What is the best HTPC software?
January 1, 2009 9:46 AM   Subscribe

What software (or set of software) should I use on my new HTPC for both DVR functionality and streaming internet video?

I have a new homebrew PC dedicated as a HTPC that I will be setting up tomorrow. I plan to use it for watching and recording over the air TV, as well as streaming content from Hulu, Netflix, etc. I also may use it for watching DVDs or playing other sorts of media (music, videos, photos), but this is secondary. I have a copy of Home Premium Vista for this machine, which I hear works great as a DVR.

Is there some software that seamlessly integrates all the functionality I'm looking for? If I can't have it all, what is the best combination of packages? Is there a way to painlessly switch between programs with the remote?

I have looked around a lot, but most programs seem to either be DVRs or fancy video players. Boxee seems promising as it streams online content, but it only runs on mac/linux. Perhaps something like boxee+sage tv on linux? Is there a good way to watch hulu/netflix on Vista without using a browser?

Free is great, but I'm willing to spend a little $
posted by jpdoane to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Would you mind posting your list of components?
posted by notsnot at 11:54 AM on January 1, 2009

I'd recommend Vista Media Center that comes with Home Premium, if you've got a Media Center remote - it's definitely more user-friendly from first install (not something I saw with Myth when I tried it last year).
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 12:43 PM on January 1, 2009

boxee is an extension of XBMC Media Center. My neighbor swears by XBMC, and it seems to meet most of your requirements, including running on Vista.
posted by putzface_dickman at 1:28 PM on January 1, 2009

Response by poster: System Specs:
AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ Brisbane 2.6GHz Processor
ASUS M2R32-MVP AM2 AMD 580X CrossFire ATX AMD Motherboard
Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250 Tuner (with remote)
4GB ram
Cheap video card with S video out (I have an old analog TV)
Samsung 1 TB hard Drive
wireless keyboard mouse
Antec BP550 Plus 550W Power supply
Silverstone HTPC case
MS Vista Home Premium

I'd recommend Vista Media Center...
Thats what I'm planning on, but what about watching hulu and netflix with my remote?

My neighbor swears by XBMC, and it seems to meet most of your requirements...
from what I can tell XBMC seems cool, but offers neither DVR functionality nor streaming from hulu or other online content providers.
posted by jpdoane at 2:48 PM on January 1, 2009

Best answer: I've been looking into this over the past few weeks for an XP machine, though I've been less concerned with the DVR aspects and more interested in having a good UI for web video sources (primarily Netflix and Hulu).

I've found what you've found. Most of these are focused on either local or LAN media, the DVR thing, or some combo of the two. I haven't found any great solutions for having a TV + Remote interface to online video sites. There is a guy who has been doing some intriguing proof of concept work for a general media UI framework, but it is unfinished.

Boxee is intriguing, but their windows port lags the linux and Mac port (and netflix doesn't work on linux). It is coming though I don't know what their timetable is for a public release of the windows port, but my impression is that it could drop in the next month.

MediaPortal, an earlier form of the XBMC project, has a community created Netflix plugin, but I don't think the current version works with the new Silverlight-based Netflix player, and the next version is still in development. I'm not sure what they have for Hulu.

Meedio/MeedioOS is a little more complicated, but there are netflix and youtube plugins, and I think there may be one for Hulu too. I didn't get very far with it though, because it provokes my computer to bluescreen (not a common problem, from what I can tell).

The XBMC community seems a little less interested in supporting proprietary formats and services, but I think some people are working on some plugins. I haven't gotten very far because I just get a black screen when I launch it (possibly my video card is too old).

I suspect that in a month or so, there will be a lot of options, but right now, things are pretty limited among the 3rd party offerings.

On the other hand, you have a Vista version with Vista Media Center. There are a few Netflix plugins for VMC. I think this one is the most up to date with Silverlight support, but I could be wrong. Not sure about the Hulu options, but I think they are out there.

I'd suggest starting with the Vista Media Center plugins. If they don't work well right now, I wouldn't waste too much time beating your head against the wall, because I think all these options are evolving pretty quickly, just check back every few weeks until you find something that works well for you.
posted by Good Brain at 3:07 PM on January 1, 2009

Response by poster: Ok, it looks like I can use XBMC to wath hulu and netflix afterall, by also installing PlayOn ($30), which I happen to already have for use with my (now broken) xbox 360.

This is nice, but isn't the best solution for several reasons:
-It still requires using both vista media center and xbmc, which I suspect will be a pain to switch between with just the remote (is this true?)

-PlayOn is a little buggy, needs to be restarted occasionally. It also takes much longer to buffer and stream video than firefox. Netflix is almost unwatchable - I have to start a movie and pause it for about an hour in order to watch it without running out the buffer.
posted by jpdoane at 3:09 PM on January 1, 2009

My Netflix is an unofficial way for you to stream Netflix to your Windows Media Center PC. I've used it and it works great.

There is not yet any Media Center-Hulu integration. Vista Media Center meets your other requirements. It's fast, reliable, user friendly and does music, videos, DVR, DVD library (with the My Movies add-in), all controlled via remote.
posted by cnc at 4:51 PM on January 1, 2009

By the way, I've been using Event Ghost to control Netflix in a browser with my remote. You have to do some set up to do the key mappings, but its pretty easy. I pretty much only use it to play back items I've already added to my queue, and even then, I have to use the "mouse" function of my crummy old RF Remote Wonder, but it works well enough. Netflix doesn't provide many keyboard shortcuts for in their player, but its possible to pause and resume by mapping a remote key to the space bar.

I'm looking forward to better options though.
posted by Good Brain at 6:31 PM on January 1, 2009

Response by poster: Just a followup - I've been using Vista Media Player, and happy with it for a DVR. I've been watching hulu on a web browser using keyboard/mouse. Kindof a pain, but better than nothing. Maybe I'll give Event Ghost a try...

I tried xbmc with native hulu plugin and also with PlayOn, and couldn't get it to work. Still waiting for a media center hulu plugin, but not holding my breath given the recent boxee/hulu drama.
posted by jpdoane at 11:34 AM on March 2, 2009

I'm a little late to the thread, but I found this while browsing lifehacker today: http://secondrun.tv/

It's a free plugin for Windows Media Center that integrates Hulu. Not sure if it works well since I haven't tried it my self, but it's worth a shot.
posted by extramundane at 5:48 PM on March 24, 2009

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