There is an ongoing trend of convergence between audio/video systems and computers. This trend resulted in development of Media Center PCs (aka Home Theater PC), small computer systems able to playback video/audio files, access Internet radio and act as a TV/Satellite tuner.
There is a number of operating systems able to perform this function. Microsoft Windows Media Center Edition is the most well known operating system optimized for Media Center function. It is a great system with simple interface supporting a large number of devices, including remote controllers and TV tuners. License cost and high resource requirements are the drawbacks of using Windows MCE.
Still sometimes you want to use to play music using some old PC from prehistoric era of computing ( I mean 9-11 years old). I this case Windows MCE is a bit too heavy solution costing quite a lot. So do not throw away your old PCs. There is plenty of power in them to use them as players. I've decided to prepare a small guide on how to install, configure and use a free alternative to Windows MCE using some old hardware.
I am going to use GeexBox, a small operating system optimized for playback of media files.GeexBox has quite humble hardware requirements showing full screen video on Pentium 2, 400MHz. Naturally, if you want to deploy GeexBox for music playback hardware requirements are much lower.
GeexBox supports a large number of hardware components (the full list is available on Hardware page)
GeexBox can be acquired as ISO image or through custom ISO generator. You can use the cdrom image available on the GeexBox download site (please use the latest version). After download completes record the .ISO file on CD-R (In Nero Burning ROM choose recorder>Burn Image>Choose ISO file and burn it; you can also use ISORecorder (available at http://isorecorder.alexfeinman.com/isorecorder.htm ). After the image has been burned you can boot from the CD you created. Custom ISO generator allows building ISO file with extra options.
There is a number of ways how GeexBox can be used. Please note that both standard ISO and custom ISO can be used in the same way exactly.
LIVE CD option
In this case GeexBox runs from CD and does not require any installation. Just insert a CD with GeexBox and boot your system from it. Boot process does not require any intervention. The CD is ejected automatically from CD-ROM after boot. Now you can insert CDs or DVDs with media and the playback will start automatically. You can also use OSD menu and your keyboard
This is the boot prompt when PC boots from CD with GeexBox on it:
After boot you ll be presented with standard menu of GeexBox:
Please read more about keyboard shortcuts on Keys and Controls page
Installation of GeexBox
When you get accustomed you can try installing GeexBox on your hard disk or USB flash disk. GeexBox requires very small FAT partition (actually you can install it on many types of partitions such as ext2 or ext3). GeexBox Installer suggests only 8 megabytes but it may not fit with extra components installed so I suggest 20 megabytes partition. You can use USB keychain if your motherboard supports loading from USB devices.
In order to start installation you have to type install on boot prompt when PC boots from GeexBox CD:
You ll see pages of text running and eventually you ll be presented with first page of installer where you have to chose hard disk for installation of GeexBox.
GeexBox names hard disks depending on the type of device (SCSI or IDE) so IDE devices have hd at the beginning of their while SCSI disks and USB keychains have sd at the beginning.
So you choose the disk where you want to install GeexBox.
If you dont have a FAT or EXT2/3 on this disk you ll be prompted:
On the next screen you ll have a small visual partition editor.
So what do you need to do if you dont have a FAT partition. In this example I ll assume a small hard disk with Windows XP installed on it. If you take a look on the above table you ll see that there is a bit of free space left. This space is normally left by Windows installer. So lets use this space for GeexBox.
Highlight Pri/Log Free Space and select NEW partition as it is done on the previous screenshot. Press ENTER on your keyboard. The screen will change and you ll be prompted to choose the type of partition.
In this case I just choose Primary and press enter. On the next screen I specify size of the new partition or just press enter to create partition of a maximum size.
Here is the sample result:
If you want to edit config files of your GeexBox from Wndows you would need to change the type of newly created partition. In order to do that highlight new partition, choose TYPE from the bottom menu and press enter. On the new screen you ll see all the variety of various filesystem types. Press space. On the next screen type 0B for filesystem type and press enter:
You ll notice that partition type changed to FAT32. Now you can commit changes to disk by selecting WRITE option from bottom menu. Answer yes to a utility prompt and press usual enter.After that select QUIT and press enter.
After completing partitioning you ll return to the main installer routine. Installer will also automatically skip to this point if you have a partition suitable for GeexBox install:
Choose partition where you want to install your GeexBox and press enter. If this partition is new and requires formatting you ll see a message asking you whether you want to format this partition. Choose YES .
Next screens will ask regarding settings of your network cards (You can choose AUTO if you have DHCP server on your network), Windows File Sharing username and password used by GeexBox to access Windows shares. Plus you ll be prompted to choose screen resolution you want to use with your monitor. If you are connecting a CRT TV please dont exceed 1024x768. Choose you color depth (24 bit). If you want to know how GeexBox boots disable bootsplash otherwise leave it enabled. At these stage you ll have a chance to configure your Satellite Card (e.g. SkyStar 2) and other peripherals.
You ll need to configure Bootloader on the next screen. By default GeexBox uses GRUB which is a very powerful bootloader that can work with almost any operating system. You have to keep in mind that GRUB will install itself and you ll have an extra stage in the booting process of your PC. On the start GRUB will present a list of operating systems that you can boot similar to this one for 5 seconds and after that will boot default OS(OS can be changed):
So if you dont mind GRUB being present on your PC choose YES when you are prompted to install it:
Install is complete:
The system will reboot and you ll be presented with the list of operating systems. You ll need to choose Geexbox from the list, continue the process and you ll see progress bar (remember if you disable bootsplash you will not see it):
After GeexBox loads you can use it as usual ;-).
Once you practice the install process you ll find it very simple.
FLTK Generator is another option that is available with GeexBox. Basically, Generator is tool which allows customizing the ISO install image plus you can integrate drivers, firmware, codecs and a lot of other interesting things ;-). Please read about available functions and configuration options on FLTK Generator page.
Anyway, GeexBox is quite fun to use and I hope you ll enjoy it.