Transmit Xbox Edition

While working on Mac meet Xbox part 3, I kept referring to the Transmit and Xbox duo, so I decided to combine the two into a stylish Xbox Edition icon replacement, which includes a paste-able icon, .png image, a replacement .icns file, and the source .psd. Download the set.

To replace Transmit’s yellow-and-purple truck icon with the “new and improved” one, locate it in your Applications folder (or wherever you may have it stored), Control-click it, and choose Show Package Contents. Browse to the Contents/Resources folder, and find Transmit.icns. This is the icon file for the application, so rename it to Transmit.bak for safe keeping in the event you would like to return to the default icon. Drop in the replacement icns file provided in the pack, and name it Transmit.icns. You may need to relaunch the Finder or log out/in to get the full effect, after which Transmit will sport the new Xbox delivery truck icon!

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Transmit Xbox Edition

Xbox Media Center 2.0

After a long bug-bash, Xbox Media Center 2.0 is out, and I’ve been testing it over the last few days. All its features are working and polished just right: video streams perfectly, even over wireless; DVD menus are enabled; Last.fm submission support is built-in; Project Mayhem III and MediaCenter360 skins are installed by default; and much more! To learn how to set up XBMC 2.0, check out the online manual wiki or stay tuned for Part 3 of Mac meet Xbox right here at Command-Tab.

Xbox Media Center 2.0

Mac Meet Xbox: Part 2

Mac Meet Xbox
Welcome to Part 2 of my multi-part introduction to setting up a Xbox-based home media center in a Mac environment. So far, the Mac has been absent, but the Xbox hardware must first be set up to communicate on your home network. This section will cover opening the Xbox, installing the modchip, and loading the necessary firmware.

Void Your Warranty

Cracking the Case

To begin modding, you’ll have to open your Xbox. This will void your warranty. If you send your Xbox to Microsoft for repair after tampering with it, they will refuse to work on it. However, if you have even basic computer hardware skills, then there’s no reason to be alarmed — there is a great Xbox modding community that has developed and will gladly help you out of a jam. I can’t say enough about the importance of like-minded individuals who can help you through impossibly complex situations involving small wires, config files, and unsupported hacks. Like everything technological, Xbox modding is an involved topic, but there’s plenty of help available.

I should note that I’m aware of “softmod” solutions that do not require a modchip, but I’ve found that installing a modchip is the safest and most feature-packed path to choose, especially if you haven’t done anything like this before. In the past, I’ve killed a few Xboxes with a bad flash, and resurrecting them took more time, effort, and research than most would be willing to invest. The Xecuter 2.6 CE Lite chip I recommended in Part 1 sports a number of features to help you avoid this situation, and protect both your Xbox and your modchip from being turned into paperweights.

Screwdriver in hand, it’s time to get to the heart of the matter by cracking the case and dissecting the system. As the Xbox is quite similar to a PC, disassembly should be an easy task if you’ve ever taken apart a computer. The case is held together by six T-20 Torx screws which hold the top and bottom plastic shells together. Peeling back the feet and stickers on the underside will allow access to the screws, as they’re concealed from initial observation. If you prefer, you can avoid leaving a thin veneer of stickiness by simply poking your screwdriver through the stickers instead of peeling them off. With the screws out, the top case can be lifted off the bulk of the components. Three smaller T-10 screws hold down the 8 or 10 GB hard drive and DVD-ROM. After unplugging the power and IDE cabling from both drives, lift them straight out to expose the Xbox motherboard. Eleven more T-10 screws fasten the motherboard to the chassis. Remove them all, including the ones beside the A/V connector, and gently lift out the motherboard. If it gets stuck towards the back (as it often does), lift the front first, while keeping controller port wires out of the way. You can then set the case and power supply assembly aside and focus on the motherboard.

Xbox Versions

Because of the changes made in various revisions of Xboxes, it’s necessary to categorize the Xboxes into groups which are modded using the same procedures. The earlier Xboxes are version 1.0 through 1.5, and the newest is 1.6. The latest version requires the “patch” circuit mentioned above, as well as an alternate source of power (which is readily available all over the motherboard). If you’re following along, you can easily check which version you have just by taking a look at the video encoder chip on the motherboard, right next to the A/V output. If you find that the chip has “Xcalibur” with an Xbox logo stenciled on the surface, your Xbox is a 1.6 and requires the additional circuit.

Installing the Modchip

The installation procedure for the Xecuter 2.6 CE chip is nearly identical to that of the more expensive Xecuter 3 chip, so I’ll provide the installation instructions here. However, you can stop reading at page 16, as the rest doesn’t apply to the 2.6 CE. Team Xectuer does a great job of detailing all the intricacies of installing the chip, so be sure to double-check your work. Also, check out out some of my Xbox Hacks photos on Flickr for some ideas on how to install the front panel switches without cutting into the case.

Installing the modchip will probably be the most tedious part of the project, so be sure to take your time on this step. There will always be questions, so I’ll leave comments open indefinitely on this post.

Choosing a BIOS

Now that your modchip is installed and working, it’s time to choose the code that will allow you to run non-Microsoft software, which includes our target program: Xbox Media Center. This isn’t a terribly important decision, as it will be nearly invisible. However, you will want to look for a few key features: Enabling use of hard drives greater than 137 GB, and the ability to stop the Xbox from resetting upon ejecting. My personal favorite BIOS (and there are dozens to choose from) is the Xecuter 2 build 5035, as it reads all important settings from a config file stored on your hard drive, whereas other BIOSes require you to patch the code and reload them onto your chip.

Unfortunately, this and other Xbox BIOS software isn’t technically legal. Most are modified versions of the official Microsoft BIOS, which, no matter how small, are still copyrighted. Modification and distribution of copyrighted code is illegal, but progress often doesn’t stop in the name of law. The Xecuter 2 5035 BIOS can be found all around the internet. It’s usually distributed in RAR format, so you’ll need either UnRarX or MacParDeluxe to extract the contents (Windows users can use the free 7-zip).

Booting and BIOS Flashing

When you first power on your newly modded Xbox, you’ll hopefully be greeted with the FlashBIOS screen. If your Xbox fails to boot properly, perhaps flashing alternating red and green lights, have a second look at the modchip installation instructions and make sure you followed each step for your version Xbox (taking careful note of the D0 point on your motherboard). If all went well, FlashBIOS’ blue screen will be displayed, and you’re now ready to load the non-Microsoft firmware onto your modchip. The easiest way to accomplish this is via the chip’s network flashing capabilities.

The absolute easiest way to flash the BIOS over the network is using a simple home router, nearly all of which assign IP addresses to any attached device. Connect your Xbox to your router using a length of straight-through Ethernet cable, your Mac via Ethernet or AirPort, and choose Enable Network Flashing from the FlashBIOS menu onscreen. FlashBIOS will bring up the Xbox’s networking hardware and provide you with an IP address to which you should direct your web browser. On the page that loads, you can choose a BIOS file to upload, which will then be flashed. In my case, I chose the X2 5035 “.bin” file and uploaded it to the Xbox. It’s worth noting my much earlier post about slicing and combining BIOS files on the Mac — the Xecuter 2.6 has two 1 MB banks, so you may need to double-over the BIOS to completely fill the bank adjacent to FlashBIOS. After FlashBIOS has written the file to the chip, flick the Bank Select switch on the front panel board, and reboot from the new BIOS. If it worked, you’ll be greeted with “Xecuter Rox My Box” under the Xbox logo. Your Xbox will appear to boot up like normal, or so it seems…

This concludes the second, and undoubtedly most complicated edition of “Mac Meet Xbox.” If you’re following along and having troubles, or simply unsure of a detail, feel free post a comment below. In the next installation, we’ll be covering installtion and formatting of a new hard drive, and laying the foundation for Xbox Media Center.

Resources

Modding a v1.6 Xbox in 10 Minutes (softmod)
Xbox-Scene Forums

Mac Meet Xbox: Navigation

Part 1: Why Xbox + Choosing Chips
Part 2: Cracking the Case + Installing and Flashing
Part 3: Installing XBMC
Part 3.1: Networking in Detail

Mac Meet Xbox: Part 2

Portable Xbox

A creative hacker at portablesystems.net managed to carefully pack the contents of an Xbox console into a portable form factor. It’s yet another project that makes me exclaim “I had that idea!” However, the creator did a far better job than I could do with the tools at my disposal. His hack includes creating a custom vacuum-formed case, hooking up Li-Ion batteries to power the system, and wiring a PSOne LCD to the video output. It’s a masterfully executed hack that sets the standard for his other portable video game creations, and is a must-see for any Xbox hardware hacker.

Portable Xbox

Mac Meet Xbox: Part 1

Mac Meet Xbox
Although this is a little late — the successor to the Xbox has already been released for some time — I thought it would be useful to others to write up a comprehensive guide on modding an Xbox and using it with a Mac in a Windows-centric world. It’s never too late, though, because the Xbox is continuing to drop in price and makes a dazzling home media center that blows the Mac Mini away.

This is going to be a multi-post article, as it would otherwise be an extraordinarily long post. Sections will cover opening the Xbox, installing a modchip, and finally loading and configuring the media center software.

Why Xbox?

And why not a Mac Mini? Why choose an Xbox for a home media center solution, and how does it outperform to the Mac Mini? In a word: compatibility. Right out of the box, the Xbox is a terrible home media solution. In fact, it doesn’t even make an attempt at any media center capabilities, short of ripping CDs. However, when modified and loaded with the open-source Xbox Media Center software, it can play just about any file format you’ll ever encounter in an interface that’s as shiny as Apple’s own. Covering all the bases from AVC/H.264 to Xvid, Xbox Media Center is what makes it happen, and is a stellar example of the kind of quality software that can be produced from a truly dedicated team of programmers. Finding plugins for QuickTime that work as smoothly as Xbox Media Center would be a nightmare. Adding a DVD Playback Kit to the Xbox setup lets you have complete control from the couch, even if you’re just checking the weather or listening to some music from iTunes.

Choosing Chips

Like all modern gaming systems, the Xbox has copy protection and various restrictions to stop people from backing up games and/or running their own software on the system. That has to go. Thankfully, modding Xboxes has been a long, well documented effort, and there is much to show for it. It took only a few months for clever hackers to exploit bugs and holes in the system and gain access to the inner workings, making all sorts of homemade projects possible. Xbox Media Center is among the most popular and well-recognized of the lot.

First on the route to an Xbox-centric home media solution, comes the choice of deciding on the right hardware to enable all the cool stuff to come. Dozens of Xbox modchips are available, many of which require soldering to tiny, tiny spots on the motherboard. If you’re uncomfortable soldering or have an unsteady hand, there are solderless solutions available, but I highly recommend practicing soldering if you intend to get good and continue modding beyond a modchip. Soldering a modchip into an Xbox is far less complicated than with other systems like the PS2, but still requires both patience and skill. Practicing soldering on an old VCR or stereo motherboard is a good way to start (it’s how I learned!). Xbox modchips can run up into the $70 range, but you don’t have to spend a bunch of money to get great features. My modchip of choice — at least until production ends — is the Xecuter 2.6 CE Lite. This model is intended to be soldered in, although a solderless kit is available. Among it’s notable features are included front panel switches, total Xbox hardware compatibility, a backup BIOS bank if you make what would otherwise be a costly mistake, and network flashing. For all the features included, the Xecuter 2.6 CE Lite can’t be beat.

Up Next

That’s it for this edition of “Mac Meet Xbox.” Stay tuned (via RSS, perhaps) for the next installment, which will cover opening of the Xbox and installation of the modchip.

Mac Meet Xbox: Navigation

Part 1: Why Xbox + Choosing Chips
Part 2: Cracking the Case + Installing and Flashing
Part 3: Installing XBMC
Part 3.1: Networking in Detail

Mac Meet Xbox: Part 1

XBMC Changes

When updating my copy of Xbox Media Center earlier today, I noticed that the XboxMediaCenter.xml file was missing. Looking into the matter further, I found that some significant changes had been made to the development of XBMC earlier this month.

The original XML configuration file has been removed, and most of the important options have been added to the program settings, allowing new shares to be connected directly inside Xbox Media Center. Bookmarks can now be added by starting up XBMC, pressing the white button on the controller, and choosing “Add Source.” For those who still prefer to open a file and type in the paths manually, edit the UserData/sources.xml just as you did before.

XBMC Changes

Xbox 360 DVD-ROM Hack

Yesterday, a clever hacker released a modified firmware file for the Xbox 360’s DVD drive which essentially causes it to lie to the console about the type of media off which games are running. This comes not long after the release of a similar firmware for the original Xbox, allowing an unmodified (i.e. no modchip) console to run games off a burned DVD. While both of these hacks are impressive, they currently offer no advances towards running unsigned code, particularly on the Xbox 360. Despite that, I’ll soon picking up a 360 to hack around with. This is the first crack in the wall I’ve been waiting for.

Xbox 360 DVD-ROM Hack