Home Theatre Pc Software And Operating Systems (Part 5) - MediaPortal

6/27/2012 11:25:29 AM


The third major HTPC application available is MediaPortal. This application combines the TV Tuner support and functionality of WMC with the robust online video format support and TV series/movie management features of XBMC. For some users it's a true "single application for everything" solution for the HTPC, but despite its flexibility, it certainly isn't for everyone.

Description: MediaPortal

First of all, MediaPortal is split into two discrete halves - the front end which acts as your GUI and interface when using your HTPC, and a configuration utility which uses a traditional Windows-based interface. Want to add newly downloaded music folders from the GUI section? Sorry, but that's simply not possible. Want to seamlessly add a new photo album?

Description: MediaPortal 1.1.0 advanced Multi MediaCenter / HTPC

MediaPortal 1.1.0 advanced Multi MediaCenter / HTPC

Nope, you can't do that either. You can of course automate the adding of new content on a periodic basis, but there's no escaping that Media Portal's GUI lacks the flexibility that XBMC and WMC excel at when it comes to adding content without having to revert to a keyboard and mouse and sitting two feet from your display.

The great scraping capabilities of XBMC are present and correct in MediaPortal, and if anything they are even more in depth, delivering detailed synopses and high resolution images automatically for all of your content. This unfortunately makes adding content very slow as well. If you have a massive collection of ripped or downloaded TV shows or movie content, expect the initial building of your MediaPortal database to take at least a few hours, if not all night. Patience is rewarded however, with a depth of content that simply can't be matched by the app's competitors.

The MediaPortal player is pretty good at handling tricky video container fomats like MKV, but it is inarguable that XBMC is better. When testing six different downloaded shows on a fresh install with no further codec installation, only XBMC managed to play them all with no issues. Both WMC and MediaPortal needed fiddling to either play at all (WMC) or play with sound (MP) across all file types.

The GUI for WMC is pretty and functional, while the GUI for XBMC is dark and cool. By contrast the default GUI for MediaPortal is pretty dreadful. Its ugly, makes an irritating sound as you navigate sections by default, and isn't particularly mouse friendly if you have a media keyboard with touchpad rather than a remote control. Fortunately, a plethora of skins are available, including some that almost identically match XBMC's offering. Nevertheless, the default GUI will be enough to put off many users before they invest the time to explore MediaPortal's more advanced features.

If you are a true video or audiophile, neither WMC or XBMC give you the codec and encoder flexibility that media portal does. Within the configuration half of the application, you can set discrete options for different kinds of video files, and have access to a wealth of other options that are simply are not offered by competitors. MediaPortal's proponents regularly describe XBMC as a choice for "DivX watching newbies", and it's an argument that isn't entirely without merit. The interface may seem daunting, but for those prepared to invest the time in learning its nuances, the reward is an unmatched level of customisation and potential quality.

Description: Streaming TV channels on Client Terminal

Streaming TV channels on Client Terminal

The TV tuner aspect of MediaPortal puts it on a different level to XBMC, and to a certain extent, WMC. A single computer on your network can be configured to act as a TV server, allowing all other connected MediaPortal systems to watch TV channels as well. Again the setup is far more involved than the simple 'scan for channels' facility offered by WMC, but aside from Xbox media extenders, that application cannot be used to share TV functionality in the same way between multiple PCs on the same network.

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