An HTPC (Home Theater PC) can be defined as a personal computer whose main objective is to be used as a core media device in a home theater.

In this blog series I will attempt to address and explore building a home theater PC from scratch. In this scenario I am faced with many hardware and software choices that will ultimately decide the outcome of my HTPC.

As we all know there are many of the shelf products that are advertised as an HTPC in a box from Boxee Box By D-Link to the Apple TV. While these products offer a ready made solution, they lack flexibility and the end user is bound to the native interface on these boxes. In many aspects they are another flavor of a networked DVD player or a cable set top box. On the other hand, when building an HTPC it can be easily fine tuned to the user needs and even used as a generic PC as well as an HTPC.

What are the main distinctive elements of an HTPC versus a generic PC? Many considerations come into effect when building an HTPC. A list of these considerations is hardware price, case size, power consumption and audible noise, video and audio quality, latest media player, ease of access and integration with the home theater and multimedia software.

Hardware Price: The magic equation here is performance vs price. We want to build a machine that is good enough to play good quality media without breaking the bank. We don't want to buy the latest and greatest hardware, we just want to buy the right hardware for this use case.

Case size and looks: We would like to get the smallest form factor that will fit all the chosen hardware components. We want to avoid a big box that takes over the precious shelf space in the home entertainment. Also we would like a nice looking box that fits in with the other components.

Power consumption and audible noise: The higher the power consumption, the louder the system is. High power consumption requires more efficient cooling to dissipate the heat as a result. More cooling requires fans to spin at a higher speed resulting in louder noise. Fan-less systems are highly desired. If we are not able to achieve a Fan-less system we would like only one fan with speed control.

Video and Audio quality: The two most important hardware pieces that have an impact on video and audio are the CPU and the Video card. We don't want an overkill CPU nor an overkill Video card. At the same time we want a CPU and a video card that support the latest media standards such as the latest high definition video and audio outputs.

Latest media Player: We would like to include a blu-ray player, possibly one that can play 3D.

Ease of access and integration with the home theater: We would like this HTPC to integrate with our existing home theater. As an example integrate with the existing universal remote control to power on and off. An introduction of a mouse and keyboard will not break this rule as the majority of universal remote controls do not embed a mouse or a keyboard.

The Multimedia software: A computer without software is as good as a car without an engine. It will not take us anywhere. The bad news is that we have lots of software choices to make from the operating system to the software media controllers. The good news is that we can always change our mind and install a different software. That is the beauty of the HTPC, we are not at the mercy of a single company and we have a better choice. Customization is very important and the software is selected based on the multimedia needs. Obviously we can't explore all scenarios but we should be able to walk through one or two possibilities.

To be continued...
In Part II we will go through the hardware choices and the cons and pros of these choices.