Home Theater PCs aka HTPC or media center PC are a must for any serious home theater setup. An HTPC is essentially a personal computer that is configured for a lot of storage and quality video playback. They also will have a more aesthetically pleasing case that will fit better in a home theater setup as opposed to a standard tower type case of a typical personal computer. HTPCs will also have specific software installed to help manage various forms of media like, videos, pictures and music.
There are really two types of HTPCs, a more storage oriented system often called media servers and a lightweight net top system.
- The more storage based system is, you f95zone guess it, used for storing most, if not, all of your media content. It is where the videos, music and pictures are held. This type of system is typically placed by your main television setup as it would be your base system where you manage all of your media files. These systems will often have at least a 1 terabyte hard drive; this will typically be an adequate amount of storage for the average user.
- The lightweight net top HTPCs are more of a peripheral device that you would place in a bedroom. These types of systems are built with as small of a case as possible, with the primary objective of being discrete. Net top HTPCs typically don’t have very much if any onboard storage, typically only enough to support the operating system. These are usually connected to the main HTPC or Media Server.
An HTPC can be used to consolidate multiple home theater components into one device. An HTPC can replace your Blu-ray or DVD player, your DVR, your receiver, and your entire rack of DVD and Blu-ray disks. Imagine having one set top device as opposed to 3 or 4 and getting rid of that huge rack of DVDs and Blu-ray’s. Aside from replacing the different home theater components an HTPC will also allow you to access various web applications like HULU, YouTube, Netflix and Amazon video on demand. There are other devices that will allow you to access some of these types of applications like an Xbox or Wii, however an HTPC does not limit you on which ones you can have access to. An HTPC also allows you to do some basic things like surf the web.
The next major component to your HTPC is the software. The software is really what drives how the HTPC functions. There are many options out there. My personal favorite OS is Windows 7. Windows 7 comes with Windows Media Center included. Windows Media Center is a very well built interface for an HTPC. The big downfall to Windows Media Center is the inability to play certain file types like. MKVs. However this is quickly remedied by installing an add on to WMC called MyMovies. MyMovies provides a great content management system as well as a codec pack to manage and play any type of movie you would like. Other OS’ can be used such as Linux based OS’ or Apple OS’. If you choose to run one of these operating systems, my recommendation is to install XBMC for the media center software. XBMC was originally media center software developed for the Xbox, but has since been open sourced and made to function on almost any OS.
The last piece of the puzzle is the peripherals, such as, a keyboard, mouse, and remote. There are a few options for your peripherals. You will need a keyboard and some sort of mouse solution, since an HTPC is essentially a computer. Obviously wireless is the way to go with the peripherals. Also my recommendation is to go with a keyboard – scratch pad combo like the, Azio Keyboard Wireless RF 2.4GHz Multimedia with Trackpad. This helps eliminate the need to have a separate mouse. If you do choose to go with a mouse, I would suggest something like an air mouse, Gyration makes quality air mice. You will also want to have a remote for your HTPC. If you chose to go with Windows as your operating system and using WMC you can get a remote that has a dedicated button for WMC, which launches the application with one push. The keyboard would typically be used to setup things on your HTPC; the remote will be what you use on a more regular basis as it will speed up your navigation of the HTPC.