I recently rebuilt my media player computer to use XBMC as a front end. It’s a great piece of software: slick, usable, and powerful. It was originally written to run on the original X-Box, but it’s now available for several platforms. I’m running it on Linux/XOrg without a desktop environment, and it starts up really quickly.

Unfortunately, by default, XBMC won’t display characters that aren’t in the basic Western set. I have a lot of Japanese and Korean music, and it’s impossible to work out what’s what when the name is just a series of squares.

I couldn’t find an explanation online for how to get other writing systems working, but after a little digging into the software I figured it out, and I thought I’d share my findings. Essentially, all you need to do is to create a mod of the standard skin with different font choices:

  • Copy /usr/share/xbmc/skins/PM3.HD to ~/.xbmc/skins/PM3.HD.Alt
  • Change into the new custom skin directory
  • Edit skin.xml and change the skinname field to ‘Project Mayhem 3 HD Alt’
  • Edit 720p/Font.xml and change arial.ttf to arialuni.ttf and ‘Arial’ to ‘Arial Unicode’.
  • Find a copy of the Arial Unicode font (try a Windows machine or your favourite search engine) and save it to the skin’s fonts directory as arialuni.ttf
  • Restart XBMC
  • Go to Settings, Appearances
  • Change Skin to ‘PM3.HD.Alt’
  • Change Skin Fonts to ‘Arial Unicode’

XBMC doesn’t appear to have the ability to fall back through a list of fonts to find a suitable glyph, so I chose Arial Unicode because it contains glyphs for all the languages I need. However, by changing the paths and names accordingly, you can use any other font you like. The paths above are right for the Linux version, but other ports will vary. You can probably work it out.