Getting (Re)Acquainted with XBMC

Getting (Re)Acquainted with XBMC

Some of our readers have been using XBMC for years. Some of you have just picked it up. Some of you are using an alternative like Plex or Windows Media Center, and some of you are just starting to put together your HTPC setups and are trying to find the piece of software that will bring it all together

XBMC Eden is the software that can take a decent HTPC and make it an awesome HTPC, with access to all your local media in all the rooms of your house, and access to multiple online streaming sources to boot. All of this, and it runs on pretty much any operating system you have in your house.

This guide will show you how to get XBMC Eden installed on Windows 7 with minimal fuss and zero muss. It’ll also show you how to get your libraries added in, find and install add-ons or skins, and recommend some cool add-ons to trick out your setup. For those of you already using XBMC, you may pick up some tips and tricks you haven’t noticed yet. Only the installation section is Windows only, the rest should work across all XBMC-compatible operating systems.

Download and Install (Windows Instructions Only)

  • Go to http://xbmc.org/download/ and select the Windows orb to start your download of XBMC 11.o setup.
  • Run the xbmc-11.X.exe file that you’ve downloaded (X is 0 at the time of this article being published).
  • You can select the defaults through the installer, the one screen you might want a closer look at is here:

If this is your first time installing XBMC, you’ll want to leave everything checked, especially the DirectX and Microsoft packages. If you’re updating from Dharma, you can unselect those, but I recommend leaving them checked just in case.

  • When you’re done with that choice, you can choose the defaults for the rest of the installation.
  • When the installation finishes, go ahead and fire up XBMC.

Adding Your Libraries (should work for all OS)

These are instructions for adding your local video, picture and audio files into XBMC so that you can view and play them all from the goodness that is XBMC’s interface. We’ll be using the default skin (called Confluence) that is already installed and waiting for you. If you’ve already installed a different skin, don’t worry, these instructions should work for the majority of skins out there. If you want to install another skin, check out down below in the Skins and Addons section.

Adding movies:

  • From the XBMC main menu, use your mouse or keyboard to navigate to the “Videos” tab and select it.

  • Next select “Add Videos…” from the menu.
  • Now you’ll be choosing a source for your videos. You should have them in an accessible folder on this computer, or on a separate computer in a shared folder that’s accessible to this computer. Either way, click “Browse” to look through your computer and select the folder where you store your movies. (Not sure how your movie folder should be organized? Check out the Tips and Tricks section down below) You can also change the name for the source. By default it grabs the folder name (ex. “Z:\MOVIES\” would be named MOVIES).
  • Click OK when you’ve found and named your source.
  • Now you must set the content type. Click the up/down arrows in the “This directory contains” box to change the type. Change it to “(Movies)”. By default, XBMC uses The MovieDB to scrape movie details like plot, rating and also to download posters and fanart (I cover how to change scrapers down below in Tips and Tricks).
  • You’ll also want to be sure to check the following bubbles: ‘Run automated scan’, ‘Movies are in separate folders that match the movie title’ (assuming your library layout matches mine, see Tips and Tricks), ‘Scan recursively’

Make yours look like mine.

  • Click OK once you’ve got the proper settings checked. XBMC will begin scanning that directory for media.
  • XBMC will create the Movies sub-tab under the Videos tab on the main menu. If you go there you can now view all your movies in whatever view you choose (see “Changing views” in Tips and Tricks), with fanart, movie posters, ratings.

Adding TV:

  • From the XBMC main menu, use your mouse or keyboard to navigate to the “Videos” tab and select it.
  • Next select “Add Videos…” from the menu.
  • Now you’ll be choosing a source for your videos. You should have them in an accessible folder on this computer, or on a separate computer in a shared folder that’s accessible to this computer. Either way, click “Browse” to look through your computer and select the folder where you store your movies. (Not sure how your movie folder should be organized? Check out the Tips and Tricks section down below) You can also change the name for the source. By default it grabs the folder name (ex. “Z:\TV\” would be named TV).
  • Click OK when you’ve found and named your source.
  • Now you must set the content type. Click the up/down arrows in the “This directory contains” box to change the type. Change it to “(TV shows)”. By default, XBMC uses The TVDB to scrape movie details like plot, rating and also to download posters and fanart (I cover how to change scrapers down below in Tips and Tricks).
  • Be sure to check the following bubble: ‘Run automated scan’

Make yours look like mine.

  • Click OK once you’ve got the proper settings checked. XBMC will begin scanning that directory for media.
  • XBMC will create the TV shows sub-tab under the Videos tab on the main menu. If you go there you can now view all your shows in whatever view you choose (see “Changing views” in Tips and Tricks), with fanart, show/season posters, ratings.
Adding Music:
  • From the XBMC main menu, use your mouse or keyboard to navigate to the “Music” tab and select it.
  • Next select “Add source” from the menu.
  • Just like adding a movie and TV source, you now need to browse to the folder on your computer where you music library is and select it. You can also change the name for the source. By default it grabs the folder name (ex. “Z:\MUSIC\” would be named MUSIC).
  • After you’ve selected a source, hit OK.
  • Then, right-click on your source and choose “Scan item to Library”. This will add the items in that source to your music library, and attempt to find artist and album details for each track.
  • You’ll notice that the Music menu on the XBMC home screen now has various sub-menus, with different ways to view your music.

Skins and Add-ons

XBMC has the capability to expand it’s usefulness through the use of skins, which provide cosmetic changes, and add-ons which provide enhanced or new functions. You download skins and add-ons through repositories, which you can add to XBMC as add-on sources. XBMC already comes with one repository; the Official xbmc.org repo where you can find most skins and plenty of other cool stuff. However, some good add-ons aren’t in the official repository, and you must install other repositories to use them. I’ll go over adding other repositories, and then downloading new skins and add-ons in this section.

Installing 3rd Party Repositories

  • Thankfully there’s a tool to make this part easier, but it only works on Linux, Mac and Windows. If you’re running XBMC on something else (like iOS), sorry.
  • Go here: http://passion-xbmc.org/addons/?Page=View&ID=plugin.program.repo.installer and then click the download icon at the bottom of the page.
  • Save the zip file somewhere on your hard drive, but remember where.
  • From XBMC, go to System ->Settings -> Add-ons -> “Install from zip file”. Navigate to where you downloaded that zip from earlier and select it.
  • It will install quickly, and if you go back to the main menu and then choose “Programs”, you’ll see that the Repositories Installer is listed. Go ahead and click it.
  • It’ll take a few seconds to populate, but it will eventually show you a list of 3rd party repositories, or repositories that are filled with add-ons not officially made/endorsed by the XBMC team. Click on “Bluecop’s Repo” to install it, and click yes when prompted to overwrite any previous repositories.
  • Now, go back to System ->Settings -> Add-ons and this time choose “Get Add-ons”. You’ll see a list of repositories, including the new bluecop repo.

Installing Add-ons

  • Go to System ->Settings -> Add-ons and choose “Get Add-ons”. You’ll see a list of repositories. To test an installation, we’re going to download an add-on called XBMC Subtitles, which is used to download subtitles for your TV shows and movies from inside XBMC.
  • Choose the “XBMC.org Add-ons” repository.
  • Choose “Subtitles”.
  • Choose “XBMC Subtitles” to bring up the add-on info, and then click Install. XBMC may look like it’s not doing anything, but wait until you get a little pop up that says “XBMC Subtitles installed”.
  • To see what add-ons you have installed, you go back to System ->Settings -> Add-ons and choose “Enabled Add-ons”. We can see under “Subtitles” that the XBMC Subtitles add-on is indeed installed. If you click on an installed add-on, you can then choose to configure it, uninstall it, disable it, or roll it back to a previous version. Most add-ons have some configuration settings that you’ll want to check out.

 

 Installing Skins

  • You install skins in the exact same way as you install add-ons (see “Installing Add-ons” above). Select the XBMC.org repository and choose “Skin”.
  • You’ll see a list of available skins. For this example, we’re going to install “Transparency!”. Choose it from the list. When it’s done downloading and installing, you’ll be asked if you want to switch skins. Choose “Yes”
  • You’ll see immediately how much different XBMC can look. Go back to the Settings menu, and choose “Skin Settings”. This is where you can configure a lot of options for the skin you have installed, including background pictures, menu settings, add-on behavior, etc. I encourage some experimentation here until you get everything just right.
  • Don’t like the new skin? Want to switch back? Go to Settings -> Appearance and choose the Skin tab. Then, click the Skin option and select the skin you’d like to use. Confluence is the default skin if you want to return to it.

 

Recommended Add-ons

  • Free Cable (Bluecop Repository) – Aggregates streams organized by cable network
  • SportsDevil (MaxMusterman Repository) – Sports streaming from a number of sites
  • XBMC Subtitles (XBMC Repository) – Search and download subtitles from within XBMC
  • TV Show Next Aired (XBMC Repository) – Show next air date of TV shows, also gives weekly chart of air dates.

 

Tips and Tricks (should work for all OS)

Here I’ll discuss the little things that can make life with XBMC much easier. This is mostly personal preference, although some things like media folder organization is important to XBMC.

Movie Folder Structure

  • The folder where you keep your movies should have this structure in order to be optimally recognized by XBMC:

Or in other words: Your MOVIES folder should contain a Waterworld folder which should contain the actual Waterworld.avi media file (or .mkv or .mp4, etc) and any other files like subtitles. Your MOVIES folder would then have a different folder for each individual movie in your collection.

TV Folder Structure

  • The folder where you keep your TV shows should have this structure in order to be optimally recognized by XBMC:

Or in other words: Your TV folder contains a folder for each show. Each show folder contains a folder for each season. Each season folder contains the actual episode media files for that season, along with any other files (like subtitles).

Streaming XBMC over UPNP

This is a really cool function for XBMC that allows you to view or listen to your entire video or music library on devices that support UPNP like game consoles or Android/iOS phones and tablets. It’s something I use extensively for listening to music in my workshop via my Android phone. I’ll also occasionally watch an episode of something on my Android tabled while I’m up in bed. I can do all this while leaving the actual HTPC running XBMC down in the basement.

I’ve covered this functionality in a previous guide, so check it out here: XBMX UPnP Streaming Guide

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