Up until 2009 I had only really heard the term HTPC a few times and had never heard of XBMC. The only media centre software I really had any experience of was Windows Media Centre and couldn’t stand the way it looked or operated so I never really gave it the light of day. At the time I was using TVersity to stream my TV shows and movies to my Xbox which worked alright but was never perfect.

Then one day in March a friend sent me a link to a YouTube video that would change the whole way I would consume my media and spend a lot of my spare time. The video in question was a preview of the upcoming ‘Aeon Stark’ skin for XBMC. I was seriously impressed what I saw. The lists of poorly organised video files I was used to with my set-up at the time was replaced by flowing cover art and full screen fanart.

I immediately began reading about XBMC and researching what I needed to build my first HTPC. I wanted to keep it as quiet and power efficient as possible so I bought a low power dual core AMD processor and a motherboard with integrated graphics sufficient enough to play 1080p video. The biggest expense in my build was actually the case; I went for the Antec Fusion. I wanted a HTPC befitting of the attractiveness of the software it would be running.

Once I had all the parts I hurriedly built my HTPC and installed XBMC and the Aeon Stark skin that had started it all. I thought once I had done that I would be able to sit back and watch all of my TV shows and movies. I couldn’t have been any more wrong. The tweaking and perfecting of my media collection had only just begun.

Media Management

I quickly discovered that in order to get all of the information and stunning images that made XBMC and Aeon so great, quite a lot of work was required. The built in scrapers do a pretty decent job but I am a bit of a perfectionist so I began to look into ways to have more control over it.

I tried a few different media managers before finally settling on Ember Media Manager. It has everything I need to organise my movies effectively. Even with the use of this though I still prefer to get movie posters manually from getvideoartwork.

No media manager I tried was sufficient for my TV shows so I always did them completely manually and still do to this day. I used theRenamer to rename and sort the files and downloaded all of the artwork from theTVDb. I do all of my media management the same way even to this day, of course incorporating this site into the list of places I find my artwork.

More Skins

I used all of the different iterations of Aeon all the way through to Aeon Hitched until the creator of that version (Hitcher) got bored and moved onto a new skin, Alaska.
I followed to progress of Alaska quite closely and eventually moved over to it. I really like how clean and simple it looks and yet there is quite a lot you can change about it to make it unique. I even went as far as creating my own colour theme for Alaska and modding a few of UI elements such as changing some of the borders from curved to square.

I still really like Alaska but I’ve been using it for so long that it’s definitely time for a change. I have just a couple of days ago started using the ReAlaska mod of ReFocus. It combines some of the best features of the two skins. I’m pleased with it so far but still have a fair bit of tweaking to do.

My Current Set-up

As of right now I have two XBMC boxes in my house. The main one is the same HTPC I talked about earlier with just a couple of minor upgrades. I would like to replace it soon with a PC capable of gaming but at the moment the money isn’t really available. I have it hooked up to a 46” Samsung 3DTV (the 3D is very rarely used) and a pretty basic Sony 5.1 surround sound system.

I currently use a Logitech Harmony One remote but I would like to upgrade to the Harmony 1100 and demote the Harmony One to the bedroom.

My second XBMC box is an Apple TV2 which I find works very well. I’m yet to find a skin that runs perfectly on it unfortunately but hopefully the ATV3 will soon be jailbroken and do a better job. MY ATV is just hooked up to a 26” Samsung TV in the bedroom.

My media is all on two boxes with a total of somewhere around 16TB of storage. My TV shows are on a QNAP TS-412 NAS box which unfortunately is almost full. It runs Sickbeard for automated Usenet downloads and to date I have around 120 shows with something like 8000 episodes. All are in the highest quality available up to 720p Bluray rips.

My movies are all stored on an UnRaid tower. So far I have just over 800 1080p Bluray rips. This box is running Couchpotato for automated downloads.

Final Thoughts

I love XBMC and the way it allows me to present all of my media and view it so easily. The only problem that I find is that I spend so much organising, tweaking and improving it that I have very little time to actually watch anything!

I hope that it will get to the stage where I am completely happy with the way it is set-up and all of the automated services run well enough that I can just leave it and enjoy watching something. It’s not very likely though with all of the improvements to the software that the XBMC team is always making and the great new skins coming from the community.