Super-Power Your Media Centre With These 9 Hacks

featured mediacenter   Super Power Your Media Centre With These 9 HacksThe media center is the ultimate living room experience; one PC to play everything, one PC to find and download, and one PC to bring in all the family and bind them in front of a glowing widescreen TV. And if you didn’t get that reference, you ought to watch more movies. But with a few hacks, your humble media center can do so much more.

Let’s take a look at 10 ways to supercharge your media center experience.

Play Retro Videogames

Requirements: XBMC

Personally, I think old games are overrated, but if you’re itching for some finger twitching and you run Xbox Media Center, check out the Rom Launcher plugin, which you’ll find under the Programs add-ons menu. Justin first showed us this back in January, and it’s superb – along with the other 4 XBMC plugins which you really ought to go check out right now.

xbmc roms   Super Power Your Media Centre With These 9 Hacks

Automatically Download The Latest Episodes of Your Favorite Show

Requirements: Usenet provider (limited torrent support)

Integrating nicely with XBMC, SickBeard will seek out new episode of your favorite show, download from your specified NZB source and USENET provider, then add them to your library with all the right metadata added. While we don’t condone piracy, if you were the type of person who enjoys watching the latest shows for free, this is a tool you would probably want.

sickbeard   Super Power Your Media Centre With These 9 Hacks

Get Hulu And Netflix US Selections, Even From Abroad

Requirements: money

I don’t think Americans quite realize how privileged they are when it comes to access to media; everyone else in the world, we get shafted. However, if you’re a Netflix subscriber in the UK, or anywhere else for that matter, you can quite easily gain access to the vast US selection – and to Hulu and other regional services – by using a simple bit of DNS hackery. Tunlr is a free service but no guarantees are made and Netflix isn’t supported, but on the paid side, I’ve found UnoTelly to be very reliable for under $10 a month.

Unotelly Netflix   Super Power Your Media Centre With These 9 Hacks

Unlike a full VPN which tunnels all your traffic through another country, UnoTelly and other DNS hacks only redirect the packets of information pertaining to your location when viewing regional locked services – there is no slowdown in internet speed and you’re able to watch in full HD if your connection is fast enough.

Add a Remote Control

Requirements: Mobile device, or Universal Remote and IR receiver

If you have one of those awesome universal remotes and some kind of IR reader for your PC, you can set it up to control your media center using LIRC or the WinLIRC port for windows. It’s a pretty complicated setup though, so head on over to the project page for instructions and supported devices.

plex ios   Super Power Your Media Centre With These 9 Hacks

A far easier option is to use your iPad or Android device as a remote control for either Plex or XBMC. The Plex client (iOS, Android) is far more polished in my opinion (pictured above), but it also costs $4.99; the official XBMC remote (iOS, Android) is free (pictured below).
xbmc ios   Super Power Your Media Centre With These 9 Hacks

Minimize or Hide Hardware

Required: time, effort, or money

Did you know a $35 Raspberry Pi can run XBMC? Indeed it can, and with the size of those things you could even bolt in it on the back of your TV! No more ugly great tower or desktop PCs.

concelaed htpc   Super Power Your Media Centre With These 9 Hacks

Alternatively, what about hiding your existing bulky hardware into furniture, or swapping out your ugly tower case for a sleep HTPC case that makes it look like just another bit of AV kit? Don’t forget check on motherboard sizes though – many HTPC cases will only accept Micro ATX.

Go For The Cinema Experience with a Huge Projector

Required: money

Okay, not exactly a hack as such, but projectors are seriously underrated bits of kit; yes, they can be difficult to view in the daytime, but who watches TV or movies in the day anyway? You ought to be outside! Nothing beats the cost effectiveness and big screen cinema-like experience of a projector, added to which their portability lends itself to impromptu garden movie screenings in the summer and hilarious Halloween effects.

You can get an HD 3D projector for as little as $450 on Amazon, capable of projecting a far bigger image than you could ever afford from a TV at that price – all you need add is a blank white wall.

projector bedroom   Super Power Your Media Centre With These 9 Hacks

Image credit

Record TV

Neither XBMC nor Plex handle TV recording, though they’re the best solutions for playing your downloaded or ripped media. If you do want to record TV, you’ll need a separate package such Windows Media Center (not included with Windows 8 but currently free for Windows 8 Pro owners), or Linux users can check out Myth TV. Personally, I just phoned up my cable ISP, added TV services, got a free 500gb TiVo box, and am now paying £10 less per month than I was before.

I rarely watch TV to be honest, so having a separate bit of software on the media center and the hassle involved with setting it up versus simply adding it to my cable internet package was an easy decision to make. You’ve also got a lot more considerations when it comes it comes to signal format in the UK; the analogue signal has now been completely switched off – rendering a lot of TV cards useless – while newer devices can sometimes only record HD channels from FreeSAT signal and not over the air digital broadcasts – it’s a mess, basically.

Resume Playing From The Bedroom, or Anywhere

Required: Plex, or XBMC

If you have Plex, the good news is that you can already resume playing your media from any Plex client you own; since media is served from one central location, there’s not additional setup and everything is happy in the world.

Sadly, XBMC isn’t quite as easy since it’s designed to only really play local media. You’ll need to install MySQL in order to setup a shared database of your media, and get more familiar than most of us like with the command line. If you absolutely must run XBMC clients but love the networked capabilities of Plex, consider the PleXBMC plugin, which is also capable of resuming playback from the last know position, though isn’t quite as nicely integrated.

Add Creative Lighting

Watch the video, and try to tell me that’s not the most awesome ambient lighting setup, ever. Though this video is from a Russian-only device, similar project files and software are available for Arduino. The only downside is that it’ll work with anything from your PC, but not raw TV signals or your Xbox 360. Here’s a simple 1 channel project that averages the colour of the whole display, while this is a more complicated setup that gives you about 8 channels (potentially more) for a multicolor backlight.

Got any more media center hacks? Tell the world comments below. If you’re just starting out on the path to media centre bliss, be sure to check our free PDF guide.

The comments were closed because the article is more than 180 days old.

If you have any questions related to what's mentioned in the article or need help with any computer issue, ask it on MakeUseOf Answers—We and our community will be more than happy to help.

12 Comments -

Alex Perkins

That TV setup is freaking epic.

Alexander

Great article :P Gonna use this and the 4 plugins linked in the article !

Joe

So I have been using the xbmc official remote for android for the entire year and a half I have been using xbmc and its great. From its simple setup and layout to the ability to easily look through your movies it did a great job. Over time you can find a few annoying things you just wish they would add and so far they haven’t done much in a while. So after trying out a slew of other remotes I came across one called Yatse for android and have been very impressed with what it has to offer. It has a similar layout like the official one including an option for the remote and the ability to look at all your movies and tv shows in a flashy view. The additions that sold me to continue using this over the official one was the ability to turn subtitles on or off from the remote, the ability to turn on/off random play for music which is basically shuffling, and also being able to lookup files in directories including music playlists. They also have widgets for this application to put it directly on your home screen which was an added bonus. Anyone looking for a little more functionality should check out Yatse.

darth

yeah sure, old games are overrated. the newer ones are thaaaaaat much better and innovative!!!!!! They’re not a constant rehash of the same genres.

see, i too can say funny things with a straight face, like Jimmy here in this article

Ă‚dil FarĂ´Ă´q

Great article but difficult to find these in my country

Avish Kansakar

hmm i shall do this for my winter break… i love retro games

Junil Maharjan

Bookmarking this. Thanks for this great article.

Ritwick Saikia

Hope I get to try this out sometime when I get some serious money :)

Walter Gilbert

We will include some of these suggestions in our new home theater

Many thanks

Brenden Barlow

i must try these (ive been considering xbmc for a while, just havent gotten around to it…)

Jeff Fisher

“free PDF guide” throws a 404