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5 Alternatives to Windows Media Center on Windows 8

xbmc-header

Windows 8 no longer comes with Windows Media Center by default. To get it, you can upgrade to Windows 8 Pro and purchase the Media Center Pack. It’s free until January 31, 2013, but this will soon be even pricier.

If you’re using Windows 8 and don’t want to buy two separate upgrades just to use a program that once came standard with Windows, you can try one of these alternative media center applications for your HTPC.

Modern Apps

Modern apps deserve an honorable mention. Apps for Netflix, Hulu, and other media services look awfully similar to media center interfaces. If you want an interface to play back streaming video from your couch, these modern apps may be a convenient alternative to a new media center application.

netflix-app-on-windows-8

XBMC

XBMC is probably the most popular alternative to Windows media Center out there. XBMC stands for Xbox Media Center, as it was originally created for the Xbox. Today, XBMC runs on a variety of operating systems, including Windows, Mac OS X, Linux – even Android and iOS. In addition to interfacing with a TV capture card for live TV and recording, it supports every type of media format you’d want. It can also Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Pandora, and more via add-ons. We’ve covered installing XBMC add-ons in the past.

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Plex

Plex, based off XBMC, is another fairly popular media player. It contains two components – the Plex Media Server, which is the backend, and the Plex Media Center, which is the frontend. With Plex, you could make one computer in your house a media server and access it using the Plex Media Center on your home theater PC. You could also use the apps for iOS and Android devices to stream media to all of your devices from the central server.

Unlike XBMC and MediaPortal, Plex doesn’t support watching or recording live TV.

Read more about setting up Plex: How To Stream Video to Both iOS and Android Devices With Plex

MediaPortal

MediaPortal was originally a derivative of XBMC, but it’s been completely rewritten. If you’re not happy with XBMC’s interface, you might want to give MediaPortal a try. Like XBMC, it contains the standard PVR features for playing, recording, and pausing live TV, laying DVDs, and watching online video services.

mediaportal

Moovida

Moovida is the least well known option on this list. The Windows installer is packed with spyware and other junk that you’re opted into by default. If you do try this one, be sure to uncheck it all. We honestly wouldn’t recommend this option – there’s no reason to use spyware-packed installers when there are so many other good options higher on this list. It also doesn’t provide any integrated TV recording, unlike XBMC and MediaPortal.

However, if you’re not happy with the above options, you may want to give Moovida a go. It has two different interfaces – one optimized for file management on a PC and one optimized for finding and playing content on a TV. Moovida bills its TV-optimized interface as a “3D interface,” so it can provide some additional eye candy.

moovida-pc-interface


Many of these programs will play DVDs, too. We’ve also covered some other ways to play DVDs on Windows 8. You don’t need the Media Center Pack for that, either.

Which media center solution do you prefer for your home theater PC? Leave a comment and let us know.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 01/4/13

Comments (17)

  1. Amblyomma

    I built a new htpc this summer and tried out several different media programs and OSs before settling on XBMC for local media, Media Center for OTA TV, and a browser for streaming video. It would be great to have an all in one software solution, but honestly each package does one thing really well and I got sick of dealing with the glitches when I tried to use just one. Media Portal is impressive, but a huge PITA to set up. Media Center just works and I was done in 10 minutes with set up.

  2. Jan

    The MediaPortal-Link points to Moovida #corrections

  3. Thane

    I’ve tried them all and XBMC is the best there is!
    I keep all of my media on a central computer and stream content to my TVs using XBMC on small media center PCs. In fact, I just sideloaded the new beta Android version of XMC onto my Kindle Fire HD and I’m streaming all of my media library content to my tablet, too (even DVD iso files!).

  4. Mr. X

    For simply playing DVDs, VLC should work.

  5. Shawn

    I just dipped my toe into Plex and I was impressed. Not as graphically stunning as XBMC was but I just got a HDMI enabled flat screen so my options just opened up. I’m switching back to Linux and I’m going to try and install Plex on that. If anyone has any experience, send me a link to a good How 2.

    BTW, I have 500+/- movies and navigating can be a PITA. Any ideas how make this process more efficient?

  6. TheFu

    Last month I attempted to get the alpha release of tvheadend working under XBMC/Linux and could not. At this point, I do not believe that XBMC has any solid way to record TV.

    Windows Media Center or MythTV seem to be the main TV recording apps and Media Center is the ONLY application that will record CableCARD encrypted QAM content. There isn’t any technical reason for this limit, since HD Homerun devices which are network recorders HAD encrypted QAM recording in their pre-certified releases that worked under native Linux.

    DRM sucks.

    I, a 100% Linux lover, use Windows7 Media Center to record TV (OTA and cable). There doesn’t seem to be any real alternative. I don’t see any streaming service providing what OTA recording of broadcast TV does.

    Using XBMC to view recorded content seems to be the best alternative, it is just lacking solid recording facilities.

  7. Rahabib

    Heres how they stack up

    1) WMC7: record TV – yes, Netflix – yes, Free Hulu – yes, Plays almost any format – yes (if you have the codec), plugins – yes, Linux – no, Runs fast – takes a while to load but runs fine once it does.
    2) XBMC: record TV – not consistently, Free Hulu – yes, Plays almost any format – yes (if you have the codec), plugins – yes, Linux – yes, but not for all items (eg. Netflix), Runs fast – on Linux it does.
    3) Media Portal – since its based on XBMC – see above.

    basically, if you dont care about recording TV, XBMC is probably better -> on Windows. You can try to get OpenElec to work, but good luck and you wont have Netflix.

    It really comes down to what you need and how much time you want to fiddle around with crap.

  8. Doug

    I don’t know about the other choices when it comes to watching TV with a tuner attached to your computer, but Media Center is FIRST CLASS (imho). Sure there are many apps for playing DVDs and showing photos, but is there a better one for getting an program guide delivered to your TV and being able to record a program (or series) with just a click on a program guide listing, not to mention the ability to pause a live TV program while you get or lose another beverage?
    It’s a great deal while it’s free and maybe even if it costs a few bucks later on.

  9. Bala

    What about Miro? It is a great alternativve and yeah open source too

  10. mereology

    @ TheFu

    Have you tried Kaffeine to recored TV on linux? It works well in recording all Free OTA services however I have never tried it with CableCARD encrypted QAM content as I don’t have cable. Maybe you should give it a try.

  11. Marcus

    It seems like Microsoft has been looking for all kinds of ways to make a fast buck. Why on earth would I pay for something that use to come standard with Windows. This is like their decision to no longer offer Microsoft Office upgrade pricing forcing everyone to buy the full edition even if they are upgrading from a previous version of office. I use LibreOffice now and Linux to do most of my stuff. About the only time I use Windows is when it is proprietary stuff that only runs in windows. Why would Microsoft make you pay for their Media Center Pack when there is plenty of competition who offer the same or better media software for free?

  12. BeerMe

    To those who dislike XBMC due to it’s lack of DVR/PVR capabilities; LOOK AGAIN!

    The beta release of XBMC 12 now has live TV support as well as DVR/PVR abilities built in. But then there’s also OpenELEC which uses the current XBMC 11 engine too. However, OpenELEC is more of a live distro for a thumb drive but it too has PVR/DVR capabilities if you actually install it. Problem is, there’s only a very select few tuners it supports and you really have to muck with it if you’re hardware isn’t “supported”.

    So if you ask me, there are really only 3 HTPC apps worth a darn and only 2 of them are really worth pursuing if you have a television tuner: Windows / Media Center and Linux / MythTV. As for me, I prefer Mythbuntu (Ubuntu with MythTV included) since it’s about the easiest Linux HTPC alternative to install but not necessarily the easiest to configure! And NOTHING in Linux is easy when it comes to remote controls either. It’s either there or it’s not. Remotes that you hold in your hand and use to change channels – not a remote server either. Try Goggling it and maybe you too can enjoy the frustration. That’s probably why I still use Windows and Media Center since it’s just so darn easy. Microsoft products like Media Center are like digital dope that way. Microsoft gets you hooked on it but then wants you to pay up. I hate that!

  13. BeerMe

    So is it just me or does Microsoft actually enjoy shooting themselves in the head from time to time? First they release Windows 8 (nuff said there) and then has problems including Media Center which still won’t launch on boot up like it can with Windows 7. And if that’s not enough, then Microsoft limits the number of tuners in Media Center to just 4! They also limited it in Windows 7 via the updates process that no one hardly ever reads too. It’s almost as if Microsoft want’s people to abandon ship. But to what? And it’s not like Apple exactly needs any more customers. But that’s pretty much what’s happening when Microsoft makes these radical changes and imposes draconian control over what was once a free product (Media Center, that is). Once you start to dig into Media Center a little you too may find you don’t like it much either. And can I even bring up the pathetic add-on’s for it?!

  14. Max

    Microsoft needs to show a bit more love for their users and lot less avarice. Look after your customers and the money will follow. Not the other way around.

  15. David

    XBMC, goodbye transcoding

  16. Patrick McNamara

    There’s also NextPVR, which developed from GB PVR. It’s a great alternative for those who want to record TV. I’ve been using it for a while and it’s been less problematic than XBMC. And it works well with my Hauppage remote. There are a few bugs in the latest version, and there is a patch available, but hopefully the next release will take care of them.

  17. will

    i prefer MPC-HC

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