I bought a half-decent HP desktop about six months ago to run as a
home media center. Runs Window 7, works great, etc. However, it came
with a six month subscription to Norton Antivirus which has
subsequently expired. I don't want to run Windows without antivirus,
but I also don't want to pay for antivirus - solution, boot Linux! Are
there any Linux distributions that are especially good at handling
media? I've installed a custom graphics card [ASUS GeForce] and am
using an LCD TV as a monitor.
windows = sucks and blows at the same time
linux media center solution
on the front end, i am partial to xbox media center: http://xbmc.org
it runs on all manner of things: linux, apple TV, windows
on the back end i love samba. it's simple, stable, and very reliable.
separating your storage from your player is great, especially when you
have multiple front ends.
i keep media files on a central server with lots of disk space, and i
use vlc media player on PCs or XBMC for playback.
I have been using Windows Media Center for 4 or 5 years now. I currently have a build with 6 tuners, 2 HDHomeRun Dual tuners and 2 others that are installed in the machine itself. I use it as a DVR for every TV in my house. Using a an xBox 360 to have full control and a Sony Network Player that can handle the stupid wtv file format (one of my major gripes about Media Center). All of the recorded TV is also available to stream to laptops, as the file is being created, but HD requires a pretty good wireless N or a wired network. You would also need to have Vista or 7 to play the WTV file format, although automated file converters have been developed with commercial skipping options.
I have often times thought about switching to linux or even another front-end for windows but have ran into major walls. The biggest thing preventing me from moving to a linux build is the lack of Netflix watchnow. Since Windows 7, I have had little to no issue with Media Center and have not bothered with programs like BeyondTV and MediaPortal. As far as I know XBMC can not actually act as a DVR, so I never looked into it.
If you decide to stick with Windows, I recommend looking into My Movies. It indexes folders and downloads cover images and meta-data for saved video files based off file name. If you need more tuners than 4, you can use Tunersalad to remove the cap. And like Paul mentioned, there are some good free options out there for anti-virus software. There is an SDK available for the MC environment so addons are constantly being developed, check out The Green Button Forums.
So from my experience, if you want a box that can record TV and also play Netflix watchnow W7MC is what I would go with. I would most likely go with MythTV if it wasn’t for the lack of Netflix.