Home Theatre Pc Software And Operating Systems (Part 4) - XBMC

6/26/2012 11:35:32 AM


The most widely used competitor to WMC is XBMC. So named because it started off as a media application for the original Xbox console, XBMC has evolved to become one of the most sophisticated and slick HTPC applications available. Setup is simple; it's extremely lightweight and works surprisingly quickly on even modestly specified hardware. If you are using an entry-level laptop or Atom-based mini PC as your media PC solution, then XBMC has the low CPU usage requirements and small memory footprint you need in order to get the best results. XBMC supports all major operating systems including Windows, OSX, Linux and even jailbroken iOS and Apple TVs.

Description: XBMC media center

XBMC media center

Best of all there is a dedicated XBMC Linux distribution called XBMCbuntu. This is a lightweight Ubuntu based operating system with XBMC pre-loaded, it is absolutely perfect if you want to use an old or diminutively-specified PC as your HTPC, as its ultra-small footprint and low system requirements are far easier to run than a Windows 7 based OS.

XBMC is a free download from Each version is visually identical regardless of your chosen operating system or version, so regardless of what device you choose to use it on, the experience is the same. As standard the media bar is separated into six section - weather, pictures, videos, music, programs and system. There are plenty of different skins to choose from if the default isn't to your liking, but we are confident most will like its understated, appealing look.

Description:  (the old BETA 2 version can still be found

 (the old BETA 2 version can still be found

One of the best features of XBMC is its speed. Whether browsing files locally, or over a network, even vast lists of music or video files are displayed without the characteristic lag of many of the program's competitors. Power users with well-organised media folders will also relish the ability to actually pick and choose what media to play from a normal folder structure rather than being forced to add content to libraries and ensure that artist, album and track names for all of their content is accurate.

Description: XBMC Turns Your Mac into the Ultimate Media Center

XBMC Turns Your Mac into the Ultimate Media Center

XBMC's video player works perfectly with the vast majority of downloaded video file formats and is far more forgiving of unusual codec combinations that the super-picky Microsoft alternative requires. Even on an aging operating system like Windows XP, you'll just need to install XBMC and it will be ready to play back even .mkv files no problem. Other features like the ability to adjust the audio delay for files where the audio loses sync with the picture are also incredibly useful, and can turn otherwise useless downloads into watchable content.

For playing back music, XBMC comes with a wide array of really beautiful visualisations. These kinds of visual accompaniments to your music are not for everyone but if, like us, you'd rather not just stare at the title of the track while the music plays back it is a very welcome addition.

A criticism long levelled at XBMC was a lack of support for hardware acceleration for video playback, but this is now included in later builds and greatly assists older hardware not capable of decoding full HD content using the CPU alone. There is no getting away from the fact that XBMC is an enthusiast grade application, however. If you are new to watching multimedia on your PC you may find the sheer scale of customisation and information available intimidating. Endure the initial steep learning curve however and you will be justly rewarded with an exceptional application.

Description: The open source nature of XBMC

The open source nature of XBMC

The open source nature of XBMC means that there are now literally hundreds of add-ons available. Want to check your Gmail from within the application? Want a bit torrent client accessible from within the XBMC interface? No problem. If there's a function you wish XBMC supported that it currently doesn't, the chances are that someone within the open source development community is working on it, or its already available via the add-on page of the XBMC website.

Currently XBMC has no built-in support for TV tuners, which is a major feather missing from the application's cap compared to Windows Media Center, and will prevent it from being a single app solution for many users. If you already have a feature rich PVR for your television needs like a Sky HD subscription or Virgin's Tivo, then it's unlikely this will be an issue, though. For those who prefer not to pay £30+ a month for the ability to record telly, it means XBMC will have to run alongside either WMC or your TV tuner's dedicated PVR application. The XBMC developers are working hard to bring a tuner facility to the program, but they quite rightly don't want to integrate it into the standard distribution until it is perfect.

Another omission from XBMC is a lack of Blu-ray support. Windows Media Center also lacks Blu-ray playback natively, but both PowerDVD and Arcsoft Total Media 5 add a Blu-ray WMC application when installed.

Truth be told, if you are looking for a single application to handle all of your HTPC needs, XBMC probably isn't it. However, for simplifying the playback of online multimedia files without hassle or compatibility issues, it can't be beaten.

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