XBMC v13.1 "Gotham" has been released! See Gotham FAQ for details.
A Fresh Start
WIP: Notes to help communicate the general concepts within XBMC and to refine appropriate terminology for user interface elements and actions for the Eden release.
XBMC Media Center is the one stop shop for accessing media typically found within the home.
For XBMC to access and play your media, you first need to tell XBMC where your media is located. This is done by adding a Media Source. XBMC includes out-of-the-box support for all the typical things found in a home where media consumption has moved on from turning on the telly and blindly channel surfing, e.g.. playing DVDs, playing backups of DVDs, watching Movies, TV Shows, Videos, showing Pictures to friends and of course playing Music.
For each Media Source, XBMC needs to know what sort of content it contains, e.g.. does it contain Movies, TV Shows, General Videos, Music or Pictures. XBMC needs to know the type of content because it will scan the media source to get more information about each item from various locations on the internet. For example, for Movies, XBMC will connect to IMDB to obtain the plot information, actors, director etc. and the associated image (typically a DVD cover image) that is used in the great views that XBMC provides for navigating your media. XBMC is smart but it isn't magical so you need to make sure that the files contained in your media sources are sensibly named and preferably adhere to the XBMC file naming best practices. For power users out there, you can configure XBMC to understand whatever file naming conventions you have already used, but you might need to create some RegEx expressions to help XBMC out.
Once the Media Source has been created, XBMC will scan the media source and obtain the additional information from the internet and put all that information into the XBMC Media Library. XBMC will let you know if it wasn't able to find any information for any of the items so you can rename the file to help XBMC out more, or so you can add the item to the Media Library manually.
The Media Library contains all the additional information downloaded from the internet about the items in your Media Sources. You can choose to navigate to your media using the Media Library views in XBMC or using the File views. The Media Library views will be able to show lots of information about your media, whereas the File views are more similar to the file listings that you might see on your computer.
XBMC Media Center also provides Optional Add-Ons that can be used to access media using less common protocols.
XBMC also provides a framework to allow use of Community Add-Ons that have been developed by members of the XBMC Community. Community Add-Ons will let you access media from even more different and perhaps more obscure places.