The Generator allows you to configure the sound card, set up networking, choose a different theme, configure a remote controller and a receiver and many more. The Generator is available for i386(PC), for Windows and Linux operating systems, and for PPC, which means it also runs on MAC OS. As I mentioned earlier, GeeXBoX itself is available for PPC and i386 platforms, so users of MAC and PC computers can enjoy GeeXBoX.

The Bad:

Setting up a TV tuner or a DVB card requires manual editing of configuration files, which isn't the ideal way of doing this. Some people might be using GeeXBoX to make things easier in the first place, so why should a tool, which is easy to use, be harder to configure than use? The minimal configuration for playing back various media files is a 400 MHz Pentium 2, but I would recommend a Pentium 3 CPU. Perhaps there is something that can be done to lower the requirements.

The Truth:

GeeXBoX can be a great way of turning a computer into a mini home theater PC (or HTPC). A remote controller can be used together with a receiver, a feature that's even more HTPC oriented. Even the classic home made serial LIRC receiver is supported, along with one of the remote controllers, if the remote you want to use isn't supported directly by GeeXBoX, a LIRC config file can be searched on the Internet. GeeXBoX can be customized to your tastein terms of looks, language of the menus and fonts.
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user interface 5
features 5
ease of use 5
pricing / value 5


final rating 5
Editor's review
excellent
 
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