05 November 2006

Home Theatre PCs - MediaPortal

And now for a complete change of pace...

One thing I particularly like doing it fiddling about with home-made HTPCs (Home Theatre PCs). I've built myself a little system for a little over £200 involving an AOpen XC-Cube. This became necessary when we moved house and the main computer was moved away from the TV.

I decided to use Windows for the OS for expediency's sake and as the graphics chipset on the motherboard was not well supported in Linux. I could have gone for Windows XP MCE Edition, but I already knew of an alternative I preferred.

Check out MediaPortal for a fully featured media centre system that is fully open-source. This project actually grew out of the well respected XBox Media Centre (XBMC). It looks and feels great and has full compatibility with things like MCE remotes. They've recently updated to an unstable build of which I have found completely stable for my own uses, but I tend to only watch TV/TV programs on it. Also, more excitingly they have started work on the TV Server project so that the TV cards and content can be hosted on a back-end server and the actual media PC can be as trimmed down as you can make it.

There are also a variety of skins to make it look really good, a lot of which broke with version as there were some substantial changes to the XML format. Here is a list of some working ones:
  • MCE is currently missing (the one that looks very similar to Windows Media Centre Edition) but will be reinstated to the release very soon (it is probably already accessible under solution).
  • MePo skins - These are fantastic featuring the new mascot type character MePo.
  • Simplify - A bit of an understated skin.
  • Replicant
  • SimpleMP
  • Vista Style MCE
  • KIS - Looks incredibly impressive but I have not had a chance to download and play with it yet. There is KIS, KIS Dark, and the KIS SDK for plug-in pages.
MediaPortal has coverage for emulators (I had a lot of fun with this and my arcade joystick), built-in games, weather, music, DVDs, TV, radio, films, and numerous plug-ins. Since it is also simply an application you can install and use it on any supported PC. It may not be the most technologically advanced or have the best architecture, but it does the job more than admirably and more importantly it is as easy to use as running the installer and following the setup wizard.