What's Up With Xbox Media Center

October 27, 2005

Function Junction: Adding Scripts

One of Xbox media center's most powerful features is its scriptability. Using Python, users have the ability to extend Xbmc's functionality to enormous limits. In the form of plugins, these scripts add abilities to interact with online content, local content, or your own library of content in new ways. I'll show you how you can add these yourself with little efort and maximized functionality!!

Read more for a glimpse at the extra functionality that Xbmc scripts can provide.

One of the first plugins to pop up was the Quicktime Trailer script. It added the ability to browse Apple's amazing library of movie trailers right on your television! Who wants to watch movie previews on your computer when you can watch them on your Tv in all their glory. This was a perfect extension of Xbmc. Over time many more plugins have been released to stream in online content. Yahoo's Launch.com's music videos and Gamestop's game reviews are just some of the stuff you can view using add on scripts.

Ok... so how do you get them on your Xbmc!?

Your first stop is Xbmcscripts.com, they host almost all the available Xbmc plugin scripts available. For the longest time there wasn't a single place to easily browse new scripts and download upgraded ones. Thanks to them now we can.

Download a script and unarchive it with whatever compression tool was used to distribute it. Next, look for the README file! I can't stress this enough because each script has its own specificities in how it works. There are usually instructions in how and what settings you need to set in the script. Once you have done that, upload it to your Xbox using the normal FTP method.

But where!? Toss it into the "Scripts" directory in your Xbmc install. Done.

Now, bearing you set up the script right, settings, login information, etc, your script should be setup and ready to go. Now access the submenu from the home screen, (the button on the far right), and click Scripts. This will take you to the actual scripts folder on the Xbmc install. Browse to your script and launch it. If there are multiple files, your best bet is the one named as close to the name of the plugin as possible. Boo Ya! Instant Content!

Now you have ways to access all kinds of extra online content.

Some of the better scripts out there that I like are:

  • Quicktime Browser
  • Bloglines RSS Reader
  • GameTrailers Browser
  • GameSpotPlus
  • iFilmBrowser
  • xPodder
  • Flickr

Now that you have a few scripts installed and ready to use, wouldn't it be nice to not have to use a file browser to launch them? Well you don't have to! That's what the Sub-Menu is for. Next I'll show you how to add your scripts to it, so you can launch them simply and elegantly.

Read more!

October 19, 2005

Big Pimpin: Movie Scanning

Getting all of the meta data and covers for your movies is key to having a complete media center, but sometimes it can get time consuming. Sure, getting the info every time you add a movie is simple enough, but what if you just started using Xbox media center and have 100 movies that need the IMDB treatment?

Well its so simple you'll laugh at yourself. Xbmc has a great little recursive function that will spider a directory and all of its sub-directories gathering all the info from IMDB for you. You'll have the cast, director, IMDB rating, etc all at your disposal.. Navigate to the root directory of your movie files (the top level). While there, bring up the guide sub menu and choose Scan. Xbmc will begin to scan every directory and sub directory from the current directory down. The key is this, when it searches IMDB, it chooses the first returned result and uses that info. So make sure your movies are named properly, but of course they are right? You're an Xbmc Big Pimp!

Read more!

October 17, 2005

Big Pimpin: Custom Icons and Thumbnails

One of hottest features of Xbox media center is its look. Chokemaniac has done an incredible job making it very usable and attractive. While a lot has been done to make the interface look great, its up to you to get stylee with your own content.

Luckily there are a few things you can do to get your own custom thumbnails for your videos, music, photos, games, and applications. Read more to learn how you can improve the look of your Xbmc just with a few pixels.

Formats & Sizes
There really isn't any restrictions on image formats used for icons. Gif, Jpg, and Png all work perfect. Png files support alpha channels, so they are usually the best bet for icons in Xbmc. Alpha channels allow for transparency and we know how good transparency can look with an interface this good. Square blocks, yech.

No matter what size your icons are, they will be resized appropriately. But if you know anything about images, you'll want to keep your icons to around 32px by 32px to avoid image degradation due to a large amount of resizing.

Games & Applications
Now that you have some icons you'll want to apply them to your content. Applying custom icons for games and applications is pretty simple. Choose the graphic that you want and then move it to the folder of the application you want it to represent. Rename the image to default.tbn. Tbn is for "thumbnail". Remember, it doesn't matter what the image format is, just change the extension to .tbn

Folder Icons
Creating thumbnail for a folder is just as easy. Put the graphic within the folder you'd like it to display for and name it folder.jpg. A cinch! This works great for album folders and genre folders for movies.

Music Files
To grab album art for your music, select the song you'd like to grab info for and bring up the contextual menu. Select Album Information and Xbmc will get the cover art as well as album info. It will also automatically apply the album art to the rest of the songs in the album.

Video Files
Most of us are using Xbmc as a means to view our mass library of movies stored on a server. Of course for browsing, it'd be nice to have the corresponding movie poster that goes along with all of our movies. Thanks to the awesome functionality provided by Xbmc, we can get that with a touch of a button. Place your cursor on a movie and bring up the contextual menu. Choose Search IMDB... and Xbmc will query IMDB.com to grab the movie poster as well as the movie information.

Let's say IMDB grabs the movie info and no movie poster, or the movie poster it DID get isn't what you want. Its easy to replace the image. First go to Imdb.com and get the IMDB number from the URL of the movie. IE, The Day After Tomorrow's URL is: http://imdb.com/title/tt0312600/, so remember 'tt0312600' and use it to rename your thumbnail, imdbtt0073486.jpg. Then place it in the thumbs/imdb directory at the root of your Xbmc directory and it will be applied to the movie file.

For files that can't get any IMDB info, name the icon file the same as the file you would like it to represent with a .tbn extension ie: Transformers.avi, Transformers.tbn.

Ok, while I didn't mean for that to be that long, I wanted to make sure it was complete and easy to follow. Stick around for more how-to's in the Big Pimpin' series.

Read more!

How-To Announcement

Ok, I have to admit that I haven't contributed as much as I wanted to when I first started this site. I started it to share all the cool things that I knew about Xbox media center with everyone else. The problem is that I took a wrong turn in assuming that everyone already knew a ton about it as well as knowing all of the other places to get the info. So what happened is that I had barely any content on here.

Well times are a changin'. I'm taking a new approach here and am going to stir up some good content. Content for newbies and veterans alike. It came to my attention the other day that people all over the place are installing Xbmc for the first time every day. So I'm gonna show you guys a thing or too. It may be new tricks to you, and thats great. Or you may have been doing them forever, in that case, comment on how you do things.

I'm going to break the how-tos into a couple categories.

Big Pimpin' - Dedicated to making your Xbmc look as cool as you can
Function Junction - Learn to make functional changes with Xbmc to suit your needs
Feature Focus - Learn things about Xbox media center even your big brother couldn't teach you

The goal here is to let out some of the secrets of Xbmc and get everyone's setup as nice as possible.

Read more!

October 05, 2005

Add A Now Playing Interface To Your Home Screen

xbmcFor the longest time I've complained about the lack of a good interface in Xbmc for reporting on new media files. Yeah yeah, there's that old window that showed the dvd cases, but it stunk, and didn't even work really well. I wanted something simple and available on the home screen.

So today while bored and messing with some regular expressions (yeah, I can get that bored) I made a couple PHP scripts that will parse a directory of files, scan them, sort them by date, and spit out a feed. I have this working on a Linux box. It should work exactly the same on Os X. You're on your own with Windows.

Now, by adding this to Xbmc's home screen, I have a simple "Now Playing" interface to report my newest shows and movies quickly and efficiently. And of course, this is all automated. I set up a cron job on my Media Server to run these two scripts every thirty minutes. Bliss.

Download The Scripts

xbmc feeds

Read more!