BeagleBone Black Media Center PC November 27, 2013

BeagleBone Black Media Center I’m a bit tired of paying $8/month for Hulu Plus to watch the same content on my TV that I can watch on my computer for free. Especially since I only mostly do watch TV on my PC and only the occasional episode at my couch, it just seems silly to pay the month fee. My goal is to build a tiny media center PC that will play Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime video. I also require the machine to act as Apple Airplay speakers. This device will essentially be as capable as a Roku device. But of course with the Roku, as with any other embedded media device, I’d still have to pay the Hulu monthly cost. Besides not paying a monthly cost, and additional benefit of this setup as that there is a much better chance that I’ll be able to upgrade the software over time. Hardware list and software installation process after the break.

Hardware

I have Amazon Prime, so the shipping on all of these items was free. With tax, the order came out to $95. It will take a full 12 months for this setup to pay itself off. Keep in mind, if you don’t have hard-wired Ethernet available, you will also need a tiny USB hub and some sort of wifi adapter. You will need temporary use of a micro SD card to install Ubuntu onto the built-in flash memory. If you don’t have one of those, you can pick one up for a few bucks too.

Software

My basic software goals include the following:

I had a lot of trouble getting a version of Ubuntu to work with a graphical desktop environment on top over HDMI. I finally got this version of 12.04 to work.

Once that was installed, I had to get Flash up and running for Hulu. I eventually got browser-plugin-gnash to install correctly. Unfortunately, even trying to load Hulu videos brought the BeagleBone Black to a stop. YouTube videos (which I imagine were playing via HTML5/H.264) faired a little better and actually played video. However, the video was jittery and far for enjoyable.

Conclusion

I could try and slim down the processes running on the machine – like trying a light-weight desktop environment – but there is just no hope for this poor embedded computer. It turns out the Rasberry Pi has a hardware video encoder and is decent at 1080p video. I also found this forum thread which covers a few other cheap media center option. Unfortunately though, the BeagleBone Black is no good at being a media center PC!

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