When you’re going to build HTPC the first thing which should be clarified is software for it. You have to think about it because, for example, Linux doesn’t support ATI graphical card well. Therefore you have to buy appropriate one. So, I’ll try to briefly describe here 7 most popular Linux or Windows based applications for HTPC.
MythTV is the most popular Linux-based application for media center. It offers a standard set of PVR features such watching, pause, record, schedule recording and manage recorded Live TV shows, play DVDs, brows photos. MythTV functionality can be extended by plug-ins. There are not so many plug-ins but existing ones allow to burn recorded TV shows on DVD, stream TV over LAN.
MythTV supports a wide range of Video capture cards such DVB cards, analog TV and HDTV cards, external TV tuners (HDHomeRun). To control MythTV you can use on-screen GUI together with remote control or web interface for any PC in LAN. It supports HDTV (1080p). MythTV is a part of open source home control system Pluthome and LinuxMCE. The good ability of MythTV is a possibility to booting it from a Compact Flash card. To install MythTV you can use following distributions: MythDora, KnoppMyth, Minimyth, Xebian (for Xbox), Yellow Dog (for Playstation 3).
Video Disk Recorder (VDR)
Video Disk Recorder (VDR) or Video Disk Recorder is a child of German folk Klaus Schmidinger. It provides a functionality similar to MythTV together with better architecture (MythTV records everything. As result you have a big number unnecessary stuff on your HDD. VDR doesn’t record anything till you press ‘Pause’ or schedule something). The list of VDR’s plug-ins are much longer that MythTV. It also allows to stream TV over network but you can optimize the video signal on the fly to use low bandwidth. VDR provides a nice looking on-screen menu, EPG and has web interface which allows to watch TV as well (as a set of fast changed pictures). Unlike MythTV Video Disk Recorder is localized in German. There is no many non-German resources. Moreover, VDR started support HDTV a couple months ago. Pluthome and LinuxMCE have a very pure integration with VDR but their developer teams are planning to improve it. To install VDR you may use following distributions: LinVDR, c’t VDR, Gen2VDR, ArVDR.
Freevo is also Linux-based HTPC application. It allows tp watch, pause, record Live TV, playback DVDs, view pictures. It has a plug-in structure. Some of them allows to add basic home automation with x10 devices into your Freevo box. It’s a part of following distribution: Freevix, Xebian – Xbox Debian, Feux and FreevoLive.
My Media System (MMS)
My Media System (MMS) is again Linux-based HTPC front-end. It uses VDR to play Live TV. It allows to play-back DVDs, view images, play in Linux games and listen Internet radio. MMS can be installed via apt or built from the sources.
As I understand GeeXbox is French and Spanish Linux-based product. It’s also provide base PVR functions. Unfortunately, it isn’t so widespread as four HTPC front-ends below.
MediaPortal is an Open Source Windows-based application ideal situated for turning your PC / TV into a very advanced Media Center. It looks nice and allows to watch, record, pause Live TV, play-back DVDs, listen music and Internet radio. MediaPortal can be extended by various plug-ins and extensions.
Windows Media Center Edition
Windows Media Center Edition is proprietary, commercial OS for media center. The MCE has a few advances in my point of view. The first one is a hardware support (because all producers make drivers for Windows) and possibility to watch YouTube and Google video (thanks to supporting of plug-ins). Personally, I don’t like closed and especially Windows-based systems. Sure, it doesn’t mean that Windows MCE is bad. The most commercial, ready-to use HTPC are shipped with MCE because producers don care about hardware drivers.
Well, I briefly described only well-known media center front-ends. If I missed somethings don’t hesitate to add your corrections in comments. Personally I recommended VDR. It can provide desire functionality via plugins.