3 Free Windows Alternatives to Media Center

With the move to Windows 8 Microsoft has not killed Media Center as many had feared they would, but they have made it much less appealing in several ways.  The popular home theater computer (HTPC) software will only be available as a paid add-on for the new operating system.  On top of that, Microsoft has removed the ability to have the app start automatically whenever Windows boots up and they removed DVD playback from Media Player although there are ways to fix that, including buying the Media Center upgrade pack.

With all of this bad news for HTPC users, there only a few options left.  Users can continue to use Windows 7, which will be supported by Microsoft for many more years, they can choose to move to Windows 8 and deal with the changes, they can move to any of several good solutions available on Linux (an OS that isn't for everyone) or they can move to a third-party media solution.

Thankfully, there are several good, free solutions for users to choose from.  All of them will work with Windows and one will even work with several other platforms.

XBMC

xbmc

XBMC (which stands for Xbox Media Center) is probably the most popular Media Center alternative on the market.  It's a well supported, open source program that will run on almost any version of Windows, as well as on Mac, iOS, Linux and even Apple TV.  Thanks to it's popularity and it's fervent user base, the app has many plugins available to add extra functionality and can be customized with many different user-created "skins".  There are also mobile apps available.

Read also:  Hide or show Wireless Networks in Windows

Media Portal

media portal

Media Portal is only available on the Windows platform (XP and newer).  Like XBMC though, it's open source software and has an active community of users who have created many plugins and skins that let users customize the program to their personal tastes.  Media Portal also has mobile apps available for the program.

Moovida

moovida



Finally, we have Moovida, which is perhaps the least known of these apps, but don't let that fool you.  It may actually be the best option for many of those looking to move from Media Center.  It is likely more compatible with various file formats than any of the other apps and has perhaps the nicest user interface, but it's also the only one that isn't open source.  Users can't customize it like XBMC and Media Portal and there is no mobile app.  However, the app is well supported and widely compatible with various hardware.

Conclusion

While each user will have to choose the app that's appeals to their taste, they all do most of the same things.  Many of you may want the customization of the open source software like XBMC and Media Portal, while some may prefer the professional support of Moovida.  All of the apps will replace Windows Media Center without users losing any capabilities and most will actually add functionality.  My preferred choice is XBMC due the simple fact that it has most plugins and skins available, making it more customizable.

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Responses to 3 Free Windows Alternatives to Media Center

  1. Gonzo September 24, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    It's bad news for Windows HTPC users but in general the HTPC future looks VERY good.

    XBMC 12 will include native PVR control. The TVHeadend project has been taken over by the XBMC team and as soon as timeshifting is added Windows will no longer be needed. OpenELEC is awesome if you're interested in an appliance like setup.

    Add the Raspberry Pi as an additional client and/or NAS. I hope to see high end ARM based enthusiast boards become available to replace my power hungry and large Intel rig.

    HTPC enthusiasts have nothing to worry about, as long as they realize that Wintel may not be the way forward.

  2. Wayfarer September 24, 2012 at 11:18 pm #

    I think it's good news Media Center is out of Win8 (not that I'm the least bit interested in Win8 anyway.) I've never liked Media Center it and would love to cleanly remove it from Vista and Win7. If they're going to charge for MC then I reckon it's dead in the water with so many free (and IMHO batter) open source alternatives.

    In fact Windows isn't even my first choice for media any more. I do use it for many things - just can't get away from the range of software available for Windows when there's serious work to be done. But when it comes to media, I switch over to Linux where IMHO XBMC knocks both Windows and Media Center into a cocked hat.

    • hal9000 September 25, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

      There are no better PVR's out there compared to MCE. It is simply the best and slickest PVR, it can play my Blurays, HDDVD's DVDs and any form of ripped film content straight out of the box all accessible via the simple and well designed remote.
      It is infact the ONLY reason I have windows now and have a machine dedicated to MCE in my living room.
      This is connected via 200mb homeplugs to two xbox360s which were bought as MCE extenders. This is the perfect solution to my media needs.

      • Wayfarer September 25, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

        With software, as with everything else in life, it's diffrent strokes etc...

        My media needs are simple (never owned an xbox, never wanted to - in fact I rarely switch on a TV) and very well catered for by alternatives to MC. I did try Plex once - can't recall why I decided against it, but now it's mentioned again I'm minded to give it another try.

      • hal9000 September 25, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

        There are lots of programs that will play media but very few that act as a PVR which to me is the main reason to use media centre. This is why I commented as such. My views are purely as a PVR device . There is also MythTV not on this list which is a PVR and as far as I am concerned neither XBMC or Moovida are alternatives to MCE

  3. Wayfarer September 24, 2012 at 11:28 pm #

    ... I meant of course better open source alternatives. Batter is probably a freudian slip caused by withdrawal symptoms now I'm medically forbidden fish and chips.

  4. James smith September 25, 2012 at 1:42 am #

    How could you have missed Plex (www.plexapp.com). It is by far the best looking,plays everything ive thrown at it and has an awesome community backing it. It also has mobile clients that will even stream over 3g, it supports resume play and syncs clients, it is available on almost every platform! You should at least give it an honorable mention =)

  5. James smith September 25, 2012 at 1:42 am #

    How could you have missed Plex (www.plexapp.com). It is by far the best looking,plays everything ive thrown at it and has an awesome community backing it. It also has mobile clients that will even stream over 3g, it supports resume play and syncs clients, it is available on almost every platform! You should at least give it an honorable mention

    • Jim September 25, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

      Plex looks interesting, but the Linux support seems lackluster. (They mention no Flash or Silverlight support and they only seem to support RedHat distro variations.) Can you provide more information either way?

  6. browngeek September 25, 2012 at 5:22 am #

    Hello, like James, you forgot to mention Plex. Yes, it is a fork from XBMC, but it is pretty solid. Also its got mobile apps and generally works out of the box.

  7. hal9000 September 25, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    Erm - you can install windows media centre in windows 8, I know cos I have done just this.
    It is almost exactly the same as the windows 7 media centre.

    There is nothing even remotely close the MCE - I have tried every existing one, media portal is the closest but things about it are crappy, such as the EPG pickup and they general UI.
    MCE is really good. XBMC isn't at the moment a PVR so it should even be on this list.

  8. gggirlgeek October 17, 2012 at 5:57 am #

    I still use Win7 MCE because, with the others, I have never found a good way to get the EPG working in the US. If anyone has (recently) can you tell me the service you connected it to and does your solution support the basics (New show indicators, Series scheduling)? BTW I use over-the-air antenna channels. Thanks.

  9. gggirlgeek October 17, 2012 at 6:41 am #

    The big thing that is about to make me uninstall MCE forever is the lack of support for video file formats like mkv. It is a huge PITA to get them working in 64-bit. (Does ANYTHING work in 64-bit!?)

    The only reason I want this feature is because nothing sounds sounds the way MCE does with Ac3filter installed. I finally got MPC-HC to use AC3filter the other day but that interface is for the birds.

    Honestly since I've discovered RSS auto-feeds I'm finding less and less need for PVR software. What I still need is a decent library that lists ALL of my videos regardless of subfolders (Can't seem to get Explorer to do this, even with saved searches.)

  10. Sri June 10, 2013 at 9:55 am #

    This author has no idea what he is talking about. XBMC, Media Portal & Moovida don't do live tv, and can't shake a stick against Windows Media Center 7/8. The media browser plugin makes WMC very slick & better than any of these options for a movie library.

    • James September 27, 2013 at 9:22 am #

      Well actually XBMC does support live TV as I've been using it for the last 6 months or so.

  11. sunny September 27, 2013 at 9:04 am #

    Hi.You claimed yourself technology fan.But donot know about Linux.Linux is growing in all aspects like Sever side and Desktop.Take example UBUNTU(linux os)is for general users who hava some computer knowledge. For some windows guys and new bies like you just try ZORIN linux os.It is similar to windows 7 os interface. In linux there is a special os for every one like security analyst,gamer,businessman,Media centric editions are freely available. There is no such customizability and editions for windows. Next time when you write about linux like "Linux (an OS that isn't for everyone) " comments you need to be careful.

    • sunny September 27, 2013 at 9:12 am #

      next time donot dare to comment on anything without aware of full details especially on Linux

  12. Phil Rogers April 8, 2015 at 2:26 am #

    Quite disappointed with all of these. The Moovida page wouldn't open. Media Portal and Kodi didn't seem to recognise my DVB-T dongle, and I couldn't find any way to set them up to use it. Uninstalled.

    On my old W7 machine, Media Centre found my DVB-T and got itself working with it within minutes.
    Similarly on W8,1, SichboPVR (another free one) did the same. It just worked. I didn't have to know any of the technical cr*p behind digital TV transmissions. It just asked me for my location and it found all my channels.

    The authors of these other programs would do well to look at the competition and get their programs working in a similar manner.

  13. James April 8, 2015 at 8:21 am #

    Phil,

    Please tell me how well WMC handles add-ons. Can I just install hundreds of channels with a a few clicks? Is the newest version free? Can I integrate it with my steam library? Can it notify me when my server grabs a download?

    A child could set kodi up. You install the backend software using about 3 clicks, scan for channels then tell kodi what software your using and you're done.

    Don't confuse your incompetence with the kodi team doing bad work. It may not do live tv perfectly but it does much more than the software you have stated and does it at a higher level.

  14. Darrell Hoxworth August 13, 2016 at 8:13 pm #

    I HATE WMC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!I IT OPENS WHENEVER I TRY TO GET ON THE INTERNET. I HAVE TRIED EVERY WAY TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM. IF I DOWNLOADED IMHO XBMC OR ANY OTHER PROGRAM THAT WILL KEEP WMC FROM OPENING UP AND THEN FREEZES SO I CAN'T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT

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