Over the years on MakeUseOf, we’ve provided guidance on how to move closer to the Utopian dream of a universal media center, capable of playing anything. In that time, it has become apparent to us that there are countless ways in which you can create your own media center, using PCs, games consoles and even smartphones and tablets.
In fact, it is getting to the point where households are finding that their various appliances are split into two groups – those that can display movies, music and photos and those that cannot. If you’re not sure where to start with building a media center or media viewing system, don’t worry – we’ve got everything you need to know (including kitchen-based media centers!).
When home theatre took off, it wasn’t long before HTPCs were brought into the mix and it is the functions of these systems (multimedia playback and recording, essentially) that form the basic requirements of any current media center setup.
Whether you use Windows, Mac OS X or a Linux distro, there is a home theatre solution for you. XBMC is hugely popular across all operating systems, while Windows Media Center continues to be popular for Microsoft devotees.
What is crucial about using a PC as a home media center and/or server (feeding video to other devices) is that you’re not limited to just a desktop PC. Laptops, netbooks, old servers and compact computers like the Raspberry Pi can all be used as home media centers, with the minimum of reconfiguring.
The day I discovered that you can install Netflix on a Nintendo Wii was the day my TV viewing changed completely – it wasn’t long before I had repurposed the console as a media center solution. Several years ago I had tried (with some success) to run my old Xbox 360 as a media center, making use of both Windows Media Player and TVersity (neither being the perfect solution), but this was never really the most suitable device until more recently and Microsoft’s refocusing on media (such as Netflix, ESPN, TMZ, etc.).
The Playstation 3, meanwhile, can also be used as a media center – hardly surprising as it wields a Blu-ray disc drive. Sony’s console has been announced as the most popular device for streaming Netflix videos, and thanks to software such as PS3 Media Server it can receive media streamed from a household PC.
We shouldn’t forget the original Microsoft Xbox in all of this either. Without it, there would have been no Xbox Media Center project, and no latter-day XBMC.
Tablets & Phones
There are various ways in which you can stream media to your phone or tablet. Once again, Netflix is among the answers, but just recently a paradigm shift in the abilities of ARM-based devices means that rather than acting as media playing clients on a home media network, they can now host the full media center software.
Amazingly, XBMC has recently been released for Android, enabling users to take advantage of the various add-ons and reskins and to enjoy HD playback, depending on whether you use the official version or the XBMCANDROID fork.
Indeed, it seems extremely likely that these portable device types will be the home for media serving and streaming in and around the home over the coming years, regardless of platform. Even if you don’t own an Android phone or tablet, developments on the Raspberry Pi mean that an Android distro will soon be available, and along with it another way to enjoy XBMC (including, hopefully, a way of enjoying Netflix!)
What About My Fridge?
As we see the march of the tablet device into other parts of our lives, how long will it be before media centers take over our kitchens and cars?
Setting up a carputer with either dedicated hardware or with a tablet, netbook or Raspberry Pi has been achieved by several people, while fridges equipped with Android tablets have been fixtures at the last two Consumer Electronics Shows.
If you can install XBMC on an Android tablet then by extension, you can install it on your fridge.
However in the meantime, we reckon that there are enough household devices for you to get your media fixes from.
Image Credit: Mac Mini HT