Media Center, Here I come!

I’ve been cruising around online looking for a decent all-in-one media center for Linux. This is partly due to a question/reaction that I’ve commonly come across when talking to people about Linux as an alternative (people who have actually expressed an honest interest in Linux, NOT just me being an overzealous open-source nerd ). People, even those who have come into contact with Linux through Ubuntu at the local public radio station (KRUU), will often times ask me if Linux is Media-ready. I think back to a statement I made to one of my acquaintances early in my experience with Linux: “Once I set it up correctly, Linux played my movies better than Windows.”

I want you to think about that statement. TRULY think about what’s inferred. “Once I set it up correctly,” meaning that it was quite an effort for me, as a newcomer to Linux, to figure out all the dependencies needed to properly play back my various movie files–including css-protected DVDs (which most are these days). But, once it was installed and configured, I really enjoyed what I saw, and I began spending more and more time running Linux than windows.

The more I hear people asking me this, the more I begin to wonder myself whether or not Linux is ready for the media-drenched mainstream. My mind then wanders to my parents, whom have happily been using their Linux system daily for over a year now. They started just wanting to read and write email, and to shop on ebay; however, their needs have slowly shifted to become more media-centric as they discovered digital photography, and mp3 players. I think it’ll only be a matter of time before they’re downloading avi files off of Torrent sites. 😉

This is when I came to the conclusion that there is a need for people, like my parents, to have an easy to use, multimedia program. A sort of one-stop shopping mall for video, pictures, and music; exactly what a Media Center is for!

I’ve collected a few Media Centers available for the Linux platform.

Elisa displaying pictures

Elisa is the only media player I have currently tested thoroughly enough to comment on. I find the interface to be very slick and aesthetically pleasing. The major downside that I’ve come across is it’s current inability to play DVDs–regardless of the fact that their home page explicitly states DVD playback as a feature of their Media Center.

My other complaint is that the configuration file must be manually edited as a text file. This is both a plus and a minus in my book. If one of your major goals is to be “based on simplicity,” and “the first time user can easily install and use the default functions, without any additional handling,” then this is a pretty far stretch. Moreover, how to edit the configuration file was listed no where on there site except in the forum. I would have expected somewhere, most likely the FAQ or the “features” page to have mentioned this all too important detail. I should also mention that besides being unable to play DVDs, Elisa is unable to view and/or record video streams as of yet (unlike MythTV); however, both DVD playback and TV recording/viewing are in the works and are planned to be implemented “soon.”

I plan to further test Elisa, as well as other Media Centers in order to find a reasonable solution.

Freevo GeeXboxX2 edition home

Up next is Freevo Media Center which, unlike the gstreamer-based Elisa, utilizes two very powerful engines under the hood: Xine and Mplayer. Until then, here are some links and screenshots to a couple other Media Centers.

MythTV home

My Media System home