Making XBMC work with ION graphics, VDPAU and making the digital sound work over HDMI in Ubuntu

Posted by | Posted in Ubuntu, XBMC | Posted on 19-07-2011

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I finally got around to buying a ITX machine to use as a dedicated Media Center. in the form of XBMC – and Ubuntu as the OS of course.

The mobo is a Zotac IONITX-F-E with a 1.8ghz dual core CPU, NVIDIA GeForce 9400 GPU, which is powerful enough to run 1080p video.

I started out by installing Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal, the installation went flawless as expected and I installed all the packages I needed – that basicly only consisted of XBMC and the propritary NVidia driver, but the system just seemed kinda sluggish, especially notable when scrolling in a terminal.

The problem was that even though I activated the propritary Nvidia driver, it said “This driver is activated but not currently in use” under System->Administration->Hardware Drivers.

The Nvidia driver enables you to use VDPAU, which is hardware acceleration of video, essential to showing MKV and MP4 video.

After a long night, installing packages I’ve never heard of and adding various lines to the xorg.conf, under advice from forums where people had proclaimed having the same problem, I still weren’t able to make Ubuntu 11.04 use the NVidia driver, so I ended up installing Ubuntu 10.10 – Maverick Meerkat and ahhh…. bliss.

The propritary driver now finally worked as it should and the system didn’t seem sluggish anymore.

What you need to do

  • Get Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat – don’t bother with 11.04 (for ION based machines at least, as the NVidia driver seems to be broken under 11.04 at the moment)
  • Set the GPU in the BIOS to have more then 64mb of RAM, I suggest maxing it out to 512mb or as close to as possible
  • Enable the propritary NVidia drivers from System->Administration->Hardware Drivers
  • Add the XBMC launchpad PPA and install XBMC from the terminal
    • sudo add-apt-repository ppa:team-xbmc
    • sudo apt-get install update
    • sudo apt-get install xbmc
  • Install the VDPAU driver to enable HW accelerated video
  • Change it so the integrated soundcard uses both HDMI and analog output by choosing Digital Stereo (HDMI) Stereo + Analog Stereo output, instead of just Analog Stereo Duplex (see screenshot below) from the Sound Preferences
    • If you have problems with the sound, try the following from a terminal
      • sudo apt-get install linux-backports-modules-alsa-2.6.35-22-generic alsa-utils
  • Lastly – and optionally -  add XBMC to System->Administration->Startup Applications

I’d just like to add, that this worked for ME on MY setup, so please bear that in mind.