Stan's Chrome-Plated Tech Tips

Thursday, September 19, 2013


HTPC's - Why You'll Probably Want One

You probably don't even know what an HTPC is and what you're missing out on by having one of these magnificent beauties attached to your television.  Well fear not Dear Reader, for today's the first day of the rest of your life!

A Home Theater PC (HTPC for short) is your key to having the entirety of the Internet and all its glorious content at your disposal whilst connected to your beautiful HDTV and Surround Sound system.  With no restrictions either, I might add.  Sounds good doesn't it?  Yeah I liked the concept so much I'm in for 2!

Basically, we're talking about a typically small form-factor (SFF) computer, with an HDMI output that connects to your TV.  Throw in a wireless Keyboard or Remote, and there you have it.  Youtube.  Netflix.  Amazon. Hulu.  HBO.  Showtime.  Just about anything you can stream to your computer, you can now get on your TV.  Now while your connected devices like Roku, AppleTV, or various connected Televisions and Blu-Ray players typically can't easily display a lot of this content (to protect the Cable and Satellite monopolies), your HTPC can show you ANYTHING.  That's not even taking into account what the less-scrupulous of you can find online for free (it rhymes with shmeverything).

So how do you get one of these glorious things?  Glad you asked!  Well, in reality you probably already have one.  Most laptops and desktops of the last few years come equipped with HDMI ports that you can connect to your TV.  While that's not the most elegant solution, it'll mostly do in a pinch.  If you want to do this the right way, there are both off-the-shelf and custom built solutions out there for you.

Apple, and a handful of other name brands offer SFF PC's specifically geared towards the HTPC market.  If you want to really do it right and match the esthetic of your Home Theater setup, a customer setup is the way to go.  The beauty is that it won't cost you a arm and a leg because an HTPC doesn't need to be a supercomputer.  

First, pick a case that works for you.  Depending on the case, you need a motherboard and power supply fits.  An entry level i3 CPU is more than sufficient.  Add a motherboard with an HDMI output.  Then throw in around 4GB RAM.  Add a Solid State Drive in the 64GB range for storage (you can always add an external for a large media library).  Connect a combo wireless keyboard with a trackpad and you're basically set.  All in, you could build something in the $200-$400 range depending on the options you choose.  In any case, even at the least expensive in the range, you have far greater options than you get with a single function device like an AppleTV.

But they best thing about an HTPC is yet to come.  The writing's on the wall folks.  Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon are already lining up original content.  The major carriers offer streaming as a free "throw-in" to their service.  Live events (sports primarily) are still shaky, but they'll get there.  It's only a matter of time before the Cable and Satellite companies go the way of the dinosaur.  Don't believe me?  Ask a record, book, or video store about it.  What's that?  Can't find one?  Then you get my point.

As Always,

I'm not a Geek.  I'm your friend.  And I'm here to help.

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