Open Source Media Centers: Finding the Media Center that fits with your lifestyle and preferences
When ditching cable, there is no better way to replace that content gap than by utilizing and growing your own media library along with your antenna. However, if you’re like me, you will often find that your media is spread out among multiple formats and file types. It can be very frustrating when you’re trying to watch your favorite movie, but can’t, because it’s on the wrong operating system. The solution to this problem is to use an open-source media center.
What is an open-source media center?
In short, an open-source media center is a free program that offers a platform for users to view their pictures, videos, and listen to audio files from one source. The media center essentially serves as a digital media library; a central hub through which all your media files go. Some open-source media centers help you organize your files, others enable cross-platform access, and the best ones do both.
Sometimes open-source media centers will offer premium subscriptions for extra features; while others may simply require you to register an account. Depending on your media needs, you may or may not need a premium service; it all depends on how serious you are about your digital entertainment.
Kodi Media Center (Formerly XBMC)
One of the most famous open-source media players is the Kodi Media Center, formerly known as XBMC (Xbox Media Center). Originally designed to work with the original Xbox, the Kodi Media Center quickly evolved into a cross-platform home media hub. Kodi is compatible with any video type and works with Windows, Linux, and Mac.
When uploading your media, Kodi will read the meta-data of each file and download relevant information, such as title name, description, and cover art. Kodi also sports the ability to watch television online, has a built in PVR (personal video recorder, essentially a DVR), a killer mobile app, and hundreds of different add-ons you can download. For a free media center, it’s hard to do better.
MediaPortal – Open Source Media Center
Kodi isn’t the only kid on the block. There are hundreds of other media centers out there; though not all are created equal. Founded by a former XBMC development team member, MediaPortal boasts a seamless in-home entertainment experience. Because it is specifically designed for Windows 7, 8, and some versions of Vista, MediaPortal lacks the cross platform-functionality that most people want. However, the tradeoff is increased performance speeds. Aside from its ability to support multiple TV cards, there isn’t anything that’s too special about MediaPortal besides a smooth performance. If you don’t like Kodi and you have Windows 7 or 8, you might want to give MediaPortal a try.
PLEX Media Server
Aside from Kodi, the next best free media center would have to be PLEX. Founded by a former member of XBMC (Kodi) development team as well, PLEX offers more or less the same features as Kodi, but it also has some awesome extra features. For $5 a month, $30 a year, or $75 for a lifetime subscription, you can get PLEX Pass, which allows you to upload your media to cloud storage and sync it to your device for offline play. This is an indispensable asset if you’re on a long road trip with the family or travel often for business. If you don’t have a large media library, this feature might make you reconsider expanding your collection.
If you are the tinkering type, you might like MythTV. Originally created as a Linux only program, MythTV has slowly begun expanding into different operating systems (although it currently only supports Mac and Linux). It is possible to build a MythTV app for Windows, but as of right now, there is no official supported app. There are two MythTV apps, a front-end app and a back-end app. The back-end application essentially runs the “behind the scenes” stuff like scheduling the DVR to record and so on. The front-end application is basically just the user interface. Like I said earlier, this thing is really cool if you like to tinker with your tech and build your own system.
Aside from the split application, MythTV more or less does the basic functions that Kodi or PLEX would do. If you are a windows user or just someone who wants a simple experience, MythTV might not be a good idea.
There are a lot of choices out there when it comes to open-source media centers, and there are certainly pros and cons to each choice. Really, it all boils down to your needs. If you have a huge library and hate tagging, maybe you should try Kodi. If you like to alter, adapt, and generally play around with soft/hardware, MythTV is your go-to app.
This comprehensive list of open source media centers is a great reference point, and you should try out as many as you like until you find the perfect one. What’s important is that you find the media center to fit your lifestyle and preferences. Regardless of which media center you pick, one thing is for sure: your digital entertainment experience will never be the same again.
Dave Kennedy is a long time cordcutter who became increasingly frustrated with the high cost of Cable TV and decided to make a stance. In 2011 he launched KilltheCableBill.com, a site dedicated to helping people save money through providing simple, cost-effective cable TV alternatives. Sine then, David has helped 1,000s of people cancel their cable subscription while keeping the shows they love.