HTPC Softwares (Windows 7 and Ubuntu 9.10) Reviewed

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Recently I assembled a Shuttle barebone based PC with following configuration:

Shuttle SX38P2-Pro Intel Socket T(LGA775) Intel X38 Barebone – Retail


Anyware HA-IR01SV Infrared Certified MCE VISTA Remote Control


Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Compound – OEM


Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 Yorkfield 2.83GHz LGA 775 95W Quad-Core Processor Model BX80569Q9550 – Retail


EVGA 512-P3-N973-TR GeForce 9800 GT 512MB 256-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Supported Video Card – Retail


G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model F2-6400CL5D-4GBPQ – Retail


($54.99 ea)

LG 22X DVD±R DVD Burner with LightScribe Black SATA Model GH22LS30 LightScribe Support – OEM


Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31500341AS 1.5TB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5″ Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive


This small form factor barebone is a pint sized powerhouse, great cable management, and with 2 PCI Express x 16 (Gen 2.0) it has some room for expansion as well. Currently I am dual-booting it with Windows 7 and Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackpole.

Shuttle SX38P2-Pro

Shuttle SX38P2-Pro

I was trying to make it a perfect HTPC (this hardware is an overkill, so another cheap HTPC is in the pipeline). I ended up  test driving several HTPC/Home PVR (Personal Video Recorder) solutions (softwares). I explored both the Windows and Linux options. The software that I tried with windows 7 or Linux platform are the following:

1. SageTV (not-free)
2. Windows 7 Media Center
5. MediaPortal
6. MythTV (Ubuntu)

I am going to review them one by one.

Let’s start with SageTV, first of all it is not free, I got hold of one older version from a friend, and the darn thing doesn’t work well on the Windows 7 machine. It got installed fine, but I could never get it to see live HDTV. Overall the software user interface seemed ok, but the setup was PITA. So, why pay $100 or more when there are other equally good or better FREE solutions out there.

As a linux user, I am very much familiar with the limitations and shortcomings of windows from configuration and performance point of view. It is just too good at hogging system resources. But when it comes to mediacenter/games related stuff, you just cant beat windows. Windows 7 MC has very clean and simple interface and setting it up is no brainer. Just install your TV card driver and let the Windows take control of your entertainment. No under the hood configuration. Plug-n-play ease, and with some useful plugins coming along (Media Browser is a must), its certainly an easy choice and most non-geek users would stick to it. The biggest con is that it doesn’t support multiple clients, so you cannot watch live TV on another machine which doesn’t have a TV-tuner. Also it doesn’t have automatic conversion of your TV recordings (recorded HD video takes 4GB/hr, so would be running out of disk space sooner than later). It also supports Netflix and some other online video sources. It is not beginning to open up to third party plugins, so things are looking good for Win7MC. You can learn more on how to hack Win7MC here.

XBMC is very good, if you don’t need a PVR capability, I read somewhere that you can get PVR capabilities if you use some plugins. Don’t know how good is that, but XBMC supports numerous plugins and it can support other online video sources easily through plugins. It is a cross platform software which can even be run on old desktops/laptops, making it an ideal choice for converting your old computer to a HTPC solution. It has a built in UPnP client.

GB-PVR is probably most Windows 7 compatible among the other windows bases PVRs, it worked easily out of the box. Configuration was not very straight forward, but  it is negotiable. However I couldn’t get its EPG (Electronic Program Guide) working, you need some paid subscription for that. I am looking for a possible work around, and would update the post when I have one. The good part is that it supports automatic encoding/compression of the recorded programs and can use Comskip to skip advertisements for the TV recordings. It probably supports plugins too, but I didn’t get a chance to test them.

MediaPortal is to Windows what MythTv is to Linux. Unfortunately MediaPortal doesn’t support Windows 7 the yet. Their recent release has been delayed, but I did get a chance to test it on my old WinXp machine (old P4 with 512 MB RDRAM), and it certainly exhibited great capabilities. It supports server-client configurations, which is perfect if you want to have a single dedicated TV server and mutliple clients connecting to it. I would probably have more to say, once it starts supporting Windows 7.

Do I need to say anything about MythTV, if you are comfortable with Linux, it is your best bet?


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has written 346 posts on this blog.

Meditating towards his "nerdvana", lifehacker is a teacher by the day and a nerdy blogger by the night. He lives to learn and yearns to learn living.

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