Before I begin

I realize that some people may feel very passionate about a certain brand of XBMC on their Raspberry Pi, and I would like to make it very clear that what is written here is my own personal experience with these Operating Systems (OSes). My experience could very easily differ from the one you have had.

 

In this comparison I have used the latest currently available version version of

  • RaspBMC (Latest as of the 1/1/2014),
  • OpenELEC (v3.2.4), and
  • GeeXBox (v3.1)

 

XBMC in General

Since the interface provided by each of these OSes is XBMC. I will begin this comparison with the features that all of the above OSes provided.

XBMC was originally an attempt to recreate the XBox Media Center, however I believe is has not only succeed, but superseded the original. XBMC is a media center (MC) application that has the ability to index your media, download associated artwork and information about your media. But most importantly, organize it in a way, that makes it easy to find, and a joy to watch.

 

Commonality Amongst OSes - Boot Screens

 

Each Os provided its own unique set of boot screens, so I guess that is not really something they had in common. But, they each had one.

RaspBMC

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Figure 1: RaspBMC boot screen. Not a very exciting boot screen and out those reviewed, it would have to be the worst.

GeeXBox

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Figure 2: The GeeXBox boot screen. This clearly shows that the grunt behind this OS is Linux.

 

OpenELEC

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Figure 3: The OpenELEC boot screen. A very nice boot screen.


Commonality Amongst OSes - The XBMC Application

Each of the Oses used the XBMC application as their primary application, each began with a similar setup application which was set out in exactly the same way. However GeeXbox incorrectly labelled the WifI  security WPA2-PSK as WPA. This added a few minutes of confusion. All of the OSes supported the AUS Pi Wifi dongle and once the network was set up the RSS feed scrolled across the bottom of the screen.

 

Next thing to do was to connect the Raspberry Pi to my NAS, and get it to index my media. Once some media was index I took the system for a spin.

 

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Figure 4: Home screen (Confluence Skin)

 

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Figure 5: The Weather screen (Confluence Skin).

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Figure 6: Movie Selection Screen (Aeon NQX Skin).

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Figure 7: Movie playing in full screen mode.

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Figure 8: Home Screen with a Movie playing in the background (AEON NQX Skin).


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Figure 9: XBMC Configuration Screen (AEON NQX Skin)

 

The ease of use of XBMC is remarkable, it is so easy to set up and most of it takes care of itself. The concept of skins is also a nice feature, the entire look and feel of XBMC can change in an instant. All of the OSes tested had the same features and add-ons and they didn't differ by much in that aspect. However, RaspBMC and GeeXbox did have limited Airplay functionality, allowing only audio connections and not video. So when you threw a video to them from an iOS device only the audio played. But the major characteristic that really set these OSes apart was their responsiveness.

 

What set them apart- Quantitative Measures

 

The first difference you notice between the Oses is there boot times.

 

OSBoot Time (From power on to XBMC Interaction)
RaspBMC50.6 seconds
OpenELEC37.8 seconds
GeeXbox38 seconds
Boxee Box (commercial comparison)25 seconds

 

All these OSes were tested using a 8Gb Class 6 SD Card, when I booted RaspBMC on the card supplied by Element14, it took 1 minute and 37 seconds to boot. So having a fast SD Card is really important, if you want to get the most out of these MC applications. In future I shall be purchasing a class 10 SD card.

 

What set them apart- Qualitative Measures

 

So once the OSes have booted, and boot times aren't really a major issue, as you can turn it on in advance of requiring it. The major impact factor is how smooth the interaction is with XBMC. I began with RaspBMC and also came back at the end to test it once more. I thought I had better confirm my experience with this OS before putting pen to paper (words to text box). RaspBMC was very disappointing, I became very frustrated using this OS. Navigating the Home Screen had responsiveness issues. At least half a second latency existed between button presses and graphical responses. This was not there in either GeeXBOX or OPENELEC. These latencies were scaled on later events. If GeeXBOX or OpenELEC had a one second delay on completing a task, then RaspBMC had a two second delay. My frustration peaked after having to type things in multiple times as RaspBMC would drop letters. Out of the three OSes this was the most disappointing. I have a feeling that RaspBMC needs some more work on its kernel, the responsiveness of the system really lets it down. However it installation is really straight forward and simple.

 

When it came to OpenELEC and GeeXBOX, there was very little between these two, there responsiveness was equally matched. The interface responded nicely to button presses and artwork loaded up very quickly when media was selected (even over a WiFi connection). However, the one thing that did disappointed me with GeeXBOX, was the seemingly out of date setup add-on and many other add-ons. It was missing many of the features of the other OSes and had improperly labelled options. Installation of this OS also required a bit of work. The SD card had to formatted, partitions made and tar balls extracted. Not the kind of thing a beginner should be doing.

 

I find it difficult to find fault with OpenELEC. Not only was this OS responsive, it appear to be running newer versions of many of the add-ons, including the setup. OpenELEC also had an installation script that could be run under Linux. This made the installation process extremely easy. My experience with OpenELEC was very pleasant.

 

Conclusion

If your going to install a media center application on to your Raspberry Pi, save yourself a lot of heart ache and tears and just install OpenELEC.

 

To Complete this four part blog head over to "New Year’s Party Pack - To entertain the masses or just babysit the kids - Concluding Remarks"