Linux MCE was designed as a "whole house" solution. If you're looking only for a media player solution, take a look at Mythbuntu.
I tried MythBuntu and MythDora. However, they're centered around MythTV which, if anything, is the last thing I want from my HTPC. My HDTiVo's fit the bill for that perfectly. Actually, GeeXBox comes pretty close to what I'm after (as far as it being just about playing media) but I don't think it's got a spiffy gryo-remote interface and also I don't think it does 1080i/p or play blu-ray.
If it wasn't that jemenake said that they may want to venture into other areas at a later date, I would have suggested a simple appliance-type box, like the Buffalo LinkTheater I (used to) use.
I have a LinkTheater, too. The problems with it are: 1 - No DVI/HDMI out, 2 - No internal hard drive for ripping DVD's, 3 - No upgrade option to blu-ray, 4 - No gyro mouse
Now, I hear what you're saying about MCE being a sledgehammer. In fact, I think, in my original post, I stated that I was awestruck with how much functionality it has. But the message I guess I'm hearing is "If you don't want to do all of the things that MCE can do, then go use something else.". And I guess I *would*, except for the fact that MCE claims to do the few things that I *do* want better than the other solutions (ie, gyro remote, 1080i, alpha-blending of menus on nVidia hardware). So, it would really be the nicest solution if I could just get MCE to pretend that it doesn't do all of those other cool things that it can do.
But, on a slightly more-general point, keep in mind that the title of my post started off with "first impressions". I'm telling/reminding you what it's like to go through the setup of MCE for the first time. You can choose to give those comments careful consideration, or you can just discount them as the whinings of a noob. It all depends upon whether you want MCE to grow its user-base or if you want it to remain the domain of the uber-techie folk. Now, I might stick it out and get MCE to do just what I want... or I might decide to just go with GeeXBox or something. But, if I stick it out (and you can decide for yourself whether or not it's unfortunate that someone has to resolve to "stick it out" in order to use your product), then visitors will see my HTPC and think it's really cool and they'll ask where I got it and I'll tell them that it's LinuxMCE but that I wouldn't recommend that they try it, because it's not for the marginally-technical nor the faint-of-heart. Or... I *won't* stick it out and I'll go with something else and, if someone asks me for my opinion on MCE, I'll tell them that, even for me (a linux sysadmin for 15 years), it's more hassle than it's worth.
Or, I guess the third option is that I'll decide to stick it out and, over the years, I'll become an expert at tweaking my MCE box and I, too, will forget what it was like to try installing MCE for the first time.... and someone will post that the install/config process could be made a little more intuitive and I might be the first to tell him to get lost and go use something else. But I'm not there, yet.... so I'm just letting you know, from the perspective of a long-time veteran of linux and of various networked media players (like the KiSS, the Buffalo, and the Gateway) and video transcoding and home-automation, what my initial reactions were when setting up MCE for the first time. What you do with that information is up to you.