If you are a Windows or Mac user, you will be familiar with Windows Media Center or Front Row that both have the ability to turn your computer into a Media Center PC. Linux users don’t have such luck as most distros do not come with a media center application pre-installed.
If you are like me who is a Linux user and owns a huge collection of music, videos and pictures, the world is not over for you yet. There are many open-source applications that you can use to turn your Linux machine into a lean, mean media center.
In part one of this series, I will go through some of these free media center software that you can use in your Linux machine (also see Media Center alternatives for Windows).
XBMC is by far, one of the best media centers around. Originally built for Xbox, the XBMC team has now ported the popular software to the various platforms, including Linux, OSX and Windows. It supports a wide range of protocols and audio/video formats, making it a versatile media player that you want to have in your system.
With XBMC, not only can you enjoy your audio/videos/images that are stored in your local drive, you can also stream the multimedia content from the Web, via network share, SAMBA or even from uPnP devices.
In addition, XBMC is also extensible via the use of scripts. There is even a site that is dedicated for XBMC scripts.
Entertainer aims to be a simple and easy-to-use media center solution for the Gnome and XFce desktop environments. It uses the Gstreamer library in your Linux system to playback multimedia content and it allows you to play audios, videos, pictures, RSS feeds and weather.
One of its abilities is that it can download metadata (like cover-art and movie information) from the internet and makes it easier for you to organize and search your media files. The installation and initial configuration is not as straightforward as it should be and it involves running several scripts to get the application running.
However, once you have done the configuration and got it up and running, the rest is simply a matter of ‘point and click’.
Elisa is an open source media center available on the Linux and Windows platform (the Mac version is due to be released soon). The interface is simple, with only 5 icons in the main screen that lets you select between Picture, Video, Audio, Settings and Plugins.
It has a tight integration with the internet and allows you to watch YouTube videos, listen to Shoutcast, view photos from Flickr and many other popular internet services. It is also extensible via the use of plugins.
MythTV is a popular software that need little or no introduction. With the necessary hardware, MythTV can turn your computer into a PVR (Personal Video Recorder), a digital multimedia home entertainment system or even a Home Theater Personal Computer.
If you are familiar with TiVo, then this is the equivalent to the software version of it. MythTV initially started as a PVR project, but now with the use of modules (similar to plugins), one can also listen to music, play DVD’s, access NetFlix, view pictures, and many more features.
Due to its popularity, MythTV has also been integrated into several Linux distros to make the whole usage process easier. The most popular one is Mythbuntu, a Ubuntu-based distro with MythTV as the frontend. Other distros include KnoppMyth and Mythdora
Rather than calling it a media center, Freevo is in fact a “media manager” that organizes your media files and enables you to access them all in one place. It uses the mplayer or xine to play your multimedia content and has an image viewer that can rotate your picture on-the-fly to allow easy viewing.
With the use of a TV-tuner card, Freevo can also act as a TV recorder. In addition, Freevo also comes with a series of in-built plugins that you can activate to extend its functionality. One of the interesting plugins is the game plugin that allows you to play your console game on the computer (via an emulator).
GeeXboX is not a software that you install on your Linux. It is instead a small Linux distribution built with the intention to turn your PC into a Home Theater PC. There is no installation required. You just need to boot up the LiveCD and it will run by itself. You can even use it on a diskless computer, where the whole system is being loaded in your RAM.
While a full Linux distro comes in a size of up to 700MB, the ISO of GeeXboX is only 9MB and it comes with a complete and automatic hardware detection, thus does not require any drivers to be added. It supports playback of nearly any kind of audio/video and image files and all known codecs and containers are shipped in, allowing playing them through various physical supports, either CD, DVD, HDD, LAN or internet.
Now, if you are looking to recycle that old computer, GeeXboX might be the one for you.
In Part 2, I will discuss using your Linux machine as a media server.