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Home theatre distros group test

Which one of these home theatre distros should you be using?

We narrow down the very best home theatre distros out there to make your choice a little easier.

OSMC

Available from: https://osmc.tv/

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Ease of use

While OSMC has a different look to the default (and probably best) Kodi theme, it’s essentially the same in terms of moving through the menus. There’s also a specific ‘My OSMC’ menu with extra settings and system information not found in the normal Kodi settings menu, although it could use more work on the UX.

Compatibility

It’s built on Kodi so has all of Kodi’s excellent playback and codecs. You can throw any type of media at it and it will most likely be able to play it and even access any other features it has, like subtitles or language tracks to name just a few. It also has a fine selection of PVR and web-content apps to use as well.

Speed

On the Raspberry Pi 2, OSMC runs extremely well with none of the small hitches and bits of lag that are common with Kodi on the original Raspberry Pi. It loads fairly quickly as well, although the update software can slow down the interface while it’s running, sometimes as far as not registering input for a few moments, which is annoying but
not really detrimental.

Updates

OSMC has its own updating software that you can set on a schedule and, with the speed section in mind, it is best to aim for a time when you won’t be using it. However, you can also do it manually if there is a new build that you absolutely need right now.

Overall

OSMC needs a little more work before it really becomes a proper alternative to the likes of OpenELEC – or even its predecessor Raspbmc. Keep an eye on it over the next year though, as there’s a lot of potential.

7/10

XBian

Available from: http://www.xbian.org/

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Ease of use

One of the most noticeable things missing from Kodi is a decent setup wizard. Recent versions have added some quick screens to help you navigate the interface better, but when you have to go digging in menus to set up the Wi-Fi for the first time, it gets frustrating. XBian provides an excellent first-time setup wizard along with the rest of Kodi’s otherwise great UX.

Compatibility

Again, with a full Kodi base XBian runs absolutely everything, or at least everything that matters to the vast majority of media consumers. We briefly mentioned the web services in the OSMC part of this group test; this includes YouTube (albeit a little rough) and other video services, podcast apps, RSS feeds and more.

Speed

XBian is probably the slowest to load up out of the three Kodi implementations in this test – the difference is not much in the grand scheme of things, but when OpenELEC launches pretty instantly, it’s a much more noticeable lag. Otherwise, interface navigation is fine and playback is nicely optimised.

Updates

You can actually update XBian from the setup wizard, and when it’s updating, the interface works just fine. It also has a scheduling feature like the others and lets you choose which packages to update. It gives a verbose updating screen which is basically just apt’s output when you choose manual update, letting you know exactly what’s going on.

Overall

XBian is great, with a straightforward first-time setup that won’t have you digging around other menus. Though there is a slight delay in loading it up from boot, the otherwise great Kodi experience is worth it.

9/10

OpenELEC

Available from: http://openelec.tv/

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Ease of use

OpenELEC is basically pure Kodi, meaning the same great Kodi UX is part of the package. It also has a small setup wizard that enables you to activate some extra options on first boot, although once again, you may have to dig through menus to get to wireless network settings. OpenELEC’s custom settings menu is also much more in-line with the rest of the interface.

Compatibility

When a core software feature is the same on three pieces of software, it’s difficult not to repeat ourselves. If you haven’t already gathered from the first two reviews in this group test, Kodi is great in this regard and we love it. We still love it even after having to write about it for the third time in two pages!

Speed

OpenELEC starts up probably the fastest of the lot, and otherwise has the excellent Kodi interface speed when used on the Raspberry Pi 2. The latest versions of OpenELEC are optimised for the new processor so you get none of the lag experienced on the old one, especially after scraping all of the assets for your shows.

Updates

There’s a special updating system that OpenELEC employs to keep your software up to date; similar to the others, it’s on a schedule and you can also perform a manual one if you wish. It’s not quite as verbose as XBian when doing it manually, but it does work very well and it’s useful to have both options available.

Overall

OpenELEC is still the best ‘default’ packaging of Kodi for embedded systems and other computers, but due to the extras XBian adds, it feels lacking in comparison now. Still, if you’re already using it there is little reason to change.

8/10

Raspbian

Available from: https://www.raspbian.org/

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Ease of use

Raspbian is great – it really is – but it’s not optimised for use on your TV particularly well. Sure, the newer menus have bigger icons and such, but it’s far better suited for a desktop environment. The best way to play video without installing Kodi is through the command line, which makes it even less user friendly.

Compatibility

Some more basic, open formats such as AVI and MP4 work just fine in both the command line video player (OMXPlayer) and the basic installation of Kodi that you can set up. However, you need to start hunting down other codec packs to play anything else on Kodi itself. OMX doesn’t work with normal remotes either.

Speed

The slowest to load and the slowest to set up, although navigating traditional web services is a lot faster than with some of the hacked-together apps available for Kodi. Still, it’s slow for its core media-playing purpose, even in an installation of Kodi, due to the rest of the bloat inherent with the unoptimised system.

Updates

All handled via the command line in the standard desktop, while it’s good and thorough and will probably have the most updated software of the bunch, it’s a little more tricky to access as it has to be via the command line and will also update software you probably don’t even want for the purposes of a HTPC.

Overall

Raspbian is really unsuited to your HTPC needs. It’s not designed to either, but it was interesting to see if the extra UX considerations that were added this year made it more suitable for the task. Unfortunately, they didn’t.

5/10

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