Nearly a month ago the XBMC team had announced that they had successfully ported over XBMC onto the latest iPhone/iPod/iPad/ATV2. This definitely piqued my interest as this would turn an iPxx into a mobile HTPC. More importantly this would open up the iPxx to supporting more video formats then the iPxx does natively (which is only h264 mp4). However, the one condition to installing XBMC is the iPxx must be jailbroken. Unfortunately at the time of the announcement the untethered jailbreak for iOS 4.2.1 was unavailable, so all I could do was wait patiently. Well, now that the iOS 4.2.1 untethered jailbreak has been released I could finally test out XBMC on my wife’s iPad. Simply using one of the available jailbreak programs and my Windows PC I was able to jailbreak the iPad in less then 10 minutes. This is the first time I had ever tried jailbreaking an iPxx, so even though I was nervous at first I must say I was very impressed at how easy it was to do. Of course the big caveat here is that jailbreaking any product involves risk, such as bricking the product. Also, if an update to iOS is released you cannot update your iPxx until a jailbreak for the updates iOS is released (well, you can update to the newer iOS but would lose the jailbreak from the previous iOS).
Once the iPxx is jailbroken you will see a new icon called Loader. Run this and select the option to install Cydia which will serve as the “App store” for Apps not supported by Apple (i.e. XBMC, etc…). With Cydia set up you now have access to a whole new world you never knew existed . Installing XBMC is easy to do, and you can find an easy to follow guide here.
With XBMC installed, launching it will take you to the main menu (which I believe is the Confluence skin). From this point forward setting up XBMC is similar to my documentation on how to set up XBMC on a PC.
XBMC had no issues seeing my smb shares on my Windows Home Server and allowed me to add as a source (of course doing this requires you to be connected to your network).
Screenshot of my Movies library (these are a combination of mkv and Blu-ray folder structures).
Screenshot of my TV Show library (a combination of mkv, mp4, and avi).
This is the area I was most interested in. Until now I could only play H264 mp4 files natively. For my other files (mkv, avi) I was required to use a transcoding app (such as Air Video). The downside to this is that this process is very CPU intensive and has never been a 100% reliable for me. Using XBMC not only adds support for formats the iPxx doesn’t natively support, but also allows for full hardware decoding which means a much more friendly process for my Windows Home Server CPU. Less stress on a CPU can only be a good thing as it will lead to less heat and also give better energy efficiency.
To test it out, I decided to play back a simple AVI file using both Air Video and XBMC. As you can see below playing back the AVI via Air Video (which is required to transcode the file for playback) spikes my CPU to over 95%, where it stays during playback.
Playing back the same AVI via XBMC on the iPad kept my CPU around 2%, a significant difference over Air Video and proof that XBMC is utilizing hardware decoding on the iPad.
I tested a variety of video formats, and all of them were able to play back. However, and as expected, my lossless Blu-ray rips would stutter continuously. This is due to trying to stream high bitrate files wirelessly. I don’t have an ATV2 to connect wired to confirm if this is also a hardware limitation.
I have only had a short amount of time to test out XBMC on the iPad but so far I must say I am impressed. I also tested on an iPhone and iPod touch, and in both cases the experience was the same as the iPad. XBMC is not 100% optimized for a touch screen, as I found navigating around and scrolling through lists to be a little frustrating, but over time I expect this to only get better.
One other benefit of jailbreaking is this opens up the opportunity to tether an iPhone to any other iPxx product. Currently for an iPad if you want wireless access without connecting to Wi Fi you not only have to spend extra money to get the 3G version, but you also have to purchase a monthly data plan. I believe that the iPhone will now have the ability to act as a hotspot, but once again you will need to purchase an addition onto your data plan to do so. With a jalibroken iPhone you can share the wireless signal with the iPad without need for special hardware or purchasing additional data plans.
Once again, I just want to highlight that jailbreaking comes with inherent risks, so please factor that in before deciding if you want to go ahead with. Also understand that if an updated iOS is released (such as the upcoming iOS 4.3) you will not have access to any of the new features until an updated jailbreak is released. There is always the chance that Apple attempts to brick any of their products they detect are jailbroken, but honestly I believe that would be stupid on their part since sales of their products have only been bolstered by the ability to hack.