A Linux Home Entertainment Center

As I mentioned in an earlier Linux Journal article, I decided to cut the apron strings with my television provider over a year ago. Bye bye, DISH Satelite TV!

Man, you should have heard them whimper. "But sir, is there anything we can do to keep your business?"

"No, thanks. I get all of my content off the internet now. Have you tried Hulu.com*? It's great!" I can be a real jerk sometimes.

In any event, I thought I'd share my system specs with you and tell you a little bit about how I've got it configured.

Here is the hardware that I used to build the box. Total cost was ~$520.

I installed the latest KDE (Kubuntu 10.04) on it and dumbed down the interface to where it only provides the media services I want: video & music. Here are a few screen shots:

As you can see, I use Amarok as the music player, Dolphin as the file browser and I have the Linux Hulu Desktop client installed. All of the local media is streamed via NFS from one of the servers in my home office over gigabit ethernet.

Combining this machine with a Denon AVR-890 800 watt Surround Receiver, a Samsung 47" LED flat panel, a Sony Blu Ray player, and my wonderful old Celestion 9 speakers and we can do some serious rock and roll on the home entertainment center.

*Note: Hulu.com is only available for streaming content from within the United States.



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Narrow perspective

Doug.Roberts's picture

A home entertainment center only needs to have a TV tuner if people in the household watch broadcast/cable/satellite TV. Nobody in this house does. We save ~$600 per year since disconnecting DISH.

You're welcome to your tuner & DVR, please enjoy them. We don't need them in this house.


You do realize that broadcast TV is free, right?

ArtInvent's picture

Alright, maybe you don't watch any TV at all. I can see turning your nose up at cable and satellite, which are expensive. But why the attitude towards broadcast, which is free and in the case of public TV, commercial free as well? Not good with antennas?

It's free, if you are in range

Doug.Roberts's picture

I, like a large segment of the population here in the northern part of New Mexico, USA could not receive broadcast TV no matter how good an antenna I might install -- I'm too far away from any of the broadcast stations. Albuquerque, where the broadcasters are, is nearly 100 miles to the south of us.

However, you have misinterpreted why I disconnected from DISH: it is because my wife and I both happen to feel that 90+ % of American television is pure crap, and we saw no need to pay $600 per year for the privilege of watching it. We wouldn't watch it for free, either.

The few shows that we do enjoy are readily available on-line to us (living in the US as we do) by streaming providers such as Hulu, ABC.com, CBS.com, etc.

Why ditch TV Cable service?

mikesd's picture

There are shows not available on Hulu or even online really. WB won't allow The Mentalist or Big Bang Theory or 2 And A half Men to be on the CBS website, so with no TV service you miss out on shows like that. I think your howto is a little short sighted. And it should have a disclaimer that Hulu is American only or put in the title "A Linux Home Entertainment Center and Hulu".

That which does not kill me only postpones the inevitable.

The mentalist is a decent

a-non-amouse's picture

The mentalist is a decent show, but not being able to get 2 and a half men, or big bang, could be seen as an advantage.

I agree that 90% of us tv is crap, but There are some good shows, music, videos, etc that are available.

I'm thinking of getting a digital antenna, to see how much is available w/o cable.

I was just making the point

mikesd's picture

I was just making the point that some production companies don't allow their stuff to stream online.

That which does not kill me only postpones the inevitable.


Doug.Roberts's picture

I added a note that Hulu streaming content is only available from within the United States.

The solution...

Eduardo's picture

Hack the satelite ;-)


I've set up a Linux media

DoDigaro's picture

I've set up a Linux media centre already, using Ubuntu and XBMC. Unfortunately this limits me to XBMC when I'd *REALLY* like to be able to select Boxee or something else when the automatic login runs. I know you can choose your session, but you'd have to select it then and there - a remote can't move the mouse around!

A program that provides a simple menu (controllable via left/right on the remote) like you have in the first screenshot without all the rest of the desktop items would be perfect..


Doug.Roberts's picture


Have you looked at LIRC?


Not in any huge detail - it's

DoDigaro's picture

Not in any huge detail - it's installed and that's providing the up/down/left/right/enter commands, but it doesn't move the cursor by default (nor would I want it to, as that would mess up XBMC control!).

That's why I'm after a simple box with XBMC, Boxee and Gnome icons - selecting one would run the relevant session command for them and I'd be away! I've considered looking at doing something in Python, but I don't have enough spare time :(


Anonymous's picture

Seriously? It would take about 30 minutes to set up the option and remote buttons to enable you to switch between any of those applications via the remote.

Look up irexec. Then google switch between myth/xbmc and you'll be led to a site that even gives you the code and installation instructions to do it.

Linux PVR is totally customisable.

I love the smell of napalm in the morning

Doug.Roberts's picture

How refreshing, a flame war! I haven't seen a good flame war since, well, I don't know when!


If you read..

jshuford's picture

My initial response was not inappropriate, but critical! Perhaps it was a little strong?

Instead of reacting defensively please consider what I have stated.

Either way, by the time I finished reading your article I truly liked what I read, but like others had found it disappointing in that the only reference you made for on-line entertainment viewing was Hulu.

All I ask is that when you author an article, please consider your audience.

"A decent student of life knows and admits when s/he is wrong."

It seems...

jshuford's picture

The author probably should have had the courtesy of doing a little homework before submitting this article. Next time do a little homework for those users who are not in your circle.

BTW: "Tschüß, Liebling" would be the feminine expression!

Auf Wiedersehen

Ignorance is unbecoming

Anonymous's picture

Dear Mr. or Mrs. Shuford,

The aforementioned "Tschüß, Liebling" in no way implies a feminine reference. If I may observe, your churlishness is surpassed only by your ignorance of the German language. Hopefully your command of English is sufficient to understand this translation:

"See you later, dearie."

Which, frankly, I hope we don't.


jshuford's picture

Strangers say that to each-other? Maybe in Germany...

"See you later, dearie." is a German expression that the author probably heard his grandmother say to him!


Doug.Roberts's picture

My grandmother was from South Carolina. Not sure if she ever called me "dearie". Remind me again what this has to do with Linux home entertainment centers?


jshuford's picture

Maybe the "publication" you "work" for finds your articles informative and entertaining...perhaps.

Either-way "I" would be willing to suggest and editor or other person that could help you with your writing.

Instead of considering my initial response to your article and possibly acknowledging that "I" and several other "respondents" may have a point; you show your "true" self and argue with me! Too bad.

Should your employer desire a more competent and qualified writer, I can be reached at the below aforementioned address.

Have a nice day.

International Crybabies

Anonymous's picture

Poor babies! The author shows them how to build a home entertainment system and all they can do is complain that Hulu.com won't stream internationally. Life is so difficult!

I guess!

jshuford's picture

Friend of the author? I'll bet!

When you put together a "how-to" article at least have some sense of your audience and commit something in the article for them; duh! Writing 101.

Are you usually

Anonymous's picture

Dear jshuford,

Are you usually this helpless? And rude? And immature? How terrible for you!


A Friend of the Author (even though I don't know him, but I admire his patience and restraint while responding to your childishness).

This is why...

jshuford's picture

I would recommend your readers consider Linux Format magazine; as that publication has qualified writers and journalists working for it.

Anonymity has it's comforts doesn't it!


LF is a UK based mag while LJ

pbardet's picture

LF is a UK based mag while LJ is a US based one, therefore the Hulu reference. Sorry, but I've seen a lot of material in LF that does not apply at all to US/Canada readers. Maybe those qualified journalists/writers should rewrite those articles with us in mind !

Oddly enough...

jshuford's picture

I missed that...Linux Journal is written for the U.S. Market! How could I have possibly missed that?

Linux Format IS written with the International community in mind.

Please note that the Internet is NOT U.S.-centric!


LF does not publish anything

pbardet's picture

LF does not publish anything worth it on their web site ! Try to search great articles about PVR or entertainment centers, you won't find a thing. Do they have something to hide ? Oh no, they can't afford to give content for free, that would ruin their business plan.

As I said before I purchased the LF mag in the past and stuff about PVR or entertainment centers was always european centric (I'm actually nice - I should say UK-centric - they didn't care about non-english content, which is 80% or Europe). Satellites systems and available TV stations vary greatly in the world and it's impossible to take into account all situations.

But you'll prove me wrong in the next article you will send to LJ, as I suggested before. They'll be very interested in your great knowledge, mr Know-It-All, and they won't have any other choice than to publish it !

I don't know

Doug.Roberts's picture

Don't take this wrong, pbardet, but I think I love you.

Ok, seriously. This has been one strange flame-fest. I dared to mention Hulu dot com, and suddenly I am one great insensitive clod because the poor rest of the world is prohibited from streaming Hulu content.

Oh well, live and learn.

BTW, this jshuford cat is a *Serious* piece of work. I can't wait to see whatever rant he is preparing for his Brit publication.



pbardet's picture

... he just doesn't have a barrel of ink, but a cistern full of it ! I mean ink ;-)

By his brit publication, you mean his blog ?


Doug.Roberts's picture

I haven't seen it, but I'm sure it reflects his obviously high journalistic standards. Not to mention his obviously high ...

Um, never mind. Let's not go there.


Doug.Roberts's picture

Don't worry Carlie. Remember, any publicity is ... [remember how the rest of this goes?]


Doug.Roberts's picture

Don't worry Carlie. Remember, any publicity is ... [remember how the rest of this goes?]


Anonymous's picture

You would think that with your supposed "vast" experience that building a Linux HTPC wouldn't be so difficult!

Yeah, you probably worked in server rooms around the globe; as a janitor!

Thank you jshuford for showing the world that "Doug.Roberts" is a fraud and that Linux Journal is a toilet-mag at best!


jshuford's picture

Other-than showing your obvious ignorance to your international users I like your thinking. Unlike you I added a TV card and pay for the lowest basic cable package in my area ($20.00 per mo). With the addition of the TV card I have set-up my own DVR :P


Doug.Roberts's picture

I'll be sure to let my family in Germany know about my "international ignorance"!

Tschüß, Liebling!


jshuford's picture

We all know of someone somewhere; I don't think having relatives in Germany makes anyone an International!

Why don't you edit your original story and have it contain a few links for international users that are equivalent to Hulu?

I've spent plenty of time overseas

Doug.Roberts's picture

I was an oil consultant in Libya. I shuttled back & forth between Tripoli and Zug, Switzerland for a period. I suppose that means I should include some links to Arabic, German, French, and Italian streaming content along with the description of how I put my home entertainment center together. Well, Ok, here y'go:




jshuford's picture

Thank you.

Have you thought of trying

Anonymous's picture

Have you thought of trying Linux From Scratch? That way you can simply build the system and its operating system from the ground up.

Good for you

Michael Reed's picture

Good for you, Doug. I gave up watching broadcast telly in about 1997, and I can't imagine going back to tuning in to watch things at a set time.

UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.

Netflix doesn't work on Linux

Anonymous's picture

It appears there is a DRM problem with Netflix and it's not currently available. Moonlight seems to replace Microsoft's Silverlight, but Netflix still won't play. Any ideas when the problem will be fixed?

Any particular reason why you

Zachary Hodson's picture

Any particular reason why you did not use one of the media center distros like LinuxMCE or Mythbuntu?

Yes, there is a reason

Doug.Roberts's picture

I am a do-it-your-selfer. I frequently like building stuff from scratch, and I wanted to see how much work would be involved in building a Linux-based entertainment center.

Plus, I had *no* interest in doing any kind of traditional PVR TV solution; Hulu and other streaming online resources are all I need.


I have been thinking a lot

Zachary Hodson 's picture

I have been thinking a lot about doing this. I am a Gnome desktop type but I have been thinking KDE would be a good choice for this aesthetically and for some some of it's native stuff. How is it going for you?

Hey there, I guess KDE is

symbal's picture

Hey there, I guess KDE is like marmite; some love it, some hate it.

Personal experience does not favor KDE for any function, even eye candy being one. For how buggy and bloated it has become, not very suited to a home media system is it. On top of this, there are only 500 interlinked menu's to change any configuration settings.

From recently building a media centre based off a cut down Kubuntu, it even more recently got an overhaul to quite simply use:

- XDM, Very lightweight display manager
- Cairo-dock, superb launch bar
- For the eye candy, some elements of compiz

It runs like a rocket, flies like a rocket but, sexy as paris hilton.

Linux Mint

Doug.Roberts's picture

Actually, I'm going to reinstall the home entertainment system with Mint when I get the time. I've been running Mint on a couple of other systems and I think it is a better match for this use case because of all the out-of-the-box codec support. The KDE system works fine, but it took a bit more effort to configure than Mint does.



Anonymous's picture

Just wondered what case and power supply you got - was/is it noisy? Also, isn't it a pain having a wireless keyboard - is there no way to have an infrared or smart-phone wi-fi app that enables you to switch between audio/video and content rather than having to keep that hefty keyboad around? (They keyboard is great from a techie point of view, but the less tech-able in my family like simple point and click remotes!)


Doug.Roberts's picture


The power supply and case are listed as links in the article. The Antec BP550 supply is nearly silent. The fans in the Thermaltake LANBOX case do make a bit more noise than I would have preferred, but is acceptable. I could disconnect one of the fans, but it has not bothered me enough to do so.

I suppose I could set up some kind of infrared controller, but I actually like the keyboard: I must be one of those techie-types. I look at the keyboard as the ultimate remote control.


The same problem as in Canada

cracknel's picture

There are sites (like Hulu) that don't provide access from other countries but the US.

Here, in Europe, we can't get any of that Hulu goodness you are talking about :)

Hulu not "OPEN"

Luis Arce's picture

Hulu is a closed system only available in the US, it's a shame. We have to keep been slaves of cable and satellite companies.


A good solution but here is

HarryX's picture

A good solution but here is what we get in Canada

""Int-warning Sorry, currently our video library can only be streamed from within the United States "

There are other US web sites the have a similar message