In this era of digital video and music downloads, most are restricted to consuming these forms of entertainment by being glued to their mobile devices. Not very convenient, at least for me.
The LG brand of electronics is quite popular in Nigeria and its home theater receiver does a good job in playing back these media files. However, it suffers a major limitation of supporting very few media file formats. Probably equally worrisome is the fact that it does not recognize any hard disk not formatted in FAT32 format.
Welcome to the future, the world of Home Theatre PCs (HTPC).
I love messing with installations and settings, connecting whatever gadget i have to big screen TVs, for the fun of it. However, dabbling into HTPC seems more of a neccessity now, than just some passing fancy. My spouse doesn’t share my enthusiasm though, content with watching her cable TV.
Anyway, I have set up a media center that satisfies my geek cravings and is actually easy-to-use for non-nerds too. Here’s what I pieced together:
Desktop / Laptop PC
Your existing modern laptop would do. However, i prefer to have a dedicated laptop just for Home Theatre viewing. i retrieved an old laptop dedicated just for this purpose. The laptop must have a HDMI port.
Choice of Operating System
For this purpose, about any Windows or Linux Distribution would do. For my setup, my choice is Linux OS and, in particular, Zorin OS. Linux Mint distribution is equally good. My choice was decided mainly because of the stability of the Linux OS and the tons of media codec available to my distributions of choice, straight out of the box.
Supported codecs include the following:
- Video Files: AVI, MKV, TS, TP, TRP, M2TS, M2T, MPG, MP4, M4V, MOV, VOB, ISO, IFO, DAT, WMV, ASF, RM, RMVB, FLV
- Video Codecs: H.264/AVC, VC-1(WMV9-HD), MPEG1/2/4, DivX, Xvid, RV8/9/10
- Audio Formats: MP3, OGG, WMA, WAV, AAC, FLAC, AC3, DTS, True-HD, DTS-MA/HR
- Subtitles: SRT, SMI, SUB, SSA, IDX+SUB
- Photo Files: JPEG, BMP, GIF, TIF, PNG
While not very necessary, it is recommended you hook up your laptop to your existing LAN. This is the backbone your remote controller would ride on. If you do not have an existing router, i will recommend you go for the ones using 802.11n standard. I use a Belkin brand.
You will most likely not find these cables in your street corner electrical stores. Big stores like GAME in The Palms Shopping Mall, Lagos have it in stock.
Smartphone Phone or Tablet
These mobile devices would serve as your remote controller. I use an Android Tablet. You can use a Blackberry or an Apple device too.
Media Center Software
Most swear by XBMC software, and i agree with them. Another popular and equally free option is the Windows Media Center. This , however, is only available on Windows OS. Download it here, it is free.
XBMC Mobile Software
A number of softwares are available, especially on Android platform. I recommend none, you will need to try them out to see which best suits your particular device. There is an official software from XBMC, but it does not work well for me.
The setup process is adequately captured by appstorm.net, which i have reproduced below;
Setting It Up: The PC Side
Thankfully, setting up XMBC to accept controls from your Android is quick and painless and requires little to no knowledge of the software.
XBMC is very customisable through the use of different skins. Some of these skins can alter the position of certain settings, and so for this guide I am going to be using the default theme that comes with XBMC. So, if you’re eager to change your skin but you still don’t know your away around the software, it may be wise to stay on the default skin until after the tutorial.
XBMC’s default skin that you will be presented with upon first startup
We will begin the setup by heading into the “System” menu and selecting the “Network” option. You will than be presented with a screen with lots of settings eager to be edited. Luckily for us, we need to edit very little on this screen. For a start you need to ensure that “Allow Control of XBMC via HTTP” is turned on. The settings underneath (username, port, and so on) need some minor editing. For most people Port 80 is just fine and you shouldn’t run into any trouble with it. The username by default is “xbmc”; feel free to leave it as this as you will never use it again after the initial setup process.
What your Network settings should look like before editing
The same applies also to the password field; you won’t need it again after the initial setup. For security’s sake I just used a simple password, so feel free to do so as well.
Under these options you will see “Allow Programs on Other Systems to Control XBMC” This also has to be selected as Android is classed as an “Other System” by XMBC and so for the connection to be allowed this needs to be selected.
Your Network settings should look somewhat similar to this
Once you have completed all of the above steps you’re ready to move on to the Android side of things.
Setting Up Android
To control XBMC using your Android phone you will need the official XBMC Remote app which is available from the Google Play Store. Once it’s downloaded just start it up and we can begin configuring the Android app to find your HTPC and issue commands to it.
Once the app has finished downloading and has been installed go ahead and open it. First, you’re going to need to set it up so that it can recognize your XBMC setup and tell it what to do. Luckily, this is very simple and in most cases the app will do it with little or no tinkering required.
To begin, upon starting the app you will be presented with an error dialog informing you that you have no servers set. Just accept this warning. Another warning will accompany it almost immediately after, but again just ignore it.
The two error messages you will encounter
Next, press the ‘Menu’ key on your device to open up a set of options. There will be three options; select the middle one, ‘Host Wizard’. (If this does not work, you can easily change to manual setup but it’s definitely worth giving the wizard a try!) You will need to enter a few basic details of your media center such as its name, the IP or hostname of the PC, and the port (probably 8080). If you find that you are puzzled by any of these details, just open up your XBMC installation on your PC and navigate to Network Settings. Here all of your details are presented.
Once you have completed that, you have successfully set up XBMC to be controlled by your Android phone.
XBMC on PC is a sight to behold, especially when it comes to customization. From inside the app you can select from a large selection of themes, each of which changes every single detail about the software. This level of customization will feel familiar to veteran Android themers. At the moment I’m using the theme Xperience1080. It is strongly based off the Metro UI and Xbox and personally I find it a pleasure to use (and perfect practice for when Windows 8 is released!)
The Xperience1080 Theme
Add-ons are also very popular amongst the XBMC community. You can get add-ons that do everything from playing a particular TV show’s theme song when you hover over it to telling you when any given TV show is next airing.
So as you can see XBMC is a piece of software that has infinite possibilities! I hope you have fun playing around with it and you find some skins and add-ons that make the software and intuitive as possible for you.
Exploring the App
The ‘XBMC remote’ app contains a vast selection of features, so let’s take a look at some of its finest. The homescreen of the app is just a basic overview of what the app can do – tasks such as ‘Listen to your music’ and ‘Watch your TV shows’.
The main screen of XBMC remote and Watch TV view
The ‘Watch…’ options all contain a similar layout, and the layout is simply amazing. If you have covers configured on your XBMC setup they are all displayed on the app in an easy to use interface.
Overall it’s easy to see that this app is great and it definitely makes controlling XBMC a pleasure
If you’ve followed all of the instructions you should now have a beautiful and functional XBMC set. Now go ahead and search around for the latest skins and add-ons to enhance your experience even further! If you have any further questions just leave a comment below and I’ll try my best to provide a solution.