One of the most popular front ends for Home Theater PCs is XBMC. It is a light-weight application that has a huge user base and community. Adding to its popularity XBMC can be installed on practically every platform (OSX, Linux, Windows, AppleTV, and Live via USB Flash Drive). XBMC has set the standard for how a UI should look and act, and many of the skins have influenced the look of other Media Center front ends. With the release of the next XBMC beta codename Dharma I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a closer look at XBMC and walk through the basics of setting up.
I am going to set up XBMC on my Windows 7 x32 machine using the latest Dharma build.
TIP: If you are interested in bitstreaming HD Audio you are going to either want to use the DSPlayer build I wrote about or use the latest Dharma build but have MPC HC launch. Also, if you are a Windows Media Center user you can easily add XBMC as a menu item to launch directly from WMC.
Files To Download:
Really not much to it, simply run the downloaded file and go through the typical setup steps. You can choose to customize the install process, but I just left all the defaults checked off.
Once the installation is complete you can now launch XBMC and will be presented with the default Skin called Confluence.
Setting Up Your Media Libraries:
My current video library is set up based on folder structures. For example:
- Movies – Videos Shared Folder -> Movies -> Individual folder for each movie. The movie folder and the actual movie file name should be named exactly as the movie itself (I use IMDB or TMDB as reference)
- TV Shows – Videos Shared Folder -> TV Shows -> Individual folder for each TV show -> Individual Season folder for each season. The TV show folder should be named exactly as the TV show itself (I use TVDB as a reference). Each episode is placed ion the respective season folder and is named ShowName – S##E## – EpisodeName (i.e. Supernatural – S01E01 – Pilot.mkv)
It is not absolutely necessary to sort your video library as above, but I have found this yields the best and most consistent results across a variety of platforms.One thing for certain, make sure your Movies and TV Shows are in separate folders.
XBMC has its own built in scraper that will gather all metadata/fanart. However, you can use a 3rd party metadata program such as Ember Media Manager to collect and maintain your metadata/fanart locally. XBMC will first search to see if local metadata/fanart is available to use, and if not then it will fall back on its internal scraper.
With XBMC select Videos on the main menu. This should take you to a menu where you want to choose “Add source”
A popup should appear, choose “Browse” and navigate to the folder where your media is located. You can set up multiple sources, and if you have both TV shows and Movies you will need to set up a separate source for each.
After your media location has been added the next step is to click the “Set content” button. This is where you tell XBMC what type of content the Video source is as well as to set up scraping
After selecting “Set content” you will now be able to select what type of content and then choose a scraper
Below are the settings I chose for my Movies, using The MovieDB as scraper (there are additional scrapers which can be added via the Add-ons)
Below are the settings I chose for my TV shows, using The TVDB as scraper (there are additional scrapers which can be added via the Add-ons)
Depending on the size of your library when you first set up the content it may take a while as XBMC builds the library database as well as scrapes (if applicable)
Once done setting up your Videos library the same can be done for Music and Pictures from the Main Menu (obviously the “Set content” function will not apply).
If you content was set up properly when you go back to the Main Menu and tab across the “Videos” menu item you should now see a “Movies” and “TV shows” line item.
You may notice however that when you go into your Movies or TV Shows it has more of a Windows Explorer type feel, where you are actually browsing files. This is obviously not ideal, so you will need to make sure that Library Mode is enabled. While in the videos section using the left arrow key should bring up a menu screen as seen below. There will be an option for Library Mode that can be enabled. Once enabled, when you select a movie poster in any of the views the movie will automatically play without having to actually navigate to the file.
Now what happens if XBMC scrapes incorrectly, or you decide you want to use different fanart? To edit simply navigate to the video in question, right-click which should bring up a menu
Select “Movie information” from the menu. To re-scrape the movie click the “Refresh” button which should bring up a list of possible matches (you can also enter the name in manually). You can also use the “Get thumb” and “Get Fanart” to replace the current artwork with local content.
There are way too many settings to try and cover them all here, so I thought I would just point out a handful of them that were useful
Settings -> Appearance -> Skin / This is where you can switch to different skins
Settings -> System -> Video Output / Here you can specify the display mode and resolution to be used.
Settings -> System -> Audio Output / Here you can specify your speaker/receiver setup
Settings -> Video -> Playback / There is where you would enable hardware acceleration (DXVA2)
Setting -> Video -> Library / Here you can specify to have XBMC automatically update the library on startup
Settings -> Network -> Services / This will come in handy when setting up an iPxxx/Android as a remote to control XBMC
Settings -> Weather / Here you can customize up to three locations where XBMC will display the weather statistics.
There were a few features I wanted to test out as far as playback:
- BluRay Folder Structure – I had to navigate to the “index.bdmv” file, but once selected the main movie played (no BD menus)
- mkv w/ PGS subtitles – played, although the subtitles would remain on the screen even after the scene ended (bug)
- DXVA w/ ATI 4670 GPU – for both VC-1 and H.264 CPU remained around 5% indicating that DXVA was working properly
- DXVA w/ core i5 GPU – for both VC-1 and H.264 CPU was around 30% with spikes above indicating that DXVA does not work properly with intel graphics.
- DVD ISOs – XBMC mounted properly and played back with full menu support
- BluRay ISOs – Did not play
A few other quick items to point out, during playback the controls are located at the top of the screen
From here you can navigate to some of the audio and video settings
This was originally called I believe the SVN repository, Add-ons serve as a place where developers can make their plug-ins available to the community. Examples of Add-ons would be skins, online services, metadata providers, etc… The Add-on concept has really taken off amongst the community, and this is the area which I believe offers the most growth and excitement. XBMC has a decent selection of add-ons, and this is something that hopefully will continue to grow (additions such as Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, etc…).
To view and install add-ins go to Settings ->Add-ons. From here you can view what Add-ons you have enabled, go to the repository to get available Add-ons, and install an Add-on from a zip file. Select “Get Add-ons”.
At this point you should have only one option and that is to go to the Add-ons available at XBMC.org. I am not quite sure what the purpose of this is expect that possibly down the road Add-ons could be hosted at multiple locations.
Here you will have a list of categories to choose from. The easiest way to get familiar with what is available is just to simply go through each category.
The first add-on I was in search for was Apple Trailers. To find this I clicked on the “Video Add-ons” category which brought up a list of available add-ons.
Installing an Add-on is very easy to do, simply select the Add-on which will provide information about the Add-on, as well as the ability to install, enable, configure, update, and view any change logs.
A list of the current skins available from the Add-on section.
Where you access the Add-on depends on what type of Add-on it is. For example, if you install a skin, you would go into the settings -> appearance to change. If you install a Video add-on such as Apple Trailers you would go to the Video menu choice on the Main Menu. You can also customize the Main Menu to have specific Add-ons listed on your home page.
View: Poster Wrap
View: Media Info 2
Skin: Alaska Revisited Mod
Skin: Alaska Revisted Mod
View: Main Menu
XBMC makes a great addition to any HTPC and I highly recommend everyone at least try it out. XBMC does not have PVR functionality (although I have heard that is in the works, possibly piggybacking off MediaPortal’s TV server) so for people who use their HTPCs as PVRs this is probably not the front end for you.