Paid-for version: Microsoft Windows Media Centre
Open-source alternative: MediaPortal
MediaPortal is an open-source alternative to Microsoft's Media Centre and offers PVR functionality as well as management of all your videos, photos, music and radio stations. It runs on Windows and has the ability to display RSS feeds and weather information. The attractive GUI can be re-skinned with loads of free and professional-looking skins and a vast array of plugins written by the community extend functionality in loads of ways.
The Good: It's an extremely easy piece of software to use and looks and feels just like Windows Media Centre. For use as a living-room PVR and a media handler it's superb. More advanced users will appreciate the many layers of customisability offered, too. High-definition content is fully compatible as long as your PC is up to the job, so wiring your box up to that shiny new HDTV will be no problem.
The Bad: The software suffers a few bugs that could be something of a hurdle for newbies. It's in the advanced pre-release stages, meaning the team developing it hasn't deemed it suitable for general release, but it's well on its way. More tech-savvy users will work around any bugs they uncover, but technophobes may want to stick to Media Centre until a final release has been made.
Conclusion: MediaPortal is ideal for anyone who isn't afraid of looking at a program's preferences screen. If looking at settings confuses and scared you into a dark corner, stick with Microsoft's Media Centre for now. Otherwise, go grab yourself MediaPortal, because it's bloody marvellous.
Download it here: team-mediaportal.com