In this article, we will compare the top 4 HTPC operating systems that can be used as the 10-foot user interface for your TV. So, let’s continue looking in detail Windows 7, Mac OS X, Linux and Windows XP operating systems to find out which one is optimal to the living room use.
In this comparison, we are using the following evaluation criteria:
– Compatibility with the hardware (support for remote controls, etc.)
– Compatibility with the 3rd party software (support for media center software)
– Video codecs support and performance (support for Blu-ray, H.264, etc.)
– Look and feel (how stylish and practical is the UI for TV)
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium is the most common operating system and it is also used in HTPCs.
Windows Media Center is the most known 10-foot user interface, but many other media center software are compatible with Windows nowadays.
Why do so many people hate Windows
I have always been a proud Windows user, but I am currently writing on a Mac Mini, own an iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone, and use Linux based home theater PC. However, I have been wondering why so many people absolutely hate Windows. Are there really better alternatives as the main stream operating system?
Windows 7, the most successful update?
Windows 7 has been claimed to be a lot more successful update than the previous Vista version. I definitely agree that it is way better than the slow Vista, but I still think XP is the best Windows update of all time. The built-in Windows Media Center gives you an easy access to music, pictures and movie files. Windows 7 also features DVD codecs to play DVDs and has the ability to work with popular Blu-ray viewing software such as PowerDVD.
Built-in codecs make it easy to get started
There is no doubt that this is an obvious choice for most of the HTPC users as it will be the most installed operating system for sure. The biggest advantage are the built-in codecs and easiness to get fluent playback of videos.
However, not all codecs work out of the box. For example MKV file format that is popular container for HD Blu-ray video is not supported by default. Fortunately, there is a codec pack that allows you to play MKV files in Windows Media Center.
If you are building a new media PC, then these value HTPC components are optimal setup for Windows 7.
Windows 7 is excellent for Blu-ray video, live TV, games, Hulu and Netflix.
Mac Operating System
Mac OS X version 10.6 Snow Leopard is a good operating system, but is not as compatible with the third party software as Windows.
Mac OS X is much more intuitive and easy to use compared to Windows 7, but there is a limited number of hardware that are compatible with the OS.
FrontRow and Plex are probably the best know media centers that are designed particularly for Max OS X.
Mac is a controlled environment
Many people will often claim Mac is better. What people are failing to understand is that Mac OS X is completely integrated with the hardware. Instead of creating an operating system that works with thousands of variations, Mac only needs to worry about the couple of hardware variations.
Good video performance with limited codec support
Video playback is great provided that you use video formats that are naturally supported by the Mac. However, in practice Mac OS X’s hardware acceleration support is not as good as Windows and Linux, because, I have not been able to play high definition MKV files smoothly with Mac Mini.
Mac OS X is excellent for organizing & managing music and photos.
A user who is tech savvy would love to use Linux Ubuntu as the operating system in his HTPC.
However, Ubuntu is doing great efforts in making Linux work for the everyday users who are not very technology oriented.
Linux is incredibly varied and there are several variations of Linux. The challenge with Linux is that you need to be knowledgeable enough to fix any issues that occurs. The technical support is very limited, if there is any.
Ideal Operating System for XBMC
As can be seen from my detailed guide to OpenELEC operating system, you can easily install a Linux operating system in 15 minutes.
If you are building a new media PC, then these budget components are optimal setup for Linux.
Linux is optimal for XBMC media center with less demanding hardware needs.
Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition with SP2 is an older version of the Windows with benefits that include software compatibility and Blu-ray support.
The few features that are missing in comparison to that of the Windows 7 are the built-in DVD support and a media center software that is designed for HDTVs.
Best choice for an old PC
Windows XP is a viable choice particularly for the slower PC owners, so I would still recommend using it if you have a spare PC around with XP already on it. I think the most significant limitations XP has at this point are codecs.
Limited codecs support out of the box
You need to know which codecs are needed and where can you have them as e.g. H.264 codecs are not included. H.264 codecs do cost some money, as to DVD decoders (for the good ones, anyways), so if you are starting from scratch, that cost needs to be included.
Windows XP is optimal for computers with older hardware.
|Windows 7||Linux||Mac OS X||Windows XP|
|Video Codecs Performance||10||10||6||7|
|Look and Feel||9||8||10||6|
|Weighted Score*||130 points||115 points||106 points||100 points|
* Evaluation criteria are weighted based on the importance in the HTPC usage.
All in all, if you are just starting out from scratch on an HTPC, Windows 7 will be the best choice for you.
Obviously, Windows has it’s issues too. Still, the whole point of Windows is that it can be run on almost any computer. It is not working without glitches, but there are not many alternatives either.
On the other hand, if you are planning to build a home theater computer to your living room, I would suggest trying OpenELEC XBMC Linux operating system, as it is an ideal OS for media center use in my humble opinion.