If you’re after a powerful free media centre solution then look no further than XBMC, an open source solution that has recently reached version 11. The media centre comes in a variety of flavours including Windows, Linux and Mac OS X as well as iOS for jailbroken devices.
Over the years XBMC’s skins have evolved from being functional to beautiful and the latest release, codenamed “Eden”, adds even more polish. Downloading and installing these skins is all taken care of from within XBMC itself, so the hardest part of this process is deciding which skin is right for you.
Here are my personal favorites for this latest release.
Downloading & Switching Skins
As mentioned, alternate skins can be downloaded and applied from within XBMC. Choose Settings from the main menu followed by Appearance and then Skin. Any available skins that you have installed will be listed here and clicking Get More will list any others that are available for download.
Once a skin has been downloaded you will be asked if you would like to apply it or you can use the previous menu. If a skin has its own preferences then you will find the option in XBMC’s Settings menu.
Confluence (Default Skin)
Before you accuse me of cheating I must add that Confluence is a brand new skin for the latest release, XBMC 11 “Eden”. It might look strikingly similar to skins that have been featured in the past but now it’s been redesigned, optimized and tweaked to work like a charm.
Truth be told you might not even care that other themes are available once you’ve used it for a short while. The dark colour scheme fits the media centre persona exactly and it’s not too heavy on resources either, which is great for low-powered systems.
Regardless of what you think of the other skins here, I’d strongly recommend trialing the new and improved Confluence before you switch. The skin is also available in a classic vertical layout as “Confluence Vertical” (above) in the theme library.
This is a beautiful skin that would suit anyone looking to use XBMC with a remote control as mouse support has been omitted (though a wireless keyboard or game pad would do the job just fine). Aeon Nox depends on a very simple user interface that makes use of striking backgrounds for eye candy and is similar to that used by the Apple TV.
As well as a beautiful main menu (and weather information just by hovering over the Weather option) Aeon comes with a “Featured” screen that scrapes for new episodes of TV shows, recently added movies, unplayed music and so on. This undoubtedly simplifies the “what to watch” process if you’re indecisive by nature.
As you can see from the screenshots, Aeon is a sleek and beautiful solution for those who don’t like too much information on-screen at once, and much of it can be customized from the Settings menu.
What first appears to be a simple theme soon reveals itself to be so much more, Metropolis is in fact a highly customizable theme thanks to the customization menu in XBMC’s Settings area.
While it’s not quite as slick on first glance as a few of the other themes in this article, Metropolis suits any control scheme, has a big bold clock and current weather display and has recently been optimized to work well with the latest XBMC 11 release.
I’d recommend switching the home screen from “list” to “icon” mode for a gorgeous horizontal scrolling main menu.
Considering XBMC is the revving engine behind Boxee it was only a matter of time before somebody created a Boxee-style skin, and that’s exactly what Xeebo is. The theme is quite a bit different to the rest here, and this is definitely a skin that heavily depends on metadata from your library to look its best.
The main menu auto-hides and resides on the left-hand side of the screen, with content taking precedence in the middle. Lists and menu views look great with the Boxee-derived colour scheme and the theme isn’t too resource intensive which ensures it remains responsive.
This theme is particularly quick to navigate thanks to the fact that the main menu is always on the left-hand side, making it easy to switch from one source or add-on to the next.
XBMC’s answer to the Apple TV, Quartz is a very faithful Apple TV clone that offers a lightweight and minimalist way of browsing and watching your media. If you’re actually running XBMC on an Apple TV then this theme will probably appeal as it handles almost identically to the real thing.
In true Apple style this theme keeps it stupidly simple, so if you’re sick of busy themes with too much going on then Quartz is the theme for you.
Much like the Apple TV itself, it’s so simple even your grandma could use it.
PM3 stands for Project Mayhem 3, the third iteration of what was once the default skin for XBMC. The skin will seem familiar to those of you who remember converting your fat old Xbox into a media centre back in the day.
It has since been succeeded by Confluence but remains an attractive and simple skin that works just fine with the latest release of XBMC.
Those of you looking for a “classic” XBMC experience need look no further than PM3.HD, especially since it now supports high resolution displays!
XBMC is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to streaming your video, music or even online content via the many add-ons available. Don’t forget that nearly all of the skins featured here have their own settings that make them even more adaptable.
Do you use XBMC? What do you think of Eden? Which is your favourite theme and why? Give us your recommendations in the comments, below.
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