Increasingly, more and more people are turning to internet-based solutions to consume their content. Many of them are switching to solutions that hook up to televisions. I find the best solution with the most control is a Media Center PC. Some people, however, do not turn to this option due to the lack of flexibility in the Windows Media Center software. I am going to tell you about some of the best FREE Windows Media Center alternatives that I have found.
MediaPortal – MediaPortal is an open source alternative to the Windows-based Media Center software.
It is compatible with Windows only and sports a customizable interface that, by default, looks very similar to the Windows Media Center interface.
The main benefit to this program besides being open source is its vast collection of plug-ins.
This makes it very simple to add utilities to the application such as new functionalities, skins, and numerous codecs.
GB-PVR – This open source solution is very similar to MediaPortal.
In contrast, however, GB-PVR requires a more advanced pre-configuration but provides more plugins than MediaPortal out of the box.
This program also seems more to have minor bugs here and there but is a worthy alternative.
MythTV – This solution is a very complex solution but provides probably the most flexibility out of any media center alternative I have seen to date.
The previous mentioned solutions install on top of the Windows operating system. MythTV, however, runs on top of a Linux distribution or Mac OS X on a dedicated machine. This means you have to use the computer for MythTV only and nothing else. For many people this is probably not an ideal solution as it requires knowledge of Linux and hardware that is compatible with Linux.
This solution is for advanced media center users that are looking for a much more advanced solution. Not only does this machine run off of a dedicated box but also has built in gaming, webbrowsing, news, telephony, and DVD ripping. MythTV can be used standalone or in conjunction with multiple MythTV servers to create a “cluster” of media centers that can perform various functions.
TVersity – TVersity is perhaps the best of both worlds in regards to MythTV and the other mentioned solutions. It installs on Windows PC and allows you to create a library with the media on that machine as well as internet content and stream it across your network.
It includes support to stream content to a plethora of devices such as Xbox 360, Wii, iPhone, PSP, PS3, as well as other PCs on your network. With some advanced configuration you can also stream your media across the web, however I find it to be a more worthwhile tool for home network usage.
On the downside, TVersity doesn’t support TV tuner cards which means it cannot be used as a DVR or to watch live TV but the vast list of supported devices should make up for it.
This is by no means a complete list of media center solutions currently available. Most of these solutions are for more advanced users to configure so please be aware.
Have you any suggestions about these or other Media Center solutions? Let us know in the comments below.