So you’ve created an awesome, play-anything media centre with XBMC, but it’s a too hard for your less tech-savvy friends and family members to use. Here are a few ways to make your home theatre PC so easy that your four year old could use it.
Photo remixed from Tanberin.
Get a New Skin
I personally really like “Transparency” for its easy-to-read vertical menu. You can see every menu item on the menu page (that is, you don’t have to scroll to see any of them), and nothing is buried in a submenu. From the main menu, you can see the Movies, TV Shows, Play Disc, and other options. It’s much easier for an XBMC newbie to navigate than something like Confluence, Aeon or Alaska, and it’s still pretty darn attractive. Of course, there may be others out there, so search around and see what else you can find.
Program Your Remote for Easy Navigation
Certain remotes work out of the box with XBMC, but sometimes getting a simpler remote and programming it yourself can be more user-friendly than a PC remote with a ton of buttons. Even then, take care to program buttons in a way that makes sense — I spent years with an unintuitive button layout because I just matched XBMC’s functions to the buttons they sounded like, which wasn’t ideal. Play around with your remote and see what layout makes the most sense. Watch out for the “back” and “menu” buttons, which I found the trickiest to assign to something intuitive. If you really want to see if you’ve done it correctly, hand it off to someone else that hasn’t used XBMC and see if they can find their way around without help. If they can, you’ve found the ideal layout, and you should stick with it.
You might also try going with a remote designed specifically for XBMC, like one that works on iOS or Android. Not only will they have buttons assigned to specific XBMC features, but you can even browse your library right from your mobile device and get it to play on the TV. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
Lastly, if you really want an easy-to-use remote, the Apple TV remote is about as simple as it gets. It takes no setup, anyone can use it, and it comes with the cheapest XBMC box you can create. This won’t matter if you’ve already put together a non-Apple TV box, but if you have an Apple TV, consider using it as your XBMC box for some serious ease of use.
Clean Up Your Main Menu
Put Add-Ons like Blu-ray on the Main Menu
- Navigate to one of the add-ons you want on the main menu (say, XBMC Flicks — the Netflix add-on for XBMC). Bring up the context menu and choose “Add to Favorites”. This step isn’t necessary for all skins, but it is necessary for many — including Transparency.
- Head to Settings > Skin and find the option for customising the main menu (in Transparency, it’s called “Menu”). You should see some “Custom” or “Favorites” slots, where you can add custom menu items. Enable these and choose the add-on you want from the favourites menu.
- Repeat this process for all the add-ons you want on the front page, Blu-ray. They should all show up on your main menu for quick, easy, pain-free access.
If you’ve cleaned up your main menu as we described in the previous section, you should now have a menu that’s incredibly easy to navigate and has movies, TV, streaming video, Blu-ray and everything else you could ever want.
Enable Kiosk Mode
XBMC has come a long way, but it’s still not the most user-friendly program on the planet. Hopefully, with these simple tweaks, you can get just about anyone using your XBMC box in no time. Got any of your own suggestions for making XBMC easier to use? Be sure to share them in the comments below.