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Linux HTPC

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March 22, 2011 10:33:47 AM

First post, please bear with me. I have searched this forum, and many others to find many possible solutions but nothing addressing my specific questions.

I just put together my first attempt at a HTPC. It has an Intel i3 550, ASUS P7H55-M PRO mobo, 4GB of PC800 DDR3 RAM (cheap), and a LiteOn BluRay drive. It is in a mATX case with included 300W PSU. I am currently running Win7 Pro to trial this setup with WMC.

My question is if anyone would recommend a Linux distro that I can use instead of buying a license for another copy of Win7? I know a (very little) bit about Linux from trials with dual booting Ubuntu but my wife knows nothing about the OS. We will be using the system for Netflix, DVDs, BluRay, Pandora, and a little web surfing. No gaming so I plan to use the native graphics. It would be nice to have a system that could load a media center on startup, have wifi remote control possibilities (we both have android based smartphones), and will work well with Windows as I do have the computer on the same home network with my desktop and laptop.

In summary: Is there a Linux distro with media software that I can teach my wife how to use the HTPC easily?
Will this system be easy enough for a noob to install and configure to work with the hardware above and my home network?

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a b 5 Linux
March 22, 2011 1:22:51 PM

Well there is really only one good choice (and it is awesome!) XBMC :) 
You can use it with any distrobution, or use their preconfigured distrobution
http://xbmc.org/
http://wiki.xbmc.org/?title=XBMC_Live
Yes it is easy to configure
Yes your wife will love it
Has almost all the features you want.

Though I believe netflix does not have a linux client. If this is a killer feature stick with windows.
Bluray works in linux, though it is a bit of a hassle. Most discs simply will not work without decrypting first (can be done on the fly with software like makemkv).
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March 22, 2011 11:01:37 PM

+1 for XBMC. Currently I'm using it on windows (head hung in shame) but when I build a new desktop the current system will live on as a linux PC running XBMC.

You mentioned Andriod phones, I have a Nexus One HTC phone that I use as a remote control for XBMC. They have an official client written by the developers of XBMC, and I believe there are others in the android market that will interface with XBMC's web interface. Its worked flawlessly for me, and has a function where it can be a straight remote control or you can browse the library on your phone and hit play. It even pauses the movie if your phone rings.

Netflix and linux are not going to happen. The only good way is to run a virtual machine, which is definately not an easy thing for a noob or his wife to work... (sorry to be blunt).
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March 23, 2011 9:25:03 AM

Thanks, I will look into XMBC. If it does work with all distros I will get my laptop back to a dual boot with Ubuntu and play around with it.
Netflix isn't a break point but some sort of online streaming media is a necessity. It could be Hulu Plus or any Netflix-like service. I have a two-year-old daughter and I hate the thought of purchasing every cartoon she watches on DVD.

One work around (rather than learning how to run a virtual machine then teaching my wife - I appreciate your honesty) would be to capture Netflix episodes on my Win7 machine, transcode to a Linux format, then stream from a network drive to the HDPC? Any thoughts on how complex this would be?

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March 23, 2011 11:02:51 AM

^You can install XMBC as an addon to Linux, but you can also install the XBMC Live version as a standalone front end. It's bundled with an embedded operating system. You just install the Live XBMC CD to your hard drive.

http://wiki.xbmc.org/?title=XBMC_Live
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March 23, 2011 12:03:29 PM

Honestly I don't netflix myself, so I couldn't comment. If you have a current dualboot linux system, there's no advantage to XBMC's own distribution - Its basically Ubuntu with parts hacked out to make it smaller, and it default boots to the XBMC program - all possible with any existing linux install.

XBMC has a fairly good plugin system that allows for additional features over the base system, perhaps there is one that allows for streaming from an acceptable source?

There are other packages that also allow for HTPC features based in the linux world, one other that seems worth looking at is MythTV - Also available for Ubuntu. Its designed to be more of a DVR system, but does have playback of user created media. There are some others that you may want to look at their features and compare, but ESP for the andriod feature, XBMC is my personal pick.
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March 23, 2011 4:10:56 PM

Thanks for both suggestions. I did read over the XBMC sites and will try the live version on my computer here at work. If it looks like it will work I will install it beside the OS on my HTPC when I get home.

I will try Netflix and Hulu on it and report on the results. I will also look into MythTV to see if there is an advantage regarding the android remote feature. Currently I am using Unified Remote, an app that allows mouse, keyboard input, and various media remote options across the wifi network.
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a b 5 Linux
March 23, 2011 6:57:55 PM

Hulu will work as it is just flash based, but as I said there is no netflix linux client. So netflix will not work.

also xbmc can be configured with mythtv as a backend.
Your remote will work perfectly with xbmc.
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a b 5 Linux
March 24, 2011 3:53:34 AM

myko14 said:
. . .

In summary: Is there a Linux distro with media software that I can teach my wife how to use the HTPC easily?
Will this system be easy enough for a noob to install and configure to work with the hardware above and my home network?


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It's hard to believe nobody here has heard of or tried it. I used it in place of ubuntu for some time when first using Linux because it had the capabilities I wanted buit-in!

Aso, FYI and AFAIK, one cannot use netflix with Linux outside of a virtual install, which complicates things too much for a n00B, IMHO!
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a b 5 Linux
March 24, 2011 3:57:56 AM

^you cant believe no one has heard of an obscure niche ubuntu based distro?

I dont see how it has any advantage over anything else...
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a b 5 Linux
March 24, 2011 4:01:25 AM

Try it before knocking it!

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March 25, 2011 12:23:39 PM

For netflix, would it be that much of a hassle to run a virtual machine?

I haven't used a vm in a while, but last time I did I remember you can freeze the state of the vm when killing it so it would start at the same state when starting it up.

I'm thinking, go through the install, open up Netflix player in fullscreen, watch stuff, freeze state and kill vm when done, then unfreeze state when watching again. It should start at the same exact spot (the Netflix player) so there wouldn't be any need to fumble around the vm.

Only hassle would be the initial install.


Am I missing something?
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March 25, 2011 1:08:57 PM

Technically, you'll still need that new copy of windows.
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a b 5 Linux
March 25, 2011 2:56:59 PM

Also the VM will not have composting or hardware acceleration.
Its probably easier if they have a Xbox or something that does netflix instead.
Either that or purchase a copy of windows.
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March 26, 2011 11:52:10 PM

I do have a PS3 that I run Nexflix on in another room. But I built the HDTV to replace the PS3 so I could move it to another room in the first place. I have looked into Element and will try it out. Sadly, though, with the issues with BluRay and no Netflix I may just break down and buy another key for Win7.
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March 27, 2011 1:18:17 AM

I was researching again and ran across the Linux based Chrome OS iso download. I can't find a single thread where someone has installed Chrome OS on a HTPC so I am doubting that it is an option.
I realize that it is intended to be used primarily for surfing but are there apps that would allow things like Netflix and Hulu? I assume that the same Linux based kernel would have the same problems? Does it provide any ability to run media from storage or stream from a network?
I don't want to waste a bunch of time so I thought I would ask, at the risk of being slaughtered for my ignorance, before installing and trying it out.

Nevermind: went to Gizmodo at http://gizmodo.com/#!5408504/everything-you-need-to-know-about-chrome-os and got a few more answers. Sounds like when it becomes available it will only run online apps. Even if I could put it on my SSD on the HTPC it doesn't sound like it would pull network media.
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March 27, 2011 3:36:38 AM

Another strike for netflix on linux currently. From wikipedia:

In a TechRepublic interview in August 2010, Netflix's VP of Corporate Communications stated that available Silverlight plugins for Linux, such as Moonlight, do not support the PlayReady DRM system that Netflix requires for playback.
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