Wednesday 4 March 2009

Budget Media centre Setup - Part 2 - Media Centre Software

This is the final part of a two part article. In Part 1 I talked about the hardware and operation system that I chose for my media centre and the reasons for the choices.

In this part of the arcticle I will be talking about the media centre software that can be used to control your media.

The options that I looked at were.

  • Vista Media Center
  • Media Portal
  • Sesam

Vista Media Center
I was optimistic in trying Vista Media Center on my media center (Laptop with 1.6 AMD Processor, 512Mb RAM, 20Gb Hard Drive). It really was too slow a machine to cope with Vista. Even so I was impressed with what I saw of the software. It seemed very slick. I don't know who copied who but it looks similar to the PS3 interface with items on two axises. I have had a play with Win XP Media Center 2005 and it is a big improvement on the older version.

Media Portal
I had to go back to Win XP from Vista so I looked around for some free media centre software. The first one that came up from my searching was Media Portal. I remember looking at this before but at that stage it was very buggy and didn't work correctly. The current version of Media Portal is so I was optomistic that it would be more stable. It started off promisingly, the interface was slick very useable. On startup it came up with an error stating that the VRM 9 version was outdated. Eventually I found out that it was due to not having Win XP SP3. After installing Win XP SP 3 the error disappeared. When using Media Portal it came up with some other strange errors. When I looked on their forum it stated that installing .Net Framework 2.0 and 3.0 may fix the problem. I reluctanctly installed both frameworks. Unfortunately Media Portal continued to be unstable. Maybe it was the hardware I was trying it on but there was something intrinsinctly buggy and unstable about Media Portal which made it unusable for me. This is a pity because Media Portal did seem to have most if not all the features that I required.

This is an old media server that I have also looked at before. It looks a bit old fashioned but worked really well. The interface is very slick and it is the only media centre that I have seen that can be controlled exclusively using four arrow keys and the ok button on a remote. This may seem like a small issue but when your using a remote and have to use the mouse for certain functionality then it quickly becomes frustrating.


My system maybe a special case as it is quite a low specification but my conclusion is that media centre software should be stable and very easy to use. It shouldn't be compared to other computer software as it's usage is completely different. It should be compared to other home entertainment equipment like DVD players or Hi-Fi systems. So would you be happy if you had to use a mouse to get to certain functionality of your DVD player or would you be happy if you had to restart your DVD player because it was constantly crashing. In my opinion media centre software is a tool to get to your media. It doesn't need super fancy graphics, it just needs to be designed to get to your media quickly and efficiently. If you are like me then I would recommend Sesam. The only issue with Sesam is the fact that it is not being developed anymore so useful features like plugin's for YouTube will probably never happen.

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