As a media center that justs plays back your dvds or video files and music it is pretty easy to get set up. I would recommend using Freevo (which has pre-compiled packages for all the major distros.) It's pretty easy to configure, just a matter of editing a few lines of python code to get your directories set (there are extensive docs on the freevo site.) If you want a little more, I would recommend using MythTV which does everything. It's basically a Tivo on steroids plus a media center and then some. It, however, is notoriously hard to configure for novices. There is a distro called KnoppMyth that makes the install and configuration a breeze. It is designed to be used on a standalone box just serving media to your TV, which is I think what you want. Personally, I am getting ready to build a mini-itx machine with a wintv pvr 350 running ubuntu-server and mythtv purely for the (more extensive) functionality I can get instead of a single-purpose machine.
i'm trying to build a media center pc but i dont want to use windows xp media center edition. do you guys know of any very user-friendly linux distributions that are built specifally for media center use? the ps3 is basically a media center and i heard it was running off linux. is there anything similar that i could use for a pc? (a slick and modern GUI, much like the ps3, would be cool). thanks in advance