With the advent of high speed Internet connection, Internet capable televisions and home networks, it’s become possible to stream a lot of Web content, or content already on your computer, to your television. Some people have even done away with Cable television altogether, instead using such services as Hulu and Netflix to get their television and movie fix. One of the ways people have helped move the computer to the television is with what are commonly called 10-foot interfaces. These are interfaces that look good, and are usable, from 10 feet way, a common distance to sit from a television. As opposed to computer monitors, designed to be usable from a distance of one or two feet, 10-foot interfaces have larger buttons, simplified operation, and are often designed to be used with a remote control, using the up/down/left/right buttons as the main controls.
In this article, I’ll talk about one of those interfaces, a commercial product for Linux called Fluendo Media Center. It is available from the Fluendo website for 39.99 Euro, or roughly 52.30 US dollars.
What do you get for that money, especially when there are any number of free and open source solutions that can also be run on Linux? First, you get legal DVD playback and multimedia codecs. In many ways, Fluendo Media Center is a combination of the free Elisa media center (recently renamed Moovida), and two of Fluendo’s products – the complete Media Playback bundle and the Fluendo DVD Player. Why is this a good thing? Although there are numerous ways to play videos and DVDs on Linux, very few of them, especially for users in the United States, are legally available. Commercial DVDs are encrypted, and most web videos use commercial codecs. Yes, you can absolutely find very simple ways to play DVDs and multimedia files, but with Fluendo Media Center, you have paid all licensing fees. No, you’re probably never going to run into trouble with the law if you use other means of playback of restricted media, but for businesses or simply people wanting to stay 100 percent legal, this is a good way to go.
Now, with that out of the way, what does Fluendo Media Center offer? First, you have a program that automatically scans common Linux folders for content. If you use Ubuntu, for instance, there are Music, Pictures and Videos folders automatically created for you, and many programs attempt to use these for your collections. Fluendo Media Center automatically scans those folders for content. You can also browse through attached hard drives for other content, and make Fluendo Media Center aware of that as being a part of your library.
Navigating through Fluendo Media Center is very natural. Your different types of media (Music, Photos, TV Shows, Movies, DVDs), are laid out in a grid, so simply clicking left and right, up and down, will get you where you want to go. If you’re browsing through a large music collection, it is broken down by artist and then album, or you can search through it to find exactly what you’re looking for.
There are also built-in playlists. For TV shows, these are for your unwatched, last watched, most watched, and recently added episodes. For movies, they are the same. Music may be browsed by artist, track or genre, or playlists are available for recently plaid, most played and recently added tracks. You can browse your photo library by album or date.
Fluendo Media Center also has a plugin architecture, which allows it to be expanded. When first installed, the Pikeo photo sharing plugin is installed, which allows you to browse through your collection right from your couch. This is, however, the only plugin, so those looking for Hulu or other web video integration will need to look elsewhere, unless I’ve missed something.
By no means is Fluendo Media Center a perfect program (see the above lack of plugins for one example). There are too many clicks involved for some actions (such as shutting down), and on a slower computer the interface can be a bit slow to update. Still, it’s a nice program, looks good on a computer screen or television, and makes for a 100 percent legal way to watch all your media content. I’d like if it was a little less costly (although if you’ve purchased other Fluendo products there is generally a discount available because of the crossover features), but it’s not completely out of bounds. It just works, and that’s always refreshing.