How to Customize XBMC 13 Gotham with All the Bells and Whistles

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Jun 20th, 2014
How to Customize XBMC 13 Gotham with All the Bells and Whistles

The latest XBMC version 13.1 (Codename Gotham) is a great media center software. However, like many other open source projects, it is driven by a very technical community, and it is not necessarily user-friendly enough for the average person to use and customize.

Fortunately, with a bit of time and the right skin, you can set things up properly and make XBMC very user-friendly and rock solid.

I have spent countless hours crawling all the forums and websites, trying to get the live TV setup, premium online content, automatic light control, and all the other settings right.

In this extensive and updated guide, I will walk you through the relevant customization tips and tricks needed to take your new XBMC 13 Gotham installation to the next level.

If you need to print this guide, I have also created a 32-page PDF version, so be sure to download it here for free.

You’ll learn how to

This guide is written to be read from start to finish, but you can jump ahead using the links in the table of contents, if you feel like you have the basics covered.

The latest XBMC version 13 brings some interesting features, but in the following chapters, you will also find all the tips that were already available on the previous version 12.0 (Codename Frodo).

Reading this article will take about 10 minutes. So, let’s dive right in…

Install XBMC

OS_alternatives

You can download the latest Gotham v13 version from xbmc.org. If you have an older version of XBMC, such as Eden v11 or Frodo v12, you can simply install the new version over the old one. Your settings and media library should be preserved during an upgrade.

The XBMC Media Center is a truly multi device platform, and it can be ran on many different hardware. Here are my popular installation guides for Windows, Linux, Raspberry Pi, and Android platforms.

Windows In this guide, you will learn how to start XBMC automatically
when Windows 8 or 8.1 boots up and how to keep on focus.
Linux In this simple guide, I will show you the steps to install
Linux-based OpenELEC OS in less than 15 minutes.
Raspberry In this tutorial, you will learn how to build a lightweight HTPC
by installing Raspberry Pi XBMC distribution called Raspbmc.
Android In this guide to set up Android-based Ouya, I will show you
easy and advanced ways to set up XBMC on Android.

 

Configure XBMC settings

After installing the XBMC and launching it for the first time, it is good to perform these basic configuration steps.

Disable RSS feed

An RSS feed that scrolls at the bottom of the screen consumes a little computing performance and can be irritating over time, so I would recommend disabling it, unless you really need it.

1_disable_rss2

1 In the XBMC main menu, go to System > Settings.
2 Select the Appearance tab to configure appereance settings.
3 In the skin tab, scroll down and disable show RSS news feed.
4 Now, go back to the main menu by pressing the back key on
the remote control or ESC-key on the keyboard.

 

Change language and timezone

You may want to change the language of the user interface or select the formats for temperature, time, and date.

2_regional_settings

1 Go to System > Settings > Appearance.
2 Select the second tab called International. Select Language
to change it and then select Region.
3 Select the suitable region from the list.
4 Now, your system clock will show the correct time.

 

Configure Weather settings

Next, let’s configure Weather settings for your location.

3_1_configure_weather

1 Go to System > Settings > Weather.
2 Select “Service for Weather Information”.
3 Select “Get More…”
4 Select “Weather Underground” add-on.

 

3_2_configure_weather

5 Select “Install”.
6 After installation is completed, go back to System >
Settings > General > Service for weather information
and select “Weather Underground” from the list.
7 Next, in the General tab, select “Settings”.
8 Click the Enabled button and search for your city in the
Location 1. Press “OK”, once you have located your city.

 

Now, you will find Weather menu in the home screen.

How to enable audio if it is not working

It is fairly common that after a fresh install the audio is not working. This can be easily fixed by following these steps:

4_no_sound

1 Go to System > Settings > System > Audio output.
2 Set the Audio output device to the output you are using.

 

Set Up a Media Library

If you don’t have much content yet, you can download this free Big Buck Bunny short movie in various formats to test your system.

There are many ways to organize your media collection. For example, I am using a Network Attached Storage (NAS) where I have set the folder structure as follows:

In order to set up your media library, you will need to add sources to video, music, and photo menus.

5_1_add_sources

1 Go to videos in the home screen menu and select “Files”.
2 Select “Add Videos” and “Browse” in the add video source.
3 Browse to the folder where your media files are stored. If
your files are located on a network attached storage, you
will need to add the SMB or NFS share from the NAS server.
4 Rename the media source, if needed, and select “OK”.

 

5_2_add_sources

5 In the set content window, you can set the type of media.
XBMC will automatically scrape the movie, TV show, or music
information after you have set up the media content.
6 If your movies are located in separate folders, enable
“Movies are in separate folders that match the movie title”.
7 Confirm Yes in the Change content question.
8 Now, you can go back to main menu where you will find a
new “Movies” menu with your recently added movies.

 

If you wish to check for new media files on XBMC startup, go to System > Settings > Video > Library and enable “Update library on startup”. You can also select “Hide progress of library updates” if you do not wish to see the progress indicator everytime the library gets updated.

Tip! You should take the time to rename movie folders with correct
titles to avoid wasting time when downloading incorrect covers.

 

Enable AirPlay

Airplay allows you to play music or video from your iPhone, iPad, and other iOS devices.

enable_airplay

1 First, go to the “Services” tab under the “System” menu.
Then, navigate to the “Zeroconf” settings menu and enable
“Announce these services to other systems” via zeroconf.
2 Next, go to Airplay and enable the “Allow XBMC to receive
AirPlay content”.

 

In order to play video or music, select the “AirPlay” icon in the lower-right corner of the application on your iOS device and choose your XBMC device from the list.

Customize Every Inch

The great thing about XBMC is that it is highly customizable. In this section, you will learn useful tips to customize every inch of your media center.

Change media library views

You can change the way you present the media library, if you do not like the default view in the movie, music, and photo library.

change_view

1 Go to movie, music, or photo library.
2 Open the panel by pressing the left key to view options.
3 Click “View” to change the view to thumbnail, poster, fanart,
and many other ways your media will be presented.
4 You can also change the way media is sorted by changing
the “Sort by” option.

 

Create Custom Playlists and Filters

Smart playlists are a little-known and used feature. The smart playlist allows you to filter, for example movies based on certain criteria. This can be used to create a custom playlist and menu for children’s movies or filter only HD movies from your media library.

As an example, let’s create a smart playlist for kids movies.

smartplaylist1

1 Select videos and go back to root folder by clicking the “..”.
2 Select “Playlists”.
3 Select “New smart playlist…”
4 Select the type of the media, for example movie, and enter a
title for the smart playlist, such as, “Kids Videos”.

 

smartplaylist2

5 Click “New rule…” and set the criteria for the filter. For
example, I selected all movies where genre is equal
to animation.
6 Select “OK” to save your new smart playlist.
7 Now you can see your new playlist in the file browser.
8 Here is an example of how my Kids Videos playlist looks like.

 

Alternatively, you can use the Advanced Library Filtering which allows you to filter movies by title, genre, and much more. You can find the Filter option by pressing the left -key in the movie library and then selecting “Filter”.

Tip! You can create a playlist to filter only HD movies with this rule:
Find items where “Video resolution is greater than 700″.

 

Show movies as collections

If you have a collection of movies, such as a trilogy of movies, you can also show them as collection.

movie_set

1 Go to System > Settings > Video > Library.
Enable “Group movies in sets”.
2 Go back to your movie library, and you will find that all
sequels have been grouped as collections.

 

Install Must Have Add-ons

In order to get the most out of your HTPC, there are many add-ons that will add more functionality to the XBMC. In this list, you will find the top 10 most useful add-ons that will allow you to bring Netflix, YouTube, Spotify, and many other online services to your media center.

You can install official add-ons by following these steps:

official_add_ons

1 Go to “System > Add-ons.
2 Go to “Get Add-ons > XBMC.org Add-ons > Video Add-ons”
to, for example, add YouTube add-ons.
3 Click on the add-on and select install to download it.
4 You can go back to videos menu, and you will find the new
YouTube add-on under the Video Add-ons folder.

 

There are also many other add-ons that are not available in the official XBMC repository.

Access all music on Spotify with Spotimc

spotimc

You can install Spotimc add-on (download from here) for streaming online music from the Spotify by following these steps:

unofficial_add_ons

1 Go to “System > Add-ons.
2 Select “Install from zip file”.
3 Browse the folder where you have stored the downloaded
file. Select the zip file, and XBMC will automatically
install Spotimc.
4 You can go back to music menu, and you will find the new
Spotimc add-on under the Music Add-ons folder.

 

Turn your media library as an EPG with PseudoTV Live

pseudotv_cover

PseudoTV Live is a fantastic add-on that gives you the ability to define your own TV channels and watch all of your movies and TV shows just as you would watch normal cable. You can use the electronic program guide (EPG) to get inspired on what to watch next.

According to my tests, the latest version of the Pseudo TV Live works fine with Gotham edition. You can download here the PseudoTV Live add-on for XBMC.

pseudotv_steps

1 Go to “System > Add-ons and select “Install from zip file”.
Browse the folder where you have stored the downloaded
script.pseudotv.live-master.zip file. Select the zip file,
and XBMC will automatically install PseudoTV.
2 Go back to Programs menu and launch the PseudoTV.
3 PseudoTV for to first time will prepopulate the EPG
based on your media library.
Press the ENTER-key to access the EPG.
4 Press the ESC-key to exit the PseudoTV. Customize the
settings and categories by pressing the C-key on in the
Programs menu and selecting Add-on settings.
Select “Open Channel Configuration” to configure
channel categories.

 

View photos with an Apple TV like screensaver

screensaver

I would recommend to check out a Multi Slideshow Screensaver add-on that allows you to view your family photos while listening to music. This add-on can be found from the official XBMC add-on repository.

screensaver_steps

1 Go to System > Appearance > Screensaver and select
Screensaver mode. Select “Get more…” and install
Multi Slideshow Screensaver from the list.
2 Go back to System > Appearance > Screensaver and select
Screensaver mode. Enable Multi Slideshow Screensaver
from the list.
3 Below the Screensaver mode, select “Settings”.
In the mode tab, change the screensaver to AppleTVLike.
I would recommend to change the Image Concurrency to
4 or 5. Next, go to Image Source tab and set the source
as Folder and locate the folder where you have stored
the photos. Select “OK” to save settings.
4 Now, you can test the screensaver by selecting
the Preview.

 

Dim your lights with the ambilight add-on

Ambi2

You can also control your lights with XBMC. I’m using Philips Hue lights to create my own Ambilight TV with XBMC.

The add-on is called XBMC Hue Ambilight that allows you to dim lights when a movie starts and put lights back on when the movie stops, or you press the pause button. Furthermore, you can use the Ambilight add-on to find average colours on the movie and use lights behind your TV.

According to my tests, Philips Hue works very nicely with the XBMC Hue Ambilight add-on. When I press play button, it will automatically dim other lights in my living room and start the ambilight behind the TV.

What you’ll need:

Installing Philips Hue is very simple. First, screw in your hue bulbs and turn on your light switches. Then, plug in the hue bridge and connect to your Wi-Fi router.

Now, let’s continue configuring XBMC with the Hue Ambilight add-on.

Ambi_steps

1 Download the XBMC add-on script.module.requests add-on.
In XBMC, go to System > Add-ons > Install from zip file.
Select the script.module.requests-master.zip file.
2 Download XBMC Hue Ambilight add-on.
Go to System > Add-ons > Install from zip file.
Select the script.xbmc.hue.ambilight-master.zip file.
3 Restart XBMC and go to System > Add-ons >
Enabled add-ons -> Services -> XBMC Philips Hue.
4 Select “Click me for automatic configuration”.
Save configuration by selecting the OK button.

 

Install PVR Back-end Software

In this section, you will learn alternative ways to install a back-end PVR software. I’ll assume that you already have a USB TV tuner or network TV tuner such as HDHomeRun.

First, let’s install and configure Tvheadend client on Linux and then DVBLink client on Windows.

You can choose which method to follow, depending on your operating system.

Tvheadend on Linux-based computer

The XBMC includes only a front-end client support for watching live TV. In practice, this means you will need to have a back-end TV server running on the same computer in the background or in a separate media server.

I would recommend using a separate back-end as a TV server, as it adds flexibility when you want to watch live TV from several devices, such as Raspberry Pi and bedroom HTPCs. One way is to integrate a Network Attached Storage and TV server into the same computer. I have previously covered installation procedure in detail using an unRAID server with Tvheadend.

Alternatively, you can use a Linux-based OpenELEC operating system or Raspbmc on Raspberry Pi that comes with pre-installed Tvheadend server.

Here, you can find a complete tutorial to install and configure Tvheadend back-end.

DVBLink on Windows-based computer

dvblink

There are several alternative TV clients for Windows, such as Argus TV, DVBLink, DVBViewer, NextPVR, MediaPortal and ServerWMC. While all of these options can work for you, my personal favorite is DVBLink Server because it supports automatic TV series recording and allows you to watch your live TV shows on iOS, Android or Windows Phone among other nice features.

I’m currently preparing a full guide for setting up DVBLink on a Windows-based computer, but meanwhile, you can follow the installation instructions on the DVBLogic’s wikipage.

Enable PVR Support (Watch Live TV)

pvr_clients

After you have built and configured the back-end server, it is time to configure the front-end server.

In order to set up the PVR client, follow these steps:

    • Go to the System from the main menu.
    • Select “Live TV” and click “Enabled” on the right-hand side of the screen.
    • You will be prompted with a list of PVR clients.

Tvheadend

    • Choose Tvheadend HTSP client, if you have a Linux-based back-end.
    • Select “Configure” and change the Tvheadend hostname or IP address according to your back-end’s IP address.
    • Select “OK” and then click “Enable” to start the PVR service.

DVBLink

  • Choose DVBLink PVR Client, if you are using DVBLink on Windows.
  • If you are running DVBLink on a different computer, select “Configure” and change the server address according to your back-end’s IP address.
  • Enable timeshift with live TV from the Stream tab, if needed.
  • Select “OK” and then click “Enable” to start the PVR service.

Now, XBMC should start importing the EPG from clients. Go back to the main menu and choose live TV to start watching the video stream.

Tip! Enable video deinterlacing option for smoother live TV playback.
Select on-screen “Video Settings” and set “Deinterlace video = On”.

 

Add Netflix, Hulu, and Other Premium Channels

playon_screenshot

While there are free plugins to get Netflix (XBMC Flicks plugin), Hulu (link to a 3rd party repository), and other online services working with XBMC, most of them are quite buggy and limited in terms of functionality. For example, the Netflix plugin only launches the Netflix website on a separate internet browser window.

The easiest way to add almost 60 channels of premium content to XBMC is with the PlayOn Media Server software for Windows. With the PlayOn Media Server running, you can stream online shows and movies via an UPnP share to other XBMC powered computers (e.g. Raspberry Pi) on your home network. PlayOn costs a one-time fee of $59.99.

I have written a complete tutorial on how to install and set up PlayOn Media Server, but below you will find the summary of the main configuration steps:

playon_setup

  • Download and install the PlayOn media server (30-Day Money Back Guarantee).
  • Configure the PlayOn settings, if needed, and input your Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, Amazon VOD, and other account details in the Channels tab.
  • In XBMC, go to Videos menu and Add new Video source.
  • In the Video source settings, browse for the media locations.
  • Select “UPnP Devices” from the media source list.
  • Select “PlayOn” (your computer name).
  • Select “OK”.

Now, go to “Videos > Files > PlayOn (your computer name)” and start browsing through the list of media services and streaming movies.

Once you have the PlayOn media server running on a Windows PC, you can watch Netflix, Hulu, etc. on Raspberry Pi and Linux PCs.

Tip! You can access Netflix and Hulu from any country with a great DNS
redirection tool called UnblockUS. Try UnblockUS for free here.

 

Improve the Overall Look with a New Skin

Amber

While the default Confluence skin has developed well in the past years, there are many beautiful skins, such as Ace, Aeon Nox, Aeon MQ5, Amber, Bello, SiO2 and Xperience 1080 that will improve the overall look of your user interface.

I have listed the top 5 XBMC skins that you should try to find out which one fits to your preferences.

In this guide, I am using a skin called Amber that works very well on all different platforms, including Raspberry Pi.

Let’s go through the steps to customize Amber skin.

install_skin

1 Go to System > Appearance.
2 In the Skin tab, click “Skin” which shows Confluence.
3 Click “Get More…” to show the list of all available skins.
4 Select “Amber” skin from the list.
5 Select “Install” to start downloading the skin.
6 Click “Yes” to change to the new skin once prompted.

 

Customize your main menu

Are you watching YouTube videos or playing Spotify all the time? Why not to set up your favorite add-ons and folders into the main menu for quicker access.

In this example, I will show you how to add Spotify add-on to main menu using the Amber skin.

Amber_spotify

1 First, let’s add Spotimc add-on as a favourite.
Go to Music > Music Add-ons and press the C-key to
show the context menu. Select “Add to favourites”.
2 Go to Settings > Home Menu and select the first empty
menu item to customize it.
3 Select “Spotimc” add-on from the list. You can then rename
the title e.g. to Spotify if you want.
4 Next, let’s modify the background for the Spotify menu item.
Go to Settings > Backgrounds and edit background
for media type “Spotify”.
5 Select the single image button and locate the preferred
image from your computer.
6 Now you can go back to main menu, and the new Spotify
menu item has been added with a custom background.

 

Integrate with Plex Media Server

If you want to have an easy way to consume media files around your home, I would recommend to use Plex Media Server as a back-end. If you don’t have the Plex Media Server already running, you can follow this guide to set it up.

You can integrate XBMC with Plex using the Plexbmc add-on which integrates nicely to XBMC when using skin such as Amber.

You can download here the Plexbmc repository.

Let’s go through the steps to install and set up the Plexbmc add-on.

Plexbmc_v2

1 Go to Settings > XBMC > Add-ons.
2 Select “Install from zip file” and locate the file
“repository.plexbmc.addons-3.0.0.zip”.
3 Now, select Get Add-ons > Plexbmc add-ons for XBMC >
Video Add-ons > Plexbmc.
4 Select “Install” to download and install Plexbmc.
5 To change the Plexbmc settings, go to Settings > XBMC >
Plexbmc settings. You can change the settings such as
selecting server or changing playback quality settings.
Remember to add the myplex user name and password.
6 Now, you can go to Plex from the main menu under
the Settings.

 

Integrate with MediaBrowser 3 Server

mb3

MediaBrowser 3 is another alternative to centrally managing all your media files. MediaBrowser organizes your media files so that it never takes more than a few clicks to find the latest movie or TV show. In addition, you can set up customized views of your library for each member of your family with the ability to pause and resume from different devices.

You can use the XBMB3C add-on which links XBMC to the MediaBrowser 3 Server. If you have not installed MediaBrowser 3 Server already, you can follow these steps to install and configure it.

MB3_steps

1 To install this add-on, go to Settings > XBMC > Add-ons
Select Get add-ons > XBMC.org Add-ons > Video Add-ons >
XBMB3C. Select “Install”.
2 Once installation is completed, you can go to
Videos > Video Add-ons > XBMB3C to browse your movies.

 

Integrate Steam Big Picture with XBMC

Steam Launcher

If you want to play games on Windows-based HTPC, you can integrate Steam Big Picture with the XBMC main menu using a Steam Launcher add-on. I have written a complete guide to build your gaming HTPC, but here is the summary of the main steps.

You will need to download the following software:

After downloading and installing Steam, let’s continue to download and install the Steam Launcher add-on.

steam_steps

1 In XBMC, go to System > Add-ons > Install from ZIP file
and install script.steam.launcher-1.0.6.zip
2 Go back to home menu and select the Programs menu.
Press the C-key over Steam to enter the add-on settings
in the context menu.
3 Set the XBMC and Steam location under Windows.
Save Steam Launcher settings.
4 Now, you are ready to launch Steam for the first time.

 

Conclusion

Is XBMC worth it? It’s free and the best one out there. The most notable changes in XBMC 13 Gotham media center has definitely happened under the hood, making it a robust media center for anyone who wants to customize every inch of their media experience.

I hope you have found this comprehensive guide useful and you have learned some new tricks you can apply already today to delight and amaze your family and friends.

If you don’t have a HTPC yet and you would be interested in trying out the XBMC 13 Gotham, follow this Raspberry Pi tutorial to install and configure XBMC or my custom HTPC building guide to get started.

What’s Next?

What are you waiting for? Let’s start applying these tips in practice.

To make it easier to follow these steps, I have also created a 32-page PDF guide to customizing XBMC. You can download it here for free.

Need to print this guide?
Click here to download PDF version

 

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