Finding the right mediacenter for my needs

xbmc logoCombine all the media one

    has (television, pictures, movies, sound fragments,…), and think about the number of devices one needs to have. A computer for viewing those foto’s, where some media fragments and pictures are located. Then we have our hifi set for our cd’s & dvd’s, maybe even a tuner for the satellite connection. In the old days there was even a VCR involved… In my mind WAY TOO MANY devices! So I went looking.

    The first move I made in this area was to transform my old XBOX to a media center. The software I used for this was XBMC (Xbox Media Center). But this setup turned out to have two disadvantages:

  • Legal : Microsoft isn’t too fond of the project, and it balances on the line between legal & illegal. Therefor the software isn’t easy to obtain, as one needs (read: should) to compile it theirselves.
  • TV : There is no direct TV option in XBMC. One would be able to create an integration using uPNP, but then again… it wouldn’t be “native”.

So I had my tv tuner & my xbox for all my media needs… But being human, I still wasn’t fully satisfied. 😉

Choose a provider
My personal preference always tends towards products of alternative vendors instead of the mainstream ones. There are two reasons which trigger this for me:

  • Price : They are mostly cheaper than the market leaders.
  • Competition : Competition results in innovation. Someone (or some company) who’s in a monopoly doesn’t seem tended to innovate much, but instead will revert to just raking in the money.

There are currently three players in the television market

  • Telenet : providing analog (almost deprecated) & digital television thru cable
  • Belgacom : providing idTV/ipTV over (their own) adsl connection
  • Tv Vlaanderen : digital satellite provider

So I choose the cheapest and only open player on in this market, being:
Tv Vlaanderen
They are the only one that allow the usage of your own hardware. Where Telenet & Belgacom both do the “vendor lockin” as they are accustomed to being market leader in the originating segments.

The requirements
The setup I wanted needed to support the following:

  • Watch LIVE tv (local & extended)
  • Record TV shows
  • View videos & clips
  • View my photos


  • Stable
  • Performant
  • Silent
  • “Green” (low power consumption)
  • A high Waf

Finding the right mediacenter
The options
Check Eirik Solheim’s blog for “The media center software list“. It’s a very good list of the options available. After checking the requirements versus the given products, I was left with three options:

The MythTV attempt
Being the linux enthusiast I immediately jumped towards MythTV. It’s one of the oldest (open) htpc projects running to my knowledge, and it ran on linux. Yet I experienced a lot of problems installing/integrating various components within MythTV. This was mainly due to the fact that I choose my hardware without carefully looking that EVERYTHING was simply supported. Some annoyances that I faces:

  • Getting the TV-out to work with my integrated ATI x1250 : I managed to get it working, but I’m not alone (judging the hits on the related article)!
  • Slow : Even after various performance tweaking, it was still slow. I managed to get a huge performance boost after getting the ATI drivers installed, but still that wasn’t the way it should be.
  • Various issues with my antec case : Patching, recompiling, etc to get a semi functional setup… no tnx 😡
  • Getting the TV channels imported (DVB-S scanning) : Various guides, different methods, none worked… after a lot of janitor work, I managed to get it working.
  • EPG : xml tv isn’t the most simple thing to configure, thank god there are some wrappers for it (check the gentoo forum)
  • CAM : My CAM needed a firmware option, but no options available in linux to update thru a TechnoTrend CI module
  • TechnoTrend remote : Supported? Yeah right! 😉

So in the end it failed on various fronts, where my own annoyances even exceeded the Waf factor!

Next! … Team Media Portal
Team Media Portal Pack Shot ReflectionAfter a week of fiddling with a lot of small annoyances I had to get over the fact that not all things should be in Linux. Ati has come a long way to support Linux drivers, but they aren’t where they should be. But still they manage to provide more than what TechnoTrend & Antec do for Linux support. So I switched towards “Team Media Portal to see if a Windows base would provide me with a better driver support.

  • ATI
    Drivers weren’t an issue, install went fluidly. The only issues that I faced what a bug in the chipset.
  • TechnoTrend
    I got the drivers/utilities installed. Here I must admit that it wasn’t a “next, next, …, finish” situation as one would expect; but the end result is what is should be.

  • Channel Scanning
    Plain simple setup, good gui, top work by the dev team!
  • EPG
    Doing this thru the supplied WebEPG was clearly documented & proved to be a lot simpler then implementing an xmltv integration.
  • Antec Case
    The basic antec software works, but I still have to work on the Media Portal integration. (TODO)

The hardware
For those interested in which hardware I used:

  • Case : Antec Fusion
    PRO: Great design (stylish, low noise, cool), Power Supply Included, VFD (LCD Screen & infrared receiver)
    CON: VFD is designed to work with MCE
  • Motherboard : Asus M2A-VM HDMI
    PRO: Integrated Graphics Chipset (with HDMI), Asus Features
    CON: Ati isn’t supported that well in Linux, 64bit isn’t supported by MediaPortal
  • DVB-S Receiver : TechnoTrend S-1500 + CI Module & Remote
    PRO: Cheap (150€ for the S-1500 + CI Module + Official TV Vlaanderen Mediaguard CAM + Remote)
    CON: Remote only (officially) supported in their own MediaCenter application (free, but not interesting, unless if you want to debug)

I hope this article may prove valuable for others who attempt the same as I did. One golden lesson here; If you’re going for the Linux variants, double/triple check the hardware you’re going to buy. I mean it;. check for errors too, for every option! Some simple things may keep you busy for several days/nights…. 😉

MediaCenter Together

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