Is it worth building an HTPC?
October 7, 2013 9:20 AM   Subscribe

After reading this Coding Horror post and seeing some news about Dolphin emulator releasing 4.0, I've been pondering building an HTPC for media & gaming purposes, but I keep getting a lot of mixed signals as to ease of use & software quality. Is it really worth the time, money, and effort?

This somewhat ties into the fact that my current desktop machine serves as little more than a file server -- I rarely use it for actual computing any more since it's not powerful enough to run any recent games (and in fact it's not even hooked up to a monitor right now). I currently have a jailbroken Apple TV (v2) running XBMC and do my Netflixing & whatnot through that, and have been thinking that I could build a new HTPC that would serve as a file server/media consumption device/gaming machine, but am I overdoing it? Would I be better off just buying a Roku or waiting until Steam Boxes come out or just sticking with the Apple TV, or should I indulge my inner nerd's desires to build a new box?
posted by zempf to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I've tried XBMC, Roku, and Apple TV.

In the end, it's really tough to beat a Win 7 machine with one of these remotes.

You've got all the power and possibilities of a full fledged PC and you can run XBMC or whatever other front end you want that can use a standard remote.

I've never understood the appeal of the media-driven and limited HTPCs people rave about. I guess if you have people unfamiliar with technology around it might be nice, but otherwise it seems a bit silly to me.

Also, these barebones kits (just throw in an hdd, ram, and an i3 proc) are reliable and quiet. No need for a dedicated video card with HD4000 integrated graphics. Unless you want to seriously game.
posted by lattiboy at 9:26 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it's work thinking about a NAS media server---perhaps turning your old computer into such---and a cheap set-top box, like an Apple TV or something to run the media console.

I'm currently experimenting with the OUYA in this role. It looks promising as a media player (using PLEX and sideloaded apps), but I'm not sure it's totally there yet.
posted by bonehead at 9:39 AM on October 7, 2013

The attractiveness of HTPC's come down to the great flexibility that the platform offers, including ripping out and replacing components as desired - or not.

I have no regrets at all for making the plunge a few years ago - but it certainly isn't for anyone who isn't willing to tinker to get an optimum setup for the particulars of your situation.

In your case as a file server / media consumption / gaming machine IMHO an HTPC would be the way to go.
posted by scooterdog at 9:51 AM on October 7, 2013

I used to have a PIA window 7 HTPC. I traded it all in for the following and haven't looked back:

I have a Zyxel NSA325M for backend storage / BT downloading and a Western Digital TV Live Plus.

I love this so much:
* NAS stores all my files
* Had built-in RSS Feed bit torrent downloader with scheduler
* WD Live Plus plays every codec imaginable
* Nothing ever breaks
* My 4 year old can use it

I will take a look at steam boxes when it comes out, as I do miss the gaming component of my setup. WD Live Plus does have games, but they are flash/web type only.
posted by bleucube at 10:17 AM on October 7, 2013

There are two rough philosophies about low-power small-footprint computing: one is to go with a NAS for semi-dumb storage (offering DLNA and CIFS and Bonjour and so on) and then hook into it with a thinnish client, whether it's a console or an Apple TV or whatever you have at your disposal. The other is a full-featured HTPC with a big lump of storage and a display out to the TV.

If you want a DIY Steambox, running high-end PC games on your TV, then the HTPC route is probably the one to take.

I'm intrigued by the forthcoming NUC from Intel, which is a more expensive option than the usual HTPC barebones, but fits as a low-profile replacement for a desktop machine that's now sitting idle because the bulk of its storage has been offloaded to a NAS.
posted by holgate at 12:26 PM on October 7, 2013

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