XBMC on Ubuntu: my ramblings and fix for video playback stuttering

Several weeks ago I decided to revisit creating a HTPC box. For those not familiar with the term, and because of the rampant over usage of acronyms in the IT industry, HTPC stands for Home Theatre PC. In theory this is a computer that resides in or near your TV that hooks up to your TV that you can use to store multimedia files (Movies, TV Shows, Music), and play them on your TV (or surround sound system). Additionally some HTPCs also have TV Tuners, and function like a cable box, DVR/PVR.

A while back I posted on Google+ that I was sick of paying “the Comcast tax”. My average bill was about $160/month. Which I suppose is about average for a utility bill. Since then I built my media center box and have cancelled my Comcast Phone, and scaled back my Comcast TV to basic service. This has reduced my monthly bill to about $80/month.

Part of my solution utilizes XBMC. What is XBMC? Well you can read all about it at their website xbmc.org. The short answer is that it is a media player and media library software. Originally I had gone with Boxee, but back on December 26, 2011 they announced that not only was v1.5 coming out, but that it would be the last version for the PC. This has effectively removed boxee as a viable software for my HTPC. This makes boxee nonviable pretty much across the board. I personally think that boxee has made a big mistake in alienating their community, but only time will tell.

During the course of my exploring and configuring and breaking… fixing, breaking, fixing, breaking, and fixing again. I came across a couple things that I thought might be helpful to others.

Occasionally after watching TV for a while the video would start to stutter. At first I thought that this was because I was using an old video card, or perhaps a XBMC memory leak. The more I used the system that more I noticed that it occurred more frequently after I used windows RDP to connect to the machine. Closing XBMC and restarting it didn’t fix the issue though. Rebooting the machine did, but that’s hardly a solution. So I SSHed into the machine and started top and left it running while I continued to watch TV, etc. Eventually the symptom arose again and I checked out what processes were utilizing what for cpu time. I didn’t actually expect this to be helpful, but figured that it was worth a shot. Xorg was strangely high. Higher than XBMC. So I did some googling… and found a post that said to try “killall vino-server”. Imagine my surprise when after I try this the video starts playing with out stutters.

If you are having a similar issue and run vino try this for yourself. If this fixes the symptoms that you are having like it did mine, it leaves a couple options for “fixing” it.

1. If you do not need to RDP into the machine (ie remotely control the desktop) you could uninstall vino server. This can be achieved by running “apt-get remove vino” or fire up Synaptic Package Manager and remove it that way.

2. If you need remote desktop access you can uninstall vino (like above) and install x11vnc. Directions can be found at: http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=45565

3. You could setup a cron job that runs “killall vino-server” every hour or so.

4. Lastly you could try installing a different version of vino.