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  • Set Up a Home Theater PC and Control It With Your Android Phone

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    XBMC is an insanely popular piece of software commonly installed on media PCs. Apart from having an extremely customisable UI, it also is very easy to expand its functionality because of its hackable nature. Read on to find out how to control your XBMC media centre using just your Android phone.


    The XBMC Logo, which showcases all of its different uses

    If you were to ask a group of people who take their media PC setup seriously what software they used to browse through it, you would find that the vast majority will say XBMC – and it’s easy to see why. While other HTPC interfaces may share the same stock features, with a small bit of tinkering on XMBC you can have a beautiful and functional media PC that blows other systems out of the water!

    Getting XBMC

    XBMC is very easy to set up. To get started just head on over to their official website, select Download, and find the appropriate download for your OS (Mac, Windows and Linux are all supported). The Windows file size is a very reasonable 39MB, so there’s no need to worry about going over your bandwidth cap by downloading.


    XBMC's official website, with "Download" highlighted

    You can also download a live CD version; perfect for if you want to run pure XMBC without an OS such as Windows or Mac running simultaneously. But be warned, this could take an extra bit of experimenting to set up.

    Once it’s completed, begin the installer and follow the steps as presented. Upon completion of the installer you are ready to start up the software and take your first glimpse at your new media player!


    XBMC's Windows Installer finishing up

    If you are anything like me, the first thing you’re going to want to do is poke around all the nooks and crannies around the software, so go ahead and take ten minutes to do so. Once you have finished exploring XBMC it’s time to get down to business and begin setting it up for control from your Android phone.

    Setting It Up: The PC Side

    Thankfully, setting up XMBC to accept controls from your Android is quick and painless and requires little to no knowledge of the software.

    XBMC is very customisable through the use of different skins. Some of these skins can alter the position of certain settings, and so for this guide I am going to be using the default theme that comes with XBMC. So, if you’re eager to change your skin but you still don’t know your away around the software, it may be wise to stay on the default skin until after the tutorial.


    XBMC's default skin that you will be presented with upon first startup

    We will begin the setup by heading into the “System” menu and selecting the “Network” option. You will than be presented with a screen with lots of settings eager to be edited. Luckily for us, we need to edit very little on this screen. For a start you need to ensure that “Allow Control of XBMC via HTTP” is turned on. The settings underneath (username, port, and so on) need some minor editing. For most people Port 80 is just fine and you shouldn’t run into any trouble with it. The username by default is “xbmc”; feel free to leave it as this as you will never use it again after the initial setup process.


    What your Network settings should look like before editing

    The same applies also to the password field; you won’t need it again after the initial setup. For security’s sake I just used a simple password, so feel free to do so as well.

    Under these options you will see “Allow Programs on Other Systems to Control XBMC” This also has to be selected as Android is classed as an “Other System” by XMBC and so for the connection to be allowed this needs to be selected.


    Your Network settings should look somewhat similar to this

    Once you have completed all of the above steps you’re ready to move on to the Android side of things.

    Setting Up Android

    To control XBMC using your Android phone you will need the official XBMC Remote app which is available from the Google Play Store. Once it’s downloaded just start it up and we can begin configuring the Android app to find your HTPC and issue commands to it.

    Once the app has finished downloading and has been installed go ahead and open it. First, you’re going to need to set it up so that it can recognize your XBMC setup and tell it what to do. Luckily, this is very simple and in most cases the app will do it with little or no tinkering required.

    To begin, upon starting the app you will be presented with an error dialog informing you that you have no servers set. Just accept this warning. Another warning will accompany it almost immediately after, but again just ignore it.


    The two error messages you will encounter

    Next, press the ‘Menu’ key on your device to open up a set of options. There will be three options; select the middle one, ‘Host Wizard’. (If this does not work, you can easily change to manual setup but it’s definitely worth giving the wizard a try!) You will need to enter a few basic details of your media center such as its name, the IP or hostname of the PC, and the port (probably 8080). If you find that you are puzzled by any of these details, just open up your XBMC installation on your PC and navigate to Network Settings. Here all of your details are presented.

    Once you have completed that, you have successfully set up XBMC to be controlled by your Android phone.

    Exploring XBMC

    XBMC on PC is a sight to behold, especially when it comes to customization. From inside the app you can select from a large selection of themes, each of which changes every single detail about the software. This level of customization will feel familiar to veteran Android themers.  At the moment I’m using the theme Xperience1080. It is strongly based off the Metro UI and Xbox and personally I find it a pleasure to use (and perfect practice for when Windows 8 is released!)


    The Xperience1080 Theme

    Add-ons are also very popular amongst the XBMC community. You can get add-ons that do everything from playing a particular TV show’s theme song when you hover over it to telling you when any given TV show is next airing.

    So as you can see XBMC is a piece of software that has infinite possibilities! I hope you have fun playing around with it and you find some skins and add-ons that make the software and intuitive as possible for you.

    Exploring the App

    The ‘XBMC remote’ app contains a vast selection of features, so let’s take a look at some of its finest. The homescreen of the app is just a basic overview of what the app can do – tasks such as ‘Listen to your music’ and ‘Watch your TV shows’.


    The main screen of XBMC remote and Watch TV view

    The ‘Watch…’ options all contain a similar layout, and the layout is simply amazing. If you have covers configured on your XBMC setup they are all displayed on the app in an easy to use interface.

    Overall it’s easy to see that this app is great and it definitely makes controlling XBMC a pleasure

    Conclusion

    If you’ve followed all of the instructions you should now have a beautiful and functional XBMC set. Now go ahead and search around for the latest skins and add-ons to enhance your experience even further! If you have any further questions just leave a comment below and I’ll try my best to provide a solution.