The Three Best Linux Media Centers

Let me first start off by saying that someone is likely going to be very angry at me for omitting program x, y, z or Miro. Please express that anger in the comments below. The three media centers I list are my favorites. All of them integrate easily with MythTV by adding a simple menu item, and each work greats with remotes and looks good on your TV. MythTV itself might qualify in this category. However, I find Myth makes a good OS (mythbuntu) and PVR (with a great web interface), but I think it is fairly awful at organizing your media and playing web vids. So, I leave it out of the media center category. I personally run a Mythbuntu system with the following three media centers installed on top of MythTV to organize my local media and watch web content.

XBMC

xbmc

This media center was designed for the original XBox hardware. However, it has since been ported to Linux, Apple and Windows (and other game systems). It has an extremely beautiful interface.  XBMC indexes the music and videos on your hard drive or networked drives and plays them back with a lot of elegance. It is easy to configure your remote control and video playback utilizes VDPAU on nvidia cards. So, you get amazing performance during playback (HD video uses less than 10% of your CPU). Beyond playing back your media, XBMC has a ton of plugins (http://www.xbmczone.com/) that let you play online content like streaming video (ex. CBS), podcasts (ex. The Onion, Game Trailers), grab subtitles for movies etc… It has a MythTV frontend plugin which is great if you have a MythTV backend somewhere on your network like me – it is pretty new, though, and I find it a little clunky compared to a real MythTV frontend. The one killer plugin that is missing is a Hulu plugin, though. This is the main reason I spend more time in Boxee.

Benefits:

  • Open Source
  • Beautiful Interface (Though more complex than Boxee)
  • Great Plugins
  • Very Customizable
  • MythTV Frontend
  • DVD/CD Playback

Downsides:

  • No Hulu Plugin
  • Less Intuitive than Boxee

Boxee

boxee

Boxee is media center that was broken off of XBMC. Basically it is XBMC plus a cleaned up interface, a social network and a few more key plugins. While much of Boxee is open source – these additions are closed source, which prevents XBMC from taking advantage of the Boxee developers work. This is pretty lame of the Boxee team, but they are trying to turn Boxee into a business; so, there you have it. The social network aspect of Boxee lets your friends see what you are watching/listening to and lets you recommend shows or songs to your followers. The main reason to use Boxee over XBMC is the Hulu app based on Mozilla (and a few other apps that are missing in XBMC). It is also generally a bit simpler to use. When I installed it on Ubuntu, my MCE remote immediately worked. Its media indexing system is not very good, however. Your files have to be named in a particular way because it does not read metadata, and even after this, it still fails to index a lot of my music. Apparently metadata indexing is coming in a future release – which should fix the problem. I also don’t like having to login to my username on each launch and there is no VDPAU playback yet.  Overall, though, I spend more time in Boxee than either of the other two examples because it is clean and the plugins are awesome.

Benefits:

  • Based on XBMC code – (So improvements there should eventually come to Boxee)
  • Beautiful Easy Interface
  • Great Plugins Capability
  • Hulu Plugin in Particular
  • DVD/CD Playback

Downsides:

  • Not Very Customizable
  • No MythFrontend
  • Indexing Sucks
  • Closed Source Chunks
  • No VDPAU (Yet)

Moovida

main_moviesalt

Moovida is an open-source media center from Fluendo the makers of the legal Linux gstreamer codecs. The interface is once again extremely beautiful and it works great with remotes once you get it working. However, I initially had trouble setting my MCE remote up.  The indexing system on Moovida is the best of the three media centers on this list. So, if you just want to play back local media, this is probably your best choice. While there is a plugin system, only a few plugins have been written so far. And, there is currently no Mozilla or Hulu integration. I really haven’t used Moovida as much as XBMC or Boxee, but I am going to keep a close on eye on its development over the next little while to see if it gets more impressive addons.

Benefits:

  • OpenSource
  • Supported by a great company
  • Beautiful Interface
  • Best Media Indexer

Downsides:

  • DVD Player Not Packaged By Default (Thanks Sed for pointing out  they have one)
  • Not Very Many Plugins Yet
  • No Hulu Plugin in Particular

And there you have it.  Try them out and set up a great media center.

18 thoughts on “The Three Best Linux Media Centers

  1. Just for the sake of correction (and because Moovida ist great 😉 ) I want to point out that there actually is DVD support in Moovida. Admittedly they still have some issues with the system so DVD support is not packaged currently (as far as I know). It is usually up to the distributors of the individual Linux distribution to decide if they want to include the DVD support or not.

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  2. Bryan,

    No, there was only like a couple week period where that plugin worked. Hulu blocked it at the same time as blocking the original Boxee plugin, but XBMC has not overcome this. Boxee resorted to implementing a Mozilla/RSS based plugin, but this is not available for XBMC.

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  3. […] The Three Best Linux Media Centers Let me first start off by saying that someone is likely going to be very angry at me for omitting program x, y, z or Miro. Please express that anger in the comments below. The three media centers I list are my favorites. All of them integrate easily with MythTV by adding a simple menu item, and each work greats with remotes and looks good on your TV. MythTV itself might qualify in this category. However, I find Myth makes a good OS (mythbuntu) and PVR (with a great web interface), but I think it is fairly awful at organizing your media and playing web vids. So, I leave it out of the media center category. I personally run a Mythbuntu system with the following three media centers installed on top of MythTV to organize my local media and watch web content. […]

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  4. thanks, I’ve been looking for something to set up a jukebox pc in my living room, and moovida looks like it just might do the trick.

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  5. What about LinuxMCE?!?!? The front end is not as polished as some of the others, but it also incorporates home control through Z-wave appliances, telephony, shifting media throughout the house during use, etc….

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  6. Ya, LinuxMCE is also some to keep an eye on. I tried it a couple years back but ended up coninuing use a stock MythTV install. However, I think it falls in the category, like myth, of being more of an OS/Distro launching pad application than a really good media organizer/player. It would be great if the LinuxMCE distro included one of the three media centers above by default.

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  7. Very useful review thanks. I’ve been using MythTV for years, but I too think it fails at anything other than TV. I’m considering building a new system using XBMC as a media center and front end for MythTV. I am curious you use the built in “mythtv:” source integration, the MythBox python script or some other script.

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  8. Moovida [http://www.moovida.com/] looks quite flash now! Apparently they’re working on the linux port.
    I tested this on windows – comes with DVD support out of the box, and menus are supported.
    Looking forward to the linux version.

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  9. The very heart of your writing whilst sounding agreeable in the beginning, did not settle properly with me personally after some time. Somewhere throughout the paragraphs you were able to make me a believer but just for a very short while. I still have got a problem with your jumps in assumptions and you might do nicely to fill in all those gaps. In the event that you actually can accomplish that, I could undoubtedly end up being impressed.

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