If you are looking for the optimal hardware for use as an XBMC media platform, the Android-based Ouya game console is the right choice for you. In this complete guide, I will show you easy and advanced ways to set up XBMC on Android to turn Ouya onto the ultimate media box.
While Ouya’s $99 game console is primarily intended for playing open source games, I bought it only because it runs XBMC Media Center flawlessly. Installing XBMC on Android-based Ouya is very simple, but there are many advanced tips and tricks that you will learn in this guide, including how to replace the cooling fan to make Ouya quieter.
I have divided this extensive guide (about 3,500 words) into two parts. The first part includes an easy way for beginners to get started with the XBMC in a few minutes. The second part is for more advanced users to modify the Ouya game console, install unofficial XBMC version and other Android apps to utilize its full potential.
To complete this tutorial, you will need:
Advanced user’s guide:
- Flirc USB dongle (to make controlling it more user friendly)
- Aftermarket 40x40x10mm cooling fan (replace fan to make it quieter)
- 2mm Hex screwdriver, Phillips screwdriver, soldering iron (tools needed)
Why you should use Ouya for running XBMC for Android
Ouya is an Android-based game console that is designed to be open source for the community. Ouya was a very successful Kickstarter development project, but it has received some mixed reviews from the gaming community since its release.
Enjoy performance equal to HTPCs at $99
Ouya is great for anyone who wants a good media center with the ability to run retro games.
Why should you choose Ouya over Raspberry Pi as Raspberry Pi can already run 1080p videos smoothly? Although Raspberry Pi can play almost any video file at any bitrate, I find myself preferring Ouya over Raspberry Pi at the moment.
The main reason is because the Ouya feels much more responsive to use and it can run any high-end XBMC skin such as Ace or Aeon Nox. According to my experience, this is the first time I’ve been able to experience similar speed and responsiveness on a media streamer that I have experienced with home theater computers.
Furthermore, you can run any Android app directly from the XBMC including Internet browser, Netflix, Spotify, or any Android game you have downloaded on it.
Oh, and speaking of games, as this little box is mainly designed for playing games, you can also download and launch one of the 500 games available on it.
But didn’t we have all this already in 2002?
Those who have been using Xbox with XBMC in the past will recognize immediately similarities between the Ouya and a modded Xbox. I have been using XBMC since 2002 on Xbox when it was called XBMP, Xbox Media Player. At that time, I was able to run XBMC on a modded Xbox as a native user interface and launch games and other apps from it.
Now, XBMC for Android can bring all this back to us, but this time in full high definition and without the need to mod or jailbreak anything. You can replace the default launcher with XBMC as the 10-foot user interface for Android-based Ouya and launch games and other applications directly from there.
So far, Android boxes have been quite slow to run XBMC smoothly, especially with high-end skins. Fortunately, that is now all changing, thanks to Ouya.
Still in alpha, but already worth a try
However, we are not there yet as XBMC for Android (Gotham v13) is still in alpha stage and hardware decoding is not perfect, although it is improving all the time. Ouya does not support HDMI-CEC at the moment and they still have some licensing issues with multi-channel audio codecs.
Even with these obvious shortcomings, I absolutely enjoy using this little $99 media box, because for the first time I can get a snappy and fast user interface with XBMC skins such as Aeon without the need to build my own expensive HTPC.
After trying Raspberry Pi and jail-broken Apple TV2, I think they do not even come close to Ouya in terms of responsiveness and user experience. To me, it is very important to be able to browse quickly in the menus and folders without having to wait while menus and fanarts are loading.
Ouya comes with a controller out of the box that can be used to control your media center. The great thing about the controller is that it has a touchpad in the middle that can be used as a mouse, for example when browsing the Internet with the browser app.
This is what XBMC looks like on the Ouya
If you are not yet convinced about buying an Ouya, have a look at the following demonstration video showing how it runs XBMC in practice.
Beginner’s Guide to XBMC on Ouya
I ordered this beautiful little box directly from Ouya’s vendor store on Amazon and received it within the same week.
After unpacking the Ouya from the package, I plugged in the HDMI cable, Ethernet cable and power cord. I would strongly recommend using an Ethernet connection especially if you will be playing 1080p HD content over the network.
When you boot up the Ouya for the first time, it will automatically download and install the latest version. After updating, it will ask you to register your account. You will need to register your account using a credit card, but nothing will be charged unless you purchase games.
Install XBMC on Ouya
Ouya uses XBMC for Android, but there is no official stable release available for it. However, you can download an unofficial v12 of XBMC for OUYA from the Ouya store, which is equivalent to the latest stable Frodo release 12.2 with added accelerated video decoding.
Please note that Ouya had to remove AC3 and DTS audio decoding from the XBMC on Ouya app due to licencing issues, so we will need to wait for the licensing issues to be resolved before the multichannel audio will work again.
In order to install XBMC, select the “Discover” tab in the Ouya’s main menu, and then search for “XBMC on OUYA”.
Next, click “Free Download”, and once the download is complete click “Play Now”.
That’s it. It is that simple to install XBMC on Ouya.
Launch XBMC automatically when Ouya boots up
You can launch XBMC automatically when the Ouya boots up using an application called AutoPilot that can be downloaded from the Ouya store.
In order to install the app, go to “Discover” and search for “AutoPilot”.
Next, click “Download” and after downloading click “Play Now”.
In the AutoPilot app, scroll down the list and select XBMC.
Answer “Yes” to the “Are you sure?” question, and you are ready to boot up Ouya directly to XBMC.
You can use the included controller to control XBMC without any additional configuration. The following image will help you to get started with the basic keys.
If the on-screen keyboard does not respond to D-Pad input in the XBMC on Ouya (Frodo) version, go to System Settings -> System -> Input Devices and enable “Remote control sends keyboard presses”.
Skin your XBMC
The great thing about the Ouya is that unlike Raspberry Pi or Apple TV2 it is powerful enough to run high-end XBMC skins such as Aeon Nox. This is another important advantage of the Ouya compared to the Raspberry Pi.
However, sometimes simpler is more beautiful and I think that in particular an XBMC skin called Bello looks and feels great on Ouya, so I would definitely recommend checking it out. Bello is a fast and unique looking skin along with all the latest features of XBMC.
Bello can be installed from the standard XBMC repository by going to System > Appearance > Skin > Get more…
Advanced User’s Guide
This part of the guide is for more advanced users who wish to turn their Ouya into the ultimate media center. You will learn hardware tips such as how to control it with a remote control and how to replace a cooling fan to make it quieter.
In addition, you will learn how to sideload the essential media center apps.
Use Flirc to control the Ouya with a remote control
In order to make controlling Ouya more user friendly, I would recommend using a remote control instead of the controller.
Unfortunately, Ouya does not support a HDMI-CEC yet that would allow you to control it with your TV’s remote control. However, according to the rumors, HDMI-CEC support will be added to the Android build of XBMC later on.
Therefore, the best way to control Ouya at the moment is using a Flirc USB IR receiver (get it here) paired with your favorite remote control.
For example, I’m using Apple’s remote to control XBMC on Ouya without any problems. Just configure the remote with Windows or Mac OSX software, insert the Flirc dongle to Ouya’s USB port and you are done.
Please note that you will still need to use the controller outside the XBMC application as the Flirc remote control keys may not be mapped correctly for the Android-based operating system.
If you wish to use Flirc with the Ouya menus as well, you can follow this detailed guide to remap the Flirc keys.
Replace the fan to make it quieter
After using the Ouya for a while, I noticed that the manufacturer has saved on the fan as it is quite loud when it kicks in.
So, I decided to replace the stock fan with an aftermarket fan to make it near silent. The cost of this modification is about $15 and it takes only 20 minutes of your time, but it will require some expertise and tools, so I would recommend this step only to more advanced users.
What you will need:
- Aftermarket 40x40x10mm cooling fan
- 2mm Hex screwdriver, Phillips screwdriver, soldering iron and some tape
While the cooling fan needs to be 40x40x10 mm with a mini 2 pin plug (2mm), please note that the majority of the case fans have 3 pin plug, so be sure to get a fan with 2 pin plug.
I bought the Scythe Mini Kaze 40x40x10mm fan, which is absolutely great compared to the original fan. However, it seems that the Scythe Mini Kaze is not available on Amazon at the moment, so you should get a Noctua NF-A4x10 cooling fan which has been proven to be working very well.
The Scythe Mini Kaze and the Noctua NF-A4x10 both come with a 2 pin plug, but the plug is not compatible with Ouya’s mainboard, so you will need to use the connector plug from the original fan.
Remove the top of the case and take out the mainboard
First, you will need a screwdriver with a hexagon cap. Unscrew the four screws on top of the Ouya with the hex screwdriver. Remove the top of the case and take out the mainboard from the case.
Remove the old fan
Second, gently pull the fan-plug from the mainboard and unscrew the screws of the fan with a standard Phillips screwdriver.
Solder wires to attach the 2mm fan-plug
Third, let’s install the aftermarket fan. You will need to cut the original cable from the stock fan and solder the red and black wires with the new aftermarket fan. You should protect the soldered wires with a tape to avoid any issues. If you don’t have a soldering iron, you can also tie the wires together and then protect them with the tape.
Attach the new fan to the mainboard
Fourth, screw the new case fan to the mainboard, connect the case fan’s connector plug to the mainboard and insert the mainboard back on to the case.
Screw the top of the Ouya back on
Finally, screw the top of the Ouya back on and plug in the power cable, HDMI cable and Ethernet cable (if in use).
The next time you boot up Ouya, you should hear the fan starting and stopping (this is normal start up procedure).
Congratulations! Now, your Android-based media center is significantly more quiet with the aftermarket fan compared to the original fan.
I have not had any issues with the new case fan and the system has worked reliably. The little box still gets quite hot when watching movies, but it will not affect the playback. For example, after watching a 1080p HD video for an hour, the maximum temperature was about 68 Celsius (154 Fahrenheit) during the playback.
How to sideload Android apps
Sideloading Android applications means installing apps such as the unofficial XBMC version, Netlix, and so on, without using the official Ouya store.
I would recommend using a USB keyboard during the initial setup to make typing easier, which is required during the installation phase. Please make sure you don’t have a Flirc or similar USB device plugged in as that keeps the onscreen hidden (this happened to me as I wondered why the keyboard was hidden). If you are using a USB keyboard, this obviously won’t be an issue.
Sideloading apps is quite easy:
- Select the “Make” tab in the home screen and click “Yes” to enter the developer section for the first time
- Click “Yes” to enter the developer section for the first time
- Open the “Browser” app
- Press the “Y-button” on the controller and type the URL of a webpage
- Locate the .APK file and press the “O-button” to start the download
- Wait until the download is completed (you will not get notified separately)
- After the download is completed, go to the “Manage” tab in the main menu
- Select “System > Advanced > Storage” and then scroll down to Downloads
- Select the Android app APK and install it
- Go back to the “Make” tab and launch the app
You probably want to try the latest XBMC 13 version that is not available in the official store, so let’s start there.
Install XBMC 13 Gotham nightly build for Android
If you want to test the latest features and more efficient hardware acceleration, you can sideload a nightly Android build of the XBMC v13 (Gotham). Android nightly builds are uploaded on a daily basis and contain the most recent changes, but are also the most unstable, so you may expect to discover some bugs.
According to my tests, the latest monthly builds that are semi-stable nightly snapshots of the current development version seem to be the most stable and have much better 1080p HD video performance compared to the version available in the Ouya store.
In order to install XBMC Gotham nightly build, open the browser app and type the following URL http://mirrors.xbmc.org/snapshots/android/ on your keyboard and hit enter. Select the latest XBMC Android build from the list and wait until the download is completed (you will not get notified when the download is completed).
After you have waited long enough for the download to be completed, install the sideloaded app and launch your XBMC 13 Gotham Android version.
There can be small hiccups, but according to my tests it has worked very well.
Netflix on Ouya
Ouya does not include the official Netflix app yet, but you can easily sideload the Netflix app by following these steps.
You can download Netflix in a similar way to how we sideloaded XBMC earlier. Go to the Make tab > Software > Browser and press the Y button to search.
Getting 1080p HD video playback with Netflix on Ouya can be a bit tricky as current Android phones and tables should not be able to stream 1080p video quality from Netflix. However, you can find modified versions of the 1080p HD Netflix by searching e.g. Netflix 2.1.0 H264DLNA using your favorite search engine.
After downloading the apk file, go to the main menu and go to Manage > System > Advanced > Storage > Downloads and install Netflix. Now you can launch the Netflix app from Make > Software.
The controller support is still quite limited, so you will need to use the controller’s touchpad to navigate in the Netflix app. Searching and playing works, but you will not able to pause or rewind during the playback. To pause and resume, you can press the center “U-button” button for 2 seconds to go back to the main menu and then resume from where you left off.
If the Netflix app does not playback in HD quality, go to Advanced System Settings from the Ouya main menu, choose HDMI and there enable “Show the video full-screen on the external display”.
Spotify on Ouya
You can install Spotify from https://m.spotify.com/ by selecting Android and then choosing to download and install manually.
Go to the Make tab > Software > Browser and press the Y button to search.
Type the following URL: https://m.spotify.com/?group=android and sideload the Spotify app.
Amazon app store
If you would like to easily find more Android apps, you can sideload the Amazon app store by typing the following URL in the Browser app: http://www.amazon.com/gp/mas/get/android.
Then, just install the app like any other sideloaded app and start browsing a large collection of Android apps. You can find Netflix from the Amazon app store as well.
Launch Android apps within XBMC
The great thing about XBMC for Android is that you can launch apps directly within XBMC. In the XBMC, go to “Programs” menu and select “Android Apps” to get the list of apps. If you want to add apps to your favorites or main menu, just press the context menu button and select “Add to favorites”.
And so much more…
There is so much more you can do with your Android-based media center. Content is king, so where do you get more media content for your media center?
Since XBMC for Android is still in the early development stages, many of the add-ons do not necessarily work on Android. Here are some essential tips if you want to try out unofficial XBMC add-ons.
How to FTP transfer unofficial XBMC add-ons
In order to load unofficial repositories and add-ons, it is not possible to access Ouya using FTP out of the box, so an easier way to install add-ons is by connecting Ouya to a computer using a micro USB cable or using an SMB share from your Windows computer or Network Attached Storage.
However, it is possible to FTP transfer files to Ouya, if you follow these steps.
- In order to download an FTP server app, go to “http://code.google.com/p/swiftp/downloads/” using the Ouya’s built-in browser to download the SwiFTP_1.24.apk file
- Go to “Manage” tab > Advanced > Storage > Downloads > Install SwiFTP and open it after installing it
- Configure SwiFTP with username, password and your default folder (e.g. sdcard/) and start the FTP server
- Use your PC to connect to Ouya with an FTP client such as Filezilla
- To connect the FTP server, type Ouya’s IP number (e.g. 192.168.1.38), username, password and port (e.g. 2121)
That’s it. Now you can transfer files between your computer and Ouya.
I tested some of the custom XBMC add-ons such as Bluecop’s free Hulu, which worked surprisingly well and was very responsive.
Tip: I noticed that the Bluecop’s repository appeared to be empty after installing it, but you can easily fix this by selecting the repository and then pressing the U-button on the controller and select “Force refresh” in the context menu. If this does not help, try restarting XBMC after forcing the repository to reset.
What about other premium content channels?
If you want to get more premium content channels than Netflix and Hulu, the best way to get all the premium content channels to XBMC is still by streaming content from a Windows-based PC running PlayOn Media Server. If you do not know what PlayOn is, be sure to check out this article on how to get all the premium content to Ouya: How to get Hulu, Netflix and other premium channels to Android XBMC.
In summary, Ouya is great for anyone who wants a good media center with the ability to run retro games, but does not need a game console that is as polished as the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 or Wii.
Ouya’s performance is impressive and its user interface is much faster compared to XBMC on Raspberry Pi, but it is still very much a beta project, so it will take some time before we can make a final judgement about it.
However, Ouya and Raspberry Pi are very different and cannot be directly compared with each other, so the best way to know for sure is to test them yourself. Fortunately, they are not too expensive anyway.
This little device has so much potential, but the XBMC media center software for Android is not stable enough, so you will need to expect some occasional bugs when using it.
You will get a powerful XBMC media streamer that is easy to hack and modify for only $99, so what are you waiting for? Get your own Ouya from Amazon.