Quest for media center

I’ve decided on the first thing to change in my house this year – I want to hook up my TV to a media center PC. No, not one built specifically, but one I’ll put together using some of the spare parts I already have around and some hat I will buy. But before I start shopping, I wanted to see what software I can load into it. Fortunately, the list of options is big enough. Unfortunately, there is something wrong with almost everything I’ve tried (so far).

This post will get updated as I test new software for the media center, so bare with me.

This is what I want:

  1. The software should be free
  2. It should have a friendly UI, considering that it is to be used with a TV (low res!) and a remote (limited buttons).
  3. Provide comfort – I want to use it to get rid of the keyboard / mouse / codec install / test routine.
  4. If it has a pretty interface I don’t mind 😀 (yeah, call me succer).

So let’s get it on the floor …
Candidate no.1 – the free SesamTV

The best part of it is that it is free. However it is also the only part. The process to add files to a library seemed a little peculiar, and I could not add a new radio station no matter how much I tried. True, it was an mp3 stream, but c’mon … it should work. The TV part, I couldn’t try out, as my TV Tuner is on another machine, in use at the time of testing. It also felt quite sluggish and this was the deciding factor to cut it off the list – if it performs slow on a dual core computer, what will it do on the lower spec machine I intend to put in place?

P.S. You can browse for video files not in the library, but the UI moves quite slow and it gets tiring to manipulate the remote to go through a ton of folders. So SesamTV, sorry, but not for me.

Candidate no.2- Yahoo! Go for TV

This was the shortest trial of the software, in just a few steps: download, install, try to run, get unauthorized IP error (not US, we don’t want you), closed error message, uninstall. Simple as that. And it almost looked promising …

On for Candidate no. 3 – Got all media

From all of the Media Center software I’ve tried so far, this one has the most complicated UI of them all. It does not seem that its makers thought it is to be used on a TV with a remote. Because if you try this, your fingers will die before you get to that avi file on your desktop share. It has a lot of (useless) fields in the UI that you do not need nor want to touch. Graphics are blurry (scale the images next time beforehand) and the workflow is complicated. One more down.

Later Edit

Candidate 4: GBPVR

To keep it short – don’t try it at all. Its damned slow and very limited in options. And don’t get me started on the UI – it’s OK if your remote is the size of a keyboard 🙂 Next!

Candidate 5: J River Media Center

OK, I know this ain’t free, but at $40 it’s a lot cheaper than MS Windows XP Media Center. And it works with all kind of remotes too! Over all this has the feeling of a final, complete product. True, it still has a library where it insists to add your media (which is not that bad), but it lets you browse your locations for media files to play too. And that’s audio & video. Now that’s nice. And the indexing speed is OK. It read about 20k files in less than 15 minutes, while I was fiddling with it. So, albeit the price, it’s on the short list. Only if my TV card would have sound too.

Candidate 6: Media Portal

Now this is one that I liked. No indexing, just define what folders you want available. This is great since you don’t have to browse the entire folder – map the one you want and access it via remote. It also supports plugins, by default comes with a few remote types. You have a setup wizard where you define your TV Capture card, radio stations that should be available (both FM and Web) and a lot other settings (haven’t quite gone through them all yet). And the UI feels snappy and it has just the right amount of options. You won’t get tired playing around with the remote and the fingers will say thanks. Definitely one to keep at hand. Did I mention it was free?

Candidate 7: Freevo

Yeah, my Unix side won this little battle. I’ve tried one Media Center software designed for Linux, although with a little skepticism. Booted up my Ubuntu box, went to their site for download instructions, and, to my personal pleasure, they had added repositories for Ubuntu. To be concise, it was a matter of editing the sources list and issuing three commands (because I hadn’t already installed mplayer or python). As for the actual software, the TV card did not work (because I don’t have Linux drivers installed yet) and a configuration issue with Mplayer caused the video to show up in windowed mode all the time. But it does have a daemon setup, so you can build a standalone box and its configuration seems pretty straightforward. Will say more tonight, after I play with it more.

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2 thoughts on “Quest for media center

  1. Why don’t you buy a Vista Media Center and use the default OS?

    That’s what I intended to do until I found out that there is no cable in the area I’m moving and media centers and STB’s don’t cope well together.

    Alexandru

  2. Well, first off, the cost of the hardware + the Vista OS would be a little greater than I am willing to invest in this project. Secondly, I don’t want to have to use only the Windows Media Center remotes which I personally do not like – nor the official one, or the Libra Q-series. Plus it needs to load all files into its media library – which takes time and does not work great with network shares.

    Oh, and let’s not forget the machine specs :-s

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