Bored of your free TV channels or even cable subscription TV channels? Got into watching one of the Global TV series? Considering some of the online providers like NetFlix or HBO Go or Hulu or Amazon Prime etc? Perhaps you’re looking forward to turning your big-screen PC or TV into a low-cost home theatre system or movie server.
This is now all possible with the use of HTPC software. Don’t get scared, they actually rather easy to use and we’ve got the best free media center apps for you! Home theatre & media center software allow people to store, stream, manage and enjoy photos, music and videos with friends and family on the big screen. This software is usually the front end for your Home Theater PC to play movies, music, photos and much more via your TV.
Media center have gone a long way and nowadays that Internet is full on resources, they’ve become sophisticated tools for your recreation and entertainment. Some also have mobile apps for Android and iOS devices, allowing people to live-stream the music and videos on their mobiles or tablets on the home theatre system directly; this second feature, however, may not come for free.
Here i’m going to try simplify your task by highlighting the most popular media centers, as many have done before me. Simply Google search it. I;m going to focus on the best Media Center Softwares for using on your personal computer, laptop or other devices (E.g. tablets, tv boxes, rasberry pi, etc) and how these can improve your TV experience.
Kodi is an award-winning cross-platform media center app that supports playing music and videos, games and much more. Kodi works not just on Windows 10, but also on Linux, Mac OS, Android, . It’s available on pretty much every platform out there.
Kodi Media Center (previously called XBMC), probably the most famous media center software out there, was originally designed as a media center interface for the XBOX game console. Today, it has evolved as a powerful media center for Windows, Linux, Android, Mac OS X, iOS, Raspberry Pi, BSD (and more) that is capable of playing most available media file types.
Its interface works with all TV, and users can play digital media files from local storage or online storage solutions of
After its initial setup, you can sit back and enjoy your favorite videos or shows, and it can also play CDs/DVDs. Getting busy with the software extras and add-ons you can enhance the overall experience with skins, games, screensavers, web interface, integrate other services you may use such as Dropbox, and media sources such as YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, etc.
There are also add-ons/plugins for video services like Netflix, Hulu and about a hundred others. One of the more interesting plugins would be subtitle downloader, which automatically looks up and downloads subtitles for the videos you’re watching. Some of the most popular Kodi add-ons, such as Exodus, Navi-X, allow you to stream TV shows and movies from the internet — and are unequivocally, 100% illegal, but that’s the add-on (ab)using.
Kodi is a well established and robust software which many people regard as the best media center available. Original XBMC has been the foundation for many alternative media centers.
- Supports 20+ popular music and movie formats including AAC, MP3, FLAC, OGG and WAV
- Allows access to library of thousands of TV shows along with episode and season views with posters and banners
- Provides a number of extra media or features like Movie Quiz Program(asks questions about a particular movie), Last Episode (displays a list of last episodes along with their numbers and names), etc.
- Initial setup takes can take from little to lots of time due to the addition of add-ons and other options. Still there is lot of guidance out there.
- Some features and options may be a little complex as compared to few of its competitors. Latest version tries to faciliate that.
MediaPortal is an all-in-one media solution for your PC that connects directly to your TV and showcases your favorite TV soaps, music, videos and movies, etc. Media Portal turns your computer into a highly advanced media center with TV tuner support.
It is an open source application similar to Kodi, but the key advantage of this software is that you can turn your PC into a PVR (Personal Video Recorder) letting you record and schedule live TV and even supports playing Blu-ray discs to watch movies.
Initial menu shows you the usual options for accessing movies, TV shows, online video streaming services and a shortcut for directly loading files into MediaPortal. You can enhance its look & feel using thousands of skins and plugins to monitor your HTPC (Home Theatre PC), display sports scores, local movie times, etc. You can stream media and radio to any network that supports HTPC and use a remote to control the same.
Toolbar up top has the rest of the shortcuts for things like TV/radio work modes (if you have hardware support for those), audio CDs, images gallery. There’s even a news/weather feed, where you can add and keep track of RSS subscriptions.
MediaPortal has a lot of similarities to Kodi, but it’s wrapped up in a simpler package. It carries the advancement in media control and lets you access your favorite movies and watch them in a customized manner. Its plugins can be easily configured within the app and you can enable/disable them anytime you want.
- Allows accessing media from Android and iOS devices remotely
- Offers a large selection of channels (and their shows list) from the portals such as, Sky Cinema HD, Sky Sport HD, Kultur HD, etc.
- Provides a wide range of skin collections, such as Titan, aMPed, Avalon HD, Black Glass, etc. to enhance the MediaPortal’s UI and UX
- Offers numerous plugins like News and Information (displays news media from the web), Games (offers games which can be played from the couch), etc.
- Interface can be very sluggish compared to other home theatre players
Get MediaPortal (Also have a look at MediaPortal: Free Replacement for Windows Media Center)
Plex is a media playing app, a true media center alternative for Mac OS X, Windows and Linux, and it is integrated with Plex Media Server; so if you want to sync your media files between several computers and portable devices, then this program will be perfect for you. This another very popular client-server media center software.
First you install the server component, load your media library which you can then access from a wide range of devices using the client applications.
You can play your favorite music and videos from anywhere, on (almost) any device (including TV, computer, mobile or tablet) and gives complete control over the media while it allows enjoying HD-quality videos seamlessly
The interface is web based, visually stunning and it has an excellent integration with its media server. The app interface enhances your media organization by adding descriptions, plot summaries, etc. and even offers recommendations for new content. It lets you create customized playlists and share your media with others easily.
A Plex addon exists for Kodi. It’s called PleXBMC and it will allow you to manage your media library with Plex server as the backend while using Kodi for browsing and viewing the content. Majority of features offered by Plex are free. More advanced features are available, (like cloud syncing and streaming of the media library) but you will need to create an account and switch to a paid subscription to use them.
You can use Plex Media Server to transcode any media file you have in your library and stream it using a PleXBMC add-on for Kodi.
Plex supports automatic image uploads which can be wirelessly synced and can also optimize your media for different devices and screens. Plex ensures encryption of your media content and supports SSL encryption to provide end-to-end data protection.
- Supports nearly all media formats. Videos, music, images, you name it.
- Plex client apps are available on pretty much every platform and device out there. A total of 17 different apps, for different devices are available.
- Saves any online media in ‘watch later‘ list for offline viewing
- Compiles third-party online or streaming channels to provide extra content, for example, TED Talks, Vimeo, Soundcloud, etc.
- Lets you enjoy the media content on mobile using its Mobile Sync feature while you’re travelling to an unreachable or remote location (premium)
- Doesn’t work with Apple TV, unfortunately
- Few of its features come as premium, like trailers, mobile sync, cloud sync, etc.
Emby is another great alternative to centrally manage all of your media files and then watch them using the front-end application, it also comes in a client-server package. The major difference is that Emby puts extra focus on the server side of things. Emby Server automatically converts and plays your favorite videos and media files on most of the devices. It offers an easy-to-use interface and allows you to stream live TV and organize your media by editing metadata and images, find subtitles and lots more.
Emby organizes your media files so that it never takes more than a few clicks to find the latest movie or TV show. Built-in scraper will look up media info, cover art and add metadata so that everything is displayed nicely when viewing the library on client devices. In addition, you can setup customized views of your library for each member of your family with the ability to pause and resume from different devices.
Emby also has an add-on for Kodi that brings you a super easy way to view your content.
Emby presents your media beautifully that makes your videos look exceptionally good. You can send media content and Live TV to Chromecast, easy way. Emby also offers parental controls (for free unlike Plex) that helps you limit media access to your children.
It automatically tracks DLNA services on your network to make content and remote control easier to access. Emby supports cloud sync for easy backup(premium) and also converts and optimizes your content for streaming them on any device (but that’s premium, unlike Plex).
- Allows recording online videos and Live TV shows for offline viewing or watching later with management support of library of recordings (same as Plex)
- Offers a wide range of plugins like one for Google Drive (sync content to the cloud), Game Browser (allows playing variety of online games), etc.
- Offers mobile apps to carry your content anywhere as well as offline withEmby Mobile Sync (it’s a premium feature)
- Can be less user-friendly than Kodi and Plex
- Reported to be unable to detect Chromecast in some cases
MythTV is an open-source digital video recorder and media player that lets you watch and record digital media supporting HDTV. MythTV is the PVR of the Linux media center. It’s a great alternative to TiVo if you keep running out of space for all of your TV shows.
This one is for advanced users that want to set up their home theater computer to link to their television. Once linked, you will be able to record live television programs and store them on your PC. Then you will be able to play them at any time. MythTV has several variations for different Linux distributions such as a Mythbuntu and MythDora.
The player allows easy rewind, pause and skip options that allows seamless playing of any media content.
It supports automatic commercial detection and allows skipping all those advertisements (magically) and even manually using its advanced cutlist editor. With MythTV, you can schedule recording and even set parental controls to allow limited access to your kids.
MythTV can help you administer its functionalities from a browser itself. Its interface comes with a number of official as well as third-party theme packagesto help you customize the program’s UI per your mood and requirements.
- Supports most of audio/video formats (like others above)
- Integrates with NES, MAME and other emulators using its MythGameplugin, allowing you to play your favorite classic games directly
- Offers a number of plugins like MythWeather (displays the weather information in your locality), MythFlix (helps you manage your NetFlix queue from MythTV), MythMovies (presents local movie showtimes), etc.
- Avails MythExtras that contains a number of development tools like Perl Bindings (write Perl scripts that interact with MythTV) and Python Bindings(write Python scripts) but it’s strictly for developers
- Not as good a User Interface as its competitors above
- Its commercial detection may not always work for all types of ads
- Doesn’t offer support for mobile devices and online sync
Of course, this list would be incomplete if we didn’t mention Windows Media Center. Music and music video streamers love having Windows Media Center (WMC) in their home theater PC. You can play music, videos, movies, and anything else you can stream off the net with this one program. WMC is the most mainstream media center thanks to Microsoft’s advertisement and bundling efforts. There is nothing too technical about Windows Media Center and it plays most media formats out there.
Windows Media Center has been a favorite choice especially for those who enjoy watching and recording live TV, but since releasing Windows 10, Microsoft has left WMC to fade away, so many people need to transition to new media center software. Still if you are a fanatic, there are still guides on installing Windows Media Center on Windows 10
There is also NextPVR, probably the best alternative to Windows Media Center to watch and record live TV. It is easy to setup and supports advanced features such as recording series. You can use NextPVR as a front-end application, but the user interface is not as stylish as WMC or Kodi, but it is clean and simple.You can also use NextPVR as a back-end and integrate it with Kodi using a PVR add-on.
Lastly, but definetaly not least, there is Popcorn Time and it’s clones. Popcorn media player was created back in 2004, but it closed very soon. You could instantly watch latest movies and TV shows, and you just needed an internet connection. It also offered subtitles and HD quality. All the content presented on Popcorn Time is copyrighted, thus using it without permission it would be illegal. After the initial launch and shutdown, independent developers made two major forks, Popcorn time.io and time4popcorn. Once again these forks closed down, but several other clones, forks, or similar and alternatives for online watching popped up. Taking this concept further, there is Butter Project and Stremio.
Butter Project is an Open Source Open Content video streaming application that aims to revolutionize the way of gathering, sharing and watching video content.They Butter Project really grabbed the code from Popcorn Time and while the keep working on the the underlying technologies they claim that ” What others use it for is not our call. We’re in for the fun.” The Project restricts itself to 100% free and legal content coming from vodo.net, archive.org and CCC Media. where it is licensed under some kind of Creative Commons license. They may add other sources, but it will always be under at least the same terms. Still it seems other are adding sources too.
Stremio is a Media center allowing to watch movies, series, YouTube channels instantly. You can watch in HD, with subtitles, and easily cast any file to TV through DLNA, Chromecast, AppleTV with one click! Stremio also gives you notifications for new episodes / movies, as well as recommendations for content you might like. Stremio’s content is so rich because it has an Add-ons system, allowing different sources, such as YouTube, Filmon, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc.Check official and third-party add-ons available for torrent streaming, which has practically every seeded torrent on the internet, and more. Most addons are currently activated by default in Stremio, but there are more online. Your Library (media collection) is available on every device you log-in. Stremio itself is available for Windows, Mac, Linux and iOS, with Android support coming very soon.
Coming down to favorites, I love Kodi and Plex because of their awesome set of user interfaces and powerful features to suit needs everyone from basic, average to advanced users. It doesn’t mean, however, that you couldn’t choose the rest. I suggest you further compare the features of these offerings with your set of requirements in mind and finally choose the one that matches your requirements best. Trying is your best friend and after all it all takes a couple of hours max to figure out.