LinuxMCE — the new Media Center PC

I stumbled across LinuxMCE, a free competitor to Windows Media Center Edition. LinuxMCE does what WinMCE does except it does much, much more. The features included in LinuxMCE go well beyond the simple Media Center PC.

Media Hub

WinMCE has the ability to catalog and organize your media, which means music, photos and videos/DVDs on the computer on which it is installed. But LinuxMCE has the ability to automatically search your network to find all the multimedia on all the computers in your network. Although I’m sure that means you will need to share your media files on windows computers or setup NFS on your other Linux/Unix machines, that’s a trivial thing to do.

Of course, we can’t forget the PVR capabilities either. LinuxMCE integrates the fantastic open-source project, MythTV for video recording. This allows your computer to run as a Tivo or PVR built into your favorite digital TV provider (Comcast, Cox, Dish Network, DirecTV, etc).
Home Automation

Even though the name of LinuxMCE implies that it only does multimedia. But on the contrary, LinuxMCE is also a home automation hub as well. By default, LinuxMCE will automatically search for X10 devices and control them if it can. That means that if you have X10 lighting equipment, when you start a DVD, LinuxMCE will automatically dim the lights in that room. It also has the ability to control X10 enabled blinds, thermostats, pools/jacuzzi and many others.

Security

LinuxMCE goes well beyond the Media Center PC functionality. In addition to the lighting, climate and media functionality, it also integrates with telecommunications and security devices. So you can tie into security cameras and receive alerts on your mobile phone of any type of security issues. If you know the security alert is not a threat, you can even respond to tell the system to simply reset. Or, if you are unaware of what’s going on, you can remotely broadcast your voice into your home through the TV speakers.

Computer Applications

Let’s not forget that LinuxMCE is software installed on a computer. You can still use it as a computer as well. That means, you can install cool applications like Google Earth and browse the web with Firefox, just like you would on any computer. This one is just connected to a TV (hopefully an HD that’s at least 50″).
Drawbacks

The one extremely huge drawback is that, by default, you cannot play commercial DVDs. The DVD playback software that is leveraged by LinuxMCE is open-source, and thus cannot include the proprietary CSS encryption algorithm. There is software which can be installed that can enable the playback of commercial DVDs, but this action is highly debated as to it’s legality.

Availability

LinuxMCE is free to download and install on any existing PC. If you want a pre-packaged Media Center PC, there are vendors who provide LinuxMCE Pro which is a full computer with all the required hardware to take advantage of all the features of LinuxMCE.
Screenshots and Video

Checkout the screenshots. And be sure to view the video below (the narration is horrible, but apparently it’s being redone — just watch for the amazing features):

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