Top 5 HTPC Applications
When building a HTPC media center one of the most important decisions you will be faced with is which media centre software package to use. The number of available solutions is growing by the day all coming with different features and tools. At Home Media Portal we have built HTPC’s with a range of different media centre software packages and have fully tested the features of each. We have comprised our top 5 list of HTPC Media Center products to help you decide which is best for you.
Each piece of HTPC software has been graded based on the following:
- Ease of use
- Ease of installation
- Features and addons available
- The look and feel of the HTPC OS
- The quality of the media playback
1. Kodi / XBMC
Kodi was a media center designed initially for the original XBOX games console, hence the old name XBMC (XBOX Media Center). Since then it has evolved into the most comprehensive and complete media platform available on the internet. It’s name was eventually changed to Kodi to reflect that it is no longer a solution solely for XBOX architecture. Many consider Kodi to be a solution for the more tech savy amongst us and is thought to be more complex than many other Media Center software solutions but the end result is worth the additional effort to build (and it isn’t that complex).
Kodi supports a huge number of media file types and leaves the rest of the field on the horizon. Everything from standard Avi to some of the new and more complex 3D standards. With Kodi being an open source project when a new file format emerges the Kodi team are already planning it into a future revision. Kodi supports movies, music, streaming and even games and emulators (with added plugins). Plugins are a great feature of the software. They have allowed software developers to create their own modifications to the media centre without disturbing the main install. This is great news for the home user as it has made the adding of many new custom features very easy to do. The plugin library on the internet is now huge. You can add things like news feeds, game launchers and catchup TV for all the major TV stations. The list is endless!
One of the best things about Kodi is the look and styling it gives your HTPC media center. Kodi gives you the ability to choose different skins adding different themes to your entertainment system. When you browse through your media you get to see stunning visuals of all you DVD and CD box art and best of all it automatically downloads these for you. It allows you to launch one media type and then browse others which gives your system that advanced high tech feel. You can play your favourite album and then browse to a sports stream. It brings all of your different collections together into a single entertainment platform.
Kodi offers neat advanced features. Some of the major mobile app stores offer remote controls for your phone. See your music collections displayed on your handset and then launch them on your media centre. Kodi supports Airplay and can be used as an Airplay target so why not stream the content on your tablet straight to the big screen. You can even integrate live TV with your media centre and consolidate all of your entertainment systems into a single user platform.
Kodi / XBMC is now available on multiple platforms including Windows, Linux, Mac OS, Android and now Raspberry Pi. Kodi has become the framework for many of the other media centre software platforms in this list and currently sets today’s standard. Kodi is the most advanced media centre software platform, has the best look and has the most available add-ons for it. Kodi / XBMC is without doubt the number one HTPC media centre software package.
Click here to install Kodi on your HTPC.
2. Media Portal
Media Portal is very similar to Kodi / XBMC but falls into second place as it is not quite as complete and is a few short on the features. It does however look just as good with a modern stylish theme and menu system. Media portal is designed to be integrated with live TV and if you have tuners installed on your system you can watch and record all of your favourite TV shows. To accompany this it has a unique feature know at Trakt which will recommend forthcoming shows and content based on your media library.
Media portal also comes with a plugin feature allowing you to expand upon an already great system. The plugin library is not as vast as Kodi / XBMC but does cover off all of the main plugins. Media portal has access to on-line video content giving you hours of streaming to watch. As with all good media centres your collections get full box art automatically downloaded to the system, this combined with the Media Portal layout gives your HTPC media centre an excellent look and feel. Media portal falls second to Kodi / XBMC as it is not quite as feature rich and customisable but if you want to integrate TV tuners into your media centre then this could be the way for you.
3. JRiver Media Center
Jriver is another great media centre software package for PC architectures. Along with the first two products it is a feature rich media centre package but looks very different. Usually you want your HTPC media centre software to look like it is the operating system of the device and JRiver looks more like an application. It looks like an improved version of Itunes with additional features. This is not necessarily a bad thing if your run you media centre from a desktop system.
Jriver shows all of your media libraries with full box art and has the plugin feature to extend the softwares capabilities. It too can be used an Airplay target and can stream content from other systems on your home network. If you run your media centre from a PC and like to use other applications at the same time then Jriver would be a good choice.
Boxee media centre is software designed for it’s own purpose built hardware solution the D-Link Boxee. It makes the top 5 solutions as it provides a fantastic user experience packed with features. It is one of the few media software packages that comes as part of a commercial media centre that allows box art and case cover download for your collections. D-Link have created a clean looking interface that is extremely easy to use. It is built to be social and designed to link in with your Facebook and Twitter accounts (and others) to share your media experience with friends. A unique feature that you will find extremely useful is the “Watch Now” function. If you are sat at work planning your evening you can load your chosen content into your web browser and it will ready to play on you Boxee box when you get home.
Boxee allows you to pull content from on-line sources (both premium and free) giving you the choice of thousands of movies and TV shows. It also allows you to pull content from network TV websites which is something its competitors can’t do. It comes preloaded with over 200 apps with many more available to download. Like with Kodi / XBMC Boxee can be used as an Airplay target and can stream content straight from your tablet or phone. With Boxee simplicity is key and it is one of the easiest media centre packages to operate.
5. Windows Media Center
Like with everything when a company or developer team brings out a new innovation Microsoft jump on the band wagon and bring out their own similar version of it. When smaller developer teams brought out the first media centre solutions Microsoft incorporated their own solution into Windows. Windows Media Centre has the standard home theatre look and is designed to be suitable for a TV remote style controller. Being built for Windows it is easy to deploy and comes with regular on-line updates. One of the main selling points of Windows Media Centre and the reason it makes out top five list is that if you want a simple media centre solution that is ready to go straight out of the box then this is for you. You get all of the standard features like broad media file type compatibility, box art and internet TV and all from a simple navigation system. Windows Media Centre allows you to sync many devices to it allowing playback on your HTPC media center.
There are however a few drawbacks of this platform. Firstly there is a charge associated with it. Granted it is only a small charge but all other media centre software packages that we have ranked above this are free. Secondly it does not have the customisation and plugin capabilities that all of the others do and therefore you can do less with it. Finally being a commercial product it is locked down in certain ways to avoid infringement. Not that we condone any form of piracy but these can get in the way even running media that you own. This said Windows Media Center is a great product and if you want a HTPC media centre up and running quickly that does the job then this is for you.