Media Center software is the front end for your Home Theater PC to play movies, music, photos and much more via TV. This list will simplify your task by highlighting the most popular media centers.
1. Kodi (was XBMC) Media Center
Kodi 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, Android and Mac OS X that is capable of playing most available media file types.
Kodi 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.
To get started, read how to customize it with all the bells and whistles.
2. Windows Media Center
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.
Windows Media Center has been a favorite choice especially for those who enjoy watching and recording live TV. Since releasing Windows 10, Microsoft has left WMC to fade away, so many people need to transition to new media center software.
However, while TV tuner setup is easy on WMC, it is more difficult on others, with many not even supporting cable TV at all.
Plex Home Theater 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.
You can use Plex Media Server to transcode any media file you have in your library and stream it using a PleXBMC add-on for Kodi.
Click here for a complete guide to Plex Media Server.
Emby is another great alternative to centrally manage all of your media files and then watch them using the front-end application.
Emby organizes your media files so that it never takes more than a few clicks to find the latest movie or TV show. In addition, you can setup customized views of your library for each member of your family with the ability to pause and resume from different devices.
Emby also has an add-on for Kodi that brings you a super easy way to view your content.
NextPVR is probably the best alternative to Windows Media Center to watch and record live TV.
It is easy to setup and supports advanced features such as recording series.
You can use NextPVR as a front-end application, but the user interface is not as stylish as WMC or Kodi, but it is clean and simple.
You can also use NextPVR as a back-end and integrate it with Kodi using a PVR add-on.
6. Media Portal
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 Kodi, but the key advantage of this software is that you can turn your PC into a PVR (Personal Video Recorder).
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.
8. JRiver Media Center
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.
9. Steam Big Picture
Valve’s Steam is the most popular game platform available. Using Steam’s Big Picture mode allows you to buy and launch PC games from your sofa.
When you integrate Steam’s Big Picture mode with Kodi Media Center, you will get a really powerful combination that gives you much more control over your media experience in comparison to any commercial game console.
10. HDHomeRun DVR
HDHomeRun DVR is SiliconDust company’s attempt to fill in the gap in the DIY DVR market after Microsoft decided not to include Windows Media Center into Windows 10 anymore.
HDHomeRun DVR works with your front-end device and NAS server adding the ability to watch, schedule and record live TV.
It is still in the development phase, and I have not evaluated it myself yet since it is not available in the country I live in.
However, features such as DRM (for protected cable TV shows), Live TV pause, Kodi and Plex integrations will certainly make this DVR software popular in the future.
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?