The last item necessary to fully pull all versions of XBMC into par with AirPlay support has been added in the June dev cycle. Thanks to the work of Memphiz and WiSo, Windows XBMC users can now receive AirPlay video, which has been an option for a while, and music, which has not. This added functionality should already be available in a nightly build, but, unless you are extremely comfortable debugging, at the very least it is recommended that you wait until the June cycle is completed.
Getting to feature complete in this category is a very important step for XBMC in much the same way Addon Rollbacks were a big step. Over time it’s becoming ever more clear that users value easy of use and control over any other thing.
Consider the original Xbox Media Player. Why did people like it? It had attractive menus. It was vaguely reminiscent of TiVo. But most importantly, it did an absolutely amazing job of giving you an easy way to access your movies, pictures, and music in the way you wanted to access them.
As time rolls on, XBMC (or a derivative) remains the single best way to to view your local content on the big screen. But with the passage of time, the innovation comes, not from bigger and better screens or faster and more accurate menus, but from new, alternative (and easily setup) ways to interact with media altogether.
People often make fun of the Nintendo Wii as being a kids toy, but can anyone deny
the incredible paradigm shift that the Wii controller presented in terms of interaction both with games and – perhaps more importantly – with the screen itself, as so impressively displayed by Johnny Lee’s IR Head Tracker?
In the few years since the introduction of the Wii, the field of media interaction has seen more innovation than in the entire history of the television format.
Consider, before the Wii, you could control the media on a television in one of two primary ways. Either you pulled out an IR remote control or you stood up and walked over to the TV. If you were a huge geek (like me), you may also have used a mouse and keyboard.
After the Wii, everything irrevocably shifted. We can now control media with our voice with remarkably little effort. We can control media using realtime 3D maps of our bodies. We can control it sending commands from other nearby devices over HDMI. We can direct it to content over wifi, and get metadata about what’s being displayed on our XBMC iOS or Android remote control. We can browse Youtube videos on our iPad and, through the remarkable power of AirPlay, “push” those videos onto our screen. And in an impressive demonstration at E3, Microsoft pushed the envelope of metadata 10 steps forward with Xbox Smart Glass, by shooting the video from your tablet to the screen, and then actively interacting with the data, whether by watching a constantly updating map of the world of Game of Thrones, or by getting easily accessible sports scores and statistics for the game currently being broadcast.*
*I have no doubt that MS is going to muck this one up. They will likely require that all of this new, cool metadata is going to have to be hidden behind proprietary code that only the Xbox can play with, and rather than changing the world – the way Apple did by making Airplay licensable and useable by all (all receivers, anyway) – they are going to ensure that hardly any metadata gets made by the big content companies, since hardly anyone other than people who pay for the Gold service with Xbox will have the ability to use this new, cool technology. It’s a shame, really. MS, a note: you can choose to make this tech available for many, like you did with the Kinect, or you can choose to leave it totally closed off. I hope you decide wisely.
Anyway, XBMC is way ahead of the game on many of these fronts. Our use of JSON to connect other connected devices with XBMC and to transmit metadata back and forth ensures dominance for some period of time (dominance for XBMC and the XBMC offshoots, that is to say). Users are constantly working on new and exciting ways to interact with XBMC, from Voice Command integration to Pulse-Eight’s CEC adapter. Simple library improvements by JMarshall and Montellese promise to make future connected interactions even smarter and easier than they are now. Truly, innovation in this department is moving forward at a run.
And yet there is more that could be done. For example, how fantastic would it be to combine the installation of XBMC on your phone with the XBMC remote control on your phone?
Imagine: You sit down at your couch, whip out your phone, and tell XBMC to play the new episode of Breaking Bad. While XBMC on your htpc is playing Breaking Bad, the XBMC remote on your phone is displaying interesting Breaking Bad facts about the episode. 5 minutes in, you remember you left a microwave dinner in the microwave, so you tell your XBMC remote to pull the video off your TV and onto your phone. You continue watching your show as you grab your food. And then you plop back onto the couch and flip the video back to the screen.
All of this is possible right now, even if it’s not streamlined. You can use your phone to start your htpc. You can pause the video and switch from your remote to your full copy of XBMC on your iPhone or iPad. And then you can switch back. Steps to make that process seamless would go a long, long ways to kicking XBMC up yet another step in the constant battle of awesome.
One potential move in that direction comes from TheUni, who has been working as hard as anybody to streamline XBMC so that low power boards like the Raspberry Pi can do just as much as the newest Core i7 processor from Intel. TheUni (real name Cory) has recently pushed code to move the underlying XBMC engine to a headless format, so that XBMC itself could do things without needing a GPU intensive skin to interact with the world. The obvious application of this is sticking XBMC onto a NAS server that could scrape metadata without needing any eyeballs around.
But the possibilities for a headless XBMC are nearly limitless. Imagine being able to marry the XBMC player and library with the lightweight controls of the Android (and now iOS) remote control? It’d be revolutionary. Doubly so if you had a smart library that played nice between your iPhone XBMC and your htpc XBMC, so that shifting video from one to the other was easily registered in the libraries of both and metadata could automatically pop-up on the unused screen.
Very long story short, fully feature complete AirPlay is yet another major step forward in XBMC’s constant march forward to media dominance for all sorts of reasons. And, as always, I’m excited (and very wordy) about that future.