When you think of a home cinema system, you will probably think of an HDTV connected to some other components like a speaker system, media player, AV receiver, and other components. You have your remote control operating everything and things should be fine when you want to watch movies or enjoy interactive content. But if you are not yet ready to get all of those components, you can still create a solid home cinema system just by getting a single component which is the home theater PC or HTPC. This is basically an ordinary computer that is optimized for playing back media. Since that is the purpose alone, the specs are basic in order to keep a small form factor.
Choosing a Home Theater PC
Manufacturers in the PC industry are very competitive HTPC market and since you will see familiar brands like Acer, ASUS, and Zotac, choosing an HTPC is very similar to choosing an ordinary PC. The specifications that you should worry most about are the CPU and GPU. Slower systems are good if you are not planning to go the 1080p route because they consume far less power and rarely heat up. But the new models sport dual core CPUs and still maintain low voltage so you should consider those. For optimal video playback, the GPU also plays a role and going for a system with NVIDIA or AMD (ATI) graphics can give you a smoother experience at higher resolutions. While integrated graphics solutions are catching up, you get a better gaming experience if you stick with NVIDIA or AMD. Don’t forget to check the online reviews too if you find yourself choosing between multiple potential candidates.
Using Regular PC into a Home Theater PC
If you have an old or unused computer, you might not have to buy a separate HTPC unless you really need the energy and space saving features. All you need to do is check what GPU your home cinema PC is using. If there is a video card inside, example the ports and see if it is possible to hook it up to your display. Older TV models have an S-Video port or D-sub which lets you output video from the computer. However, it is best to use the HDMI port so you can use the TV’s speakers without needing an extra cable. If you do not plan to do some hardcore gaming, you can get an inexpensive low-end graphics card with an HDMI port and you are all set. With that graphics card alone, your system should be far more powerful than the average HTPC.
Getting the Accessories
One advantage of having a traditional home cinema system is the ease of use. You do not have to turn on a system and wait for it to load and you won’t have to use a keyboard or mouse to navigate through the interface. But you can make interaction much easier if you buy accessories like a remote or mini keyboard. As long as the manufacturer advertises the particular accessory as an HTPC accessory, you should check it out and see the reviews if it really adds convenience.
Once your HTPC is all setup, you can freely install programs like media players, frontends, and other useful Internet applications so you can make the most out of your minimal home theater setup.