How to Turn Your Linux Box into a Home Theater with Boxee

Boxee is a home theater PC software program that runs on Linux and has been designed to be used like an interactive TV, somewhat like the Xbox 360 interface. In fact it’s based on another program called XBMC which was originally created to run on the first Xbox consoles. These days, you can use Boxee to not only manage local music and videos, but stream audio, video, and image content from places all over the web. There are connections to popular media sites like Last.fm, Flickr and YouTube, and a custom web browser to get additional content without leaving the Boxee environment.

Getting Boxee

The Boxee website provides Ubuntu packages from their download site, so that’s what we’ll be using for this guide. It’s a .deb file, which can be installed with

or simply double clicking the deb file.

Note: While waiting for Boxee to download, you’ll be asked to do a (free) registration at the Boxee website. You’ll need that login when Boxee loads up for the first time.

It’s likely you’ll encounter a hitch in the install, as the average Ubuntu installation does not contain some of the things that Boxee needs. You can install them with your package manager of choice. Aptitude users can go with:

Once installed, you can find it in Gnome’s menu under Sound & Video or run it manually with the command

boxee-home-large

Controls

The first thing you’ll want to know about is control. Since Boxee is intended to work on a set top box as well as your home PC, the controls have to be very simple to be remote-friendly. With a mouse, you can select items with the normal left click, but right-click is treated as a Back button. If you intend to back out of whatever area you’re in, you just right click a few times.

The keyboard shortcuts, as stated by Boxee, are:

  • Arrow keys – Navigate menus
  • Enter – Select item
  • Win+F – Toggle fullscreen/windowed mode
  • “S” – Exit
  • Esc or Backspace – Cancel/Go back
  • “H” – Retirn to home screen

Streaming Video

If you choose TV Shows from the Home screen, you’ll be taken to the TV section, which at first may not show much at first. You’ll see a yellow tab on the left, and if you mouse over it, you’ll be given more options. Choose TV Show Library and you’ll get a listing of all kinds of shows available on demand.

boxee-streaming-tv

Adding Local Media

Chances are, you’ve already got some music and videos that you want Boxee to be able to play. To add them, go from the Home screen, click the gear shaped icon in the upper left. In here you’ll find Boxee’s settings. For now, the one we want is Media.

boxee-settings

Choose Local Sources and Add New Source. From here you can browse to the location of your files. When you’ve found the first location (you can add more later to separate music from videos, etc) click Add Source.

boxee-add-source

From now on, that location will be available from the Files section of the Home screen.

Apps

It seems everything these days has custom apps for web content, and Boxee is no exception. In the App Library you’ll find everything from NPR to Fail Blog. Particularly useful are the music apps for sites like Last.fm and Pandora.

boxee-app-library

Have you tried out Boxee? What’s your take on this?

4 comments

  1. I had no problem installing into Ubuntu 9.10 with these instructions but Boxee has some serious bugs. I tried to watch two different TV shows. Both played half way, about 25 minutes, and came to a halt with a black screen. This is not good.

  2. yea, performance in ubuntu 10.10 is also really poor. barely able to make menu selections with mouse in boxee. keyboard commands slightly better. i’ll probably uninstall boxee — it’s not usable in its current state.

    • Not everyone has the same troubles, and while I don’t know your setup, I’ve had similar troubles which were often solved with alternate video drivers (if available) or turning compiz on/off

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