MythTV, Kodi, Plex, OSMC, and DVBLink tested

The Interface

The simple interface of the Plex Media Server lets you group you multimedia content in libraries. To do so, you need to categorize files in advance. Before equipping the system with multimedia data, you should carefully save different content in different directories: With video files, the Plex server differentiates between conventional Movies, TV shows, and Home Videos. However, it only has one category each for Music and Photos (Figure 7).

Figure 7: The Plex Media Center – simple and self-explanatory.

Multimedia content on the server needs quite a bit of time to generate the corresponding thumbnails for larger libraries, mainly because it queries various servers on the Internet that contribute metadata, such as summaries and images. The Plex server integrates this metadata into its libraries so you get a quick overview of its multimedia content (Figure 8).

Figure 8: The thumbnail view provides a rough overview of the media center content.

In addition to the media server, the client is available in a native Linux version. The precompiled package of about 37MB is available for Fedora, CentOS, Ubuntu, Debian, and Arch Linux [16]. I used Ubuntu v16.04 for these tests, with the client installed in three steps:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:plexapp/plexht
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install plexhometheater

The first command integrates the repository, and then the package sources are updated, with the software installed in the last step. In the Other menu you will find a Plex Home Theater entry.

After launching the client, you first need to sort out the most important settings. Because the client automatically connects to the existing server on the intranet, the content stored on the server is immediately available. The very intuitive interface also prepares the content in a visually appealing way.

DLNA and UPnP

Many TVs use the DLNA standard to access the content of the Plex Server; however, they are often not able to transcode the content and play it back because of the lack of appropriate hardware encoders.

OSMC on the Raspberry Pi

The OSMC (Open Source Media Center) [4] emerged from the Raspbmc project; it has been around since 2014 and takes the Kodi Media Centre to the Raspberry Pi single-board computer. OSMC is not just a media center application, but a complete Debian-based operating system. To start the installation of OSMC on a third-party computer, you transfer the stripped-down Debian derivative to a microSD card that serves to boot the Raspberry Pi.

To install the operating system on the memory card, OSMC takes an unusual, but convenient, approach (from the user's point of view) with a graphical installer. To start the installer, you need to boot your Linux system and then load the installer on your local storage from a repository that first needs to be integrated. On Ubuntu and its derivatives, this is done with the following three commands:

sudo sh -c "echo 'deb http://download.opensuse.org/repositories/home:/osmc/xUbuntu_16.04/ /' >> /etc/apt/sources.list.d/osmc-installer.list"
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install osmc-installer

The routine creates the Sound & Video | OSMC Installer menu entry; selecting it launches a simple graphical routine (Figure 9). The installer first asks you for your choice of language, storage locations, target computer generation, and version of the required software. After entering the data, it then downloads the OSMC image for the Raspberry Pi off the Internet and automatically installs it on the microSD card. Afterward, you can boot the system on the Raspberry Pi.

Figure 9: Unusual but simple – the OSMC installer.

When first booted, the routine automatically prepares the media center by choosing a language and time zone from a list and then configuring the network. If you are using a Raspberry Pi 2, a problem can occur: You must plug a compatible WiFi USB stick into the computer for it to connect to your WiFi network, which is no problem for the Raspberry Pi 3, thanks to its built-in WiFi hardware.

When you set up the media center for the first time, the process can take some time on both models because of formatting and copying. The speed of progress is determined by the memory card and its limited sequential read and write capabilities. Slow class 4 micro-SD cards significantly slow down the small computer.

All the settings in OSMC are configured in a visually plain, but self-explanatory, interface. The application spectrum corresponds to that of a conventional Kodi interface, although OSMC does without all the resource-hogging gimmicks and animations (Figure 10). Because dialogs and activities strongly resemble those of Kodi, Kodi users will immediately feel at home navigating in OSMC.

Figure 10: The OSMC interface is lean and simple.

You can handle general administrative tasks at the command line via an SSH client running on another computer. OSMC enables the SSH service in the basic installation: The username and password default to osmc.

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