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XBMC mini review

Quite a while back my friend Aaron put me onto XBMC but at the time I was underwhelmed. I just couldn’t get it to do what I wanted. I’ve used Windows media center for a long time and with the addition of Media browser provides a rich content environment for seeing what movies are. But this has become increasingly unstable, complex and troublesome so I thought I would explore XBMC again. One of the nice things about XBMC is that it is now available on Android as well as other platforms. So I could use one common interface amongst many desperate devices, a PC, a laptop, a phone, a tablet etc. This has the potential to simplify life. So with this in mind I chose to give XBMC a try again.

Setup
Setup of XBMC takes some patience. For me a number of the things that XBMC has as defaults are at best not what I would choose. So you need to take some time to figure out what you want. On the positive side the interface is the same across platforms so once you figure it out you can do the same on all your devices.

The first thing you need to do is add content (videos, music, pictures etc), don’t forget to add both local content as well as network content. It doesn’t add local by default. In my home my content is behind Windows file shares, and then divided into directories. XBMC actually handles this arrangement well. You go into system file manager and add each of the separate file shares you have. The android version includes support for Windows file shares (SMB). Once you’ve added sources you then go into videos (pictures and music), files and add the specific directories that contain movies, and TV shows (as well as music). It’s best to have the TV shows and movies in separate directories so you can define the scraper for each area. Once you’ve added a video directory you next need to tell it the content type (movies, TV etc) and then choose a scraper. A scraper will go out and based on directory names attempt to find descriptions of the content. What’s the name of the movie, who’s in it, what’s the genre etc. This takes a bit of time, especially if your library is big. So be patient. The directories should be named according to the IMDB title or if there are special characters you can use the index number you see in the URL bar TTxxxx for example. The menu on the left side of the screen once you go into your movies (or TV shows) allows you to choose what you want to be displayed. The default is list but change it to what you want to get the look you want with the info you want displayed. Once you get this setup it is a rich environment with everything you need to know what is there and what you want to watch. TV shows should be divided into folders for seasons below the show. Season 1 etc. XBMC even supports DLNA client and server functionality once you’ve enabled it in system, settings, services, uPNP.

XBMC by default does not allow you to delete content once watched but this can easily be changed in system settings, appearance, file lists, allow renaming and deletion. From there you bring up the context menu and select remove from library and it will prompt you if you want to delete the files. For me this is a must for cleanliness. You can also allow XBMC to keep track of what’s watched.

Now if all this isn’t enough to make you go wow, they have a repository they have created called fusion. Fusion is not there by default but is easily added on all platforms. There’s lots of instructions out there for how to add fusion so I’m not going to replicate them here. Fusion allows you to stream content. Everything from movies, to TV etc. Fusion takes some patience. I found Icefilms one of the better ones inside fusion. It’s not perfect but when it works it can totally replace the need to download stuff. There’s one thing I wish for is the media content info to go with the content. So rather than look at a list of movies tell me what the movie is. Same thing it does for local content. If it did this it would be a total multi media piece of heaven. Even without this it really is great. Adding Fusion is challenging (the interface in this area is aweful with this small keyboard that is impossible without a mouse especially on small touch screens).

Controlling XBMC is a bit challenging. My windows media center remote works to some extent but you can’t enter names by T9 like interface the way you can in Windows media center. So a keyboard and mouse (especially wireless) comes in handy. If nothing else at setup time. There is an Android ap to remotely control XBMC but you need to go into system, settings, services webserver as well as remote control.

Add to all this goodness that there are now inexpensive Android on a stick devices that you can add to any HDMI TV and you have a cheap media content rich environment over WIFI.

So this time around I have been much more impressed with XBMC.

Update: I’ve been playing around with some more customizations of XBMC including changing the default video player for one that supports hardware acceleration. Doing this is not the easiest thing on the planet but can be done. I followed this article to add MPC-HC (which can play MKVs) as well as added lines to the config file to use the built in Windows media player. So for Windows 8 here’s my player config file that needs to be manually placed in %appdata%\XBMC\userdata\.

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February 17, 2013 - Posted by | Mutlimedia, Uncategorized

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