XBMC Media Center – Installed on a PC

XBMC Tutorial Video

XBMC Tutorial Video

Part 1: Installation

iTunes models a lot of what I want from my PC-on-the-TV experience. It can be tasked to hunt down compatible media and add that to its library. In media-center speak ‘library’ does not refer to the “books” but to the “card catalog.” The library is the database that associates the actual media file with additional data like cover art, genre, artist, etc. If asked, iTunes will then copy all of the media files and arrange them in folders according to “the iTunes way.” It is sort of like hiring a librarian to go into your attic, make copies of all your books, and then shelve them in your den according to the Dewey decimal system. But it gets better. Imagine that some of your books are missing covers or title sheets. The librarian researches the original cover and publisher info and then adds copies of those before shelving the books in the den. Pretty sweet, right? Oh, but there’s more. Let’s say this librarian can answer questions (filter) like, Which of my books were published in New York? What books do I have with the word ‘MacDonald’ in the publication info? The librarian answers you – instantly. Which are romance? Instant answer. Plus, the librarian presents the books that meet your criteria to you in a sexy way. (Insert your own image of what that means here.) Oh, that’s the book you want? Let me read it to you.

That’s the good. The bad is that some of the books in your attic are written in French, German, Spanish, Latin, Greek, etc. As good as this librarian is, if the book is not in one of the librarian’s languages, it gets ignored. It is left in the attic and not shelved. It isn’t even cataloged. If you want one of those, you can very well hunt through the pile for yourself.

Clearly, the more languages the librarian understands, the better this system works. In my next post, we’ll look at how all of this relates to making your media, your PC, and your TV get along.

I don’t just want books, but everything in my electronic attic to be given the old librarian-attic cleaner treatment. Now iTunes works pretty well here for music, audiobooks and anything purchased from the iTunes store. Unfortunately, it is a librarian whose languages are quite limited. What it does, it does well.

But I have DVDs, old Tivo recordings, internet videos, pictures, and home movies to think about also. The bad news is that no software will do for these media what iTunes does for the rest of my stuff for free. iTunes Genius only plays songs I already own. What if I want to hear new music suited to my taste? What if I want to see the photos on my facebook wall displayed on the TV? or watch movie trailers? I’ve never been too thrilled with the iTunes internet radio interface either.

Sadly, even the best software just lists what is on my computer without arranging the media in a manner optimal for the service. I used to work with two guys. One of them had every surface in his office covered with papers and books. Chairs, desktop, bookshelves, filing cabinets, everything was buried under seeming chaos. But if you ask him about the article he referenced in his presentation last fall, he will walk to one of the piles, reach two thirds of the way down and pull that article out for you. As long as you don’t change colleagues, the article is handy. The other guy thought it was funny to go in to the first guy’s office and rearrange a couple of piles. The first guy’s discomfiture was hilarious to the second guy. Most media software work on the messy office principle. The software can find your stuff. It just isn’t going to straighten it out for you. And if a file gets moved, you have to tell the software where to find it. Programs like Movienizer, My Movies 2, MediaMan, DVD Profiler, etc. fit into this category. They can find your stuff for you, but if you change programs, everything has to be laboriously re-indexed.

Worse still, if I want my media center software to know the difference between a TV show and a movie, I’m the one who has to make sure that the folder structure and filename comply with standards. You might justifiably ask why I would clean out and organize my own attic. The payoff is that I can sit beside my wife in front of the TV and scroll through easy-to-see thumbnails and media descriptions that allow us to deside what we want to listen to or watch next. I could do that with MediaMan (or Movienizer), but I would still be limited to media I own and an interface designed for a PC screen not a TV screen. If you thought iTunes coverflow was sexy, wait until you see XBMC sporting its little black MediaStream skin. Oh, baby.

So, if I want to bring that sexy thing into my home. I’m going to have to straighten up first. In my next post, I’ll talk about the grunt work of preparing the file folder structure and filenames in such a way that your media center software will be all a twitter.

For now, follow my video and install XBMC on your Windows computer.   Just don’t run it until we have our media organized properly or it will take forever to untangle XBMC and make it the great tool it has the potential to be.

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