Although you can run your HTPC media player straight from the operating system. Opening files and running movies from Windows or Linux using a standard mouse or keyboard, but running a dedicated media front-end with a TV friendly interface that organizes your media is so much better..
So these are the best front-end software applications that can do the job.
Windows Media Center
WMC has been the front-end of choice for many home theater PC enthusiasts for many years since it's release in 2001. It helped that it came with every windows PC of course.
Windows Media Center is easy to use and offers compatibility with many TV tuner cards and also offers DVR recording options to save live TV on hard drive. You have to get the right version though, as Windows Media Center 12 and above no longer supports DVD playback. But you can still download a separate DVD playback update.
When Windows 8 was released, Microsoft only offered Windows Media Center as an optional download. Although it's a bit more basic and may require codec downloads to play certain file, WMC is still a great front-end.
XBMC is the number one media center and an excellent front-end that started life as the Xbox Media Center which made watching movies on Microsofts console easier. The coders then bagan developing the software for computers and other platforms as an open source free product, XBMC is an excellent HTPC front end that supports almost every file format and standard you can throw at it. Installing and configuration are easy and you just need to point it to your folders that contain movies, tv shows, music and pictures
XBMC runs on pretty much every platform from PC, consoles, smartphones and even the raspberry Pi. XBMC can be customized with different skins and looks and is a fantastic piece of software that you need to own.
XBMC with OpenELEC
For many people who want a super quick loading and slimmed down OS for quick loading. An XBMC and streamlined Linux combo is available called OpenELEC, the Open Embedded Linux Entertainment Center is free and can be installed in literally a few minutes,and uses a mere 125MB or less of space. This allows you to run from a simple USB flash drive.
MediaPortal is an offshoot of xbmc and offers a similar HTPC front end. But it does require a bit more setting up to get it fine tuned. It can stream to mobile devices and remote access control from a mobile device.
After downloading, installing and running MediaPortal you select interface preferences, media locations, and so on. Once everything is properly configured, the MediaPortal application will launch and display the home screen, which can be navigated using either a supported remote or a traditional mouse and keyboard, depending on which plug-ins you download and install from the MediaPortal website.
MediaPortal is completely skinnable and offers a number of advanced features, like streaming to mobile devices. It’s a bit more resource heavy than XBMC.
Plex is a front-end that is better suited to using in a home network environment where several computers or devices can run the media from a central server along with Plex player apps. The Plex server software handles media playback whilst the Plex player gives access to files from any other device such as PC, phone, tablet or streaming box.
Plex plays pretty much any file thrown at it and offers remote access to media using the internet, itt's only downside is that it is complicated to set-up correctly and is more resource hungry than xbmc.