It’s no secret that streaming devices and Smart TVs have taken over the market in recent years. You may wonder, are HTPCs still worth building? HTPCs are great for media enthusiasts and for those with the time or money to put into their entertainment project. For all others, a set top box or streaming device may be the way to go for simplicity.
In this article, we’ll explore the reasons why HTPCs are still a valuable option for media enthusiasts and the advantages an HTPC has over a streaming device or a Smart TV.
What Is an HTPC?
An HTPC, or Home Theater PC, is a computer that is designed to be used as a home theater system. An HTPC can be used to watch and record live TV, stream movies and TV shows, and even play video games. An HTPC could provide cost savings, but it’s mostly used to offer a more personalized and powerful media experience.
The viability of HTPCs has only grown since there are many form factors that can fit nicely in your living room. Not only that, HTPCs have also become a little cheaper as well.Similarly to standard PCs, you can purchase or build HTPCs at different price points to accommodate your wants and needs.
How Is an HTPC Different from a Streaming Device or Smart TV?
An HTPC is different from a streaming device or Smart TV in a few ways. First, an HTPC can be customized to your specific needs, while a streaming device or Smart TV is designed for the general public. Additionally, an HTPC can be used to play games and act as a media server, while a streaming device or Smart TV cannot. Finally, an HTPC requires an initial investment and regular maintenance, while a streaming device or Smart TV does not.
Some examples of streaming devices include:
Advantages of an HTPC
Some advantages of an HTPC over other options include a more powerful streaming experience and more personalized design. Furthermore, some interactions like web browsing are far better in your living room with a mouse, keyboard or touchpad than with constant button clicking on your Apple TV.
Also consider playing video games on the big screen and streaming your movie or TV collection to other devices in your house. Here’s the full list of HTPC advantages:
- More Powerful Streaming Experience: One of the biggest advantages of an HTPC is the fact that it can offer a more powerful streaming experience. With an HTPC, you can install powerful media center software like Kodi, which gives you access to a vast library of streaming content. You can also install plugins for Kodi that give you access to even more content, such as live TV channels and movies.
- More Personalized Experience: An HTPC can also offer a more personalized experience. With an HTPC, you can customize the interface to match your personal preferences. You can also install custom skins and add-ons that allow you to further customize the look and feel of your HTPC.
- Can Serve as a Home Entertainment Center: An HTPC can also serve as a complete home entertainment center. With an HTPC, you can watch live TV, stream movies and TV shows, play video games, and even listen to music. An HTPC can also be used to record live TV, so you can watch your favorite shows even if you don’t have a cable subscription.
- Can Save You Money in the Long Run: An HTPC can also save you money on your monthly expenses. If you cancel your cable subscription and use an HTPC for your streaming needs, you can save a significant amount of money each month. Plus, an investment in an HTPC now will yield use over several gaming console and streaming box generations.
- More Flexible Hardware Options: With an HTPC, you have more flexibility when it comes to the hardware you use. You can choose to use a powerful desktop computer, or you can opt for a smaller and more compact HTPC case. You can also choose to use a variety of different operating systems, such as Windows, Linux, or even Mac.
- Can Be Used as a Media Server: An HTPC can also be used as a media server. With an HTPC, you can store all of your media files on the computer’s hard drive or point to a NAS and stream them to any device that is connected to the HTPC or over your wireless network. This can be a great way to save space on your other devices, such as your smartphone or tablet.
- Can Be Used to Play Games: An HTPC can also be used to play games. With an HTPC, you can install a variety of different emulators that will allow you to play classic video games. You can also install Steam on your HTPC and play a variety of PC games directly from your HTPC box or stream it directly from your gaming PC in your other room using Steam Link.
Disadvantages of an HTPC
An HTPC requires an initial investment and regular maintenance, so it may not be worth the trade-off for the positives. Here’s the full list of HTPC disadvantages:
- Requires Initial Investment: One of the biggest disadvantages of an HTPC is the fact that it requires an initial investment, whether that be money or time. Depending on your needs, this can be a significant investment, and it may not be worth it for everyone.
- Can Be Complex to Set Up: Another disadvantage of an HTPC is the fact that it can be complex to set up. If you are not familiar with computers, it can be difficult to get your HTPC up and running. There is also a learning curve associated with using an HTPC, and it may take some time to get comfortable with the interface and tuning of software.
- Requires Regular Maintenance: An HTPC also requires regular maintenance. You will need to keep your HTPC up-to-date with the latest software and drivers. You will also need to perform occasional maintenance tasks, such as cleaning the computer’s case and dusting the components.
- May Not Be Compatible With All Devices: An HTPC may also not be compatible with all of your devices. If you have a device that does not support HDMI, you will not be able to use it with your HTPC. Additionally, some devices may not be compatible with the software that you use on your HTPC. This also includes changes to compatibility with processors and operating systems – see newer Intel chips don’t support UHD Blu-rays anymore for more information.
- Can Be Difficult to Troubleshoot: An HTPC can also be difficult to troubleshoot. If you are having problems with your HTPC, it can be difficult to determine the cause. Additionally, if you need to replace a piece of hardware, it can be difficult to find a readily available compatible replacement.
Ways to Build Your Own HTPC With Hardware
Having a PC in the living room is more practical now than it ever was. Cases and components are now in smaller form factors and peripheral companies like Corsair, Logitech, Razer, SteelSeries, and Valve have broken into the living room space with lapdesk mice, keyboards, and touchpads.
With this new availability of suitable parts, gamers and media enthusiasts have 3 different options when looking for an HTPC:
- Build one yourself with new parts or repurposed old parts that are lying around your house.
- Buy a micro PC and designate it as your media box.
- Buy a custom PC built to order by a reputable PC vendor.
If you are comfortable with computers and are willing to invest the time and money into building your own HTPC, then you can build it yourself. This avenue is recommended for the up-and-coming HTPC enthusiast as you will learn a lot and you will get the best price to performance ratio.
The best part is, you don’t have to procure all of the best parts. You can build with what you have or what you can afford and swap out the parts as you are comfortable upgrading. If you are interested in building your own HTPC, there are a few things you will need to consider.
- First, you will need to go over what you will be using your HTPC for.
- Then, decide what components you want to include in your HTPC. There are many different components available, and you will need to select the ones that best suit your needs.
- Additionally, you will need to decide on a operating system. Windows and Linux are the two most popular operating systems for HTPCs.
- Finally, you will need to select a software package or front end. Kodi is a popular choice for HTPCs, and it is free.
One caveat here, smaller PC builds are more difficult to plan around and find perfect fit components. Be careful on how small you go when trying to build or customize an HTPC.
Should You Build an HTPC?
If you are not familiar with computers or are not willing to invest the time and money into building an HTPC, it may not be the best option for you. Streaming boxes consume less power, wake up almost instantly, and are more user-friendly than a regular computer.
However, if you are willing to put a little effort into getting better quality of service and options for entertainment despite the advent of streaming devices and Smart TVs, HTPCs are still worth building. An HTPC can offer a more personalized and powerful streaming experience, and can even double as a home entertainment center.
Even though HTPCs have some disadvantages, they are still a good option for those interested in centralizing their media options.
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Roy is the leading content creator here at Home Theater Heroes. He is as passionate about planning a home theater setup as building it. He blogs about IT, cybersecurity, business, and more at Davis Tech Media.