Acer Aspire Revo, Ubuntu, Boxee and Remote Control

On the latest episode of the podcast I briefly mentioned that I’d recently bought an Acer Aspire Revo to use as an Ubuntu based media player. Well, I’ve installed Ubuntu and Boxee on it, and it plays back all kinds of video including 720p and 1080p HD video via the HDMI port. The box is silent enough for it to be in the bedroom and not disturb sleep at all. I had to put my ear right up to it to hear anything, it’s as good as silent. It can be found for about £150 here in the UK, which is (in my opinion) an awesome price for this bit of kit.

Acer Aspire Revo

Here’s its vitals:-

Notably missing is bluetooth which I needed for my remote control, but not too much of an issue as bluetooth dongles are super cheap and the box has enough USB ports to go round.

I wanted to use this device as a kind of “set top box” to play back video. The options for software included Boxee, Mythbuntu and XBMC and certainly not Windows Media Centre as some crackpot on the Hampshire LUG mailing list suggested.

Below are some notes about how I installed Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic) on the device and got the Sony Playstation 3 remote control working. I chose Ubuntu 9.10 because I knew the video driver for the nVidia ION card was available in the repository, and I feel confident with it.

Note: At the time of writing, Ubuntu 9.10 is in Alpha stage, that means it breaks. Anyone who tells you it doesn’t is a liar :) It broke the day I was trying to install, but luckily the people in #ubuntu+1 irc channel helped me get it working again.

So far I have installed Boxee on top of Ubuntu and have found it great for my needs. Not sure if I’ll install XBMC because Boxee seems to cover my needs. Also unsure whether or not I’ll install MythTV on it either as I currently have no major requirement for recording TV and playing back in another room. Maybe later I will, who knows.

Installing Ubuntu

Download Ubuntu Karmic Alpha 3 Desktop ISO image from http://cdimage.ubuntu.com/releases/karmic/alpha-3/

On my Ubuntu desktop, used USB startup disk creator to make a bootable USB stick containing alpha 3.

USB Creator

I had a problem that the Karmic Alpha 3 image boots to a text logon prompt, not a GUI. It seems that the open source nv driver that shipped on Alpha 3 image doesn’t support the NVidia ION chipset inside the Revo. Here’s what I did to get to the graphical logon screen and then proceed with the install:-

Login with username ‘ubuntu’ and no password

Attach the Revo to the wired network

Check I have an ip address with the ‘ifconfig’ command

Update the list of packages

sudo apt-get update

Install the nVidia proprietary driver version 185 (in the 180 package confusingly)

sudo apt-get install nvidia-glx-180

Grab a known working xorg.conf:-

wget http://popey.com/~alan/revo/xorg.conf

Put the xorg.conf into place:-

sudo cp ./xorg.conf /etc/X11

Restart the graphical environment:-

sudo /etc/init.d/gdm start

Ubuntu desktop starts up at this point, so now we can run the graphical install routine as normal. I created a user which logs in automatically to the desktop because it’s a set to box, I don’t want any logon prompts. At the end, reboot and remove the USB stick. Unfortunately I got the text based logon screen again, so did the following to fix it:-

Logon using the account details I created during the install.

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
sudo apt-get install dkms
sudo apt-get install nvidia-glx-180 --reinstall

That should permanently fix it. Not sure why DKMS was missing from the Alpha 3 CD.

That’s it for the Ubuntu install, not too painful at all. The only extra packages I then installed were ones I tend to put on most desktops:-

$ sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted-extras openssh-server pavucontrol mplayer vlc ffmpeg libavcodec-unstripped-52 libavfilter-unstripped-0 libavdevice-unstripped-52 libavformat-unstripped-52

I used pavucontrol to switch audio output from the headphone jack ‘Output Analog Stereo’ to the HDMI port ‘Output Digital Stereo (HDMI), which worked with no messing. I note that some people have had issues with audio over HDMI on Ubuntu 9.04, but the good news is it just works out of the box in 9.10.

Screenshot-Volume Control

I then tested video playback using mplayer and VLC. It worked fine, but as those packages in the repo don’t have VDPAU support, I wasn’t able to play back 720p or 1080p at a reasonable pace. However this isn’t an issue because I then moved on to install Boxee which I know does support it.

Another issue I noted was a large amount of overscan so the panels top and bottom were off the edge of the screen. This made choosing panel icons tricky at times! Using ALT+F1 I opened the Applications menu, and could navigate pretty much everywhere I needed to from there.

Boxee

I’ve had a Boxee account for a while, and tried it out on a few computers. It’s never really struck me as useful because I can usually playback video via standard desktop tools. However for a set-top box it makes more sense to me to have an easy to use user interface to locally stored and web delivered video. That and it supporting VDPAU out of the box made it an attractive choice for the Revo.

Boxee have a repository for their application, so it was simply a case of going to System -> Administration -> Software Sources -> Third-Party Software -> Add, and pasting this in:-

deb http://apt.boxee.tv jaunty main

Note: I am running Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic) and that repo is for Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty), so I was expecting failure.

Indeed, trying to install the boxee package failed because it was looking for a package called liblzo1 which isn’t available in Karmic. liblzo2-2 is available in 9.10 but that didn’t work, so I cheated a bit and grabbed liblzo1 from 9.04 and installed that. Boxee then proceeded to install just fine.

Once Boxee is installed there is an item on the Sound & Video menu to start it.

I enabled hardware acceleration in the Boxee GUI which effectively enables VDPAU. The only other setting to tweak was to configure overscan compensation so that the full picture appears within the TV screen viewing area. Both are very easy to set in Boxee.

screenshot004

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Playstation 3 Bluetooth Remote

On advice from Daviey, my fellow podcaster and Mythbuntu developer, I bought a playstation 3 remote. These are not infra-red but bluetooth devices, so I dug out my bluetooth dongle and plugged that into the back of the Revo.

31LDx0mayZL._SS400_

To get the remote working you first need to associate it with Ubuntu, which is best done with the blueman applet which isn’t installed by default.

sudo apt-get install blueman

I also noted that the ‘uinput’ kernel module isn’t loaded by default. So I edited /etc/modules and added the line in.

sudo nano /etc/modules

This is all we need to add:-

uinput

Further we need a udev rule:-

sudo nano /etc/udev/rules.d/40-permissions.rules

Add this line.

KERNEL=="uinput", MODE="0666"

Next I loaded the module manually to save me having to reboot.

sudo modprobe uinput

Now I open the bluetooth applet by running:-

blueman-applet

Right click the new bluetooth applet, choose “Setup New Device”. On the Sony remote press and hold ‘Ente’r & ‘Start’ for 5 seconds, click ‘Next’ in the wizard.

The remote should show up on the list of discovered devices (along with any phones and computers nearby). Click on the remote then click next. On the next screen choose ‘not pairing’ then click ‘Next’. On the next screen choose ‘input service’ then click ‘Next’.This pairs the remote and the Ubuntu install. Next we need to set the device as trusted.

Right click the blueman applet icon and choose ‘Devices..’. The ‘BD Remote Control’ should be listed. Highlight it then press the yellow ‘Trust’ icon, and a yellow star will now appear in the corner of the logo for that device indicating it’s now trusted. Next we need to configure lirc which isn’t installed by default:-

sudo apt-get install lirc

We need to discover which device the BD Remote Control appears as, which we can obtain from /proc/bus/input/devices.

$ cat /proc/bus/input/devices

[snip]

I: Bus=0005 Vendor=054c Product=0306 Version=0000
N: Name="PS3 Remote Controller"
P: Phys=
S: Sysfs=/devices/virtual/input/input8
U: Uniq=
H: Handlers=kbd event8
B: EV=3
B: KEY=80000000 0 700000 1083c100 8c00ea 0 6bc00000 1 0 8000 1102 c0000801 801680 0 0 10000ffe

Note the ‘Handlers’ for the PS3 Remote Controller. We need to configure the with that device name by editing the config:-

sudo nano /etc/lirc/hardware.conf

Add these lines (changing ‘event8′ if appropriate):-

REMOTE="ps3"
REMOTE_DRIVER="devinput"
REMOTE_DEVICE="/dev/input/event8"

Finally we restart lirc.

sudo /etc/init.d/lirc restart

That’s it. I can now ‘type’ into Ubuntu using the buttons on the remote. The arrows map to the cursor keys, the Enter button maps to the Enter key on the keyboard. It’s all good. Time to start up Boxee and watch some videos!

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Yay!

55 thoughts on “Acer Aspire Revo, Ubuntu, Boxee and Remote Control”

  1. Great post, I’ve been looking to replace the noisy power drain PS3 from the bedroom for a while, and the Revo looks perfect. I’ll be trying this with 9.04 and a non PS3 bluetooth remote, so will let you know my findings.

    kwyjibo.

  2. Interesting. Someone should sell devices pre-setup like that.

    Can you tell a bit more about the dongle?

    It seems my laptop doesn’t have bluetooth, not even my tablet pc (strange…), at first I thought it was Linux/Ubuntu’s issue. I’m really looking forward to using Platronics P590 bluetooth headset in Ubuntu.

    1. Bus 002 Device 004: ID 0a12:0001 Cambridge Silicon Radio, Ltd Bluetooth Dongle (HCI mode)

      It’s just a regular bluetooth dongle, nothing special about it. I spoke to Marcel Holtman who used to maintain bluetooth stuff in Linux and he said basically all bluetooth hardware should “Just Work” in Linux. That was over a year ago. I’ve yet to see a bluetooth dongle that didn’t work.

  3. Nice post Popey! That looks like a sweet setup, I’m very jealous. I have an account on Boxee but I’ve never spent much time properly looking at it. I’ll have to rectify that after seeing your screenshots. Good work, you can now enjoy Shawn The Sheep in bed… oh that sounds wrong :)

    1. Just the iPlayer functionality alone is awesome. I watched Dr Who, Top Gear and Charlie & Lola (with the kids) yesterday. Great for catching up on stuff.

      However it’s much more than that. There’s a boatload of plugins/apps that come with it. For example you can watch the top videos posted to Digg, unofficial videos of Twit.tv ‘netcasts’, a bit of Cali Lewis in GeekBrief.tv and even the latest fail videos from failblog. All from the comfort of your chair with remote in hand.

      Worth noting also that there’s a podcasting section, so you can easily catch up on episodes of Linux Outlaws on the telly! :) I note however that the podcasting app doesn’t have Linux Outlaws (or Ubuntu UK Podcast) in there by default.. We should fix that..

    1. Interesting point, but it doesn’t show up in either..

      revo@revo:~$ ls -l /dev/input/by-id/
      total 0
      lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 9 2009-08-05 00:17 usb-Chicony_USB_Keyboard-event-if01 -> ../event4
      lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 9 2009-08-05 00:17 usb-Chicony_USB_Keyboard-event-kbd -> ../event3
      lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 9 2009-08-05 00:17 usb-Logitech_USB_Optical_Mouse-event-mouse -> ../event5
      lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 9 2009-08-05 00:17 usb-Logitech_USB_Optical_Mouse-mouse -> ../mouse1
      revo@revo:~$ ls -l /dev/input/by-path/
      total 0
      lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 9 2009-08-05 00:17 pci-0000:00:04.0-usb-0:1:1.0-event-kbd -> ../event3
      lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 9 2009-08-05 00:17 pci-0000:00:04.0-usb-0:1:1.1-event -> ../event4
      lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 9 2009-08-05 00:17 pci-0000:00:04.0-usb-0:3:1.0-event-mouse -> ../event5
      lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 9 2009-08-05 00:17 pci-0000:00:04.0-usb-0:3:1.0-mouse -> ../mouse1
      lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 9 2009-08-05 00:17 platform-pcspkr-event-spkr -> ../event6

  4. The Revo is a fabulous bit of hardware, am currently running the 190.18 beta version of the NVidia drivers on mine which is meant to have slightly better VDPAU support. Haven’t noticed much of a difference so far. Anyway, you missed out the best Boxee app: The Open University application! Ok, possibly I’m saying that because I wrote the code for it, but if anybody is curious here is my post on it: http://www.greenhughes.com/content/rising-boxee-developer-challenge-open-university-app

  5. The revo is working fine with Ubuntu 9.04 and envy-core
    The graphic card is not recognized but you can force envy to install the latest driver and it is working fine !
    I plugged two 24″ monitors (one thru analog VGA and the other via HDMI) and get a 2 full HD wide desktop :-)
    (Sound is also working fine thru HDMI cable)

  6. followed steps… I had to edit my xorg.conf to fit my display.

    What happens to spashtop – did I have to do something to get it to work?

    Cheers

  7. Thanks for introducing me to Boxee. I’ve got a load of old Optiplex SFFs that you can pick up on ebay for around a tenner + postage, which incidentally, are never really clean (a bit of work with testdisk normally uncovers all sorts). I have these by each TV for playing video and audio retrieved over the network. Until now I’ve been using crunchbang and Elisa (can’t get Moovida to play nice). I’m definitely gonna give Boxee ago on these and see how well it works.

  8. Hey Alan,

    your instructions are awesome! They saved me a week of random staggering, thanks a lot!

    some tips for future geeks on Ubuntu Karmic Koala with Acer Revo 3600:

    * the xorg.conf mentioned did not work with my monitor. Taking the ‘alternate’ ISO initially was easier than installing packages for the installer with limited space on the USB stick.

    * the X server would not start complaining “no screens found” in the log. Fixed by running nvidia-xconfig with root privileges.

    * a known bug appeared (with Karmic alpha 5) “fsck unexpected inconsistency” during first boot. Fixed by running ‘fsck /’ (and all other mounted partitions) manually and rebooting.

    I did not proceed with installing Boxee.

  9. Great guide and it worked the first time for me perfectly a week ago. However, repeating the process this week doesn’t seem to work.

    When I set up my Acer Aspire Revo with Alpha 5 and ran apt-get dist-upgrade last week it worked fine after the reboot. However, I blanked the system and re-tried it this week and after running the same apt-get dist-upgrade the screen goes blank and the keyboard is non-responsive after a reboot. Does anyone else have the same problem. I’ve repeated it several times now and I get the same result.

    You should be able to confirm this by doing a fresh install of Alpha 5 from the ISO on your Acer Aspire Revo and then running sudo apt-get dist-upgrade.

    I’d be interested to hear if others can re-create the same problem.

  10. Very nice guide. Thanks.

    Is there any way to assign buttons on the remote? I’d like to be able to fire up other apps from it.

  11. Hows the HD flash performance? Hulu or the like? Thats what’s always held us back from the ION stuff and forced us to have a higher power CPU. If ION can do that with the latest nVidia and adobe drivers that would be great news.

      1. Sorry if I’m repeating the question of if you already answered it, but I was hoping you could clarify… I have read recently that the only version of Boxee that supports offloading to the GPU is Boxee (perhaps thats only pertaining to Flash content, but that’s what I’m really getting at anyway).

        Does Boxee installed on Ubuntu stream flash content like YouTube and Hulu well?

        I don’t have an HDTV, so I won’t be asking it to output 720p or 1080p, but I’m wondering if the content will simply play smoothly on the identical system you built. (Good choice by the way! I found out about it through Lifehacker and have been geeking out about it, wasting days on end researching my options). Thanks in advance.

  12. Thanks! Worked pretty well for me. I was having issues getting the nvidia drivers to work. It finally worked for me after downloading the driver package 190 straight from the nvidia website and running their installer from the command line.

    The problem I was having was that after installing and enabling the driver from the repositories the screen would flash. I’m a bit new to linux, but the problem seemed to be in the xorg.conf file. So based on what I read after some research, if anyone has a similar problem you might try running “nvidia-xorg” after installing the driver. Or download and install the driver from nvidia’s site and run the setup utility for xorg.conf at the end.

    The one problem I’m still having is with the remote. It seems to work fine generally in Ubuntu, but doesn’t work at all in Boxee.

    Anyone have any ideas?

  13. I have the direction keys, enter, top menu, return, back and rewind/ffwd buttons working, but the rest does not work. Has anyone had any luck with getting the other buttons on the PS3 remote to work? I’d like to map arbitrary buttons to keyboard keys or actions in System / Preferences / Keyboard Shortcuts.

  14. Thanks for this guide, which I found via http://www.myrant.net/2009/11/11/installing-boxee-on-ubuntu-9-10-on-acer-aspire-revo-r3600/

    I have got Boxee up and running just fine on my R3600, but I’m finding that VDPAU support is pretty much completely knackered in Boxee. If I try and play any of my 720p x264 videos from my NAS via Boxee, I get audio, no video, and endless copies of this message in my logs:

    22:17:09 T:2570050416 M:540196864 ERROR: (VDPAU) Error: An invalid handle value was provided.(3) at VDPAU.cpp:1143

    If I disable hardware acceleration in Boxee, then the video plays, but with lots of dropped frames and badly out of sync with the audio.

    Have you encountered this problem, and if so, do you have any thoughts about how to get around it?

  15. Acer Revo Ubuntu install desperate help needed.

    Due to a number of reasons I’ve been trying to get xubuntu, kubuntu and now ubuntu installed on my Acer Revo R3600. I’ve found a resolution to every single barrier so far (and there have been many!) and I’ve rebooted and clean installed this at least 20 times now and I’ve bumped into a real deal breaker for me, my Acer and linux. There seem to be no answers out on the web so here goes.

    After trying at least 10 separate (and different) set up instructions for Ubuntu on the Revo I tried yours and I get the same fail. After the restart the mouse and keyboard freeze and fail. It is not clear what is causing the problem as this fail essentially means I can’t find out what is causing the problem as there is no response from the keyboard or the mouse. It is a frozen system.

    If I run the system off the USB stick the freeze didn’t happen. When installed to the HD it freezes on restart.

    Following your guide it has frozen again. I see that a number of people have had a similar problem and bailed out to Windows 7 as nobody in the usually brilliant Linux community has solved it.

    I am now clueless. I’ve tried everything and Windows is once again looking like the way forward as this Acer Revo Ubuntu combination has wasted a good 3 days of my life so far. I’m becoming bitterly obsessed with solving the never ending bugs.

    Thanks in advance.

    1. I reinstalled my revo recently to diagnose a hardware issue. I found no issues whatsoever installing off the released karmic image. Note, now karmic has been released, don’t use the old alpha, use a full release from http://releases.ubuntu.com/

      I did have an issue with my revo locking up and it turned out to be bad ram, not a software issue.

  16. I’m with you Husk. This project has been nothing short of a nightmare. I’m experienced in Ubuntu and Fedora and it is no way as simple as stated in this article. Endless crashes, numerous reboots, multiple reloading of ‘clean’ 9.10 and just appalling software makes this a task to be avoided – I’ve lost 2 whole days of my life fighting this one. Bugs, bugs, bugs and still my sound doesn’t work (so easy according to this article!) and still I can’t load Ubuntu to the hard drive so I need to run it from the USB. Endless endless – I say endless – problems trying to install a simple software solution onto a simple box. Casual computer people beware! Ubuntu 9.10 is not for the easy going and the nearly useless Acer Revo is a candidate for being thrown out of a window.
    Ubuntu has lost all credibility with this release. Shockingly bad.

  17. Boxee also works on Windows for all you that cannot get it working under Linux. I haven’t given it a go yet, waiting for my new PC to arrive on Friday (not a Revo). I will give Boxee a go under Ubuntu, if I can’t get that working I will simply stick Windows on. Also I’m a bit confused as to which remote to buy for the Ubuntu install. I’ve heard both the Sony PS3 and the MS remotes work well, we’ll see.

  18. Just getting into Linux (few days now), bought a Revo mainly to act as a squeeze server, which I think I’ve got working now. Trying to think what else I can get the box doing now as well, this page has some really interesting things to try.

    I’m not sure I fully understand what Boxee is for….if I plug a TV tuner into my revo (and actually manage to get it working!) would I be able to watch TV/see listing via Boxee? Or would I need something like MythTV for that?

    Many thnaks

        1. Boxee is more about viewing online content than local content.

          popey – really interesting post. Am debating a revo myself, although I’m not sure it’s got enough beef to run a myth server and frontend at the same time :( Will be interesting to see if the d-link boxee box is competitive now that ebuyer has revos for £130. (Although you’d need to buy a remote too)

  19. Thanks for the great instructions popey!

    I noticed that you posted in one of your replies you were using an “Ortek infra red remote now, which works a treat” and was wondering if you would post something on how you managed to get that working?

    I don’t currently have a PS3 Remote and was trying to get Boxee/Ubuntu 9.10 to work with either my Creative RM-1800 or RM-1500 remotes but am having a dreadful time getting LIRC configured and the remote functional in Boxee. Any suggestions? (Any help, posting or reply is much appreciated). Thanks again.

  20. Anybody manage to get the Revo to properly do dual Frontend/Backend? Any advice muchly appreciated!!!

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