Dec 5, 2011

XBMC & Nvidia VDPAU on Ubuntu 11.10 with working Sound over HDMI

I've successfully built another XBMC Ubuntu 11.10 machine with sound over HDMI thanks to various internet resources and some good ole troubleshooting. Sound is audible through the Internet Browser as well as through XBMC, so we have system sounds as well as movie sounds enabled. 

My system plays 1080p and 720p movies smoothly with almost no CPU utilization e.g. a 15 gigabyte 1080p Blu-ray rip runs perfectly smooth. Nvidia's VDPAU handles all of the HD processing, and the video is stunning. Also, XMBC's AEON skin is just as beautiful. Note: Adobe's Flash 11 has numerous bugs in its current state, so it does not work 100% with this build, and it seems slightly more stable in Firefox than in Chrome.

This tutorial should work for Nvidia hardware users as well as give some troubleshooting ideas for ATI users.


My Setup:
Acer Revo R1600 (stock and unmodded)
Nvidia ION LE
Ubuntu 11.10 64-bit


1. Install Ubuntu 11.10

2. Get the Nvidia driver
How To Install Nvidia 275.09.07 Driver in Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot?

3. Install XBMC
Install XBMC on Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot/Linux

4. Getting Sound to play over HDMI may take several steps:

First, check to see if sound is enabled and unmuted. SPDIF should be unmuted as well:

Press <F6> to select the correct soundcard.
Press <F3> to show playback levels. <F4> selects capture levels [or use <Tab>]
Use the left/right arrow keys to select and up/down arrow keys to change levels. <M> to mute/unmute.
Go to "System ->Preferences ->Sound" and make sure the correct soundcard is default and adjust your profile on the hardware tab. 
On the output tab choose the correct device."
Then we'll check to see where our sound device is located by:
aplay -l
(Mine was 0,3)

Next, we'll load a module to finally get system sounds working:

From Ubuntuforums user efflandt on (I've modified the hardware location to match my hardware 0,3) :

aplay -D plughw:0,3 /usr/share/sounds/alsa/Front_Center.wav
Mine is 0,3 so I added a line to /etc/pulse/ after alsa-sink line:

#load-module module-alsa-sink
load-module module-alsa-sink device=hw:0,3
Reboot. The only odd thing it that in the Output tab of Sound Preferences you will need to select the HDA NVidia device that does NOT say HDMI to get HDMI sound. The speaker test in Sound Preferences will not work, but if you play Rythmbox, etc. you should be able to switch sound output on the fly."

Lastly, we're going to enable HDMI sound in XBMC

Select HDMI in Audio Output
Under Audio Output Device, select Defaults
For passthrough sound to your receiver, choose the setting your setup requires.

Now get some popcorn going, sit back, and enjoy your HTPC!

Troubleshooting & Tips

Fix Video Tearing:

Overscan compensation:

Enable HD flash

Change icon size

Change font sizes (just change the DPI for bigger fonts)



  1. Migrating from XP SP3 booting to both 32 bit-pae and 64 bit Ubuntu 11.10. Running Gigabyte GA-MA785GM-US2H 4 gig ram, 9600 Quad Core with onboard ATI HD4200, ATI Tuner cards, one 550 pro and one HDTV Wonder and an HD4850 ATI Video card with HDMI to Vizio 42" 1080P. Thanks to pages like yours I've been able to get my audio up and running in both of them. 64 bit audio broke in Mozilla with recent updates to both the browser and Flash. Have been able to repair audio consistently by opening alsamixer un-muting and setting levels at 100 percent. Then, what I am finding most often is Sound Settings configuration having been modified. Basically starting at the bottom with the conexant audio and working my way up through the onboard sound to and through the HDMI output at the video card in a logical order as if assembling a component home theatre system I've been able to repair. Recent break was caused by a switch from analog in to microphone in for the onboard sound portion of the equation. I now have audio back in my browser. Complete Newb here but as I spent hours resolving audio issues I hope this will be of benefit to someone. Next I will be tackling the HDTV wonder and thanks to your efforts be looking into the VDPAU XBMC

  2. Congratulations on getting your new setup up and running. Sounded like quite the challenge.

    Thank you very much for sharing your tips. I'm sure others with the similar issues will search the net and find your tips helpful.

    Happy holidays!

  3. Hello,
    I followed your instructions, but I have a problem to get the sound out of my XBMC.
    I took 1,3 as device but I'm not sure if I took the right one. here is a screenshot
    After reboot I have "navigation sounds" in XBMC but if I start a video a error appears with the information that the device could not be initialised.
    My HDMI goes to my Samsung TV and from my TV through SPDIF to my AV Reciver. (the tv can passthrough the ac3 or dts signal)
    I tried different settings in XBMC but nothing helps.. how do I read the aplay list correctly?
    On Audio Settings i have different HDM Outputs:
    - Digital Stereo (HDMI) nr 2 Output (works for systemsounds after changing the settings to hw:1,3)
    - Digital Stereo (HDMI) Output
    - Digital Stereo (HDMI) nr 3 Output / and nr 4
    - Digital Surround 5.1 (HDMI) / and nr 3 and nr 4
    the numbers confusing me, but I need a device with 5.1 output

    I hope you can help me.


    1. Hi, it sounds like you're close to getting 5.1 over HDMI. You have navigation sounds, so that's a great sign. The only thing left is to get XBMC to route digital passthrough through to HDMI, so you'd do this in XBMC's setup.

      I hope this guides you in the right direction, sorry I couldn't be more specific, but I'm sure you'll figure this out. You're almost there. Cheers!