What is HTPC? It is a Home Theater Personal Computer (HTPC) which basically a PC plugged into an HDTV-Home Theater System. It has with specialized hardware that enables you to plug in different cable types (Media Players like Blu Ray Players, TV Cable, etc) a specialized software that supports all kinds of media formats, allowing the user to watch videos and listen to music without facing unsupported format errors.
It may sound very similar to Media Center/Media Player but the HTPC has far more capabilities since it isn’t restricted by its Software. The HTPC also allows the user to browse the internet and play video games. With the proper hardware, software and accessories, anyone can turn their PC into an HTPC simply by connecting it to their Home Theater System, if you use Steam, then with the Steam Big Picture mode, you (kind of) got yourself a Steam Machine.
Why Use HTPC?
Simply put, you are plugging your PC to a Home Theater; You are upgrading from your headphones and 24” monitor to a 7.1 Surround Sound Speaker System and a 60” HDTV. With the proper software and accessories, you can browse the Internet, play video games, watch videos, listen to music on a bigger screen and multi-channel speakers. With select hardware, the user can even plug in the TV Cable/Satellite Cable and watch ‘normal’ TV via a TV Tuner card connected to the PC, turning it into a proper Set-Top Box but with the added bonus of streaming videos online and recording.
I mentioned Steam Big Picture earlier. It is a feature of Steam which turns the Steam UI into a much simpler and HDTV ready form, similar to the UI of Consoles.
Why Bother Getting One?
If you want an All-in-One Entertainment System with access to the Internet and Video Gaming with friends over, then a HTPC is the way to go. It gives you the option of skipping on individual Blu Ray/Media players (Which at times cost half of that of a cheap HTPC) and with a small range of audio/video format support.
The Internet is a whole different world with complete access to all kinds of Media: you can browse the internet, stream videos, listen to music, connect with friends, etc.
If your HTPC built has a GPU in it then you can play videogames online or split-screen with friends. If you have a non-GPU build HTPC then you can subscribe to a cloud-gaming service like PlayStation Now, GameFly or GameNow which allows users to stream video games via their HTPC, of course, you will need a good Internet Connection for it.
How to build HTPC yourself?
Building a HTPC now is a hundred times easier now than it was back in the 90s. There are hundreds of cheap PC builds out there that can work as an HTPC with decent performance. One can even make an ultra-cheap HTPC using a Raspberry Pi but it requires a decent knowledge in electronics.
Here are the minimum requirements for an HTPC with a description for each peripheral.
CPU – Minimum Dual Core 2.4GHZ
RAM – Minimum 4GB
Motherboard – at least Intel H series board
Optical Drive – Blu-Ray
Power Supply – at least 600W 80+ Bronze
Keyboard/Mouse – standard keyboard/mouse combo that you prefer. Better go for wireless
Controller – Xbox 360 or Xbox One controller
Graphics Card – depends on your budget and requirement (ideally a GTX 900 series)
These days 2.4GHZ is the bare minimum processor speed. It may be the cheaper to buy a 2.4GHZ CPU since it will give a decent video performance but it won’t be able to keep up with moderate to heavy gaming or multitasking like viewing and recording videos at the same time.
You may think that 4GB RAM is too much for a HTPC so 2GB is a better and cheaper option but it isn’t. 4GB RAM is the minimum requirement now, thanks to new operating systems. A current popular OS like Windows 10 or OS X El-Capitan takes roughly 2GB RAM for their use. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need brand name RAM sticks like HyperX Fury or Vengeance Pro; you can get a standard RAM Stick within the same bus speed range far cheaper and with just as good Performance.
The Motherboard requires more thought than other peripherals since it has to have the necessary ports and it also has the most effect on your future upgrades. You should choose a motherboard which has enough USB ports and SATA connectors to meet your needs. In this case, an H series Intel board will be suitable for everyone but if you want to go 1 step further, you can opt for the Z series Intel board which are top of the line motherboards available for consumers.
There is no need to go for an SSD for an HTPC since it is too expensive and has almost no special use for the HTPC. Depending on your budget, you should opt for a 500GB HDD or 1TB HDD. If you plan on recording a lot then you should opt for a 2TB HDD and a motherboard with enough SATA ports.
The PSU Watt/Power depends on the overall build, you need to have, at the very least, an 80+ Bronze Rated PSU.
Unless you already have a Blu-Ray player, you will need a Blu-Ray Optical Drive for your PC.
The last thing that you should have in your HTPC is the graphics card. There are a lot of options available in the market right now that you can choose from. But if you don’t have a budget constraint, then getting a NVIDIA GTX 900 series or AMD R9 series graphics card would be fine. And if you can wait a bit more, then you can even get the latest NVIDIA GTX 1000 series graphics card as well.
We are sure that you would be understanding now what is HTPC and how to build your own HTPC computer. For media lovers, this is the low-cost option to combine internet TV and cable network to your home entertainment system.