When I first decided to put a computer in my home theater cabinet I wasn’t sure how much we would really use it. After all, I wasn’t ready to give up DirecTV so I wasn’t concerned with the DVR functionality because there is no DirecTV tuner available. What I wanted was to have all of our photographs viewable on the TV, our music (almost 100 GB) to be playable through our receiver and speakers, and our DVD’s to be ripped and placed in an easier-to-access location than a drawer.
Consequently, I bought a cheap used desktop (as in non-tower case) computer off of Ebay. My first goal was price and my second was something that would sit on a shelf in the cabinet with the HD DVR, receiver, and the like. Because I wasn’t sure how much we would use it, I went cheap – a Pentium 4 processor system. I did some back-end upgrades when I received it – I added RAM and upgraded the video and sound cards to give it SPDIF audio out and DVI video out. This got the video and audio into the A/V receiver via a SPDIF cable and a DVI to HDMI cable. The system has been solid for two years running Windows 7 Ultimate, with Media Center set to open on Startup. I have customized the software also – Media Center Studio is great for tweaking the WMC interface, and MyMovies is a much better DVD library than WMC’s built-in library.
The computer is now outdated – okay, maybe it was when I bought it – and we use it EVERY day. I am faced with two options – buy a new computer or scale back the load on the existing one. In the long run, I will be buying a new PC. In the short term, however, I am considering scaling back the software – not the functionality, just the processor and memory intensive parts of it. In fact, I will be adding functionality while my computer does less work to run it.
I stumbled on Linux Media Center a couple of years ago and was intrigued by it, but never took the plunge. Since then I have checked back with their website periodically and watched it evolve. I have marveled at the functionality it brings that isn’t present in Windows Media Center. There’s control of the home security system, home automation, telephones, and more. Sure, some of that can be added to Windows Media Center, but it’s added – not built-in. And, in some cases, it will cost you. Linux Media Center also comes with mobile apps for smartphone and tablet use, while WMC doesn’t. There are unofficial WMC apps, like the MyRemote for Android, which I use, it’s not quite the same as a full-featured, fully-integrated app.
So, I am now contemplating taking that plunge that I have so long considered. Over the next few days I will install Linux Media Center and will begin exploring and writing about what I encounter and what I like and don’t like. In the meantime, I have posted a couple of random screenshots below and if you want more information, you can visit LinuxMCE.com.