XBMC Media Centre Software, 10 Feet Tall and Twice as Wide…

So you’ve decided to build that media centre PC, spent the big dollars on the hardware, finished the marathon build, installed windows, now what. Very quickly you will find out that the normal windows interface isn’t so great when viewed on a TV, even a big TV. That’s where the 10 foot interfacemeaning visible from 10 feet away – of XBMC comes in. XBMC’s interface combined with the ability to bring together all of your hardware in the one place gives you the perfect way to work with you multi-media PC. Add in a remote control and you have the perfect multi media PC.

XBMC has a long history, starting out life as an upgrade to the original Xbox media playing software, a version for the old beast can still be downloaded. XBMC source code has been used as the framework for projects such as Boxee, MediaPortal, Plex, 9×9 Player, and Voddler. Many of these products display the “Designed for XBMC” or “Powered by XBMC” official XBMC logo denoting certified approval from the Team-XBMC developers and the XBMC Foundation.

XBMC has recently been upgraded to version 10.0. This latest version – called Dharma, hopefully not a Lost reference – brings all of the best customization features into the 10 foot interface. Now skins and plug-ins are selected from within the XBMC interface.

XBMC 10 Settings

Setup and installation is dead simple, download the latest version and install, job done. Once installed make sure an entry in Start up directory has been created – copy link in manually if not – to make sure XBMC starts when the PC is booted. To improve the picture ensure vsync is enabled in your video card driver and XBMC settings, adjust your over-scan.

The interface is clean and simple, everything is pretty standard, where it should be. The main menu is split into the usual Weather, Pictures, Music, Video, Settings, with all of the plug-in’s appearing under these main directories. The media drives you setup will each have an entry under the Picture, Music, Video menu’s. Initially getting your settings right can be a little tricky, v10.0 is by far the easiest so far. Once your happy with you settings it’s time for some plug-ins. These are added through the System > Add-Ons menu. Simply install the desired add-in.

When you look through the list of video plug-ins you start to see that XBMC is much more than just a video player, it is the key to the IP-TV revolution. With all of the desirable channels available XBMC is a full-on media hub, channels like G4TV, Hulu, Iplayer, NBC, Mythbusters, VideoMonky, YouTube. Most media devices available at the moment require a software upgrade to make use of different media sites but with XBMC it’s just a plug-in, install and away you go.

XBMC big menu

The thing that sets XBMC apart from the rest of the free media center software crowd is the community of users and developers actively working on XBMC, constantly coming up with additional software that makes living with XBMC really easy. Not only is there a large assortment of plug-ins but there is software that makes managing your media center PC easy. Many XBMC resources are available around the web built by this hyper-active community.

There are a number of commercial software packages that do the same thing, SageTV and SesamTVwhich has an extremely high end interface that needs a fast video card to really shine. Microsoft also includes Windows Media Center with some versions of windows and while it is good at the basics it doesn’t have the flexibility XBMC gains through the plug-in collection. So why spend good money when there is such a great piece of free software available. Also worth a mention is MythTV, an open source personal video recorder. This is essential media center PC software in it’s own right but also required to use TV Tuner cards with XBMC.

XBMC is by far the best software for the job, when it comes to making your media PC a functional consumer device XMBC is the business.