Home Theatre PC Guide
Posted on: 04/02/2005 06:00 AM

Before I start into my conclusion, let's take a look at some pretty scenery to set the mood.


Picture taken from pounder's member gallery at HTPCnews.com

This is what it's all about, people. Comparing the HTPC with the VCR is like comparing a truck with a horse and wagon. It can do so much more for you. Want to pause live TV? Go for it. Want to grab the local weather or national news? No problem. Care to flip through your picture library? Easily done. How about playing a game of Doom 3 on the big screen? Easy as pie.

When you work in IT and you're pounding away on workstations and servers all day, every day... sometimes the love for computers and what they can do starts to wane. I've fallen prey to this myself over the years. The innovation of the HTPC gave me a jump start, so to speak. It was something that really excited me again and that was why I set out to write this article. I knew when I set out on the journey that it was going to be a long one, but the amount of words I've managed to share with you all has even surprised myself.

The hardware side of the HTPC equation is a relatively easy one to solve. The prices of components has decreased so much over the last couple of years that building an additional PC from scratch really doesn't involve a significant investment. The impatient can VISA an entire computer today and be able to pay it off in a couple of months if need be. If you've read this article and you decide to build your own HTPC, first take the time to assess what spare parts you may already have sitting in static bags. While the desire will probably be there to run out and buy something with a lot of juice, it really isn't required. You might be able to add a new toy and save yourself a lot of money by recycling hardware you already own. The most important component in my opinion is going to be your capture card. Take some time, do the research and don't be cheap. If I was buying one today, I'd probably opt for the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR500MCE. It has two tuners on the one card and it's not really that expensive.

The question regarding which software package (and operating system) to use will definitely be the harder one to answer. If you're a Linux geek and you refuse to use anything created by evil Microsoft, then the decision is an easy one. MythTV is the most fully-featured HTPC application available for the Linux world (that I'm aware of, anyways). If you're more at home with Microsoft's "Start" button at your finger-tips, you have several quality options to choose from.

If you're just looking for an application to schedule and record Live TV and you like to tweak and play around with video encoding, Snapstream's BeyondTV could very well be the best option for you. It's the least expensive Windows application that we tested at 69.99 USD and it really does work quite well.

A large number of you may want a more fully-featured HTPC application, but have already purchased a license for Windows XP and don't feel like spending more money on another complete operating system solution (MCE2005). In that event, you'll want to take a look at Frey Technologies' SageTV, which is available for 79.95 USD. The SageTV community is strong and they're putting together some professional plugins for the application that add functionality and improve the look and feel.

There are other people who love eye-candy and ease of use and don't mind spending a little extra money on hardware and software. For this fortunate group of people, Microsoft's Media Center Edition 2005 is available. It is the most polished and elegant application that we've tested and it does work exactly as advertised, even if it doesn't have all of the features that some of the competition does. You can purchase it online from NewEgg.com for 131.95 USD without the MCE remote (this can be purchased for an additional 40 USD). If you or your business is already paying for an MSDN subscription, you can obtain a copy of it that way too.

You're probably waiting for me to tell you which application I plan on using in my HTPC. When I started using MCE2005, I immediately fell in love with its smooth look and feel and the fact that I can access online services like ESPN Motion and MSNTV. That said, I'm quite impressed with MythTV and as someone who's been knee-deep in the Linux world for the better part of a decade, it seems like the logical choice. Over the next month, I'm going to continue using my two test PCs: one running the MCE2005 evaluation version and the other running MythTV. Hopefully by then I'll be in a better position to decide whether or not I want to shell out the 130 USD on MCE2005 or if I'll take the geekier path and put MythTV into production.

Thanks for reading today. I know it was quite a commitment to make it through these 21 pages, but I hope it was of some value to you.

Jim Kirk

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