Using Your Linux Computer As A Media Center (Part 1)

Damien Oh 28-10-2008

tux_headphoneIf 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 Cool Windows Media Center Alternatives Read More ).


xbmc linux - media center for ubuntu

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.

2. Entertainer

entertainer - media center for linux

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’.

3. Elisa


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.


4. MythTV


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 [Broken URL Removed] and Mythdora


5. Freevo


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).

6. GeeXboX


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.

Related topics: Media Player, Television.

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  1. LJ
    January 28, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    How about TV Tuners? Can someone touch on good TV tuners that have drivers for Linux and work with HD transmission? And do all of these media centers have good DVR functionality?

  2. rudolph
    August 26, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    I first looked at LinuxMCE but it is tied to an old Kubuntu realease 7.1. This version does not seem to run on new mother boards. I have tried installing it on two different mobo (Asus and XFX) and neither works (No HMDI, screen is blank after system boots) I finally gave up and loaded Windows Vista MCE. But those other suggested MCEs in this article is worth a try. I prefer linux but I gave up until I read this article.

  3. Scothypnotist
    August 14, 2009 at 6:32 am

    I am still a bit new to Linux and am trying
    to configure XMBC to do my biding.
    Alas, I am having trouble.
    My Linux flavor of choice is Xubuntu.
    Specifically, I have tried
    "localhost" and my modem address as well as the default
    port 3306 and 7531 AND I also tried the ping test
    checked and UNchecked to boot all to no avail.
    Anybody got any ideas?

  4. Scothypnotist
    August 14, 2009 at 6:30 am

    I am still a bit new to Linux and am trying
    to configure XMBC to do my biding. Alas,
    I am having trouble. Specifically, I have tried
    "localhost" and my modem address as well as the default
    port 3306 and 7531 AND I also tried the ping test
    to boot all to no avail.
    Anybody got any ideas?

  5. Blazinbear82
    July 24, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    Good call Chrisclap. Moovida is awesome but it was mentioned. Moovida is formerly known as Elisa.

  6. Chrisclap
    July 23, 2009 at 10:14 am

    After reading all these reviews i have to say that i am impresed but also a little confused, i am currently running Moovida on my computer an i honestly believe it should be up there too.

    I would recomend it to anyone, thanks for the review they were very interesting but i still think Moovida is the best

  7. Mike
    July 21, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    well thanks for the info on this site it help me to try to install a linux MC. I went with the Ubuntu and was not able to get the MC part up and running and thats because I have a Pinnacle PCI 800i with by the way is not supported well in linux as Pinnacle itself. Now I understand that there is a bios update that might get it up and running in Ubuntu so I will check into that.

  8. petdroo
    June 15, 2009 at 9:19 am

    does linux mc work on ubuntu?

  9. lose weight fast
    June 3, 2009 at 12:18 am

    wife friendly lol! Next step Grandma friendly

  10. Rambling Johnny
    May 26, 2009 at 11:33 am

    I use Fuppes on my old rig to serve media to my ps3. I just stripped down my existing Ubuntu install to the bare minimum and am controlling it on my new rig via remote desktop or even the web UI. Fuppes might be a pain to setup but it sure running smooth once it done.

  11. Jutta
    February 13, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Hi there,

    I don't know why you think Elisa supports no mp3 files? It's working fine and even finds back the CD covers for your mp3 s - maybe you should download the latest version (0.5.27)
    [Broken URL Removed]

  12. krushna
    January 29, 2009 at 12:36 am


    MY Elisa media centre is not supporting mp3 files.How to play
    the mp3 files.Any idea.thanks in advance

    • Damien Oh
      February 14, 2009 at 5:21 am

      It works well in my computer. Did you set the correct configuration? Or did you install the mp3 codec in the first place?

  13. Music
    December 16, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    Thanks for the info

  14. Arkay
    October 31, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    Linux as a HTPC rocks. It's solid, stable, feature full and blows the competition away in terms of functionality.

    I'm a moderator at what is one of the worlds largest Windows MCE community forums ( Recently we have opened the site to support and discussion for XBMC and Mythtv so as a whole we provide end user support to a great many HTPC products and discuss and compare a lot of solutions.

    For four years I aided users of MCE in any way possible, constantly fighting with a lack of functionality and a myriad of bugs until I finally got around to installing Mythtv and XBMC. Since that day (some 8 months ago), I've experienced what HTPC should be. Functional, stable, DRM free, end user computing for the end user, not the corporation!

    Opening the site as we have is a sign that Linux is rising in popularity as it deserves to.

    If you want help to build the ultimate Linux solution you're more than welcome to come and join in. If you are already knowledgeable we can always use some help showing those disappointed with windows solutions just what Linux can do.

    We cover a great many topics, cases, hardware, tuners, displays etc, well worth a visit (though I am biased) :) While we're primarily focused on HTPC use in Australia (and the local specifics of guide implementations etc), we always love to see international visitors.

    As you can tell I'm a big fan of GNU/Linux and everything it and FOSS represents.



  15. David Banos
    October 30, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    Banshee 1.2.1 for music and video

  16. Album Lvoer
    October 29, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    How does XBMC compare to the xbox 360s setup. I really love the xbox 360 setup they have made it super useable and STABLE.

    • Damien Oh
      October 29, 2008 at 6:56 pm

      The setup is exactly the same. You will find the familiar interface no matter you are using it on xbox 360, Windows, Mac or Linux. There is even a live version where you can boot up from a Live CD. I am sure you will love them all.

  17. bez
    October 29, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Nice article. Been looking into MythTV last few days.

    p.s. Could you guys please do an article on setting up a standalone torrent box.
    Linux or otherwise. Something that can run utorrent would be best as it's webUI is better than some of the other browser-based clients i've seen.

    • Jdub
      July 29, 2009 at 3:50 pm

      For a "stand alone" torrent box, I suggest FreeNAS. It is dirt simple since it requires no operating system install, just load to nearly any old box you have using the free liveCD. It is a SoHo server application but it has a nice Bittorrent service built in, with a Web Browser GUI. You can just use the torrent service alone, but after you see all the other things FreeNAS can do, you may want to enable CIFS/Samba, NFS, LDAAP, or any of the other good stuff. Directions for initial setup [mounting the hard drive(s) etc.] can be downloaded from FreeNAS, or there are easy tutorials many places on the web.

  18. Rob
    October 29, 2008 at 4:38 am

    Linux MCE can stay off the list for now.

    I think the author at present at least in part one here has done a good job of showing the "more simplier" MCs.

    I am pretty sure for that 80% whom want a media center, don't need light automation, temperature automation, remote network control, etc...

    Just something to play videos, music, and pictures.

  19. BobCFC
    October 29, 2008 at 4:37 am

    It doesn't seem to let me edit the comment so here are the files to get it working in Intrepid Ibex BETA:

    This fixed a dependency and let me use the Hardy repo.

  20. BobCFC
    October 29, 2008 at 4:26 am

    I finally got around to trying XMBC last week after using half a dozen of these programs. I have to say it has the slickest presentation in terms of animations and transitions. The menus are also comprehensive.

    Seemed to have lots of options for display so works well on either a hires monitor or a TV in any format/ratio/resolution and can be tweaked by hand as well.

    Handled 1080p playback OK too.

    To get it working in Intrepid Ibex BETA I downloaded libbluetooth2 because ibex uses version 3. You can download the 64bit and 32bit version below:

    This fixed a dependency and let me use the Hardy repo. I guess they will have an Intrepid repo up soon after the official launch tomorrow.

    • Damien Oh
      October 29, 2008 at 6:53 pm

      Thanks. I have been looking for a package for Intrepid. Your link comes just in handy

  21. Samuel
    October 29, 2008 at 1:26 am

    Yeah, Boxee seems to have something big coming!

    • Damien Oh
      October 29, 2008 at 6:52 pm

      Boxee is still in close beta and not available for download yet, but it is definitely looking good with the first media center to integrate social networking.

  22. Mack
    October 28, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    Boxee, its xbmc based and does a great job of grabbing the cover art and metadata.

  23. Michael
    October 28, 2008 at 7:14 pm

    No LinuxMCE? Sure it can be complicated but it shouldn definitly be on the list.

  24. cobi
    October 28, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    You forgot one of the best media centers out there, LinuxMCE.... not only can you record, play, stream, etc., but you can integrate all your other stereo and video hardware with your computer, and make use of a universal remote to control it all.

    It doesn't stop there either.. home automation anyone?!?!

    Seriously, everyone should check out LinuxMCE... it's incredible..

  25. Byron
    October 28, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    What about Linux MCE - here the link

    • Damien Oh
      October 28, 2008 at 9:22 pm

      LinuxMCE is no doubt a good media center, but the reason I didn't include is because it can only be used on Kubuntu, specifically version 7.10, and not any other Linux distro.

  26. gabe565
    October 28, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    Wow, I didn't know there were this many! I use both Mythtv (for recording TV and stuff like that) and Elisa (for music player and picture viewer) but I need to try some of the others!

  27. Roy
    October 28, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    You should also take a look at MyMediaSystem (MMS). It's another simple and elegant media player app for Linux. The website is here: