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.
Reading this article will take about 10 minutes. So, let’s dive right in…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
|Tip!||You should take the time to rename movie folders with correct
titles to avoid wasting time when downloading incorrect covers.
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.
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:
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″.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Now, you are ready to proceed configuring the front-end in XBMC.
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:
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”.
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.
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”.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.