How to Customize XBMC 12 Frodo with All the Bells and Whistles

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Jan 30th, 2013
How to Customize XBMC 12 Frodo with All the Bells and Whistles

The latest XBMC version 12.0 (Codename Frodo) is a great media center software, but like many other open source projects, it is driven by 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, and all the other settings right.

In this extensive guide, you will learn most of the relevant customization tips you need to know to take your new XBMC 12 Frodo installation to the next level.

The latest XBMC version 12 finally brings one of the most-requested features, ability to watch live TV. It is also the first stable build of XBMC for Raspberry Pi.

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

Table of Contents

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.

Tip! In this article, you will find practical tips, tricks and quick actions
that you can implement in your XBMC media center today.

 

Getting Started

New Features in Version 12.0 (Frodo)

  • Live TV and PVR/DVR support
  • HD audio support, thanks to new AudioEngine
  • Advanced Library Filtering allows filtering by title, genre, and much more
  • Custom video nodes to organize your media from the video menu
  • Video library tags which can be applied to movies
  • Improved UPnP support
  • AirPlay audio for Windows
  • Global language defaults for audio and subtitles.
  • Support for Hi10P (aka 10bit) playback of h.264 video files
  • “Latest added” now uses file dates instead of scanned date
  • Official support for Raspberry Pi
  • Initial support for the Android platform

Video Tutorial

The following video tutorial summarizes all the main points you will learn in this guide. In about 5 minutes, you will be able to customize the XBMC version 12. By the way, if you are interested, I am using this Intel Core i3 powered HTPC in this demonstration video.

The video went probably a bit too fast to learn all the steps at once, so let’s go through the main customization steps from start to finish.

Choose Your Hardware

The XBMC Media Center is a truly multi device platform, and it can be run on many different hardware.

Option 1. If you want to have the most versatile media experience including gaming, Blu-ray and DRM protected online video streaming, then it is recommended to build a Windows-based HTPC.

Option 2. If you want to have a light-weight media center that can play 1080p HD videos and record live TV, then you should consider this AMD powered XBMC hardware that is ideal for a Linux powered OpenELEC operating system.

Option 3. If you just want to have a media streamer to play and stream your media files, then you should consider getting a mini computer such as Raspberry Pi.

Installing XBMC

First, download the latest Frodo v12 version from xbmc.org. If you have an older version of XBMC such as Dharma v10 or Eden v11, you can simply install the new version over the old one. Your settings and media library should be preserved during an upgrade.

Tip! You can start XBMC automatically when Windows 8 starts and
keep on focus with this handy tool called XBMC Launcher.

 

Navigating XBMC

While you can use various controlling devices to navigate XBMC, you should know a few important keyboard bindings to get started.

The following quick cheat sheet includes the most common keys.

After you have finished configuring your media center, you can choose a suitable remote control to make it more user-friendly.

Tip! “C”-key will open the Context Menu to e.g. save your favorites.
“TAB”-key toggles full-screen modes (either visualization or video).

 

Set Up a Media Library

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

There are many ways to organize your media collection, but before proceeding adding media to your XBMC, you might want to take a look at these best practices to organize your media library.

For example, I am using a Network Attached Storage (NAS) where I have set the folder structure as follows:

Depending on what type of media you want to add, navigate to videos/music/photos in the home screen menu.

  • Select Add Source.
  • In the Add Source screen, select the Browse button.
  • 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 samba share. You can read more about setting up NAS server here.
  • Rename the media source if needed and select the OK button.
  • 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.
  • Select OK once you have set the content and scanning options.
Tip! You should take the time to rename movie folders with correct
titles to avoid wasting time when downloading incorrect covers.

 

Customize Every Inch

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

Create Custom Playlists and Filters

Smart playlists are little-known and used feature. The smart playlist allows you to filter e.g. 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.

In order to set up a smart playlist:

  • Select movie menu and go back to root folder by clicking the “..”.
  • Select “Playlists”
  • Select “New smart playlist”
  • Enter a title and create a rule
  • Select OK and you are done

Alternatively, you can use the new 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″.

 

Installing 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 in your media center.

You can browse the official add-ons by going to “System > Add-ons > Get Add-ons”. However, there are many unofficial add-ons that are not listed yet.

Excellent add-ons to get started to make XBMC more user friendly:

  • PseudoTV: This video add-on turns your video library to cable TV like virtual channels. The PseudoTV allows you to define your own TV channels and watch all of your movies and TV shows just as you would watch normal cable TV.
  • Spotimc: A music add-on that brings Spotify music service and access to millions of songs via the XBMC user interface. You will need to have the premium Spotify subscription in order to use this add-on, but it is definitely worth it.

After you have downloaded an unofficial third party add-on, just install it by going to “System > Add-ons > Install from zip file”. Then go back to the main menu, select Videos or Music menu and choose the Add-ons folder to locate the add-on.

Tip! You can download and install a Repositories Installer add-on
that will allow you to easily browse and install more add-ons.

 

Improve the Overall Look with a New Skin

While the default Confluence skin has developed well in the past years, there are many beautiful skins such as Aeon Nox and MQ4 that will improve the overall look of your user interface.

You can download the latest version of my current favorite, Aeon Nox and install it from the zip file. Please note that it will take a while after installing the skin before the XBMC prompts you to switch to the new skin.

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

My current favorite skins are:

The development community is very active at the moment and there are some new ones that you might not have seen yet. Please note that the skins listed below are still in alpha stage.

Tip! Disable RSS ticker to minimize CPU usage and power consumption.
Go to “System > Appearance > Skin >” Show RSS news feeds.

 

Install PVR Back-end Software

In this section, you will learn alternative ways to install a back-end PVR software. First, I will install and configure Tvheadend client on Linux and then NextPVR 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 that 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 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.

NextPVR on Windows-based computer

If you want to use a Windows-based back-end, then the simplest way is to get the NextPVR TV server software.

Download NextPVR software from www.nextpvr.com/downloads and install the downloaded NPVRSetup file.

After installing, follow these steps to configure your TV tuner in the NextPVR.

  • Launch NextPVR application.
  • Right hand click on the screen and select “settings”.
  • Go to Devices and select the TV tuner from the list.
  • Click Device Setup button and select your country and region.
  • Finish the configuration by clicking “Scan” under the Device Channels.
  • Create the live buffer temporary file. Located by default at C:\temp.
  • Test the video stream by selecting the live TV.

Now, you are ready to proceed configuring the front-end in XBMC.

Enable PVR Support (Watch Live TV)

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 Enable the PVR service.

NextPVR

  • Choose NextPVR client, if you are using NextPVR on Windows.
  • If you are running NextPVR on a different computer, select Configure and change the hostname or IP address according to your back-end’s IP address.
  • Enable timeshift with live TV from the Advanced tab, if needed.
  • Select OK and then Enable 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”.

 

Enable AirPlay

Airplay allows you to play music or video from your iPhone, iPad and other iOS devices. Thanks to the version 12, you can now use Airplay in Windows.

To enable this feature, go to the “Settings” tab under the “System” menu. Then navigate to the “Network” settings menu. Enable the “Allow XBMC to receive AirPlay content” option under the “Services” sub menu.

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

Add Blu-ray Playback

While the XBMC does not natively support Blu-ray playback, you can easily add this missing feature to your media center.

Just follow this guide to watch Blu-ray movies on XBMC using either a built-in MakeMKV method or an external Blu-ray playback software with an Advanced Launcher. You can download the Advanced Launcher here.

Tip! For Windows XBMC, you should disable full screen for advanced
launcher to work properly. Go to “Settings > System > Video Output”.

 

Add Netflix, Hulu and Other Premium Channels

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 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 is media server software for Windows. With 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 $39.99 (one-time fee).

  • 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 & Hulu from any country with a great DNS
redirection tool called UnblockUS. Try UnblockUS for free here.

 

Customize Your Main and Media Menus

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 a quick access.

Furthermore, remember to remove all the things you don’t like to use. Please refer to the demonstration video at the top of this article to see how the main menu customization can be done with Aeon Nox skin in practice.

Once you have finished customizing, it is recommended to enable a kiosk mode. This way, you or other users don’t accidentally modify settings and views.

In Aeon Nox skin, you can enable a kiosk mode as follows: “System > Skin > General > Kiosk mode: Disable in media menu and hide options in video info”.

Tip! In the movie section, click the left-arrow-key to change views.
Press the left-arrow-key two times to access to the shortcut bar.

 

Conclusion

A How To Infographic

Is XBMC worth it? It’s free and the best one out there. The most notable change in XBMC 12 Frodo media center is definitely the official PVR support for watching live TV.

In order to summarize this guide, I have created this simple infographic on how to customize XBMC in 7 steps. Please save this infographic image for your use and reference.

There are many great improvements under the hood, such as the AudioEngine for HD audio, but if you are already used to previous version (v11 Eden), you will feel comfortable with v12 from the beginning.

What’s Next?

If you don’t have a HTPC yet, and you would be interested in trying out the XBMC 12 Frodo, follow this Raspberry Pi tutorial to install and configure XBMC or my custom HTPC building guide to get a similar home theater computer like shown in the demonstration video below.

Now, you have learned the essential tips to customize the XBMC Media Center according to your preferences. What are you waiting for? Go and personalize it.

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