There’s a very good chance you’ve never used XBMC Profiles. Or you exclusively use them because you’ve got kids, and you’d like your kids to see a different library than the one you see. I’m going to call this the B&B* filter.
*Boobs and Bombs**
**Note: when searching for an image to attach to a story, make sure safe search is on before googling “bombs and boobs.”
I personally have never seen the need for profiles in a regular XBMC install until very recently. I don’t have kids, so I don’t need to filter out my B&B. In my world, profiles have only been useful for testing out scraper updates or messing around with test libraries and other Q/A activities.
Profiles – What are they, anyway?
Simply put, a profile is the place where you stick most of your userdata. So if you have set up XBMC to look different with a special skin or if you’ve added video and music files to your library, that’s all stored in a profile. Most people don’t know or care about them, because one profile is all they need on their home HTPC.
The only time they’d be useful for the average user is if that user wanted to test out something or mess with a new library without screwing up their already perfect existing library. Or if the user had a roommate or significant other, and the two liked to keep their content separate. Or, as previously mentioned, for B&B filtering.
But now everything is changing, and it’s all due to the move to Android (and to some extent, the move to iOS) and the major shift to UPnP serving.
GSoC – The Great Catalyst and Related Improvements
Last summer, however, student dev alcoheca (Alasdair Campbell) substantially updated XBMC’s UPnP server as part of his GSoC project. Many of those features are now part of XBMC. While many features still need to be coded into XBMC 13 (for example, right now the server library doesn’t update when a show has been watched), the most important part, a fully visible UPnP served library, was already included in XBMC 12.
Now, as will be reported in the XBMC February Cycle announcement, dev elupus (Joakim) has added support for controlling external UPnP instances via UPnP. The upshot of this support is you can select a video on one XBMC device and make it play on another.
AirPlay without the Suck
Consider how awesome that is. Let’s say you’ve got your main HTPC in the living room. Now, you can watch a show on your XBMC tablet in the kitchen, stop the show, and then tell the very XBMC tablet you’ve been watching your show on to keep playing the show on your HTPC in the living room.
In time, your HTPC, acting as a UPnP server, will be able to serve the list to your tablet, and your tablet can then tell your HTPC (or any UPnP compatible device) to play a video from that list (or from your Youtube or Hulu addon or your tablet’s local library). And when it’s done, if it’s coming from your UPnP server, the show will be marked as watched on your entire network!
It’s basically Airplay without all the limitations that come from Apple and with all the benefits that come from having an awesome XBMC setup and a server.
Bringing it Full Circle
Which brings us to Profiles. I don’t know about any of the other readers of this blog, but I am a major evangelist for XBMC among family and friends, which means I’ve set XBMC up for my mom, my sister, various friends, and I’m still working on figuring out a non-insane arrangement for my dad who lives out on a farm where there is no broadband.
Needless to say, as the resident tech troubleshooter for the family, I travel from house to house a lot, and I always bring with me various mobile devices, including my phone and my laptop. Whenever I can put together the money, I’ll no doubt also purchase a tablet.*
*I’d ask you to donate to the Get Nathan a Tablet fund, but the only donation links I’m hosting on this site are donation links for the XBMC Foundation. I have bigger priorities than getting Nathan a Tablet. c’est la vie. With that said, if there are any manufacturers out there who want to straight up give me a tablet, I’m not going to turn it down!
Anyway, in my house to house jaunts, I’ve discovered one thing: regardless of your mobile device, Profiles are fantastic, especially now that libraries can be shared throughout the house. Right now, I have XBMC on my laptop set to the My House profile. If I agree to babysit for my sister on Friday, I’ll bring my laptop* along and switch to the Sister’s House profile. Maybe over the weekend I’ll finally get the system totally worked out at my dad’s house. Then, I’ll switch to my Dad’s House profile. The options are only limited by the number of locations that you have to visit. You could even keep a tablet-only profile, specifically for watching local media on the tablet and pushing it to any house you like.
*Or generously donated tablet! Hint hint, hardware people!
Unfortunately, until UPnP serving is perfected and skins are designed to better take advantage of it, Profiles are merely a single piece in a larger puzzle. As well, the uses outlined here are really only a portion of the final plan for Profiles, as several devs have acknowledged that Profiles as they exist are missing numerous key features. Where Profiles head in the future (likely after 13 has been released), remains to be seen.
With that said, I highly recommend taking a look at one of the nightlies (or waiting for the February Cycle to end to take a look at the first monthly alpha). You can “play to” another device using XBMC right now. It’s surprisingly usable already, for being mere alpha code with hardly any UI code accompanying it. While it doesn’t support straight up screen-sharing, as Airplay Mirroring and Miracast promise to do, it goes a surprisingly long ways in turning an XBMC instance into a full remote control.
As always, the future looks bright.
This has been part of the XBMC Future Series, in which we look at code being worked on right now that has the potential to radically change XBMC. For other entries in the series, see The XBMC Mesh and An Xbox 1 Competitor.