OK, my latest run in with a media server solution seemed to have gone just as abysmally as the previous two attempts. I've been looking at Linux and MythTV for quite a while because anyone not doing Microsoft's Media Center was doing that. It's just that open source software and I don't have a good track record together. I've tried doing Linux MCE, which looks impressive in and of itself, but I could never get the dastardly thing to install correctly. I've tried KnopMyth, too, but it never has worked out. So, after my EVA8000 problem, I did something really desperate: I went to Google and searched for open source media center.
I expected to get a bazillion hits for some flavor of MythTV, but to my surprise, the first link was for a piece of software called Media Portal. Not only is this a really polished piece of software, it could run on my Windows Server 2003 box! This has made me very happy because this PC is always on (hey you're reading my blog on it!), but it's also connected to my TV because it acts as my DVD player. So, I installed it on my desktop computer to take it for a spin. I liked what I saw and have had mostly good luck with it so far.
It supports playing your DVDs, music, videos, TV, and there are oodles of plugins that extend its capabilities further. I've run into my share of difficulties, but if you stick with the stable version of the software, it works really well. I've been so impressed with it, that I've decided to move onto the next phase of my media server construction, hard drives. The whole inspiration of this was to have a server from which I can watch all of my media, including DVDs, without getting off of my couch. So, this naturally requires a ginormous amount of disk space. So, I purchased a 500GB hard drive and an external eSata enclosure, and am currently (even as I'm typing this) ripping my DVD collection to it. 500GB sounds like a lot, but when ripping DVDs, you can fit only about 60 or so before the drive is full. So, we'll see how this all goes with the plan to work my way up to 2TB of of hard drive space on a RAID 5 stripe.
As I had mentioned earlier, the greatest thing about Media Portal is its extensibility. If the software is missing a feature that you want, you are free to dive in and create a module for it. Windows Media Center is modifiable only to an extent, but in the end its widgets leave you wanting. This is especially difficult if your version of Windows becomes outmoded so that it necessitates a costly upgrade.
But Media Portal is not a bed of roses. In another post, I'll go over my critiques of Media Portal, and some of the solutions to get around them.