Media Center software is the front end for your Home Theater PC to play movies, music, photos and much more via HDTV. While finding the best HTPC software often comes after trying several options, what are the popular media centers available. This list will simplify your task by highlighting the most popular media centers.
XBMC Media Center was originally designed as a media center interface for the XBOX game console. Today, it has evolved as a powerful media center for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X that is capable of playing most available media file types.
XBMC is a well establish and robust software for more advanced users which many people regards as the best media center available. XBMC has been the foundation for many alternative media centers. The user interface looks very elegant even without any customization.
The music and music video streamers love having Windows Media Center (WMC) in their home theater PC. You can play music, videos, movies, and anything else you can stream off the net with this one program.
WMC is the most mainstream media center thanks to Microsoft’s advertisement and bundling efforts. There is nothing too technical about Windows Media Center and it plays most media formats out there.
It is not necessarily the most visually appealing or versatile, but it is still the most popular. However, there is a great plug-in to make the interface look stylish. Read more about this media aggregator plug-in here.
Plex Media Center is a true media center alternative for Mac OS X, Windows and Linux, and it is integrated with Plex Media Server; so if you want to sync your media files between several computers and portable devices, then this program will be perfect for you. The interface is visually stunning and it has an excellent integration with its media server. Click here for a complete guide to Plex Media Server.
Another good media center with TV tuner support is Media Portal. Media Portal turns your computer into a highly advanced media center.
It is an open source application similar to XBMC, but the key advantage of this software is that you can turn your PC into a PVR (Personal Video Recorder).
Boxee brings the social side to the media center. It has some unique features such as integrating online video content and a user recommendation system.
Boxee has stopped supporting its desktop application as they have some hardware available around their platforms called the Boxee Box and Boxee TV. The development community is active around the Boxee Box, so you better keep a close eye on this in the future.
Not sure if Boxee is right for you? Check out my detailed overview on whether Boxee is the right front-end for your needs.
MythTV is the PVR of the Linux media center. You can record your shows and play them back at any time. It’s a great alternative to TiVo if you keep running out of space for all of your TV shows.
This one is for advanced users that want to set up their home theater computer to link to their television. Once linked, you will be able to record live television programs and store them on your PC. Then you will be able to play them at any time. MythTV has several variations for different Linux distributions such as a Mythbuntu and MythDora.
JRiver Media Center is a jukebox-style media center like Windows Media Player or iTunes. However, it comes with a 10-foot interface optimized Theater View, which works perfectly with your HDTV.
The great thing about JRiver is that it supports even the most advanced codecs out of the box, and it is known to playback your music with excellent sound quality. It even comes with Netflix, Hulu and YouTube services integrated, so it is suitable for playing online video content, too. It is a perfect choice for you especially if you are an audiophile and like to play lossless formats of audio such as FLAC, APE, ALAC, WM and WAV files. JRiver costs $49.98.
Hulu Desktop is a 10-foot interface for the extremely popular video streaming website. Hulu contains the latest TV shows, classic movies and much more.
Hulu Desktop works with your windows media center remote control or Apple’s remote control, so it is very easy to cut the cable with this software. Just give it a try if you have not already!
Moovida is an open source media center similar to Plex and other media centers. Moovida has two interfaces, Core and Immersed.
The Core is designed for the desktop PC usage while the Immersed is optimized for your TV. The Immersed interface offers a visually stunning 3D engine that is worth checking out.
Enna Linux Media Center is probably something that most of you have not seen before. Enna is a user interface for the popular Linux distribution GeeXbox.
It has rather basic features, so don’t expect too much of it, but it is light weight and works even on an older computer. The great thing about Enna and GeeXbox is that you can simply try them with the Live Linux CD to see yourself before installing it to your computer.
As you can see, there are several media center software available to choose from. Which media center is the best depends eventually on your needs for the media center. Are you interested in basic DVD playback and music listening capabilities or more advanced ways to play online and high definition video content?
Don’t know how to get started? I have created a free start to finish PDF guide to set up your media center, which will guide you through the 5 steps to a successful media center PC project.