I’m only going to cover Boxee and Plex as Front Row doesn’t provide the full media center experience. For one, managing your media is a pain with Front Row. You have to add them into iTunes (which is fussy about most formats), then add metadata, artwork, which is all a lot of hard work. It’s acceptable as a default media center, but when there’s better options out there, why not explore them.
I first started with Boxee as it’s had more media coverage, and I’ve heard more about it. Of the two, Boxee is more of a social media center. It’s front page shows clips and episodes that your friends have recommended, and watched. Setting up Boxee isn’t that hard. Once you’ve signed in, (you do have to create a login at Boxee.tv before you can use the application) head to your settings. We are looking for the “Media Sources” heading. Once there, you’ll see your local music, photos, and movies already listed as a source. We need to add the TV Shows folder we created last time.
Next we need to fix the overscan problem with 720P HDTVs. If you don’t have a 720P TV, you don’t really need to worry about this. Under the “Appearance” tab in your settings, we need to go to Screen and then select Video Calibration. Once that is set, all your media will fit your TV screen instead of disappearing beyond the edges of the screen.
Boxee apps are next. You need to add whatever apps you want to use within Boxee. These apps will add sources like Hulu, South Park and Pandora to your media lists. There are many to choose from, but some are country specific. BBC’s iPlayer only works in the UK, which is a disappointment if you want to watch Top Gear and you live in the US.
Now we can enjoy our media. On Boxee, the media menu is hidden on the left, once activated, you can select from any of your sources. Just remember that they are all based on 3 categories, Videos, Music and Photos.
Adding new content is as easy as telling Boxee to rescan your library. With Boxee running, hit “A” and you will get your library stats. Most of the time, it will automatically scan your library, and get the needed info, which includes artwork, episode details, artist and album information, from either IMDB or theTVdb.
Plex is to Boxee as Mac is to PC. While Boxee certainly is capable, Plex is more “Mac-like.” When you first start up Plex, you are greeted with a large and easy to read menu on the left and a nice fullscreen image corresponding with what is selected in the menu. Like Boxee, if you are using a 720P HDTV, you’ll need to calibrate the display. This is done under the Preferences, System, and Display Calibration.
Additional sources are all managed under the Videos category. This is where you’ll use your apps that you download, and where you’ll add files and folders from your HDD. You’ll want to add you TV Shows folder here, and when adding, make sure that you set the content to TV Shows and for the content info I’d recommend The TVdb.
Adding additional apps is somewhat like Boxee. Under the App Store menu item, you’ll find numerous apps for additional media. They are organized nicely, and it is very easy to find what you are looking for. New apps are getting added all the time. The Featured list has all the popular ones, including Hulu, Netflix, and Apple Movie Trailers. The latest version of Plex will also use your default language as a basis to trigger subtitles, so you don’t have to turn off english subtitles on an english movie.
Adding new content to Plex is done with either a keyboard, or the Apple Remote. On the keyboard hit “C” and on the remote press and hold “Menu.” A list will pop-up and select “Scan for new Content.” This is done under the media (Movies, TV shows, etc) sections, or under Videos with a source selected to scan.
After using Boxee for a month, and Plex since, I’ve come to like Plex a whole lot more. It has a much nicer interface, and seems to run much smoother. Plex is more usage based, while Boxee seems more concerned about what your friends are watching. I’ve also had much better luck getting Plex to recognize videos and add them than with Boxee. I’m not sure exactly what is causing this, since the files are properly named.
Which ever you choose, make sure the device you are using it on is connected to the internet. Since they both pull info of the internet, adding media gets a whole lot more difficult if you aren’t connected, you’ll have to do everything manually. Next I’ll cover remotes and what you can use to control your Plex/Boxee running media center.