26 November, 2013

XBMC – When watching movies or TV shows is just easy - Part 1

It didn't start out like that, but this post will be divided into few parts. It's a bit too long for a single entry, in my opinion. So, here's the 1st part:

You probably watch movies on your PC now and then. You may also watch TV series there. I used to use quite a few different applications to do that over the years. I eventually went for the KISS approach (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and was using Windows Media Player with some codecs thrown in. It did its job quite well. Especially with my unwillingness to install extra software that was either bloated or not too user friendly (at least for my taste). That’s one of the reasons why I was avoiding VLC player, for instance. Even though it is extremely capable player and plays practically everything that you throw at it, it’s simply just a bit too ugly and just slightly less intuitive than what I want for my daily use.

With things like movies and TV shows I am a bit of a organizational freak as well as a hoarder. I like to have things arranged into seasons. I like to know if I have actually watched something already or not. I don’t mind if I can see some sort of art-work associated with that movie and/or TV show. And I also like to have English subtitles for everything. Even the shows that actually are in English. Sometimes you can’t watch stuff at full volume or with headphones and sometimes you don’t want to concentrate too much with unusual accents and subtitles can help out a lot.

One day I crossed my internet-browsing path with a piece of open source software called XBMC. It’s quite simply one of the best written pieces of software that I’ve ever used. Especially if you consider that it’s free of charge. I love using it and really cannot recommend it enough to anyone who uses PC to watch movies or TV shows.

It’s very likely that in the future I’ll delve into some additional use-cases and tweaks for XBMC, but for now, let me just explain how it works and in the following parts, how we can set it up.

Apart from its ability to let us watch movies or TV shows, XBMC can be used also to watch live TV. That does require either a TV tuner in your PC or an IP TV subscription. But on top of that you can also use it for your audio collection and listening pleasure as well as for watching pictures.
The whole program is extremely customizable and made with TV screens in mind. That means that it will work if you watch it from afar and does not require mouse as a primary (or indeed at all) method of interaction.
It also allows you to access media from any number of sources. Either local disks of your PC, network locations such as other PC shares or your NAS device that you may have somewhere at home or some other source.

Before you install XBMC it makes sense to check how your media files are stored and, if necessary make some adjustments. While you can have your movies stored on different location, as well as your TV series, it's best if the two types of files are not mixing on the same location.
For start let's assume that you will have two basic folders. You name one "Movies" and another "TV". Into each one you put your respective content. Again it's a good idea here to make subfolders with names that reflect titles of your media. For instance: "Star Trek The Next Generation". And in there you can dump all the files with episodes of that show. If you have more than one TV show it's fairly likely that you already have organization like this. For TV shows, if you wish, you can make subfolders for every season, but you don't really have to. After this you're ready for XBMC.

I hope this whets your appetite a bit :-)
Next time I'll go over the setup process and how we add some media into the player.


Part 2