I need help picking media center software. What fits my seemingly simple requirements?
March 10, 2010 8:27 AM Subscribe
I came into some hardware I have no other use for, so it's time to try some "media center" software! Yay! Difficulties: Spouse-friendliness is important, I don't know the media center scene very well, the hardware I have isn't all that fancy, and my patience for scouring all the different projects' forums to sort them out is somewhat limited. Can you help me sort out my options and pick something that's close to my requirements?
posted by majick to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The only non-negotiable requirements I have are that whatever I install absolutely must have some form of Hulu support, and absolutely must not require a hardware purchase (software I can get away with if it comes to it). The primary use cases will be playing movie files over SMB file sharing, and Hulu-watching, with occasional playing of the KEXP audio stream expected. Music browsing and playing over SMB would be nice, too. Being able to divert audio to an Airport Express would be kind of snazzy but I'm not hanging my hat on it. Other things like Youtube support would be neat but aren't required. Recording is not needed at all.
Hardware-wise I have a kinda old Toshiba that I just got for free. It's not especially fancy, from the P4 era, and has a pretty weak GPU (Intel 854). It has a VGA output and my TV has a VGA input. The TV expects to stretch 1024x768 SVGA into a 16:9 aspect ratio, so supporting that display method would be really nice. It will access all content via SMB over 100bT Ethernet.
So far the only thing I've done is try a live CD of XBMC. The default UI is pretty ugly and spouse-hostile due to the gaudy pictures of rendered sports cars and cheesy metal textures, but I assume that can be changed. It does seem to expect the VGA output to be stretched, which is good. Hulu support for XBMC appears questionable, third party, and possibly no longer functional depending on which forum thread you read. It most certainly isn't available out of the box.
I've read a little about Boxee, which seems to be an XBMC port of some kind, but last I heard they had dumped Hulu support which means I can't implement it.
I hear Microsoft bundles something like this with Windows 7 Ultimate, but I didn't run across anything like it when I played with my copy. I'm not a huge fan of those guys, but if they have something that works or if there's a Windows-based solution that's pretty good, I'm game.
What is out there that works? My ideal is to spend minimal time doing installation and integration, but I'm willing to do some gruntwork to make this go, I'm willing to build things from source as needed. I'm not above and would probably prefer running things that might not be officially sanctioned by the Television-Industrial Complex. It's just that the information quality out there is so bad -- mostly web forums full of people not getting answers to their questions -- that I don't really even know where to begin. Surely I'm not better off just installing a general purpose desktop OS on it and not doing the media center thing at all.
So tell me: If you were to recommend a really sweet media center setup, for maybe not the most awesome hardware, what would it be?