I have finally made a breakthrough with XBMC.

By | August 16, 2012

At the expense of sounding like a broken record, I have been fiddling with XBMC, yet again.  However, with no false hope sprinkled on top, I have finally made major headway into figuring out how to get some things the way I want.  My wife even said she liked the way it looked!  So, what does this mean for my connected home?

I’m at the point where I really just don’t want to be defeated by XBMC.  I want it to do certain things and it’s just being a stubborn old mule.  Unfortunately, I’m usually the one that ends up looking like a jackass.  However, not anymore after last night.  I was able to get to a point where I could actually start using XBMC, on a trial basis, on one of my HTPCs.  It’s the one in the spare bedroom, which is rarely used, but still!

MySql setup


I have the latest official release of XBMC 11 “Eden” running on a standard 32-bit Win7 Pro system, where Media Center/MediaBrowser typically live.  I have a centralized MySQL server maintaining the video database and all works very well there.  With my recent interest in the Boxee Box as a possible standalone device to replace some of my HTPCs, I have grown fond of the Xeebo skin.  I’ve tried pretty much every skin I could find, but surprisingly, Xeebo actually gives me the number of custom entry points and layouts that I want.  It’s not the traditional look I’m used to, but it’s quickly growing on me.


Xeebo wall

I’ve been able to manipulate some smart playlists and assign them as favorites to get around some of the issues Xeebo has with specific items placed in their custom home section, so I am finally able to get the one thing I’ve missed the most out of XBMC – my desired organizational structure.  I can finally display my movies, kid’s movies, TV shows, kid’s TV, etc. individually – without much trouble at that.  The biggest hurdle for me now is just picky stuff, like movie set covers.  Having to go through context menus for each movie collection I have to manually set my desired cover is a colossal pain in the ass.  I have hundreds.  Click…click…click…click…  That’s my future, I suppose.

Xeebo Home no custom icons

Crappy icons

As of now, I’m trying to find out how to get custom icons established for my “favorited” smart playlists.  It appears that is either a bug or afterthought in Xeebo as I can’t set one.  Even though they are set as favorites, it uses the smart playlist icon no matter what I do.  I did find a thread of someone complaining about the same exact behavior, so word is out and the creator of the theme says it will be fixed.  That’s awesome considering I spent a couple of hours last night creating icons for this theme, just to find they don’t get applied.  Joy.

Although I have things in some sort of working order, I still have plenty left to discern.  My remote doesn’t seem to behave as expected, but then again, it’s a Media Center remote, so I’m expecting Media Center functionality.  XBMC doesn’t play by those rules all the time, it appears.  I’ll have to figure that out as I go.  For the most part, I can get around, so it’s a minor hurdle.  Other things, like actor images, getting add-ons to behave properly, etc. will come in time, I’m sure.

I’m going to continue to push forward with things and see where it goes.  I’m still nowhere near making XBMC my primary HTPC front-end, but it’s nice to know that it may finally be an option when I’m ready for some low-power devices to replace some of my older systems.


…and another breakthrough.  I finally figured out how to get my actor thumbs populated from my ImagesByName People directory, as it is shared for my Media Browser systems.  It appears the path to the thumb needs to be set within the .NFO file’s metadata for each actor, as I do not maintain a .actor folder for each movie.  So, using metabrowser, I am reprocessing all of my media so that the actor thumb path is saved within the metadata for each actor.  It looks like this (using a portion of the movie 8 Mile‘s cast section):

Specify thumb location

Specify thumb location

Once that is done, we still have to translate those locations into something XBMC can understand.  So, we visit our advancedsettings.xml file and, for my specific path, add the following elements:

Path subtitution entry

Path subtitution entry

After making these changes, I restarted XBMC and went to a title that was updated to reflect these changes, entered into the title information screen, and opted to refresh.  Since I store local metadata, I chose to not ignore it and fetch from the Internet so that it will re-scrape my local NFO file.  Upon revisiting the cast section, angels sang…

Actor thumbs

Glorious actor thumbs

So now all I have to do is finish reprocessing everything.  Unfortunately, there is a drawback to this.  XBMC only supports refreshing like this by one title at a time.  An update of the library won’t get the job done.  I will have to remove and re-add each source to initiate a full re-fetch of all metadata for each source I provided.  I’ll live, I guess.  I have wanted to implement the <name> tag since I plan on running two or three different databases once everything is settled.  This will be as good a reason as any to blow it out and start fresh.  We’ll see how it goes and I’ll update accordingly.



5 thoughts on “I have finally made a breakthrough with XBMC.

  1. Chris

    As a convert from MediaBrowser to XBMC (about 2 years ago) I’m glad to see you are giving XBMC a good evaluation.

    I think you will find that if you remove the SOURCE for your movies, then re-add it XBMC will automatically refresh all your titles info from the nfo.

    Also, an alternative to letting XBMC auto scrape things like cover art (and then having to manually re-assign them yourself,which can be clunky) is to use a media manager app like Ember Media Manager to store all that content (cover art, fan art, movie metadata) in the folder where the movie file is stored, it also writes all the info to an nfo and even lets you categorise movies in to sets (like Harry Potter, Aliens, etc) so they appear as one entry in your movie list but you can drill down to see individual movies.

    1. Jon Post author

      Yeh, that is what I did further down in the article. Not exactly what I would call an optimal solution for scraping in changes to metadata, but it is what it is, I suppose. I also use metabrowser, which allows me to set movie sets and control all aspects of metadata and image management. I just don’t like having to manually set my set covers within the client GUI. I already have custom covers available for movie sets, but XBMC ignores them for one of the movies within the set.

  2. Scott Bartuska

    I personally have had a love hate relationship with XBMC for a long time. I used to use MediaBrowser and I wanted something better I would go play with XBMC but it is so difficult to use and to me very ugly no matter what I do. Also I found I did not like how many clicks simple tasks took. I would uninstall and go back to Media Browser. However one day I tried Plex and all my prayers were answered. Well all but Cable Card support but that is a different topic all together.

    1. Jon Post author

      My view is very similar to yours about XBMC. It just doesn’t look as good as Media Center/Media Browser, no matter what I do. Also, the amount of work to do things (clicks, as you say) is an excellent point. You can just tell XBMC is not really designed with a remote control in mind as its primary means of navigation.

      Plex is still on the backburner for me. I like the way it looks and the way it behaves, but there a few very small things that I just can’t get past. A big one for me is being able to choose the default action when hitting the “OK/Enter” button on my remote. I don’t want a title to play…I want to show information. That may sound extremely trivial, but it’s not just me that I will be “re-training” for use and my wife and oldest son like reading plots and summaries. I may just look a little harder at finding a skin that will show me what I need at the display level so go a level deeper isn’t necessary. I’m not giving up on Plex, for certain.

      1. Scott Bartuska

        Yeah I understand that. On some of the Plex skins you can change that default action, but not on all of them. I used to use refocus because it is beautiful and reminded me of WMC, but alas I have gone back to default skin.


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