XBMC is open source software to manage playing media – music, TV and movies, mostly, but you can also use it for YouTube, TED, catch-up TV, games – anything where you’d like to sit back on the sofa and watch a big screen.

I stumbled across XBMC some years ago, when one of our clients asked us to think about a user interface for a set-top box. It was fun, and the process opened up a whole bunch of ideas, but it turned out many had already been implemented by open source packages like XBMC, MythTV, LinuxMCE, GeexBox and Boxee. In fact, many of those packages have brilliant, user-friendly interfaces, play every kind of media you could imagine, and have dozens of plug-ins for all kinds of functionality (controlling your lighting via X10, telephony via Asterisk, and providing attractive weather forecasts are pretty standard).

I experimented with most of the open source packages, but settled on XBMC as my favourite – it was stable, had reasonable hardware requirements, and played every file I threw at it. The most recent version – Frodo – includes a PVR, though it’s a little wobbly on my setup.

I have ripped most of my audio and video collection to a big NAS drive, and love having it available through a nice iOS remote control; the user interface includes “fan art” which makes the user interface look brilliant.