Cable Boxes or HTPC+Extenders?
October 2, 2014 7:42 AM   Subscribe

That is the great debate I've come upon; my wife and I recently purchased our first home and are slowly getting used to having multiple rooms (just moved from a studio apartment), and we'll soon have multiple TV's. I'm expecting to grow from one TV to probably three in the next few weeks, but I cant decide if the HTPC Pro's outweigh the Con's, or if I should just pay the extra monthly fees for more boxes from Comcast. Help me decide.
posted by GuppieXX to Technology (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Htpc doesn't receive on demand, and you need to deal with cable cards, which cost money from Comcast(the card is free, but they add an outlet fee monthly, so its not actually free like their site says). And which windows media center extenders are currently supported(Xbox 360, Xbox one?). If you want to fiddle a lot you can probably get it to work, but the equipment outlay isn't cheap. And you may have to rescan for channels frequently after Comcast mucks with them and sends conflicting channel numbers in the metadata. And the wife will blame you for things not working instead of Comcast.
posted by TheAdamist at 8:08 AM on October 2, 2014

You can setup HTPCs *really* inexpensively. Lots of people build these huge, expensive machines, but I used an old HP Core2Duo machine I bought used for less than $100. I added a used SSD and a cheap video card and I was good to go for around $150.

That being said, how much are the extra boxes from Comcast? If the cable boxes are $5 a month or something, you're probably just better off going that route and getting a Roku or AppleTV for streaming stuff. It'll be less cost and hassle.
posted by cnc at 9:22 AM on October 2, 2014

It might help to know more about your viewing habits and needs, but here's my experience and general opinion.

I had a nice HTPC using Windows 7, meant mostly for the free DVR in Windows Media Center and streaming video. I got rid of it because I realized I was rarely using it. When I'm sitting at my TV I don't want to navigate a complicated interface and I don't want to deal with Windows Updates, software upgrades, etc. etc. (Maybe a different HTPC interface, like Boxee, would be different; I didn't want to put the time into exploring.)

Since then I've relied on a Roku and an AppleTV and have been much happier with both. A dedicated device is just less overhead.
posted by ejbenjamin at 9:39 AM on October 2, 2014

We have DirecTV boxes connected to each TV, but I invite you explore the other options first just due to cost and how much do you really need the cable hookup in those other rooms?

We have WDTV Media boxes in each room as well, but they go largely unused. We are about to try using Chromecast one one of them for Netflix and Youtube. We love the Chromecast in our main living area and it has almost entirely replaced the WDTV there.
posted by getawaysticks at 9:42 AM on October 2, 2014

We've also gone the streaming route, via Chromecast. this has two big advantages over htpc (which I've had in the past): 1) no loud ugly box near the tv; and 2) tablet/laptop/phones are our remotes, with much, much better interfaces for browsing. Chromecast >> WDLive, Xbox >> Boxeebox >>> HTPC. For the price and features, right now I can't see buying anything else but a Chromecast.

We still have a PC in the mix, but it's in another room, so no big box or fan noises. It's running a Plex server to stream our (ripped) dvd collection, as well as music and pictures to the TV. Some (most?) newer TV's have DNLA clients built in, but that means running a DNLA server, like twonky, somewhere anyway. Plex means you don't have to care about source format---it will transcode on the fly. DNLA means you have to have all your media in a format your tv can understand, typically mp4 and non-variable rate mp3. Streaming music via DNLA is particularly painful .

Finally, you didn't ask about it, but consider adding a decent sound solution to the TV. Buying a soundbar was one of our best living room upgrades ever.
posted by bonehead at 10:26 AM on October 2, 2014

You can setup HTPCs *really* inexpensively. Lots of people build these huge, expensive machines, but I used an old HP Core2Duo machine I bought used for less than $100. I added a used SSD and a cheap video card and I was good to go for around $150.

Yep, there's tons of boxes like this(which has hit ~$160 before) or the amd E1 based gateway systems that are a similar price.

Or even assemble yourself ones like this.

Or you can wait around for another deal like this.

You can run all kinds of fun things like XBMC, emulators, any streaming service(if you stick with windows), or you know... basically anything. You add in an HDhomerun type box and just go for it.
posted by emptythought at 11:10 PM on October 2, 2014

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