Expand the power of XBMC, the popular open-source media center software, by taking advantage of the add-on system and these great add-ons. Read on to get started using XBMC add-ons.
Why Bother and What Do I Need?
XBMC is a robust media center tool but there is no tool that’s perfect right out of the box for every user. Add-ons allow XBMC fans to build onto the native functionality of XBMC. If there is enough of an interest in a new feature and somebody with the coding skills and time to create it, there’s a good chance a matching add-on exists or is currently a work in progress. You can find add-ons for everything from monitoring your P2P clients to watching Netflix to listening to streaming music.
If you’re a long time XBMC fan you might have tried early add-ons and been turned off by the whole experience. Prior to the XBMC 10.0 Dharma release working with XBMC add-ons was a huge pain. You had to FTP into your box, manually configure files, and half the time things just didn’t quite work the way you wanted (if they worked at all). XBMC add-ons were for the hardcore users with plenty of time to troubleshoot. Thanks to a totally overhauled and streamlined add-on system it’s easier than ever to take advantage of great add-ons without the frustration of reading forums for hours and hand editing files.
So what do you need to get started? All you need is a copy of XBMC installed and ready to play with (10.0 or higher) and an active internet connection.
Installing Add-Ons From the Official XBMC Repository
Prior to XBMC 10.0 there was no central repository, merely a loose collection of links that led to scattered and often out of date add-ons. Now the vast majority of add-ons are contained within the official repository where they can be properly stored, easily downloaded, and easily updated. To access the official XBMC add-ons launch your copy of XBMC and navigate to System –> Add-ons –> Get Add-ons. There, if you’ve never dabbled with custom add-ons, you’ll simply see the XBMC.org Add-ons entry, as seen in the screenshot above. Click on it to begin browsing the official XBMC repository. Inside you’ll find categories of add-ons like so:
The add-on directory structure is only one level deep so each entry will take you to a listing of the add-ons related to that category. Let’s take a look at at one of the categories, like Web Interface.
Inside we find three entries for add-ons specifically designed to enhance the webGUI on XBMC. Of particular interest to us—since we’ve got an iPad laying around—is wTouch, an add-on that customizes the webGUI for tablet computers.
When you click on any add-on you get an information and navigation panel that looks like so:
From within the information panel you can read the description, check the change log, install it, and then once it’s installed, enable/disable it and further configure it. When you click Install you’ll be pushed back to the add-on category where, beside the name of the add-on you’re installing, you’ll see the download percentage and then Enabled once it has finished downloading and been installed.
It’s that simple! Anything you can find in the official repository can be installed in a click or two. If you’re looking for some good add-ons to install check out our list of favorite add-ons at the end of this tutorial.
Installing Add-Ons From Unofficial Repositories
In addition to the pile of add-ons in the official repository there is an entire world of unofficial add-ons. Add-ons might exist outside of the official repository for a variety of reasons. Adult Add-ons, for example, provides movie scraping for adult movie information and thus falls outside of the acceptable use requirement for the official repository. Other unofficial add-ons are experimental, place fast and loose with copyright laws and other legal issues, or don’t have the correct licensing for official release. Regardless there are plenty of pretty neat unofficial add-ons.
In order to access unofficial add-ons, you need to add the appropriate repository for those add-ons. The way the add-on system works on XBMC 10.0+ installations is that all add-ons are stored in repositories (even if that repository only holds a single add-on).
To demonstrate how to add in an add-on repository to your XBMC installation we’re going to add in one of the more useful XBMC add-ons: Repositories Installer—a third-party add-on designed specifically to make installing third-party repositories easier.
In order to install an unofficial XBMC add-on repository you need the installation ZIP file from that repository. Go ahead and visit the listing for Repositories Installer here and download the ZIP file. Place the zip file in a location that is accessible to your XBMC installation—on a USB drive, a network share, or copy it over to your XBMC installation. Once you have it in an accessible location navigate to System –> Add-ons –> Install from zip file.
A file browser pane will appear on the right hand side of the screen. Browse for the zip file. In our case we have it on a networked drive. When you select the repository ZIP file, you’ll be returned to the Add-ons menu. In the lower right portion of the screen a small tab will pop up when the installation is done and announce that Repo Installer has properly installed.
Once it has installed navigate to System –> Add-ons –> Enabled Add-ons –> Program Add-ons and click on Repositories Installer. We want to make one small change to the add-on before using it. From within the information panel click Configure and turn “Display description with title” on and pick a text color. Otherwise when you go to look at the repositories there will be no descriptions only the less-than-informative names. While the short descriptions after the names are useful if you’d like to read more about the add-ons you can check the unofficial repository XBMC wiki entry here.
Return to your XBMC home screen and navigate to Programs –> Repositories Installer. Once the Repositories Installer opens up you’ll see a list that looks much like the lists of add-ons we were looking earlier in the official repository:
Clicking on any entry here will launch an installation prompt. Simply click Yes and Repositories Installer will do the heavy lifting for you. You can install multiple repositories at one time but you may need to reboot in order to see them all. Once you’ve installed a repository and you’d like to access the contents, navigate to System –> Add-Ons –> Get Add-ons and visit the freshly added repositories. From there you can install them must like we did from the official repository in the previous portion of the tutorial.
If for any reason you don’t see a repository you’d like to access inside the Repositories Installer program, you can visit the web site for that repository and manually install the zip file (as we manually installed the Repositories Installer).
Popular Add-Ons to Take For a Test Drive
There are add-ons for just about everybody. If you’ve simply been using XBMC to watch movies you’ve been missing out! Below we’ve highlighted some of the fun/useful official add-ons. To install the official ones just navigate to the approach sub-directory in the XBMC.org add-on repository.
Before we dive in, navigating the repositories on XBMC can be a little restrictive. If you’d like a sweeping overview of all the official add-ons makes sure to check out the awesome visual directory at XBMC Add-On Browser.
Let’s take a look at some of the great official add-ons:
Last.fm: If you’d like to use Last.fm’s music database to scrape information about your favorite artists and albums this official add-on can make it happen. Look in XBMC.org Add-ons –> Album Information.
YouTube: Activate the YouTube add-on and you’ll feel like you’ve got on-demand America’s Funniest Home Videos right at your finger tips. Look in XBMC.org Add-ons –> Video Add-ons.
TED Talks: If YouTube is a little too skateboard-to-the-groin for you, TED Talks are a fantastic way to learn something new. Look in XBMC.org Add-ons –> Video Add-ons.
XBMCFlicks: Have a Netflix account? Enjoy video streaming through your XBMC unit. Requires XBMC on Windows or OS X due to a Silverlight dependency. Look in XBMC.org Add-ons –> Video Add-ons.
uTorrent/SABnzbd: If you use torrents or Usenet to download view material, you won’t find a shortage of ways to control and receive notifications from your client of choice in Look in XBMC.org Add-ons –> Program Add-ons.
MCERemote: Microsoft Media Center remotes are extremely cheap and great for XBMC. Getting them configured, however, is a real pain. MCERemote is an official add-on that takes the headache out of getting your MCE remote working with XBMC. Look in XBMC.org Add-ons –> Video Add-ons.
Grooveshark: Streaming music without any fussy setup is the way to go. Listen to Grooveshare by looking in XBMC.org Add-ons –> Music Add-ons.
XBMC Library Auto Update: If you like to keep your library up-to-the-minute updated, XBMC Library Auto Update lets you specify how often you’d like to update things—we run a copy of XBMC on our media server expressly for the purpose of using this app and various scrapers to keep our library up to date. Look in XBMC.org Add-ons –> Program Add-ons.
Just checking out these great official add-ons will get you started down the add-on path. Have a favorite add-on from the official repository or one of the unofficial ones? Sound off in the comments with your favorite add-ons and tips for getting the most from them.
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 10/4/11