Media Center PCs have been around for almost a decade—even longer if you count earlier forays like Gateway's Destination PC lineup from the mid-1990s. It's not just about PCs, either. More recently, we've seen set-top box media extenders and media-focused game consoles like the Xbox 360 and PS3, as well as targeted peripherals like the Slingbox PRO-HD and the Hauppauge HD PVR. All have garnered their share of fans.
Unfortunately, many media center setups are inflexible. The Apple TV is probably the worst example; it's tough to do much with that box unless you're a slave to the iTunes Store. (Or unless you hack it.) But even Windows 7 and the Xbox 360 can be unnecessarily limiting when it comes to your media.
That's where Linux comes in. Granted, a lot of the fun is thanks to the hobbyist nature of the OS, at least on the consumer end. There's also a distinct feeling of getting something for nothing—and in many cases, better performance than the paid options from Microsoft or Apple.
On the other hand, though Linux-based projects are enjoyable, they can take up a lot of time, and they're not always that useful once finished. Think about it: In today's market, $500 can buy a pretty nice Windows 7 desktop machine with an HDMI port and a wireless card. It wouldn't be much of a gaming box. But you'd have a pretty slick setup for your HDTV—one that's capable of storing all your media files, and one that's much easier to troubleshoot when something goes south.
Even so, choosing Linux offers a number of advantages. In this article, we're going to show you how to build a Linux-based media center that acts as a music, video, and photo server for your entire house. It will display video on a large-screen TV without a hitch. Most importantly, coupled with MythTV, the system will record TV shows and act as a genuine DVR. This last point is key, because many so-called "media center" setups don't actually do this, and just exist to play standalone media files or stream video from the Web.
In fact, Linux has come far enough—and is powerful enough—that we bet you'll want to keep using this machine even after you're done with the project.
Sound good? Let's get started.