This page defines what a Media Director (MD) is, what it does, how it fits in the LinuxMCE system, and how to select the components necessary for an enjoyable media experience.
What is a Media Director?
A Media Director (also known as a Media Station or Media Manager) is a PC which channels the audio and video content managed by the LinuxMCE system to the audiovisual devices which are connected to it. Media Directors (MD for short) are Home Theater PCs (HTPC) with outputs to connect to a television and to speakers. A MD can play all your streaming music and videos, whether from the Core, from network attached storage (NAS), or from other MDs in your system.
Media Directors and the LinuxMCE system
A LinuxMCE system is made of a single Core and multiple Media Directors. While it is possible to run the Core as a Media Director also, making it a hybrid Core/Media Director, you still need a dedicated Media Director for each room or entertainment area where you would like to receive the media. With multiple rooms, this results in multiple Media Directors present in the LinuxMCE system.
Each Media Director is connected to the LinuxMCE Core server through the home automation/multimedia LAN by its LAN port (NIC). It is also fitted with connections for the TV, stereo or other AV devices through which content is output to the AV devices connected to it. A Media Director PC needs LAN and A/V ports (such as VGA, HDMI, S-video or RCA jacks), and is generally located close to the viewing/listening area.
Media Director PC components
A Media Director is selected based on the quality of the images and sound it can produce, and the connections necessary for the A/V application. Choosing or building a PC that will be used as a Media Director must be done carefully with respect to the input and output capabilities of that PC. These demands are more easily met with a Media Director than with a Home Theater PC, since many of the functions of a standalone HTPC have been moved to the Core in a LinuxMCE system, reducing the hardware requirements of each Media Director, making the Media Director much less expensive than a Home Theater PC.
This section explains the role of each component, and gives you the understanding you need to select Media Directors.
Audio and video
Because media is served through the graphics and sound cards of the Media Director PC, it needs to have a good (nVidia) graphics card and a good sound card (e.g. with 5.1 or 7.1 outputs). Outputs to TV and stereo are directly from a Media Director, so quality output cards are needed.
The Core generally has the TV tuner card for the entire system. A Media Director does not typically need one.
A Media Director also provides the interface for input devices. Remote controls (USB-UIRTs, bluetooth devices, etc), in general, are connected to a Media Director.
While a dedicated core can be hidden in a closet or somewhere else, each Media Director is generally attached to a TV or entertainment center. As such, it has requirements similar to a Home Theater PC: it should be whisper-quiet (either with very quiet fans or a fan-less heat sink), have low heat emission (which usually implies low power consumption) and be small and unobtrusive (in a stylish case).
Unlike a Home Theater PC, the Media Director does not require a large storage capacity. Storage functions are provided by the Core (or hybrid), not the Media Director. You can, however, add storage to a Media Director, but it is not necessary since the Core carries the PVR and all network media storage functions for the entire system. Only the Core needs a large hard drive storage capacity.
It is important to note that video decoding takes place locally on the Media Director. It would be prudent to ensure that the processing power of the Media Director is sufficient for your media, be it standard definition or high definition content.
Media Director OS
A Media Directors does not require an OS. It can act as a thin client, netboot from the Core, and be fully operational within minutes.
You do not need to install any software on a Media Director, as long as you enable the Media Director to netboot LinuxMCE from the Core server.
Network booting is a capability that almost all PCs have. Through the BIOS setup on any PC, netboot can be enabled as the first bootup device. When this setting is chosen and the PC is rebooted, the PC will search the network for a boot image and boots that image as its OS (rather than the OS on the hard drive). In a LinuxMCE network, the Core provides the boot image over the network.
The local PC that functions as a Media Director is essentially a thin client to the Core. You can leave Windows, Fedora, or any other operating system you want on your PC's hard drive. When you want to use that PC as a LinuxMCE Media Director, enable netboot in the BIOS. When you want to use the OS that is stored on that PC's hard drive, reset the BIOS so that the hard drive is again the first boot device. (You can't do both at the same time.)
When LinuxMCE netboots, the software will not interfere with the software or operating system on the hard drive; it's like having 2 systems in one. You only have to install LinuxMCE software on one PC -- the Core -- and you can then have thin client Media Stations on PCs throughout the house. The whole process is fully automated and plug and play (whether or not you understand the concept of a netboot). The only technical thing you need to do is turn on netboot in the BIOS of a PC you want to use as a Media Director. Your PC manufacturer instructions should tell you how to change the BIOS settings.
Personal computing with LinuxMCE Media Directors
LinuxMCE Media Directors can be used as a Personal Computing devices running Kubuntu right on your TV. LinuxMCE is running Kubuntu Linux, complete with Office suites and all the programs you would need for everyday Personal Computing. See details on Personal Computing with LinuxMCE.
It is possible for the PC that functions as the LinuxMCE Core to also function as a Media Director. When a Core is also used as a Media Director, it is called a Hybrid.
You can use a Hybrid as a standalone Home Theater solution to start, and later add other Media Directors, with the option of having them netboot. A hybrid, like a standalone Core, will provide netboot images across a network. The UI (user interface) on all Media Directors looks exactly the same as the UI on the hybrid Core/Media Director. Just like a core, a hybrid should not be shut down (since it is acting as a Core). If you do, all the other Media Directors will stop working.
A Hybrid Computer performs all the Core functions and the Media Director functions also, so it needs to be capable and all the recommendations for Core and Media Directors hardware apply.