Digital Thingamajigs
Get the scoop on the latest mobile and handheld devices, high-tech gadgets, phones, gaming devices and more as well as computer-related tips and tricks. Keep up with tech trends, gaming software and check out some of the newest innovations that are turning heads in the electronics industry.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Part II: Media center software

So, you've started streaming your favorite TV shows and movies from the Web and, if you're a big movie and TV buff like I am, you probably use several streaming sites, such as Hulu and Netflix along with music, TV shows and movie files strewn across your computer's hard drive. Now, you need a way to organize that mess. Here are just a few ways to keep your digital content neat and orderly with the latest software:

One of the most popular media managers available today, Boxee is a free program that allows you to access many of your favorite streaming sites — Netflix, Pandora, Major League Baseball, etc. — on a hard drive or server volume. You can navigate through Boxee's menus via your computer keyboard, mouse or even a media remote like the Apple Remote, and install apps that give quick access to Netflix, YouTube and some other up-and-coming sites such as Fail Blog. Boxee is free to download and comes in versions for Windows, Mac OS X, Ubuntu Linux (32 and 64 bit) and Apple TV. There's also a physical box that can be bought to accompany the software, which I will discuss in tomorrow's blog. So, please check back.

As stated on its website, Plex "bridges the gap between your Mac and your home theater, doing so with a visually appealing user interface that provides instant access to your media." Similar to Boxee, but currently only available for Mac OS X, Plex allows users to access their favorite online video through a graphical interface and organize their personal content on their hard drive or a network server. You can divide up your personal content into TV shows and movies, and Plex will scan the Web for the appropriate meta data, related photos, posters and even subtitles to give you a very appealing menu to keep your content organized. Plex also has apps that can be downloaded to give access to streaming sites, such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, The Colbert Report, FoxNews and many more too numerous to mention. And as with Boxee, Plex is free.

Is that all there is?
Not at all. There are many applications cropping up to allow users to organize their digital content. For example, XBMC (Xbox Media Center) is an application that shares much of the same source code as Plex and, therefore, has a very similar user interface. However, it is currently available for PCs as well as Macs. In addition to these applications, your current operating system more than likely comes with its own media center software. For example, if you use PCs, all major versions of Windows come with Windows Media Center, while Macs have Front Row. Finding the right one for you may take some time, as I currently use a Mac Mini and have tried Plex, Boxee and XBMC, until I finally settled on Plex as my current favorite. However, the thing to keep in mind is that all of this software is relatively new, is being updated constantly and still has many bugs to work out. So, there will be a few bumps along the road. But hopefully, you can settle on a favorite and start organizing that digital content ASAP.

Make sure you check back tomorrow for the final part of my home media center series when I will discuss some of the hardware that complements the software.