A little background
I’ve been taken in by the hype of Smart TV. The draw being that I could watch the content I had on my PC without having to plug anything into the TV. Plus I was in need of a new TV and buying a Smart telly made sense!
However, there we’re limitations… My Wi-Fi network is at overcapacity, and the basic router is struggling to cope with 2x iPhones, Internet TV and 3x laptops. So me streaming 1080p video to my TV from my PC wirelessly has been met with a few frowns from the people I share my abode with.
The second limitation was the interface on my TV. If you have a little bit of media on a storage device or on a shared folder on a PC, the interface is perfect. But if you have a large media library, searching through folders to display content on the TV is time consuming.
There are free tools such as Serviio which you can download to help coordinate your shared folders across multiple devices, but this won’t eliminate the dependency of streaming content wirelessly over a network.
I thought “there must be a better way of doing this”, so with the trusty aid of Google I came across XBMC.
XBMC is a free and open source cross platform media center designed to be used with HTPC (Home Theater PC).
“XBMC was originally created as a media center application for the original Xbox game console but is today officially available as a native application for Android, Linux,BSD, Mac OS X, iOS, and Microsoft Windows operating systems. It is also available as a bootable Live CD and Live USB standalone version referred to asXBMCbuntu,”
- source Wikipedia
So with that in mind and having hours to kill at home, I decided to build a PC to run XBMC (if your wondering why I just didn’t simply buy a better router, the following will justify my logic).
I won’t go into the PC build in detail as that needs a standalone article. But I based the spec on the PC being able to manage 1080p video (something my laptop is unable to do) and to run games (again something my laptop struggles with).
Once the ordeal of building a PC was complete and Windows 7 was up and running I was able to begin getting XBMC set up.
Getting XBMC onto your Computer
Get yourself over to http://xbmc.org/download/ and install the specific version of XBMC for your system (there are iOS and Apple TV versions but this will require you to jail break your device).
Once downloaded, install the .exe as you would do any other program. And in it’s basic form XBMC is ready to go. The default skins are great, but the truely beautiful thing about XBMC is the levels of customisation you can have. For instance once you link XBMC to your folder with your movies; XBMC can scrape websites such as IMDB to pull film synopses, artwork and even link to the theatrical trailer for each individual title. XBMC will also do this for music, TV shows and games.
Getting all additional content on XBMC with your files can be tricky, but I’ll explain the route I took to get up and running.
Getting Your Media Ready
I’ll focus on Films and TV for this. Music is fairly self explanatory, and most of you should have experience of renaming albums and tracks to get artwork from iTunes.
TV episodes have to be labelled in a certain way for XBMC to obtain artwork and episode synopses. For all my TV shows I have one main folder titled ‘TV Shows’ and within that a sub folder for each individual show i.e ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘The Sopranos’, ‘The Wire’ etc. In each of these folders, all episode files are contained. You won’t need a separate folder within to distinguish each series/season but you will need to have files labelled in the following way:
For ‘Breaking Bad’, there are 5 seasons. Episode one of season one has to be labelled: Breaking.Bad.S01.E01. Episode 2 would be: Breaking.Bad.S01.E02 and so on… Most issues of XBMC not picking up art or episode guides stem from poor labeling.
The only issue I encountered with naming was for one-off special episodes. Art work was not pulled through for these. However, If you treat ‘specials’ as Season 0 and then use thetvdb.com to match the episode with the number assigned to it in tvdb.com, you can get the desired result.
Films are a little more straight forward. Just name the file as per the title in IMDB. For remakes such as Clash of The Titans add in the year number so XBMC pulls through the correct data e.g Clash Of The Titans 2010.avi. I don’t think IMDB is the default scraper from memory, but I’ll explain how to set up scrapers next.
Get A New XBMC Skin and File Repository
As mentioned the benefit of having XBMC is the amount of customisation. And the good thing about the program being open source is that someone has already done the job for you.
Adding new Skins and File Repositories will allow you to access further programs to aid you in this process. I have favoured XBMC Aeon 3.0 because I like the look of it. But other equally appealling Skins are available. Tim Brooks has picked his 5 favourites, so you can get an idea of what each looks like here.
A good directory of repos and skins can be found here. They’ll be in a zip or rar file and you don’t need to extract the content. I just saved the zip/rar folder in ProgramFiles/XBMC/Addons. And then I opened the package in XBMC. Once your repos have been added you can then go through and add the individual programs you want. Good ones to start with are Advance Launcher (you can open .exe files from XBMC such as web browsers and games), YouTube, ROM Collector (to launch video game emulators), IMDB and Last FM (for scrapping music and film art and synopses).
Adding skins and repos is very easy. I’ve stolen the next few paragraphs from the XBMC wiki as it’s difficult to write up!
The Add-on manager is a feature introduced in the XBMC 10.0 “Dharma” release. It’s purpose is to manage the various add-ons to the XBMC application.
The Add-ons manager can be browsed like any other XBMC section and the various Add-ons installed/uninstalled, enable/disabled etc. The default function is to have the Add-ons manager Auto update all installed Add-ons when new versions are available from a centralized repository. In the official skin Confluence, it is done by executing a “Left” action to bring up a slide in submenu and deselecting “Auto update”. There you can also disable to be notified if new versions are available and when they are updated.
How to access Add-ons
- Left – Step 1: Scroll down to “Settings” and click it.
- Right – Step 2: Scroll down to “Add-ons” and click it.
- Step 3: XBMC displays three options (explained below)
Enabled add-ons are add-ons that are currently enabled. XBMC comes with certain add-ons already installed and enabled (such as movie scrapers, screen-savers and visualisation). Get add-ons allows the user to install new add-ons from the repositories installed. XBMC comes with one repository pre-installed (the official repository) others can be added adding a Repository. Install from Zip file allows the installation of an add-on from a zip file.
How to install Add-ons from a repository
For this example a skin is being installed, the same method is used for other add-ons.
- Left – Step 1: Click “Get add-ons”
- Right – Step 2: Click into the repository you want to install from
- Left – Step 3: Scroll down to “skins” and click it
- Right – Step 4: Click the skin you want to install (in this example it is “Night”)
- Step 5: A summary dialog will be brought up allowing you see various properties of the add-on. Click “install” to begin automatic downloading and installing.
When the add-on has finished downloading XBMC will enable it and depending on the add-on it will ask if you want to start using it. Add-ons will then appear in their appropriate section (e.g. skins in the appearance section of settings, movie scrapers in the options of scrapers when adding a new movie source)
How to install from zip
In this example the hitcher repository is being installed, but the method is the same for other repositories or add-ons. First download the zip file.
- Left – Step 1: Click Install from ZIP file
- Right – Step 2: Navigate to the ZIP file (in this example it is in the desktop) and click on it.
- Left – Step 3: In the bottom right, XBMC notifies when the add-on is installed and enabled. Click intoGet Add-ons.
- Right – Step 4: A new repository is listed.
Adding Media to XBMC
Now your media is labelled and you have the repos installed in XBMC you can begin to add the paths to folders in XBMC. If you we’re impatient and skipped the “Getting Your Media Ready” section. Go back and read it, otherwise this part will become a chore (believe me it took 4 attempts to get this right because I couldn’t be bothered to go through XBMC FAQ).
Again lets focus on TV and Films as this can be the most trouble some if done incorrectly. Go to the video section of XBMC and go to video section.
- Left – Step 1: Click “Videos” in the home screen menu.
- Right – Step 2: Now click “Add Source”.
- Left – Step 3: The “Add Video Source” screen will be displayed. Then click the “Browse” button.
- Right – Step 4: Now browse to where you keep your videos stored. Once you have found the folder you keep your videos in, click the “OK” button. If you keep them shared on a network drive, read theConfiguring PC Shares article for more information about setting up a share on your computer first.
- Left – Step 5: Name this Video Source however you like. If it is a movie folder, you will probably want to name it “Movies”, and if it is a TV Show folder then you will probably want name it TV Shows. The name doesn’t matter to XBMC. Then click “OK”.
- Right – Step 6: The set content window will display, this is where you tell XBMC what type of media is in the folder. Press the down arrow until you reach the correct type (in this example movies)
- Left – Step 7: There are a number of options underneath, see Setting content and scanning to check what options to enable. Then click “OK”
- Right – Step 8: Press Yes the scan the content to the library (if no is pressed, it can be scanned later).
You can apply the above principles for both Music and Games.
This should be enough to get yourself up and running. help is always available on XBMC Wiki if you do get stuck. Drop a comment below and I may be able to help you also. I’d be good to see what you’ve done also, so send over pics of your display once your done.
Here’s some more articles you might like:
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