Guides

Kodi Setup Guide

How to Set Up Kodi: The Essential Kodi Setup Guide

I’ve had so many questions from you, my readers, about how to setup Kodi so I decided to put together my Kodi Setup Guide.

There’s no doubt that Kodi is the media frontend. Whether you’ve got a HTPC or an Android TV box, Kodi is a must-install application on your streaming device to give you the best multimedia experience.

“How to Set Up Kodi: The Essential Kodi 17.0 Setup Guide” will take you through the installation and configuration to ensure you get the best out of your Kodi setup.

Whether you’re wondering how to setup Kodi on Android, Windows or even LibreELEC, the process is essentially identical regardless of platform so my guide’s got your back!

With that out of the way, let’s get started.

What’s in this Kodi Guide?

What is Kodi?

At its core, Kodi (previously known as XBMC) is a media player that plays back an impressive array of multimedia, including videos, music and images.

However, calling Kodi just a media player would be doing it a massive disservice.

Kodi also features a 10-foot user interface that’s designed for use on TVs and with remote controls.

It also handles streaming media from a wide variety of sources, including local and network storage, AirPlay, UPnP and the internet.

It’s incredibly user friendly, insanely customisable and immensely powerful.

Kodi Background

Whilst Kodi seems new and shiny, it comes with an exceptional legacy behind it.

Kodi is actually the new name for XBMC. XBMC started back in 2003, as an evolution of the Xbox Media Player on the Microsoft’s original Xbox, acting as an intuitive frontend to media playback and games on the newly hacked console.

As time progressed and the original Xbox was phased out of production, Xbox Media Centre outgrew its roots.

As part of the movement away from its console heritage, the software re-branded as XBMC and was usable on a variety of platforms. Over the years, it has grown immensely popular due to its combination of stability, diverse features and immense customizability.

However, its legacy has caused issues with some referring to it as Xbox Media Center rather than XBMC – whilst an innocent mistake, the use of Microsoft’s trademark potentially put fans in Microsoft’s crosshairs. Thus, Kodi was born.

That’s enough history, let’s get on to setting up Kodi…

Organise your Multimedia First

Before you start setting up Kodi, it’s important that you get all your media files in order.

Kodi will use filenames and paths, as well as information stored inside files (called metadata) to work out what they are. If you don’t have your files organised properly, Kodi won’t be able to recognise them properly.

Organising your media files is a surprisingly in-depth topic which I’ll cover in another guide. For now, I’ll share my preferred layout for multimedia to keep everything super organised.

Each media type should be organised into its own folder for easy cataloging. For example, I’ve got separate folders for Movies, TV Shows, Music, and Pictures.

I use the same layout whether the files are stored on my HTPC or my server. This makes it really easy when I’m looking for something in particular

Organising TV Shows

When organising your TV shows, I recommend using the following layout:

/TV Shows/{TV Show Name}/Season XX/{TV Show Name}.SXXEXX.{Episode Name}.{Filetype}

Where XX is the appropriate Season or Episode number according to TheTVDB.com.

So for example, if we picked the first episode of one of my favorite TV shows “Family Guy”:

/TV Shows/Family Guy/Season 1/Family Guy.S01E01.Death has a Shadow.mp4

If you’ve got what TheTVDB calls a Special (like a holiday special that’s not considered part of the season), put them in as Season 0 and the episode number as per TheTVDB.

Going back to my Family Guy example, if we had the “Family Guy 100th Episode Special“, it’s path would be:

/TV Shows/Family Guy/Specials/Family Guy.S00E09.Family Guy 100th Episode Special.mp4

It’s pretty straight forward thankfully though using a tool like TVRename can handle a lot of the hard work for you.

Organising Movies

For movies, I typically prefer to have each movie inside its own folder. This is because it allows me to all related files such as cover art together:

/Movies/{Movie Name} ({Year})/{Movie Name} ({Year}).{Filetype}

I always include the year as Hollywood has a tendency to recycle names which causes confusion (thanks Ghostbusters (2016)!).

As an example, let’s take Star Wars: A New Hope:

/Movies/Star Wars – A New Hope (1977)/Star Wars – A New Hope (1977).mp4

Any other files relating to Star Wars: A New Hope would also go in that folder.

Organising Music

Unlike video files, music files (typically MP3s) can store information about the music inside them in what’s known as an ID3 tag.

An ID3 tag is holds information about a music file such as the Artist, Album Name, Track Name, Track Number and more.

If you’re music files are missing tags, a tag editor such as MusicBee (my personal favorite) or TagScanner can help fill in the gaps.

Kodi will actually use this information to build its music library but it’s still useful to keep your music files in a logical folder layout.

If your music files are tagged correctly, many music managers can even organise your files into folders for you!

I like to organise music by Album Artist and Album for easy cataloguing:

/Music/{Artist}/{Album Artist} ({Year})/{Track Number} – {Track Name}.{Filetype}

For example:

/Music/Alkaline Trio/Crimson (2005)/01 – Time to Waste.mp3

For compilation albums, I set the Album Artist as “Various Artists” as there are separate artist and album artist tags.

Now let’s get on to setting up Kodi!

How to Install Kodi 17

Kodi is available on a massive array of platforms, such as Windows, Linux, Mac and Android, so you can download Kodi 17.0 from a variety of sources.

The latest version of Kodi available is currently Kodi 17.1 Krypton.

Just head over to the Kodi Download page and download Kodi 17.1 for your platform of choice.

If you’re on a Windows 10 PC, you can download Kodi from the Windows Store.

Just open the Windows Store app, search for Kodi and click the green install button.

Downloading Kodi from the Windows Store is the best option if you’re on Windows 10, as the Microsoft Store will keep the app updated automatically so you’ll always have the latest version.

Those on Android can grab it from Google Play. Much like the Microsoft Store release, Google Play will ensure Kodi is automatically updated as new versions are released.

For the sake of this guide, I’m going to use Kodi 17.1 Krypton as it’s the latest version of Kodi available.

If you’re using the Windows installer, make sure you leave the installer set to a “Full” installation – This will install all relevant files and will offer you the most painless setup experience.

The installer will complete after some time and you will be ready to start!

Launch Kodi

Launch Kodi and you should see the Kodi splashscreen after a few moments:

Before you know it, you’ll be seeing Kodi’s Home page with the new (and very stylish!) “Estuary” skin:

Setting Up Kodi

Now that you’ve installed it, it’s time to set up Kodi.

To access all of Kodi’s settings (and there’s a lot!), simply select the Gear icon on the homepage:

Change Language and Regional Settings

Kodi should automatically set the time for your based on your streaming device’s clock.

However, Kodi will typically default to a US region. If you’re not in the US (like this particular Aussie), navigate to Interface Settings>Regional to adjust your Region preferences.

Kodi Setup - Regional Settings
No more farenheit for me!

Here you can select your language and “Region Default Format“. This will change the most common regional settings such as time, temperature and speed units.

Configure Weather Settings

Kodi can show weather forecasts and other weather information. I’ll admit it’s come in pretty handy when deciding if the weather is nice enough to break my binge watching session!

To set up Weather for your area, navigate to Settings>Service Settings>Weather and select “Service for weather information“.

Kodi doesn’t come with any weather services out of the box so you’ll be presented with an empty window:

Select “Get More…” to see all the weather providers Kodi supports.

There’s a few providers available so I’ll pick Yahoo Weather as it’s the easiest to set up.

Kodi will automatically download and install the weather service for you.

Now select “Settings” to configure it. It’ll show you up to 5 locations you can monitor. Let’s set one up for now:

Select “Location 1” and type in your nearest location. I’ve picked Tokyo as an example. You’ll get some suggestions of possible locations. Just pick the one that’s closest to you:

Repeat the process for any other locations you want then click OK to save them.

Now if you go to the Weather menu on your home screen, Kodi will show you the current weather and a forecast for the week. Neat huh?

Enable Some Other Important Settings

There’s a few settings that I strongly suggest you enable so you get the most out of your streaming device.

Now some of these settings are hidden in the Basic settings level so you’ll need to enable Standard settings or above.

To do this, open one of the Settings menus and look for a gear icon and the word Basic in the bottom left corner.

Select that until it changes to Standard or above and more settings will appear.

Enable Automatic Refresh Rate Switching

Kodi offers automatic refresh rate switching which basically syncs your display (like your TV) refresh rate to that of your video.

Without going into too much detail, it’ll make your videos look much better if your streaming device supports it.

If you’ve got a Windows HTPC or Linux-based Kodi distribution running, you should be all good.

Those using Android TV boxes, this may or may not work depending on your firmware. That said, devices such as the Nvidia Shield and WeTek Hub will definitely work.

To enable automatic framerate switching, you’ll need to go to Settings>Player Settings and select “Adjust display refresh rate” and change this to “On Start/Stop“.

This means that when you start playing a video, if it’s framerate doesn’t match well with your display’s refresh rate, Kodi will try and change your display’s refresh rate to match the video and restore it after you stop the video.

This leads to much smoother looking video, particularly if you’re watching movies.

Enable Audio Passthrough

If you’ve got a device that supports audio decoding such as an amplifier, I’d recommend you enable audio passthrough to get the most out of your setup.

Navigate to Settings>System Settings>Audio and enable “Allow Passthrough“.

This will let Kodi pass through multichannel audio directly to your amplifier for decoding, allowing you to experience surround sound if your video has a multi-channel audio track.

Enable UPnP

Kodi is designed to be a comprehensive media solution and being able to stream multimedia like movies and music to it via UPnP is awesome.

To enable UPnP playback, navigate to Settings>Services Settings>UPnP/DLNA and select “Allow remote control via UPnP“.

Kodi will now appear as a UPnP Renderer in supported apps so you can use apps like BubbleUPnP to stream videos directly to Kodi from other devices and even control playback.

I often use it to show music and videos from my smartphone on the big screen.

Enable AirPlay

If you’ve got any Apple devices, I’d recommend enabling AirPlay to allow you to stream music and videos to Kodi using Apple’s proprietary streaming technology.

First, you’ll need to make sure you have Zeroconf enabled under Settings>Services Settings>General. Turn on “Announce services to other systems” to enable it.

Now, go to Settings>Services Settings>AirPlay and enable “Enable AirPlay Support

Please note that as Kodi is using an unofficial AirPlay solution, certain features may not work.

Enable Remote Control Support for Remote Apps

If you’re wanting to use your smartphone as a Kodi remote using apps like Kore or Yatse, you’ll need to enable Remote Control support.

Go to Settings>Services Settings>Control and select “Allow remote control via HTTP“.

Now, you’re remote apps should be able to find your Kodi installation and control it.

Setting Up Your Media

What is the Media Library?

Kodi organises all your media by using a Media Library.

The media library is basically a database that houses a list of all your multimedia files such as movies and TV shows, along with other information about them.

This other information is called meta-data and includes things such as the year, actors and plots.

In order to get files into Kodi’s media library, you’ll need to tell Kodi where all your media files are.

The great thing about Kodi is that it doesn’t care where or how your media files are stored. So if all your movies are stored locally on your streaming device or you want to stream movies from your server, all you need to do is tell Kodi where your files are and it’ll handle the rest.

Adding Video Sources (i.e. TV Shows and Movies)

Go to Movies on your Home Screen. As no movies have been added yet, Kodi will take you to the Files section to add your sources.

Select Add Source and browse to the directory where you’re keeping your files. Let’s do movies as an example:

You can click on “<None>” if you want to enter the path manually or Browse to choose the folder that contains your videos:

You’ll notice that the Browse menu contains both your local storage and networking sources. Kodi doesn’t care where your files are stored, it just needs to know where they are.

For example, if your files are on a Samba share on your server, just pick “Windows network (SMB)” and enter your share’s details to add it to Kodi.

Kodi will suggest a name for the media source based on the folder name. However, you can enter your own if you prefer.

Once you’ve chosen your media source and named it, click OK to save:

Now, Kodi needs to know what type of videos the folder contains. Choose This directory contains to tell Kodi what type of content it has in there such as movies or TV shows.

I’ve picked Movies in this example so Kodi will find the metadata (known as scraping) from The Movie Database:

There’s also scanning options to help improve accuracy depending on your folder layout.

Kodi will then prompt you if you want to refresh your library. Say “Yes” and Kodi will get to work “scraping” your videos and finding matching movie titles:

It’ll also download the appropriate metadata, as well as any cover art. Thanks to Kodi, your movie library won’t just be organised, it’ll look great too!

This process can take a while depending on the number of files you have and the speed of your internet connection.

Thankfully, Kodi can do this in the background so you can keep using Kodi while it does its thing.

When it’s all done, selecting Movies on the Home Screen will show you a list of all your movies organised in alphabetical order, along with appropriate cover art:

Adding Music Sources

Setting up music follows the same basic process as adding video sources, just with less options.

Enter the Music section on the Home screen then navigate to Files>Add music… and pick your music folder just as you did when you added your videos folder:

Click OK and accept the prompt to refresh the library:

You’ll notice you didn’t need to tell Kodi what was in the folder as there’s no sub-types of music according to Kodi’s media library.

After Kodi has finished refreshing the library, you’ll see your albums (and any embedded cover art) appearing on the Home screen when you hover over Music:

Adding Picture Sources

By now, you should have got the hang of adding media sources. Pictures are no different.

Enter the Pictures section on the Home screen then select Add pictures… and choose your Pictures folder as you did for your music and video folders:

This time there’s no refreshing but opening Pictures will show you thumbnails of all your images to browse.

Customising Kodi

Install Add-Ons

Kodi supports addons which are plugins that can greatly extend Kodi’s abilities.

There’s an impressive array available, both official and unofficial, covering everything from new video streaming services to torrent clients.

Out of the box, Kodi comes with a few popular ones such as YouTube to allow you to get up and running quickly.

Let’s install the Red Bull TV addon from the official Kodi repository which will let us stream videos from Red Bull’s service.

First, navigate to Add-ons and select “Install from repository”:

Browse to the Kodi Add-on you want to install. I’ve picked “Red Bull TV” but there’s hundreds in Kodi’s official repository:

Select it and Kodi will show you some details about the Addon as well as an Install button.

After you’ve clicked Install, Kodi will then download the add-on and any dependencies for you. You should see it appear on your list of add-ons on the Home screen.

Install New Skins

If you’re not happy with the default Estuary skin, the Kodi community has produced an amazing array of alternative skins.

To install a new skin, go to Settings>Interface Settings>Skin and select “Skin“.

Kodi will now show you a list of installed Skins. If you’re wanting to change your current skin to one you’ve previously installed, pick it now:

Otherwise, select “Get More…” and Kodi will fetch a list of all the skins available in the official Kodi repository.

Pick one that you like the look of from List. My favorites skins are Amber and Aeon Nox so I’ve picked Amber for this guide.

Kodi will download and install the skin, as well as any add-on dependencies that it needs:

Once that’s done, it’ll ask if you want to keep the new skin. Confirm and you’ll have your stylish new skin:

Check out Amber in all its minimalist glory!

Skins can be customised by going into “Configure skin…“. Each skin has its own settings you can tweak so I recommend playing around to see what you like.

Tweak Main Menu Items

Kodi offers a massive array of items on the main menu. However, you may not use all of them.

Let’s say you don’t have a TV tuner on your HTPC so you don’t want the TV menu.

Just navigate to Settings>Skin Settings>Main menu items and toggle the “TV” item to remove it from the home screen:

You can also make further adjustments, such as toggling Category shortcuts and more! Play around to customise the Home menu to your liking.

Enjoy Kodi

Phew, that was a long guide!

Now, Kodi’s such a massive beast and there’s plenty more to configure and tweak.

That said, my Kodi set up guide should have got you to the point where you can actually enjoy Kodi and what it can do.

All you need to do is grab the popcorn, sit back and enjoy the Kodi experience!

If you’re wanting more information, I’d highly recommend checking out the official Kodi Forums and Kodi wiki as they really are a wealth of information – particularly if you’re after information on some of the more technical or obscure elements of Kodi.

Have fun with Kodi!

Did you have any trouble setting up Kodi? Was there anything else you want me to cover? Let me know in the comments below!

Holiday Gift Guide 2016

The holiday season is once again upon us and the frantic search for the perfect gift for your loved ones begins.

Thankfully, I’ve taken the hassle out of Christmas shopping by pulling together a comprehensive list of gift ideas this holiday season.

Whether you’re looking for gifts for guys or girls, check out some of my favourites that would make the perfect Christmas gift for anyone who loves home theater and gadgets as much as I do!

I’ll keep adding to this list over the next few days as I find more and more gifts you’ll love!

Streaming Media Players

Chromecast

google-chromecast-gift-guide

Google’s Chromecast really is a must-have device for anyone who loves streaming media.

The Chromecast allows you to stream content from your favorite services such as YouTube, Netflix and Hulu directly to your TV whilst using your smartphone as a remote.

Whilst they’re not as powerful as a traditional streaming media box such as Roku or Fire TV, they’re dead simple to use and, starting at $35, adding one to your loved one’s Xmas stocking is a no-brainer.

Check Price at Newegg

Nvidia Shield TV

nvidia-shield-tv-android-tv-box-gift-guide

There’s nothing quite like getting the “best” of something – knowing that everything else in the market pales in comparison.

That’s what you’re getting when you get the Nvidia Shield TV.

Despite being one of the most expensive Android TV boxes on the market, its performance is unrivalled, boasting unparalleled gaming performance, 4K video playback (including Netflix!), built-in Chromecast support and some of the best support around.

Check Price at Amazon

WeTek Hub/WeTek Play 2

wetek-hub-android-tv-box-gift-guide

WeTek have been around for quite a while (their original WeTek Play was one of the first Android TV boxes that I reviewed!) and the company has built an impressive reputation for well-designed Android devices with excellent support.

Both the WeTek Hub and WeTek Play 2 are powered by the quadcore Amlogic S905-H chipset and are capable of playing back Netflix in high definition – a feature few Android boxes can boast.

Additionally, thanks to working closely with Team Kodi, WeTek devices have some of the best Kodi support around.

If you’re looking for an excellent streaming media player that won’t break the bank, check out WeTek’s devices.

Check Price at WeTek

Samsung U8500 4K Bluray Player

samsung-ubd-k8500-3d-wi-fi_4k-ultra-hd-blu-ray-player-gift-guide

4K is definitely more than a buzzword, boasting a much higher resolution over 1080p.

With support for 4K Bluray discs, HDR support for improved color range, built-in wifi and smart TV functions that allow you to stream movies from your favorite apps, Samsung U8500 4K is worth a look for those wanting to upgrade their movie viewing experience.

It currently boasts a 4-star rating over at Amazon with over 350 reviews.

Check Price at Amazon

Projectors

UNIC UC46 LED Projector

unic-uc46-led-projector-gift-guide

Coming in at under $100, the UNIC UC46 (Review) is an impressive projector for its price.

Though it won’t win any awards with its 800×480 pixel resolution (basically DVD quality) and low brightness, it’s a remarkably cheap way of getting a big screen for a night cinema or the kids room.

Check Price at GearBest

Headphones

Bluedio T3/T3+ Bluetooth 4.1 Headphones

bluedio-t3-bluetooth-headphones-gift-guide

The Bluedio T3 (Review) are an impressive set of Bluetooth 4.1 headphones which won’t break the bank.

With their alloy frame, 57mm drivers and built-in microphone for hands-free calling, the Bluedio T3 is an excellent choice for those wanting a bass-centric set of Bluetooth headphones.

They currently boast a 4-star rating on Amazon with over 300 reviews.

Check Price at Amazon

AKG K702 Studio Headphones

akg-k702-open-backed-headphones-gift-guide

The AKG K702 are an exceptionally well-reviewed set of over-the-ear headphones.

Featuring an open-back design and flat sound signature, the AKG K702 headphones are perfect for those wanting to hear their music exactly as the sound engineers attended.

Check Price at Amazon

Xiaomi Hybrid Headphones

xiaomi-hybrid-headphones-gift-guide

Xiaomi’s Hybrid Headphones (Review) are an amazing set of in-ear headphones which outperform headphones that cost 5 times as much.

For under $20, you’re getting a balanced set of dual-armature headphones that feature metal frames and braided cables to minimize tangling.

There’s even in-line music controls and a microphone for hands-free calling.

Check Price at Amazon

Other Gadgets

LIFX Smart Lightbulbs

lifx-color-1000-smart-light-bulb-gift-guide

The LIFX smart lightbulbs are a must-have gadget for those wanting to play with connected lights without needing a cumbersome hub like Philips Hue.

LIFX bulbs can be controlled via the excellent LIFX app, integrate with other smart home devices such as the Logitech Harmony remote or even connected up to popular automation service IFTTT to add even more smarts such as flashing when your favorite sports team gets a goal.

There’s a whole range of lighting solutions, from simple white lights to RGB lightbulbs and strip lights for those who want to add some spice to their lighting setup.

Check Price at Amazon

Logitech Harmony Elite Remote

logitech-harmony-elite-gift-guide

There’s nothing worse than needing to grab 15 different remotes when you want to watch a movie, right?

Thankfully, the Logitech Harmony Elite remote allows you to combine all of your remotes into a single remote that let’s you just enjoy your movie.

Featuring a unique activity-based approach (i.e. just hit “Play Movie” and everything will automatically switch on ready for you to watch a movie), its far more intuitive than any other universal remote in the market.

Additional features such as 2.4GHz connectivity for improved range, built-in Bluetooth for supported devices, a full color touchscreen , app-based control and support for IFTTT rounds out the package, making it a must have for any home theatre enthusiast.

Check Price at Amazon

What gadgets have you bought as presents this year? Anything you think I should add to the list?

HTPC Build

Choosing the Best Home Theater PC Build

So you’ve decided that you need to invest in a HTPC build. Great! You’re about to embark on an exciting journey. But how do you ensure that you are choosing the best home theater PC build for your needs and budget. We’ve put together this comprehensive guide on choosing the best HTPC build to ensure that you have the best media experience your money can buy.

What is a HTPC?

A home theater PC (HTPC) merges traditional computer functions with software (or frontend) that allows playback of your video, photo and audio content. HTPCs often enable other functions such as television recording and gaming. A HTPC frontend offers a 10-foot interface that often organises your media, adding covers, organises episodes into seasons and other features that make watching your media an absolute joy.

What Should I Look For When Choosing the Best Home Theatre PC Build for Me?

There are several key things you’ll need to consider:

  1. How you’ll use it
  2. Power Consumption, Cooling and Noise
  3. Hardware Codec Support
  4. Connectivity
  5. Form Factor
  6. Operating System
  7. HTPC Frontend

HTPC Build Factor 1: How You’ll Use It

HTPC Questions

What you want to use your HTPC for will have a big impact on choosing the best Home Theater PC build. HTPCs can be built for a variety of purposes, from basic media playback to hardcore gaming. This greatly influences the components your HTPC build will need.

First, make a list of use cases for your HTPC build:

  • What will it primarily be used for?
  • What features do you need?
  • What are the “nice-to-haves”?
  • What could you live without?

What you want to use your HTPC for will have affect your Home Theater PC build

Armed with this list, you can start comparing HTPC builds and PC hardware with your requirements. For example, if you are only watching movies, do you really need that $800 graphics card? Probably not. Spend the cash saved on other areas so you can avoid some of the other home theatre mistakes people make.

Other use cases for your HTPC build may include:

  • Watching and recording television – You’ll need a TV capture card and lots of storage for your recordings
  • Gaming – You need a good graphics card or strong integrated graphics (like AMD’s APUs)
  • Storing media – Make sure there is plenty of hard drive space
  • Acting as a media server – Focus on connectivity. Gigabit ethernet really is a must.
  • Streaming – You’ll need Ethernet or a fast wireless card (Wireless N  as a minimum, Wireless AC recommended)

Like I said before, work out what you need and use this to tailor your PC hardware to best match your needs.

HTPC Build Factor 2: Power Consumption, Cooling and Noise

HTPC Computer Fan

So this is a deceptively important and all three factors are related. With a HTPC, you want it to be as quiet as possible. Nothing sucks you out of a movie faster than having a villain’s revelatory speech being drowned out by fans!

Look for the lowest power consumption in a build that meets your needs. The higher the power consumption, the more cooling you need and thus, the louder the HTPC build tends to be.

Key points to consider in your HTPC build:

  • Consider components that are passively cooled – no fans means no noise.
  • Invest in good quality CPU coolers and case fans if required. Stock CPU coolers can be quite noisy!
  • Add rubber grommets throughout the case – this will minimize vibration noise.
  • Consider SSDs if storage capacity is not of concern. They are silent and use less power.

This is one area that devices such as the Raspberry Pi dominate, as it is entirely passively cooled and has no moving parts meaning its perfectly silent.

HTPC Build Factor 3: Hardware Codec Support

Binary Code

So this one is a bit of a throwaway these days given how chips have evolved but is still relevant for some HTPC builds, particularly when considering some embedded systems. Hardware decoding refers to the ability to process certain video files via dedicated chips on the device rather than needing to use the CPU to handle the decoding. This offers several benefits. The first is that devices with low-end CPUs are able to play high quality video. For example, the Raspberry Pi only has a 700mhz processor but can decode 1080p H.264 video without issue. Secondly, power consumption is lower as these chips can decode video more efficiently than the CPU. With that being said, you want your HTPC build to offer hardware decoding for as many formats as possible. Main codecs to watch out for are MPEG-2, Xvid and H.264 as these are the most common video codecs out there. Pretty much every media device will handle these – although the Raspberry pi will require an MPEG-2 license to be purchased before playback is available. H.265 (HEVC), an upcoming codec offering approximately halved file sizes, is expected to become far more widespread in coming years and hardware support is starting to appear on chips. Whilst not an issue currently, it may be worthwhile considering if you want to somewhat “future proof” your build, particularly if the CPU is slow.

HTPC Build Factor 4: Connectivity

HTPC Wifi

Connectivity is crucial for any modern appliance and a HTPC is no different. Any HTPC build needs an internet connection to make the most of its functionality. Front ends such as Kodi use an internet connection to download fanart, news and weather. Furthermore, any streaming, whether local or internet, will require some form of network connection.
You have two options: wired or wireless. Wired is the gold standard – This is what geeks dream of. Wired connections are super-fast and reliable. That means less time buffering and troubleshooting, and more time watching your favourite shows.
Wireless is acceptable in most standards, but you need wireless N as a minimum. Wireless AC is better if you have a comparable router and network card, offering much higher speeds. However, you may still end up with streaming issues as interference can affect wireless quality.

HTPC Build Factor 5: Form Factor

HTPC Build

HTPC builds come in a variety of form factors, from traditional tower cases to tiny fanless boxes. To ensure you get the best HTPC build for you, you need to consider what form factor you need.

A key consideration is where is the HTPC going to be located. If you want to put it into a standard AV rack, it should match the form factor of most home theatre components. This ensures that not only will the HTPC blend in seamlessly with your other devices, but you will be able to offer it sufficient ventilation. Another thing that you need to consider is what other components you need for your HTPC build. For example, if it requires a lot of storage, a small mini-ITX case may not be able to fit enough hard drives in. However, I’d still recommend that you consider a NAS if you have multiple rooms that need to access your media.

HTPC Build Factor 6: Operating System

Windows Logo

The operating system has a significant impact on your HTPC build, particularly in terms of applications available. Your options will change based on ether hardware you are considering. Many embedded devices such as the Raspberry pi use Linux or Android. This means dedicated home theatre distributions such as Raspbmc act as both the Operating System and media launcher. Furthermore, many dedicated media devices only run their own operating system that cannot be replaced.

For x86 HTPC builds, we recommend Windows 8.1 due to its wider compatibility with many peripheral devices, such as remotes and TV dongles. Linux is also an option, with distributions such as Linux Mint for a Windows-like experience or OpenELEC to transform your HTPC build into an appliance-style device.

HTPC Build Factor 7: HTPC Frontend

XMBC-Confluence

Like the Operating System, your choice of frontend will impact your media experience. While there are a number of frontends out there, we recommend XBMC/Kodi across the board due to its power, user friendliness and cross-platform nature.

That’s Great, But What Do You Recommend?

As mentioned previously, I believe you really need to understand what you are after in a HTPC before trying to buy one.
However, for those of you who need a little assistance, check out our best Home Theatre PC builds that we have put together. Covering various budgets, each HTPC build will make a solid addition to your home theatre and allow you to have a great multimedia experience.

Title Photo Credit: Simon Wüllhorst via Compfight cc/Transformed from the Original

How to Recover Deleted Files

There’s few things as devastating as losing a whole bunch of precious files due to an accidental deletion or disk failure. It’s happened to a more youthful and foolish version of me, losing a whole bunch of photos and videos.

Whilst it may seem like a nightmare, all’s not lost. Using some free data recovery software, you can attempt to restore your lost data.

Whilst it’s not always 100% effective, if there’s a chance you can save your files, it’s worth a shot.

This guide will take you through how to recover deleted files using free software and hopefully save your data.

How is it Possible to Recover Deleted Files?

Files-Storage

It’s pretty common for people to think when a file is deleted, it’s gone forever. However, that’s not the case.

When a file is deleted, it’s generally not removed completely. The operating system simply marks the file as deleted and allows the space originally occupied by the file to be overwritten.

File recovery software relies on this to work correctly, scanning drives in order to find where the deleted files are located.

The chance of a file being successfully recovered depends on whether the space where the deleted file was has been overwritten, with the more data being written to a drive after deletion, the lower the chance of successful recovery.

How to Recover Deleted Files

Try to Minimize Writing to the Target Drive

Harddrive

The first step is to prevent anything from wiring to the disk if possible. If possible, try to make the drive read-only (like moving the write lock on an SD card)

As I mentioned before, writing to the drive reduces the chance of successful file recovery as you risk overwriting the deleted file.

Install File Recovery Software

EaseUS-Data-Recovery-Guide-01

The next step in File recovery is using data recovery software like the free EaseUS Data Recovery application (which can be used to recover up to 2GB of data) that I’ll be using for this guide. However, the steps will essentially be the same using any other data recovery application.

So first download the application from the EaseUS site, install it and then run it. Make sure you don’t install it to the drive that you’re wanting to recover data from as this would add more writes that we want to avoid.

Choose What Type of Data You’re Trying to Recover

Select which filetypes you trying to recover, from music to photos.

EaseUS-Data-Recovery-Guide-04

Scan The Drive

EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard will show you all the drives that it can currently scan. Simply choose the one you’re trying to recover from and click “Scan”.

In my case, I’m going to be scanning my Kingston Flash drive (mounted as F:) which gets lots of files added and removed, making it an ideal guinea pig for data recovery.

EaseUS-Data-Recovery-Guide-03

EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard starts by doing a quick scan first, reporting all the files and folders it has found.

If you can’t find the files you’re after, you can click the “Deep Scan” button to perform a slower yet more thorough scan.

EaseUS-Data-Recovery-Guide-05

Recover Your Files!

Browse through all the files that the application has found and see if you can recover the files you were after.

You’ll probably notice that most of the files won’t have their original filenames. This is expected behavior, as the deleted file may lose its filename in the process so you’ll need to try and use the Preview window to make sure you’re recovering the right files.

EaseUS-Data-Recovery-Guide-06
I was able to successfully recover a whole bunch of screenshots I’d deleted ages ago

I attempted to recover a number of the files that I’d deleted long ago with decent results. Filetype and how long ago the file was deleted had a big impact on the likelihood of successful recovery. The more recently the file was deleted, the more likely the file could be successfully recovered.

EaseUS-Data-Recovery-Guide-08

Additionally, the simpler the filetype, the more likely it would be recovered successfully. I had fantastic success with photos and documents, whilst video files was more of a mixed bag with some videos recovering fine whilst others froze and stuttered during playback. This is because video files are typically quite sensitive to corrupt data.

EaseUS-Data-Recovery-Guide-07
This file wasn’t so lucky

(Hopefully) Celebrate Then Back Up Everything

Thumbs-Up

Backup. Backup. Backup.

Hopefully, you’ve been able to restore your deleted files. Now, make sure you back them up!

This is probably the most important lesson to learn. Make sure you keep backups of everything important to make sure you don’t need to need to recover files in the first place.

With storage being so cheap (both locally and via cloud providers like Dropbox), there’s really no excuse to not have all your precious files protected in case of disaster.

Conclusion

I hope this guide’s helped and you’ve been able to recover your files.

Losing files sucks and I’ve learned the hard way that file recovery software is an excellent tool but it’s no silver bullet.

Have you been able to successfully recover files before? Let me know in the comments!

This article was sponsored by EaseUS. However, all opinions are my own.

The Best VR Games for Google Cardboard

Virtual reality is the latest exciting technology. Offering us the ability to dive into far more immersive experiences than traditional media, VR is an exciting development.

Though initially looking like solely the domain of pricey VR solutions like the Oculus Rift, Google’s own Google Cardboard allowed basic VR to be cheap. Using cardboard, some magnets, plastic lenses and your smartphone, you can get a “good enough” VR experience.

However, trying to find the best VR games for Google Cardboard can be a challenge. With so many apps boasting VR features but wildly varying quality, I’ve experienced some of the best (and worst) VR games on Google’s and Apple’s app stores to provide you the list of the best virtual reality games for Google Cardboard.

With all of these VR games, for maximum immersion, invest in a good VR headset and sound-isolating headphones.

End Space VR

End Space VR is easily the most immersive VR game I’ve played for Google Cardboard.  Placing you inside a spacecraft fighting for your life, End Space VR offers an arcade-like experience tasking you with shooting down enemy spacecraft whilst avoiding debris.

A recent update adds positional audio, making the whole experience far more immersive.

[appbox googleplay com.endspacevr ][appbox appstore id1056999701]

VR Tank Training

Enter the world of VR Tank Training, driving around a desert environment and destroying targets to get the best score. Global leaderboards are supported so you can compete against your friends to see who reins supreme.

[appbox googleplay com.dws.tankvr][appbox appstore id999943714]

Lamper VR: Firefly Rescue

An endless runner, Lamer VR: Firefly Rescue has you flying through vividly colored worlds collecting coins and powerups, all whilst trying to survive as long as possible.

There’s 5 characters to unlock, though they’re largely aesthetic changes but it gives you something to aim for.

It’s also completely free without any in-app purchases!

[appbox googleplay com.archiactinteractive.LamperVRCardboard][appbox appstore id1059593339]

InMind VR

InMind VR is an immersive VR rail shooter, taking you through the human mind to attack faulty neurons.

Graphics are top notch, 3D performance is fantastic and there’s elements of a story to round out the whole package.

[appbox googleplay com.nivalvr.inmind][appbox appstore id971720127]

InCell VR

InCell VR is an incredible experience, transporting you into a human cell that’s under attack from a virus. Combining action, racing and strategy elements with an interesting story and top-notch graphics, InCell VR is a must download.

There’s nothing quite like racing down a tube, spinning around whilst being chased.

[appbox googleplay com.nivalvr.incell][appbox appstore id1044805956]

Vanguard

Race through space dodging meteors and space debris, all whilst taking down enemies, in this fantastic rail shooter.

Vanguard features great graphics, voice-acted cutscenes and immersive 3D. It’s just a shame that the experience is over so quickly.

[appbox googleplay com.ZeroTransform.VanguardV][appbox appstore id1006371645]

VR One Cinema

Ok, it’s not technically a game but I couldn’t leave it off the list. VR One Cinema is a basic VR cinema that allows you to watch your movies (both 2D and 3D SBS) on a virtual silver screen.

You can move to several pre-set positions in the cinema and both your body and those inside the room are fully rendered, helping up the immersion.

The UI is pretty intuitive though the graphics are a little rudimentary but for a completely free app, it’s definitely something you should install.

[appbox googleplay de.zeiss.mmd.vronecinema][appbox appstore id945065060]

Cmoar VR Cinema Pro

If you’re wanting to upgrade your VR Cinema experience, you can’t go past Cmoar VR Cinema Pro.

Cmoar’s VR cinema ramps up the immersion with a far more detailed cinema with dynamic lighting cast by the screen. It looks incredible in action. In addition to 2D and 3D movie support, you can also watch 2D and 3D YouTube videos right in the app.

The experience comes at a slight premium, but if you’re planning to watch alot of movies in VR, it’s a small price to pay.

[appbox googleplay com.Cmoar.CmoarVirtualCinemaPro][appbox appstore id998700838]

What do you think of VR? Let us know in the comments!

Setting Up PS4 Remote Play on Windows and Mac

With PS4 firmware 3.50 and the new Remote Play app for Windows and Mac, you can now play your PS4 on your PC using Remote Play – a technology previously restricted to the Playstation Vita and select Sony smartphones.

I decided I’d put together a quick guide to getting up and running.

Step 1: Download the Client and Load Up the App

PS4-Remote-Play-PC-Download

Go and grab the new PS4 Remote Play client from the official Playstation Site.

Step 2: Connect up your Dualshock 4 via Micro USB

The app will prompt you to hook up your controller via USB. Do it!

Step 3: Log In to the PSNPS4-Remote-Play-PC-04

The Remote Play app will pop up a login for the PSN. This will allow the app to automatically find your PS4. Just make sure your console powered on and connected to the net.

If it can’t detect it, you’ll have to pair it up manually using the Remote Play menu on your PS4 and entering the 6 digit code in the app.

Step 4: Enjoy PS4 Gaming Right On Your Desktop

After everything is paired up, you should see your PS4’s output in a Window. Navigating your PS4 is just like you would on the TV.

I decided I’d fire up Amazon and take it for a spin via Remote Play and can confirm the experience is great, although there is a loss of quality, with the video stream maxing out at 720p @ 60fps.

PS4-Remote-Play-PC-720p

Have you tested out PS4 Remote Play on your PC? Let me know in the comments!

SPMC XBMC Android

How To Setup SPMC On Android – The Essential Guide

SPMC is an exciting development in the world of Android for Kodi, having recently been unleashed onto the world. An unofficial fork of the Kodi project, SPMC provides a number of fixes and features for specific Android chipsets and devices, offering improved performance over the official Android Kodi release.

Our guide will answer the important SPMC vs Kodi question, show you how to set up SPMC for your Android device and correctly configure it to get the perfect Android Kodi experience.

At the time of writing, the latest version of SPMC is SPMC 16.7.0 based on Kodi 16.1 Jarvis.

 What Is SPMC? How Is It Related To Kodi?

SPMC is “an unofficial spinoff of the official Kodi app

Semper Media Center, officially known as SPMC for short, is an “an unofficial spinoff of the official Kodi app” by Team Kodi Developer Chris Browet. Whilst it is based on the same code as the official Kodi software, SPMC incorporates a number of fixes and improvements for specific Android devices and chipsets that were deemed too specific to be incorporated into the main code base.

Thus, SPMC and Kodi are incredibly closely related – even sharing a developer. Regardless of which version of Kodi you use, either SPMC or Kodi, you will get the same fantastic experience.

SPMC vs Kodi: What’s the Difference?

SPMC incorporates specific Android fixes and improvements too specific for the main code base

You’re probably wondering “what’s the difference between SPMC vs Kodi?”

SPMC brings all Kodi features and provides some additional Android-specific fixes.

Some of the changes include:

  • Registration as an Android launcher
  • AC3/DTS passthrough
  • Better H/W acceleration via private API
  • OUYA specifics
  • Enhancements for Amlogic and Rockchip devices

A number of users have found that the latest SPMC builds perform better on their Android TV box than stock Kodi.

The good news is you don’t need to choose SPMC or Kodi as both Android apps have their own app IDs. This means you can have both SPMC and Kodi installed on your Android device at the same time and simply use whichever works best.

How to Install SPMC On Your Android TV Box

SPMC-Download-Website

SPMC for Android can easily be downloaded and installed onto your Android device in several ways. Visiting spmc.semperpax.com offers download links to the latest SPMC APK (Android Package File), Google Play and Amazon Appstore.

The latest SPMC build at the time of writing is SPMC 16.7.0 based on Kodi 16.1 Jarvis.

Install SPMC using the SPMC APK

Download the SPMC APK file and copy to your device if you downloaded it on your computer. Select the APK and follow the prompts to install it. You may need to enable installation from external sources in order to complete the SPMC installation.

Install SPMC from Google Play or the Amazon Appstore

Simply search for SPMC and select Install. If you are downloading it via the Amazon Appstore, you may need to enable installation from external sources, as needed for the APK installation.

First Boot of SPMC

XMBC-Confluence

Open the SPMC app via your launcher to boot SPMC. After a brief initial setup process, you’ll see the familiar Confluence Kodi screen.

Setting Up Media Sources in SPMC

Adding a Video source

Connecting a video source is easy:

  1. Navigate to “Videos>Files>Add Videos…”
  2. Select Browse to see a list of possible locations
    • For local video sources (For example, videos on your device or SD card), select “Android videos” or “External Storage” respectively
    • Remote locations can also be added (For example, videos stored on a NAS). For network sources, you may need to type the path to your source (i.e. smb://[Your-Server]/[Your-Video-Path]/, where [Your-Server] is your server name or IP address and [Your-Video-Path] is
      the path to your videos)
  3. Specify what’s in that folder, such as movies or TV shows. Kodi will scrape the media accordingly, downloading information such as release date and fanart.

Adding a Music source

Adding a music source is basically the same as for video:

  1. Navigate to “Music>Files>Add Music…”
  2. Choose your Local and Remote music sources as above

Enable Airplay

XBMC-Airplay-Settings

Airplay support can be enabled via “System>Services>AirPlay” and enable “Allow Kodi to receive AirPlay content”

Bringing SPMC to a TV

Connecting your Android device to your TV depends on whether your device offers HDMI out.

The easiest way to use SPMC on your TV is to buy an Android TV box which can be connected directly to your TV. Android TV boxes are available for a wide variety of budgets so you’re likely to find something that meets your needs. Check out my Best Android TV box guide for my picks.

Alternatively, many new smartphones and tablets can output video via integrated HDMI out or MHL ports. With a MHL cable, you can connect a standard HDMI cable from your phone’s MHL port to the HDMI port on your TV. This means you will have high definition video and audio on your TV straight from your phone.

Controlling Your Device Remotely

XBMC Remote Control Settings

As SPMC is based on the same code base as XMBC, all Kodi remote apps should be compatible. To enable remote support, go to “System>Services>Remote control” and ensure that “Allow programs on other systems to control Kodi” is enabled.

For those with an Android device, we recommend Yatse. Not only is it a stunning application, it works perfectly and has a heap of powerful features such as voice commands and widget support.

  • Download Yatse from the Google Play store here. Please support the developer and buy the Unlocker inside the app to unlock more features.
  • iOS users can download the Official Kodi Remote app from iTunes here

Much like Kodi, there’s plenty more to set up in SPMC. If you’re wanting to learn how to setup Kodi, I recommend checking out my detailed Kodi setup guide which offers plenty of tips and tricks that apply to SPMC on Android.

How did you go setting up SPMC? What do you think of SPMC vs Kodi? Let me know in the comments!

Photo Credit: SPMC Homepage

13 Top Horror Movies for Halloween

Introduction

Halloween is upon us! Everyone’s  favourite excuse to dress up, shed their persona and enter a world of ghouls and ghosts. So what better way to celebrate Halloween and push your home theatre to the limits with our top horror movies for Halloween! With that being said, here’s a list of my 13 top horror movies (in no particular order).

Read more13 Top Horror Movies for Halloween