MythTV, Kodi, Plex, OSMC, and DVBLink tested

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© Lead Image © Paolo De Santis, 123RF.com

© Lead Image © Paolo De Santis, 123RF.com

Article from Issue 192/2016
Author(s):

Free and commercial media center programs promise streaming HD videos, television, music, picture galleries, and a few extra tricks for Linux PCs and the Raspberry Pi – all from the comfort of your living room.

Computer technology and consumer electronics are growing closer and closer, so it is no surprise that, in addition to the traditional multimedia computer programs, software suites now convert computers into home theater centers when combined with an HDMI-compatible TV or projector and a powerful sound system.

Media lovers can do more than just look at pictures and watch movies, they can listen to music, stream content from the web, and scroll through various TV offerings. The recording and editing functions leave little to be desired, but conventional DVD players, digital video recorders, and hi-fi systems might run into difficulties.

The large selection of home theater software for Linux begs the question: Which media center is suitable for me? To help make the choice easier, I compared five leading commercial, free media center solutions that cover almost every need: MythTV [1], Kodi [2], Plex Media Server [3], OSMC [4], and DVBLink [5] (Table 1).

Table 1

Functional Overview of Media Centers

 

MythTV

Kodi

Plex Media Server

OSMC

DVBLink

DVB-T/T2

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

DVB-S/S2

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

DVB-C

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Analog support

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

HD support

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Hides Ads

Yes

Limited

Limited

Limited

No

Schedules recordings

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Electronic program guide (EPG)

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

DVD view and archive

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Child protection

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Digital music collections

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Image collections

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Client-server structure

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Web administration

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Add-ons

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes (clients)

Mobile apps

Unofficial

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Remote control

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

The Basics

If you want your future media center PC to receive TV programs, you first need a corresponding TV tuner with Linux support. Some common DVB receivers won't run in Linux for want of appropriate modules, so it is worth checking in advance whether Linux provides drivers for the desired device. The Linux TV Project wiki [6], which has a comprehensive hardware database, serves as a first point of contact. It also includes valuable installation tips for users in some countries who need to integrate proprietary firmware for DVB and analog TV components.

Another stumbling block appears when you try to install media center applications manually on an existing Linux system. Because the multimedia software usually works as a client-server application, it requires the usual suspects, such as the Apache web server, PHP7, and the MySQL database back end, which can cause problems for novices and irritate experienced users alike. Both groups are advised to use dedicated media center distributions, because they preconfigure and coordinate the individual components optimally. Specially adapted installation routines often integrate network services into the system, as well.

An Ubuntu Basis

Ubuntu is often used as the basis for these distributions. It is widely used and has very good driver coverage thanks to the numerous Ubuntu and Debian developers. Moreover, the developers maintain the long-term support (LTS) variants over a relatively long period of time so that a media center PC has a long-term stable foundation.

Ubuntu's graphical installation wizard Ubiquity offers you the option of integrating third-party software in the system at install time, including the MP3 plugin and Adobe's Flash technology, which is gradually becoming outdated and prone to serious security flaws. If you don't want to install proprietary codecs later, you should take advantage of this option.

MythTV

MythTV is one of the oldest media center applications and has been constantly developed and maintained since 2002. Released under the GPL, MythTV is aimed more at advanced users and has evolved from a pure disc recorder for television programs into a full-fledged media center by virtue of its sophisticated modular design. Not only does it cope well with analog and digital TV receivers, it also integrates web content and locally stored data.

MythTV is network-enabled and works according on the client-server model. It can burn stored content onto optical discs. In addition to the actual core MythTV programs, many Linux distributions also provide modules for expanding the media center. The current version is available for download as source [7]. Elsewhere on the website, you can find manuals and further information about integrating MythTV [8] into the various Linux distributions. As a complete package with excellent preconfiguration, you can get MythTV in the distributions MythBuntu [9] and LinHES [10], which is based on Arch Linux.

Anyone who uses Ubuntu and its derivatives can install the package in one go using the command:

sudo apt-get install mythbuntu-control-centre

It automatically tracks down the required Apache web server, PHP7, and MySQL Server 5.7 and creates corresponding menu entries. Simple dialogs in the terminal allow for a rough basic configuration.

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