We’ve already shown you how to install XBMC on your Apple TV, now we’re back with specific tips and tricks to install popular media center software XBMC on your iPad (or other portable iOS device).
Although the final outcome is largely the same—you get to enjoy awesome and open-source XBMC on your device—the process is completely different and, because of the mobility of the iPad (as opposed to the fixed location of the Apple TV), requires some additional tweaks and tricks.
What You’ll Need
For this tutorial you won’t need much as, assuming you’re already in possession of a suitable iOS device such as an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch, you’ll just need some free software. You’ll need:
- A Jailbroken iOS device running iOS 4.0+ (we’re using the iPad because of the spacious screen)
- Cydia App installed (which, for 99% of the jailbreak hacks, it’s automatically installed)
- Access to the internet from the iOS device
Unfortunately, jailbreaking is a must for this tutorial. XBMC directly competes with some of Apple’s core products and has been rejected from inclusion in the App Store. The only way to enjoy the awesomeness that is XBMC is to jailbreak your device and download it directly from the XBMC repository. Applying the jailbreak to your specific iOS device with it’s specific version of iOS is beyond the scope of this tutorial—hit up your favorite search engine to find out more about jailbreaking your particular device before continuing.
Note: Since we’re going to be working with an iPad throughout this tutorial, we’re going to simply say “iPad” instead of “iOS Device”. These instructions are perfectly applicable, albeit on a smaller screen, to both the iPhone and iPod Touch—specifically the iPhone 3GS and above and the 3rd (16/32GB only) and 4th generation iPod Touch).
Installing XBMC On Your iPad
The first thing we need to do is get you an actual copy of XBMC for iOS. The most efficient way to do this is to add the XBMC iOS repository to Cydia so you can easily download (and, in the future, update) XBMC.
Grab your iPad and fire up Cydia. From the main Cydia menu, tap on the Sources icon. Within the Sources menu tape on Edit and then on Add. Here you need to plug in the URL for the XBMC repository: http://mirrors.xbmc.org/apt/ios/
After typing in the URL, click Add Source. You’ll have to wait a moment as Cydia checks your sources list, looks for updated packages, and then updates accordingly with the XBMC repository. It should appear on the sources list as “teamXBMC”. If you see it, go ahead and hit Done to finish editing your source list.
From the source list tap on the new entry for teamXBMC. Tap on XBMC-IOS to see the full entry for XBMC for iOS. Click Install and then Confirm to authorize the installation. Wait for the installation to complete and then tap “Return to Cydia”. At this point the latest version of XBMC is installed on your iOS device.
Configuring XBMC for the iPad
Unlike a traditional XBMC installation (which is usually installed on a machine attached to your television set), this XBMC installation is mobile. Wherever your iPad goes, it goes. The same cannot be said, however, for your home network. If you try to access your networked sources away from home you’ll get an error message. Worse, if you’ve configured XBMC to synchronize to your home media server, it will outright crash when it can’t find the MySQL server. Both of these are less than idea solutions.
To alleviate the problems with having a media center that can drift away from home in such a fashion, we’re going to set up (at minimum) two user profiles for XBMC on the iPad. The first profile will be for use at home (when the shared media and media server is accessible) and the second profile will simply access media from the iPad’s media directories. One for lounging on the couch and one for lounging around in a hotel lobby. If you’re only using XBMC to access media then you can skip the at-home profile and simply follow along with the travel profile.
Enabling Profiles: First, let’s fire up XBMC. On first run you’ll be greeted with the option to select videos, pictures, music, or programs. We’re going to focus on setting up your video-watching experience but you can easily adopt the same techniques to also configure your photos and music.
Down in the lower left corner is a gear labeled Settings. Tap on it. Within the settings menu tap on the Profiles icon—again located in the lower left corner.
Within the Profiles menu you’ll see the default configuration. You’re logged in as the Master user and the login screen is toggled to “off”. Tap on the “Add Profile…” button to add your secondary profile. You can name the secondary profile whatever you wish, but for the sake of clarity in this tutorial we’re naming it Travel to indicate it is to be used away from the home.
After you create the profile you will be prompted to select a root folder for the profile. The default is /masterprofile/profiles/Travel (or whatever name you used besides Travel). There’s no need to change it, simply click OK. Once you OK the location, you’ll be prompted to fill in additional information about the profile. You can add a profile name or customize it as you wish. The important thing is that you leave the profile directory alone and you leave the “Media info” and “Media Source” as “Separate”. We want each user profile to be distinct. Click OK. You will be returned to the main Profiles page and prompted again. When asked if you want to start with fresh settings or copy from default click “Start fresh”. If you just installed XBMC then everything is fresh as fresh can be but if you’ve already played around with the app it’s best that we start the new profile completely fresh.
At this point we have the Master user profile (which will server as our at-home profile) and the Travel profile (which will serve as our away-from-home profile). The final step is to toggle the “Login screen” option to On. We want to be able to pick which profile we’ll use each time the app starts.
Configuring the Master (at-home) Profile: To do simple configuration of the at-home profile you’ll need to navigate back to the homes screen (of XBMC, not of your iOS device). Tap on Videos. You currently have no video directories enabled so tap on Add Videos to add a folder. In our case, our home media is stored on a media server utilizing SMB sharing so we tap on “Windows network (SMB)” to search for our media directories on the server.
If you’ve already prepped other XBMC units in your house you can easily copy the sources files from those installations to your iOS device by copying the sources.xml file from the profile directory of the existing XBMC computer to the profile directory of the iOS installation (which is located in /private/var/mobile/Library/Preferences/XBMC/userdata/ on the iOS device). You can access the directory, since your device is jailbroken, using tools like iFile or by just SFTP’ing into your iPad. Note: you only need to copy the files if you intend on syncing your XBMC iOS installation to the media watched on other XBMC devices in your home.
Regardless of whether you went the simple route or the whole-house syncing route, you should now be able to access your media off your network source from within the Master profile.
Configuring the Travel (away-from-home) Profile: For this profile you need to exit XBMC and launch it again in order to select the alternate profile. Repeat the steps of tapping on Video, tapping on Add Videos. From within the source selection menu tap on Browse and then tap on Home folder. Because you’re on a jailbroken device using a jailbreak app, you can navigate the actual file structure of your iPad. If you wish to watch the video that you’ve already synced to your iPad via iTunes, navigate to /var/mobile/Media/iTunes_Control/Video/ to add the iTunes-controlled video into XBMC. If you want to use a different directory for media you personally add to the iPad, you could (using a program like iFile or SFTP’ing into the device) create your own directory in the /var/mobile/media/ folder like /MyVids/ to store your video in.
Regardless of the location of your local files, add the folder as you would with any local XBMC installation.
Now that you have both profiles pointed at the correct media files (networked and local, respectively) you can go back and—as you would with a regular installation of XBMC—scan your sources and enjoy all the cover-flow goodness you can handle.
If you’ve followed along with both sections, you have two distinct profiles. One that accesses the network media in your home (and if you went the extra mile with the MySQL server, it also syncs your watched media and other flags) and another that is focused on device-stored media. Now, whether you’re at home or away, you can enjoy the slick interface and smooth video playback of XBMC!
Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on Google+ if you'd like.
- Published 02/28/12