So, it has been about a month and a half since I started using Media Portal. My experience has been very good (especially compared to the EVA8000, but there are several let downs that I want to cover.
Playing DVD from Hard Disk
I've been having a little difficulty with this one. I purchased a 500GB hard drive and ripped my DVD collection to it so that I don't have to change out disks, etc. to watch my movies. The problem is sometimes is that I'll get a little skipping now and then in the video. I don't know if this happens because it's an external HDD, because the video codec used is flaky or is it Media Portal itself? I've tried switching the MPEG decoder a couple of times and it sometimes seems to work, but I haven't been able to pin it down. DVDs played from disk seem to play OK (though admittedly I don't this very often), so maybe it isn't the codec. Nevertheless, it can be annoying at times.
Media Portal hasn't been designed to be fully configured while inside the application itself. There are a limited set of config items that can be toyed with, but all the useful options are configured through an external configuration program. Typically there aren't many things that I want to tweak with, but when I do, it kills the user experience to have to walk to my server and mouse through everything. This especially is annoying when it comes to adding updated EPG data for watching TV. Because Electronic Programming Guide data is closely held here in the United States, Media Portal can't just pull it down from the Internet to update its data. This is further frustrated by the fact that Media Portal doesn't automatically update itself when the data is manually copied to its XMLTV folder. I already have an automation scheme setup to download the EPG data from the Internet for free, but Media Portal offers no exposed service to import that data, except through its cumbersome configuration application.
I'd have to say that the biggest lure for this software is the ability to record TV. I have yet to get it to work. I can watch TV perfectly enough, but for some reason, the whole TV functionality goes kaput when I try to record or otherwise time shift.
Media Portal's next stable release went to release candidate 1 back in June. Since then, 2 RCs have been released, both making major development changes to the code base. What does this mean? Lack of stability and priority. Maybe it's a conflict of development semantics, but release candidates are suppose to be feature complete that may necessitate minor (note: minor) tweaks and fixes. The last RC that came out last week had a complete rewrite of the music database. What?! This coupled with other changes makes for a very unstable experience and calls into question the leadership of the project. Let's get a product whose current features are polished (as in no bugs), so that we have a stable base to add more functionality in the next release.
Lemme guess what you're thinking. You think that I'm trying to tell you not to use Media Portal. That couldn't farther from the truth. Aside form the bad luck I've had the the TV side of things, Media Portal beats Windows Media Center hands down. Seriously. Its interface is much cleaner, intuitive, faster, and extensible. But the best part of it all is it's free.
UPDATE 4 NOV 2007 12:27
I decided to be a little adventurous and installed the latest TV Engine 3 beta, Meida Portal RC3 and the latest SVN update. I have had no problems getting it going. The only thing that I can see right off the bat is that the quality of the TV output isn't as good. I'll be looking to see if I can adjust that at all. The picture seems a little fuzzy, but other than that it does well AND I can record/timeshift. I'm going to hold out a little bit until I let the 'Mrs.' know because I don't want her going crazy with recording TV shows since I'm getting low on disk space.