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I'd like to know what some good computers are to use as a media PC. I'm open to buying something outright, but my budget caps out at about $350 US. I'm also open to building something if that makes more sense (same budget). I have a very nice surround sound system already, so that doesn't factor in - I'm really just looking for the box (and maybe remote?) at this point.

Additionally, what are some good solutions for the software? I've heard little bits about XBMC and some others but haven't kept up with it in about a year. Suggestions for software?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

If you don't want to watch live TV, XBMC is great. It has one of the nicest interfaces of any such system I've tried. The keyboard shortcuts take a bit of getting used to (on the original Xbox they are extremely intuitive), but for playing back files stored on harddrives it's brilliant.

If you want to watch/record live TV...

Windows Media Centre is very good, assuming you don't live in Australia where there is no EPG (without a quite complicated setup to pull data from 3rd party services).

It's interface is nice, TV cards will specify if they are compatible with it (and most are). It's included Windows Vista "Home Premium" and "Ultimate", and Windows 7 "Home Premium" and up

MediaPortal, as jerryjvl suggested, is good. The interface isn't as nice as XBMC I'd say - the Streamed MP theme is an improvement, but it's not as well integrated as the XBMC version... but, MediaPortal works, has a decent EPG, records fine, handles multiple tuners.

SageTV is another Windows based application that's worth looking at is - I tried it a few years ago and it seemed good (it costs about $80USD).

GB-PVC is free application, so is worth trying. It was one of the few I could get to work with an old obscure TV tuner I had.

MythTV is the last option I can think of - it's one of the most "powerful" systems for watching/recording TV, you can setup the "backend" separately to do the recording/transcoding, then have multiple front-ends to watch the content and schedule recordings.

The biggest problem, it can take a lot of fiddling to get setup correctly.. Distros like Mythbuntu or MythDora help simplify the setup, but getting TV cards and other hardware can still be a pain. That said, if you're building the machine from scratch, and buy recommended components it shouldn't be a problem, there's plenty of guides around - the MythTV wiki is a good place to start

Oh, LinuxMCE looks promising, and is worth a look. If you're not using it for its home-automation features, you may be best sticking to the more-mature MythTV

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Thanks for the additional information on MythTV –  Ben Lakey Jul 21 '09 at 20:34

Personally I use MediaPortal, because I like:

  • It's Windows-based (may be a moral down-side to some)
  • It's free and open-source
  • It's written in C#
  • It works well for me (!)
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+1 for open source and in c# –  Bruce McLeod Jul 20 '09 at 8:30
    
it also has a multi-seat option. my setup has a tv server with a couple of (soon to be added to) clients. All recording is done on the server, so any client PC can use the TV guide and set recordings up on the server. I very rarely watch live TV anymore, I just go straight to "Recorded TV" –  Antony Scott Aug 3 '10 at 20:47

Did you check Jeff's article. Mythtv is pretty good but it's setup is fairly complicated. So it's a matter of personal choice and flexibility, you can go with windows or linux. The prices of hardware has come down drastically and you would be able to build your pc within your $350 budget. Newegg or zipzoomfly are good sites to look for computer parts

here is xmbc review

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