The past ten years have completely changed the way we listen to music, watch movies and television, and take photos, and one thing is abundantly clear: The future of your media lies undeniably in the digital realm. Now you just need to find the perfect media centre application to pull it all together. Photo by Aaron Escobar.
XBMC (Windows/Mac/Linux/Xbox/Apple TV)
XBMC (aka Xbox Media Centre) is a free, open-source media centre application designed, in the beginning, for the original Xbox. XBMC has made serious progress over the past year or so and can now run virtually anywhere—including Windows, Mac, Linux, and Apple TVs. Not only is XBMC an incredible media centre app with http://www.lifehacker.com.au/tips/2007/09/24/soup_up_your_xbox_media_center_1.html">tons of great add-ons and customisation options, but it's also spawned several popular forks, including Boxee (mentioned below). XBMC is in constant development and has gotten better and better at running on your PC, but if you've got an old Xbox hanging around, here's how to transform your classic Xbox with XBMC.
Boxee (Mac OS X/Apple TV/Linux)
Boxee is an XBMC fork with an emphasis on taking your media centre into the social realm. Like XBMC, Boxee is free and open source, but while it's aiming for the same platforms, Boxee currently only supports Mac OS X, Linux, and the Apple TV. Still, a pre-alpha release of the Windows version was released to a small group of testers just last week, so if you're on Windows and you like what you see, it may not be long before there's a Boxee for you. Despite its aim to be your social media centre, Boxee's great interface and impressive features — demonstrate that Boxee isn't slacking on overall innovation.
Windows Media Center (Windows/Xbox 360)
Windows Media Center brings a full and robust media management to your Windows operating system. Not only does Windows Media Center provide access to all your music, videos, photos, and more, but it also sports fantastic DVR functionality. Microsoft released the first version of Windows Media Center with Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, but Vista comes with Windows Media Center built in to its Home Premium and Ultimate editions.
SageTV is a cross-platform media centre and DVR application. SageTV works great if all you want is a straightforward DVR, but it's also an awesome app for the consummate tweaker. In contrast to Windows Media Centre, SageTV recordings are DRM free, so it's easy to convert your media and play back the files anywhere—and on any device—you like. SageTV is a commercial application that'll set you back $US80, but a 21-day free trial is available if you want to kick the tires.
MythTV is a Linux-based DVR and media centre application designed as a free, open-source alternative to TiVo and Windows Media Centre. First started way back in 2002, MythTV is the granddaddy of many of the media centres in this Hive Five and many that aren't. Currently several Linux distributions come bundled with MythTV, including the popular KnoppMyth live CD and Mythbuntu. MythTV's biggest hurdle for new users is probably Linux, but if you're willing to roll up your sleeves or you've already got a little know-how, this saucy media centre has a lot to offer.
This week's honorable mentions go out to the open-source Windows-based media centre and DVR, MediaPortal, and Mac OS X-based XBMC fork, Plex. Whether the media centre love of your life made the short list or not, let's hear more about it in the comments.