In its latest update, much-beloved media centre application XBMC added one-click add-on installation, bringing browser-like extensions to your media centre. If you've ever wanted to incorporate watching TV, listening to podcasts, or playing video games to your XBMC box, the new add-on system is incredibly easy to use, and can power your box up to do all sorts of things. Here's how it works, and a few of our favourite XBMC add-ons.
Before XBMC 10.10 Dharma, installing add-ons was kind of a pain. You had to download an archive, unzip it in the right place on your XBMC machine's hard drive, possibly edit some configuration files, and hope everything worked correctly. Now, XBMC has a built-in add-on manager that lets you browse, download, and install add-ons with just a few clicks of your remote. If you've avoided XBMC add-ons in the past, you'll want to take another look, because you can add some pretty awesome features to your home theatre PC with minimal effort. Here's how to install add-ons with the new system, along with a list of our favourites to get you started. (If you just want to see what kind of cool features you can get with XBMC add-ons, jump down to the Our Favourite Add-ons section.
Downloading and Installing Add-Ons
Installing add-ons is incredibly simple, though it may take an extra step or two depending on whether the add-on is officially supported by XBMC. The first thing you'll want to do is make sure you have the latest version of XBMC installed (10.10 at the time of this writing). Then, follow these instructions to get add-ons up and running on your system.
Installing From the Official XBMC Repository
XBMC's add-on system works very much like a Linux distribution (for those of you that are familiar with the process). There are a few different places you can get add-ons, called repositories. One repository comes built-in to XBMC, so you can get right to browsing the add-on catalog without any extra work. All you need to do is open up XBMC and head to System > Add-Ons > Get Add-Ons. At this point, your only choice will be "XBMC.org Add-ons" (the main repository). After clicking that, XBMC will present you with a number of categories to choose from, like Music Add-ons, Program Add-ons, Skins, and so on. Within these categories, you'll find tons of add-ons you can choose from.
To get more information about an add-on, just select it, and you'll get a window explaining what the add-on does. From there, you can just hit the "Install" button to install the add-on. To access it, just go to its category (e.g., if you installed a "Music Add-On", you'd head back to the main menu and go to Music > Music Add-Ons). You may have to edit the add-on's settings before you can use it (usually by highlighting it and going to the context menu with the "c" key on your keyboard, or whatever the corresponding button is on your remote). For more information on specific add-ons, check out our list of favourites below.
Adding New Add-On Repositories to XBMC
There are a few third-party add-ons that you won't find in XBMC by default. To install them, you'll need to add their repositories, which you can find on this wiki page. Most revolve around a specific add-on or language set, though there are a few general repositories that contain a few different third party add-ons.
To install a third-party repository, just download its zip file from that wiki page to your computer. Then, in XBMC, head to System > Add-Ons and click "Install from zip file". Navigate to the zip file on your computer, and hit Install. Then, when you head to "Get Add-Ons", you'll see the new repository listed as a choice, and you can browse add-ons from it just like you did the official repository.
While we'd recommend browsing the repositories to see what cool add-ons you find, there are definitely some we'd consider must-haves. Here are some of our favourites (all of them are from the official XBMC repository unless otherwise noted).
Location: Audio Add-Ons and Video Add-Ons, available in many repositories
What they do: It's not one specific add-on, but if you look in Audio Add-Ons and Video Add-Ons, you can usually find quite a few of your favourite content providers, from whom you can stream shows right from the Music or Video sections of XBMC. They range from real broadcast channels like PBS, NPR, Fox News, and Cartoon Network to podcast networks like TWiT, Jupiter Broadcasting, TED Talks, Revision3, and even web videos like YouTube and Funny or Die.
And those are just the ones that come with XBMC. You can also find some other great ones in third-party repositories, like CNN in the Google Code repository, or Democracy Now and The Guild in the Queeup repository.
Scrapers Location: Album Information, Artist Information, Movie Information, etc.
What they do: XBMC comes with a few "scrapers" that get info for your movies, TV shows, and music, but if you'd like to use another scraper, you can find quite a few in the XBMC add-ons library. This is most useful if you have a particularly niche need (like anime shows or metal music) that the regular scrapers don't fulfil.
Location: Audio Add-Ons
What it does: You can search GrooveShark, play and create playlists, and generally just jam out to whatever music your heart desires.
Multiroom Audio Location: Program Add-Ons
What it does: This lets you play audio on multiple XBMC boxes at once. So, if you wanted to play music in the living room and the kitchen at the same time, this would be the add-on you use. It only works on Windows and Linux, and takes a bit of setup to use, but the developer has written some very nice instructions that should get you up and running in no time.
Location: Audio Add-Ons
What it does: You feed it an OPML of your favourite podcast feeds, and you can stream them right from the Music section of XBMC.
TVTunes Location: Video Add-Ons in the Passion-XBMC.org Repository
What it does: This is a pretty cool add-on that will download the theme song to each TV show in your library, and loop the songs of each show as you browse through them. It only works with certain skins, but is a fun little feature to add.
Location: Program Add-Ons
What they do: Whether you use BitTorrent or Usenet to download your movies and TV shows, XBMC has quite a few download managers in its add-ons catalogue. By setting up uTorrent's WebUI, Trasmission's Remote Control, or Usenet through SABnzbd and inputting the right information to the corresponding XBMC add-on, you can check on (and, in come cases, even start and stop) your downloads from your TV, whether they're on that computer or a remote one.
Location: Angelscry Repository > Program Add-Ons
What it does: Want to play video games on your XBMC box without having to leave XBMC? We actually showed you how to use the original Launcher plugin back before add-ons were easy to install—now all you need to do is install the plugin from Program Add-Ons and get to emulatin'.
Advanced Launcher isn't the only add-on of its type available; if you aren't happy with it, you can also check out the original Launcher add-on and ROM Collection Browser, both available in the Official XBMC Repository. Advanced Launcher looks like it has the most advanced thumbnail and fanart scraping capabilities, though.
XBMC Library Auto Update Location: Program Add-Ons
What it does: If you'd prefer not to have to restart XBMC every time you add something new to the library (or every time your automated system does it for you), you can start up this add-on at the beginning of your XBMC session, and it will automatically scan your library for new content on a certain time interval.
XBMC File Cleaner Location: Program Add-Ons
What it does: This neat little extension scans your library for watched TV shows and movies and deletes them based on things like age, rating, and free space on your disk. You can further configure how it works in its settings. Be careful with this one; if you aren't, you could delete all your movies (yikes!).
Location: Skin, in many repositories (specifically, the Passion-XBMC.org repo has quite a few)
What they do: No longer will you have to manually search out and download XBMC skins for your box! Just head to the "Skin" section of the add-ons manager, and you'll find a nice helping of popular XBMC skins that you can install with one click.
These are just a few of our favourite add-ons we've found after playing with the new version of XBMC. There are quite a few more out there, so head over to the XBMC add-ons manager. You're bound to find something pretty awesome. When you do, be sure to share your favourite add-ons with us in the comments.