Thursday, August 09, 2007

XBox: Hacked the Old Xbox to make a Media Center

Since the Xbox 360 gave me the infamous “Red Ring of Death”, my apparent addiction to its media center capabilities became frightingly apparent. So 4 weeks without it seemed a little painful. My solution, why not hack my original Xbox?

I’ve heard that the media capabilities of the original Xbox with XBMC are incredibly potent. Its capable of playing a large variety of audio and video formats, streaming content from a variety of different sources, and unlocks the DVD player that you would normally need to get the Xbox DVD Playback Kit to use (pretty shady deal Microsoft). Plus, it will upscale content to whatever resolution (in my case, 720P), so that’s a nice bonus.

First, I read tons of content on how to actually perform a SoftMod on the Xbox since I had no real desire to tear open the Xbox hardware and put in a mod chip. I found tons of confusing information, bad and broken links, and all sorts of annoying obstacles, but in the end, I found two sites to be incredibly useful for my information gathering tactics. First, Xbox Scene provided tons of general purpose information on Xbox modding. Second was this tutorial on how to perform a Save Game Exploit. Also, having access to download actual Xbox Software via Torrents or Usenet is useful, since most sites won’t put binaries of homebrew up due to some legal technicality with the Xbox SDK, otherwise, you will be compiling code yourself.

OK, so now onto my experiences. First, I obtained a copy of Splinter Cell via my local Gamestop for a whopping total of $1.99. This was actually a little tricky to track down, three different stores didn’t have it. I ended up with a Greatest Hits copy, which was still exploitable.

Next, I needed some method of transferring the save games downloaded from the SID tutorial above to a Xbox memory card. It is recommended that you use an Action Replay for some other device, however, I didn’t want to mail order one, and I couldn’t track down one at any local stores. That meant I needed another solution. Fortunately, I came across this tutorial that told me how to make USB connector for the Xbox Controller, which would allow me to copy save games onto an Xbox memory card through the Xbox Controller. My end result for the USB Connector wasn’t pretty, but that was OK, I only needed it for one step of the process, just to copy the SID files to the memory card.

Once in place, I ran the save game exploit and followed the steps from the tutorial. In less than 10 minutes I was up and running a SoftModded Xbox with Evolution X as the dashboard. Of course, this dashboard wasn’t as intuitive as I would have liked, and since my end goal was to put XBMC on there anyway, I still had a little bit more to do.

So I assigned my Xbox and IP Address, and was ready to install XBMC. Installation was simple, I picked a folder (in my case E:\Apps\XBMC), FTP’ed the files there, and copied the Shortcut link under E:\DASH in order to override Evolution X from loading by default. Once done, I was all set with my modded Xbox.

While this is definitely a great media center device, I have to admit that editing XML files by downloading them from the Xbox, changing, then re-uploading is a huge PITA. So I basically just got a set configuration and have left the rest alone. Plus, I was hoping to find a good distribution DVD with XBMC already ready to go with tons of extra goodies, however the ones I found were so horribly outdated it wasn’t even work the effort. I just chose to stick with the stock XBMC and get the apps I wanted piecemeal. But with the Xbox being considered an obsolete piece of hardware now, one of these can be had and hacked for under a $100, and will give you a full fledged media center, upscaling DVD player, and gaming consoles (with emulation, that’s several gaming consoles). Plus, if you already have an old one floating around, this will breath new life into it.

So to sum it up, this is now the third device that I’ve had to go back and hack (the PSP and my Razr being the first two) in order to get some real potential out of something. It’s so bizarre that companies try to lock down and prevent this sort of thing, considering the value added potential. If someone would smack some sense into these guys and get them to adapt a decent business model to support homebrew on devices, than we might really see something from the Next-Gen consoles.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This couldn't have come at a better time. I have been looking into soft modding my Xbox, and like you, I was overwhelmed with all the information (good and bad) that is out there.

I'm also glad to hear the Greatest Hits version of Splinter Cell will work, since that is what I have.

The only part that really confuses me at the moment is how to FTP everything. I have never used Xbox Live and have never connected it to a network. Did you go wireless with yours?

I haven't found a good distribution DVD either, but I did find "Big Ass Emulator Disc" on bittorrent, which supposedly has thousands of ROMS from various consoles over the last 25+ years.