The developers of the popular XBMC open source entertainment hub have released a preliminary version for Android, which means the software could soon be running on a wide range of smartphones and tablets – even Google's Nexus Q media device.
Though originally designed for home theater PCs, XBMC now runs on a wide range of devices, including the Apple TV. Its main advantage is that it can play virtually any media format you throw at it, either from the network or local storage.
The Android version was mostly developed in secret, helped along by funding from digital set-top box maker Pivos, and was formally unveiled over the weekend.
The software is still in a raw state. It runs, but unless you own a Pivos XIOS set-top box, it currently only supports software decoding of audio and video, which means playback can be pretty choppy. Hardware acceleration for more devices should arrive eventually, but it's too early to say when.
"As for taking advantage of Android itself, we haven't even scratched the surface," writes XBMC contributor TheUni. "There are so many interesting features that we could take advantage of: launching apps, location awareness, speech recognition, on and on. Once the core port is finished up, you can bet we'll be exploring many new avenues."
Android hacker Jason Parker is already jogging down one such avenue. He's working on his own to get XBMC up and running on the Android-powered Nexus Q.
"Seems the Nexus Q is a glorified remote control for YouTube and Google Play," Parker wrote on his Google+ page. "I am the type of person who does not upload my music and video collection to the 'cloud' or other servers, so this is an unattractive option ... The stock offering for the Q is lackluster to say the least."
So far, Parker's custom version of XBMC for the Nexus Q is even rougher around the edges than the official version. To get it working, Parker had to build his own version of Android, based on code from the CyanogenMod firmware project.
Parker has shared some not-quite-professional quality video of his progress. Note the strobing lights of the Nexus Q in the lower right-hand corner:
"Cooking up a version of the OS from source gives us huge ability to improve this device," Parker told The Reg in an email, "and go from there to create something new and different. It's the first step in my opinion."
Unfortunately, most XBMC users won't have the skill to take that step – which means it will be a while before most of them get their hands on the Android version.
Because there's so much work left to do on it, the XBMC developers aren't yet releasing the app to the Android Market. In fact, they're not even making prebuilt .apk files available for download.
If you want to see the system in action, you'll need to be enough of a hacker to build it from scratch. The daring among you can find the C++ source code on the XBMC project's GitHub page. ®