When XBMC 11 came out last year, it was the first release of the HTPC software after Boxee decided to exit the market that they themselves helped to build. This release of XBMC may have contained few new additions to the overall system, but it served as a reminder of Boxee’s own roots as an XBMC fork, and that XBMC was still a great piece of software. Since then we’ve had the release of the Raspberry Pi, and thanks to distros like RaspBMC and OpenELEC working on the mini-computer, XBMC has come back into the limelight as the open source media centre of choice.
Now we finally have the release of XBMC 12, and this time there’s a lot of new functionality in the release. While there’s the minor codec updates such as Hi10p/10-bit video playback (somewhat important for those keeping up with anime), the major changes come in the form of specific Raspberry Pi support and Live TV/PVR functionality. If you’ve been using the aforementioned RPi distros, you’ve already been using some of the compatibility code from the development versions, however the final version makes it easier for anyone to use it.
In an aesthetic sense, not much has changed at a glance. Confluence is still the main theme, and the Live TV menu is not initially displayed on the interface. There are some new interface tips for a couple of the menus to let you know how it works, but they’re quick to dismiss and never show up again. Adding files and directories seems to be slightly slicker and easier than it was in XBMC 11, and there’s a bit more information assigned to files, such as logos for the resolution and audio codecs. The scrapping options are a bit easier to understand, however it still only works as well as the labels in your library. That is something that is difficult to fix as such, and it does a fairly good job despite that anyway.
Playback is as good as ever, pretty much faultless, and the 10-bit playback added to this version also has no issues. The interface seems to have priority over the playback though, with the preview in the menus getting out of sync if you’re having to do a lot of changes in one go. This has its advantages and disadvantages though, as if you’re in the interface anyway you won’t be properly watching the media to begin with .Getting back to the video gets it back into sync in a moment at least.
Raspberry Pi playback is also great. Even using one of the older 256 MB Model B’s, playback is pretty much perfect, even with 1080p files. This means it should work fine with the newly released Model A, although the extra RAM only really aids with loading of the media artwork in the interface. There is currently a known issue in RaspBMC with audio sometimes getting out of sync, however there are fixes for it currently, and the issue should be being resolved soon.
The Live TV functionality works in all versions, and what it mainly does is expose the already available PVR apps to the interface, and allows them to integrate much better. This is probably the best path for the moment, as there are plenty of PVR backends the XBMC team can rely on instead of going through the long and slow process of creating their own.
Otherwise, all the old functions work just as well, with the wealth of apps adding extra functionality like web streaming, etc. XBMC is once again the only thing you need for a great HTPC experience.