I'm planning an HTPC build in the near future and would like the opinions of some experienced HTPC owners on software choice.
I'll be using the HTPC for streaming internet content (youtube, netflix, twitch, etc) and as a network connected home server (of sorts) where I can store and replay digital movies/tv shows. I will not be recieving a terrestrial or satellite signal to the HTPC.
It will be Windows based, only because I have zero experience with Linux. If Linux is a better option, please explain why.
I have hardware in mind already so I don't need advice on that unless software specifically requires certain hardware.
My question, specifically, is what HTPC software should I go with and why? What do you use? Pros and cons? Etc.
I believe XBMC is one of the most popular for HTPC's and can be run on a multitude of OS'.
Also, to answer your question about linux, generally linux is a good option because it is a lightweight distribution that doesn't require a lot of system resources, this frees up your system for handling the tasks you want it to do.
If you want to learn, best way is to download ubuntu or xbmcbuntu, burn it to DVD, pop it in your computer and click run live from disk. This way you can use it on your current computer, get a feel for it and it wont change anything on your current PC. Exit ubuntu, pop the disk out, restart computer and you're back into your normal OS nothing affected.
I've used XBMC in the past and friends and family use it to and i'll be using it again when i replace the mobo on my old HTPC.
Linux will network with pretty much anything you throw at it and generally it is pretty straightforward.
If you want linux and XBMC i suggest downloading XBMCbuntu. Its XBMC and the OS rolled into one package for an easy install.
Not to mention you can download it to disk or usb drive and run it live from there without having to install it, that way you can test it out without affecting anything you may have on the computer.
Second this recommendation. It will boot straight into XBMC so you will not have to mess around in Linux at all (unless you want to). XBMC should work great for everything you have mentioned. It's free, so you might as well try it out. If you don't like it, you can always give Bill Gates some money later.
I'm not a Linux user, and had no inclination to learn, so went with Windows Media Centre. You can get a plugin called Media Browser which gives a very slick, configurable look to your media collection. I use Total Media Theatre 5 as my playback software, and the HTPC streams over the LAN from a mediaserver I have in my study.
On a related point, you tend to want an HTPC to be as quiet as possible, which is why mine has a small SSD for the OS only. HDDs = noise, and it's surprising how loud a PC can be - even nowadays - during quiet moments in films. Doubly so when you've stuck it all in a cramped enclosure with limited airflow.
If you plan to have full blu-ray playback support with menus, extras, etc. then Windows is a better option coupled with an external player like PowerDVD or TotalMedia Theatre for blu-ray support. If you don't care about full blu-ray, then a Linux based XBMC is a very good option. XBMC runs on Windows too BTW.
For some other software ideas, check out this post:
I know this thread is solved - but for others searching this - I agree with the XBMC recommendation. XBMC.org has tons of info. But checkout http://www.xbmchub.com where they have tons of extra add ons and tips, tweaks and tricks.