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Linux serves numerous purposes and has many uses ranging from servers and routers to gaming and development. Linux also works well as an entertainment system. Users can have many codecs and media players on Linux. Also, Linux supports many monitor sizes including television screens (tube TVs and high-definition digital TVs).
When a computer is used as a television or an entertainment system, this system is called a media center, smart TV, or home theater PC (HTPC). Users can plug the computer into a large screen and then watch movies on the system like a regular television system. With the Internet, this HTPC can provide viewers with more videos and other media. If the computer can read DVDs and Blu-rays, then the system also functions as a DVD and Blu-ray player. Users can also use this system to listen to music, play games, and more. Such a system is easy to setup, but it helps to know about some of the available software and operating systems.
There are some special software platforms that can be installed on a Linux distro to make it a media/entertainment center.
Kodi (formerly XBMC or Xbox Media Center) is a complete media center platform (smart TV platform) that has its own interface that can be used as a desktop environment (http://kodi.tv/). Kodi supports media streaming, skins/themes, plugins, PVR (Personal Video Recorder), podcasts, and more. Some of the supported media streaming services include YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, Veoh, Spotify, Rhapsody, Pandora Internet Radio, and more. Various plugins expand the supported streaming services. Kodi also supports metadata extraction and web scrapers which can get metadata for the user's media. These scrapers can get various information, thumbnails, cover art, etc. from various websites such as themoviedb.org, MusicBrainz, IMDb.com, and others. Kodi supports many remote controls.
MythTV (https://www.mythtv.org/) is an alternative to Kodi. MythTV offers many features such as video recording, TV tuner drivers, remote control support, etc. However, MythTV is primarily a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) and may not have as many features as Kodi. Some of the MythTV plugins may provide many of the features seen in Kodi.
If the user does not want to use MythTV or Kodi, then there are simple and lightweight alternatives. Users could use a web-browser to view videos on YouTube, although a keyboard and mouse would be needed. The VLC media player is a better alternative that supports remote controls. VLC supports many video formats and codecs can add support. Users could also install Totem, MPlayer, SMPlayer, Rhythmbox, Clementine, and many other media players.
Linux and the media center software should support both monitors and television screens. Many projector screens should also work. If any of these fail, check the cables, connectors, drivers, configuration, etc. Install additional drivers/kernel-modules, if needed.
The Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) driver system (http://www.linuxtv.org/) in the Linux kernel provides support for digital television screens. This driver is part of the vanilla (original, official, and unchanged) kernel.
LIRC (Linux Infrared remote control) is a special Linux library that provides support for television remote controls (http://www.lirc.org/).
Operating systems that focus on being used as a media or entertainment center are called "Media Center Operating Systems". There are some Linux distros that belong to that category.
Mythbuntu (http://www.mythbuntu.org/) is a Ubuntu-based media center that uses MythTV. Mythbuntu can be used as a client or server. Mythbuntu servers could serve multiple clients (perhaps various entertainment systems in a building).
OpenELEC (Open Embedded Linux Entertainment Center) is similar to Mybuntu, but is more lightweight and uses Kodi instead of MythTV (http://openelec.tv/). OpenELEC supports the Raspberry Pi and Freescale i.MX6x series devices.
LinHES (Linux Home Entertainment System) is another distro that uses MythTV (http://www.linhes.org/). This distro is based on Arch Linux.
GeeXboX (http://www.geexbox.org/) is very similar to OpenELEC. GeeXboX supports the Raspberry Pi and CubieBoard.
For users that like MythTV and Fedora, MythDora is a great choice. However, MythDora is no longer maintained.
To setup a Linux-based entertainment center, install Linux onto a computer. The selected distro may or may not come with the desired software (such as Kodi or MythTV). After the operating system has been installed, then install the desired software and applications. Next, configure and setup the network (if the system is intended to be a server to media center clients). Otherwise, make sure that the media center system has access to the Internet (if needed).
After the operating system and network setup, test the new system. Make sure that all of the screens/monitors and speakers work. Also, ensure that the remote controls and Internet/network connections work without problems.