Media centres: how to make it work

Media centre setups are a big market opportunity. There is increasingly more content out there for us to consume, and we have more and more devices with which to consume it. Currently, there isn’t really an easy solution out there to gather/record, organise and consume media. In this article, I’d like to explore firstly what we may want from a mediacentre setup and secondly how we can piece it together with what is out there (without getting to technical). 

Media sources

Nowadays we can get our media from multiple places. Any mediacentre setup should cover at least the following:

  • Possibility to record TV programmes, including content from Pay TV.
  • Download media from the Internet, such as music, video, fotos (through direct download or bittorrent).
  • Stream any media directly from the Internet, video (youtube, hulu, …) or music (, Slacker, …).
  • Play and store media from individual storage media (CD/DVD/SD cards).

Media consumption

All of that media that I view/listen to “live” or I store for later, should be accessible from:

  • My living room TV and all other TVs in the house.
  • My PCs and laptops.
  • My mobile devices, such as music/video players and mobile phone.
  • My stereo / hi-fi set.

Interface and control

Once you have all this media at your disposal, the question is how to control and interact with the setup and media. It should obviously be easy to use and work well with your media centre. This sounds obvious, but in practice isn’t easy to find, unless you buy an out-of-the-box solution.

Media centre setup

All of this is at the moment quite tricky to configure. I am no geek, but certainly not a novice either and I really have to research this to come up with a working setup.

First of all, in terms of hardware components to gather, store and play back media, we’ll need:

  • A proper Internet connection with a fast 802.11 wifi router.
  • A NAS device connectable to the router for storage of all media.
  • A Home Theatre PC that runs preferably the OS on Flash Memory (to reduce noise), has a decent TV out connector, a TV tuner card, and a DVD / Blu-ray player. 
  • A physical remote control to control the necessary devices and software.

In terms of software, which composes the interface of your system, I found the following:

  • The front end, the Home Theatre PC, should include software to record TV, such as SageTV or MythTV.
  • Also, in order to browse and play back media, XBMC sounds like a nice option.
  • All of these software packages work nicely with Linux, Mac or Windows.

Ars Tecnica has a rather nice and detailed description of how to set something like this up.


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