Monday, August 11, 2008

Ubuntu/Linux U2U Mini #2: Media Center-like apps

Man, I love these apps coming out lately that give you a media center/Apple TV experience on your PC or a HTPC. The one I've been testing out lately is XBMC. I installed it, I think, through a repository provided by the XBMC folks through Synaptic Package Manager. It's really cool. It's missing some features or implements some features in a confusing manner, but over all it is really nice. Not nice enough to replace my Songbird/Miro teamup, but it's getting there. I use Songbird because it does nearly everything iTunes does plus does a really good impression of a web browser since it's based on the Firefox engine. Miro picks up where Songbird leaves off by providing not only podcast playing functionality as well, but also automatic resuming of podcasts. Something I have yet to see in any other player on Linux. That's unfortunate. Both aren't very good at syncing to iPod. I know Songbird can, but it doesn't do a very good job of it IMHO. And Miro just doesn't sync at all.

I started my media center-like experience with ATI's MMC (CRAP!) then MediaPortal. Back then I wasn't too into the MC experience. Mainly because nothing stood out as really good and the Microsoft Windows Media Center Edition was the only show in town. Then came a bunch of competetors. Some who had always been there. All including Apple TV, Tivo and more that are slipping my mind. Then I bought an eVGA GeForce 5200 Personal Cinema graphics card that came with nVidia's own MC-like software. Then I found SnapStream BeyondTV 4. Very nice, but it was something where you didn't know what you were missing until you saw what other MC-like software was doing. It did a great job, don't get me wrong. It worked with my ATI tuners, it worked with my nVidia tuners. Much better than the native software. Almost embarrassingly better. Anyway, nVidia's attempt at a tuner card came and went, ATI is still doing it, but I can't in good conscience recommend the software (the hardware is fine). ATI just can't make good MMC software which is a shame.

Anyway, back to the topic. After BTV4 I started messing around with MediaPortal again, then I tried out MythTV. In truth, I've been trying MythTV all along, but was always frustrated by not being able to get it working with the ATI and nVidia cards I had. One of those frustrations led me to badly damage my 5200 card by mistakenly installing it wrong. I got the power turned around and burned the card out. Frustration, leading to impatience, leading to haste. Which then made waste. Learn from my example. Anyway, that was the end of my tuner experiments as I sold my HDTV Wonder from ATI. As I saw it the future wasn't in HDTV on the computer, but back on the TV in the living room. Timely as this was about the time I got into YouTube and other media sites heavily. And this was the beginning of my podcast addiction. :-) Now that I'm on Ubuntu I'm looking for MC solutions (other than MythTV). Which leads me to this post. :-)

Other than XBMC, I've enjoyed many other experiments in MC-like clients. YouTube, AOL in2TV, Veoh, Joost, and others. What caught my eye recently is the Boxee project. It is very interesting because it seems to be a serious effort into the mainstream to get movies, music and other media to not only Mac OS X and Windows users, but primarily Mac and Linux users. They have a very strong push for Linux. Especially the Ubuntu distro. This is very cool. As it's not leaving anybody out and they're just as strong in supporting Linux. Which is how it should be. Even support across the board.

I just signed up for the Boxee alpha and I can't wait. If everything they say will happen will happen then this may be a good replacement for my music, podcast and movie/TV needs (erm... wants). A list of the things I hope it replaces (ok, I admit it. Some are pie in the sky): Songbird, Miro, Netflix, OTA or cable TV, iTunes (hopefully), AmazonMP3 (though I hope more in a client for AmazonMP3 way), and that's all I can think of now. Though in a very stylish and functional way. This is very exciting. Follow the links for all the fun. :-)
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