I’ve been evaluating various open source media center applications in an effort to put together a new unit and had the opportunity to weight the relative pros and cons of each. Below, you’ll get to read about my findings and hopefully learn a little bit about what’s out there. So, without further ado, here’s a list of the packages I looked at, in order of preference.
Boxee was my first pick. It has a slick interface, can draw from a variety of different sources such as Hulu and Youtube out of the box, makes available a plethora of plugins (called “applications”), is easy to navigate and has an interface very suited for a remote control. The biggest con for me is that, while the project itself is open source, in order to use it, you need to register for an account on their website.
XBMC, which stands for “X-Box Media Center,” was originally designed for the X-Box and has since been made available on the PC. It sports a very polished interface, and like Boxee, is easy to navigate and makes using a remote control easy. Support for online sources such as Youtube is missing out of the box, but there are plenty of plugins to help. Unfortunately, unlike Boxee or Moovida (which is next in our list of applications), you have to go to external sources in order to find them (check out http://www.xbmczone.com/). Supposedly, it’s easy to install a plugin once you’ve downloaded it, but the directions I found online differed from how things worked with the latest version, and I ended up having to install plugins manually by unzipping them and copying the files to the right directory.
Moovida, formerly known as Elisa, is another media center option. Like Boxee and XBMC, it sports an easy to navigate interface suited to a remote control, and unlike XBMC, integrates the process of finding, installing and updating plugins a part of the application itself. The reason why I rated this one below XBMC is that there aren’t a lot of plugins available, and because the interface to XBMC is, in my opinion, slightly more polished.
(My reason for rating Miro at the bottom isn’t that Miro is a bad application. In fact, I enjoyed using it. It comes with support for many video feeds by default and does a good job of organizing media. My problem, for our purposes, is that it’s not such a great application for set top boxes. The UI is easy to use, but I don’t think it would be as friendly when hooked up to a TV with a remote control. Also, it’s difficult to add sources such as Youtube, as you have to manually add RSS feeds for the channels that interest you. Nevertheless, it’s a useful application, and I recommend giving it a try.
james August 6th, 2009
Imagine having the technology to store your music, movies and pictures in a central location and to access them from anywhere in the house. Even better, imagine that you can do this with little cost for hardware and zero cost for software. Not only is it possible, it’s never been easier.
In order to be able to access your central media repository, you’ll need to connect your computers to a network. With wireless networking, you can cheaply connect your machines almost anywhere in the house without having to run any cable. For the minimal configuration of one server (your media repository) and one client (the system connected to your home theater that lets you actually use the media), one wireless router and two wireless adapters will do. Even better, if the wireless router sits near the server, you can directly connect the two via a cable, saving you the cost of one wireless adapter.
Nowadays, with storage so plentiful and CPUs that are so powerful, it really doesn’t take much money to get good results, which is fortunate for those of us who have been negatively impacted by the downward turn in our nation’s economy. On the server side, a modest Intel Core 2 Duo with anywhere from two to four gigabytes of memory will do, and with one terabyte hard drives falling below $100, you should be able to save even more money. On the client side, with the new Intel Atom CPU, which is powerful, compact, quiet and highly energy efficient, you can build a thin client that sits snuggly atop your entertainment center.
Media center software has grown increasingly popular, and the open source movement has kept up nicely with easy to install, easy to use applications.
For the operating system on both the client and server side, you have a plethora of Linux distributions to choose from, Ubuntu (http://www.ubuntu.com/) being our recommendation. Then, on the server side, you’d simply have to configure your system to share your files over the network. On the client side, applications for managing your media include XBMC (http://xbmc.org/), Elisa (http://elisa.fluendo.com/), Entertainer (http://www.entertainer-project.com/) and MythTV (http://www.mythtv.org/ — note that MythTV is a little more involved with regards to configuration and has components that must run on the server side.)
With hardware becoming cheaper and more powerful, and with the added bonus of using free software, a capable home entertainment system can be had for a minimal investment. And, of course, eRacks specializes in providing its customers with the resources they need, whether it be selling systems pre-configured to your specifications or offering consulting for more difficult projects. Contact eRacks today and find out what we can do for your home!
james March 24th, 2009