In my last media server update there were some concerns about Apple’s Front Row. I decided to try out some alternatives including iTheater and MediaCentral. Admitedly I am limited to a G4 MacMini, but there wasn’t much of a contest. iTheater definitely shows the most promise; the interface is georgeous, and its open source, which pretty much guarantees it will have the most features. However, iTheater is still very new and is more lacking than Front Row.
What attracted me to MediaCenteral was that it just works. That sounds like a simple requirement but unfortunately, with commercial software, that tends to be a lofty goal. Did I say commercial? Yes, MediaCentral costs $19.95, which I happily paid.
Like I said, MediaCenteral just works. I download lots of video, mostly podcasts, but some tv shows from less than relaible sources. I have avi files using a wide range of codecs and all of them play perfectly. MediaCentral also reads iTunes’ podcast list, something that Front Row had a lot of trouble with. By the way, if you have kids, having all their DVDs ripped to a hard disk is truly a beautiful thing.
MediaCentral is packed with other features as well. Though I’m just using it to play video at the moment, I plan on taking advantage of them. There’s the standard photos, music, and dvd player. There’s streaming video. The sources are quite limited, but I can see that changing as IPTV becomes more common. You can also browse the top 100 YouTube and Google videos. It even has skype built in. I don’t have a camera but, having parents that live in other states, I love the idea of video conferencing events from my living room.
Despite being proprietary, there is one way of expanding upon its feature set. There is a section called “Games”, which is just a standard Flash player. I found that the games it comes with, as simple as they are, are impossible to play with a remote control. However, you can add your own Flash apps, which don’t necessarily have to be games. As a Flash developer myself, I’m considering writing a weather app in the future.
All in all, MediaCentral is the best choice for a MacMini set top box. Though I see some heavy competition from iTheater in the near future, for now, it’s on top. Well worth twenty bucks.