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Well, I guess they must. But what is the expected life of one? Longer than a regular computer? For example, if you bought a Revo, do you think it would be unable to play television at some point because the technology passed it?
 

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If you buy a "nettop" style HTPC (Atom, ION, etc) then it'll be obsolete much sooner than if you get a HTPC that has a fast general purpose processor.
 

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I bought my HTPC four + years ago. It has an E6600 CPU. I still use it although not as my primary unit but that is because that I have decided to go with a client-server architecture instead. I did upgrade it from Win XP MCE to Win7 HP - I bought it just before Vista was released but never installed Vista on it as I also used it with V1 extenders that only worked with XP.

But it will be more than enough to act as a front end for stuff like Netflix, etc.
 

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If a computer is running software that works, does it really matter?

If I bought a computer 14 years ago to run Microsoft Office 97 and it still runs the 97 versions of Word, Excel then does it matter if its "obsolete"

If you buy a computer today, it will still display pictures, videos and play music files created today for many many years to come.
 

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Well, it does matter, sort of. For example, the laptop I now own, an iBook G4. It can't play streaming video... but I never could have imagined streaming video when I bought it. So, I'm sure there will be something new and useful that whatever I get for watching TV won't be able to do.

DanceswithLysol - forgive my ignorance. Is the Revo a nettop" style HTPC?
 

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I agree with Hugh.

JPEG's haven't changed in 15 years. MP3's either.

The only difference with video is HD or SD. Machines made these days have no problem with both, so it won't become "obsolete" for a very long time- at least until blu-ray is superseded.

I have an Acer Aspire Revo and it does the job very well for both SD and HD. I don't plan on replacing it any time soon.
 

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It can't play streaming video... but I never could have imagined streaming video when I bought it.
Did you buy it to stream video?
 

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Any piece of hardware you buy will be obsolete eventually.

I think the main advantage a PC has over a streamer is increased flexibility in upgrading software. That means they will be around longer.

The Revo I bought 2 years ago is still working fine, whereas the WDTV Live streamers I bought went into the trash because they could not handle Netflix. So while I spent double the money on the Revo upfront over the WDTV live boxes at the time, it is still in use.
 

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The transition from SD to HD made many HTPCs obsolete. So did the adoption of new interfaces, such as HDMI. The introduction of Blu-ray also had an impact. There are other things to consider, such as power management. One of my earlier builds used a P4 and an AIW 9800, two of the worst energy guzzlers ever made. My latest build uses about 1/4 the power and has much better energy management. Another thing that changes is sources. I once used a Bell 6000 receiver with a firewire adapter to record HD. When the 6000 became obsolete, it required a new method for capturing HD. I've seen several HTPCs become obsolete since 1995 and I hope to see a few more. ;)
 

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HTPCers have the best chance of staying current with technology because we can swap in/out our internal and external hardware devices for the latest, greatest stuff as it becomes available or affordable. Of course that is less so with laptops, but external devices can be updated on those.

If you base your HTPC on Linux and you are an experienced power user staying with the same underlying architecture you can even change the motherboard, CPU, disks, and any other hardware piece by piece without having to reinstall the OS. ;)
 

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H.264 is more complex and difficult to decode than MPEG2. My old PC could do MPEG2 easily but struggles with H.264. My digital camera takes 12MP pictures. Now they are slower to render at screen or thumbnail resolutions.
 

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I agree 100% with Stampeder's observation. At some point, I had to decide whether to upgrade an HTPC with obsolete or inefficient hardware or go with a new build. That has happened several times now and may happen again. The former HTPCs were sold or reused as general purpose PCs.
 

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As time moves on each new video codec seems to be trading increased encoding/decoding complexity (and CPU time) for decreased bitrate required for a given video quality level. While systems like OTA will still be MPEG2 for a long time, services like Netflix, Hulu and Youtube will upgrade their service to quickly adopt new video encoding standards to get more for their bandwidth bills (and/or provide higher quality video).

This has happened before and will happen again with H.265/H.NGVC (for example).

If you purchase a "nettop" (i.e. netbook components in a very slim desktop form factor) those generally don't have a processor capable of decoding H.264 at higher resolutions, so they use a GPU that has been engineered to have "just enough" power to decode H.264, provided that you are using GPU accelerated decoding software instead of something like VLC. This solution will almost certainly not work with H.264's successor.

On the other hand, a fast general purpose processor will do just fine when the next version of the Flash/Silverlight that the internet video sites will use to decode their video.

This is why a HTPC that consumes streaming video is in a different boat than a HTPC that is just consuming OTA broadcast TV. The OTA HTPC has a fixed set of requirements. The problem is (IMHO) internet video streaming is the future of HTPCs.

I'm not advocating top-of-the-line processors for HTPCs, but I do think it is worthwhile getting ~$200 Sandy Bridge quad-core processors that are made using some of the latest manufacturing technology, idle at low-power levels, and when it's time to decode video they're fast enough to take on high resolution video just using software rendering. Plus, they contain SIMD functions (like Quick Sync) that future video codecs will almost certainly take advantage of.
 

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DancesWithLysol said:
This is why a HTPC that consumes streaming video is in a different boat than a HTPC that is just consuming OTA broadcast TV.
Someone could build an HTPC just for OTA if they wanted to, but there are so many additional sources out there that are easily supported. I use my MythTV boxes for recording OTA and CATV, multimedia streaming/editing/storage, disk authoring/ripping/burning, transcoding, and other things, so they are definitely geared to support all those tasks. To me that's what a true HTPC is all about, but of course choice is good so a person can plan and build an HTPC suitable for whichever capabilities they like.
 

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My HTPC is about 2 years old and is still running strong, now with Win 7. There is enough horsepower and capacity in it to easily record 4 simultaneous TV recordings (OTA, HD Cable) and playback a Blu-ray rip. I see it going strong for another 3 to 4 years. It also does everything else in the house including being a file server and home automation controller.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
DanceswithLysol - Could you please name a few HTPC brand's that would fit your description of a fast general purpose processor?
 

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DanceswithLysol - Could you please name a few HTPC brand's that would fit your description of a fast general purpose processor?
Well, like I've said a few times before I think getting a Intel Sandy Bridge-based processor is the best choice for anything but the lowest-end HTPCs. If you want a fairly compact system, then you're looking at min-ITX motherboards like this Zotac board. Notice how Sandy Bridge uses half the power of the AMD 890GX (both load and idle power) while still winning the benchmark wars. This is great should you choose a small HTPC case since, not only is there less heat generated by the system, but you can get away with a less powerful (and smaller) power supply.

The next major choice is in your HTPC case. Do you want it to be tiny and only hold a single hard drive, or do you want to support a large number of drives for a large media collection?

Does this answer your question? Or as for "brands" of a fast general purpose processor did you just want me to answer "Intel"?
 

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Shira,

Re-reading your original post, I think maybe you are just looking for a product rather than a do-it-yourself solution. In that case maybe you will want to consider something like this. I'm certain over the next month or so these products will be updated to Sandy Bridge processors (and the reason they haven't already is probably due to the issue Intel having to replace the chipset on the initial P67 boards that were shipped.

Are you looking for a final product that you can go buy, or do you want a do-it-yourself solution?
 

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Discussion Starter #19
I'm not up for putting together separate components to build my own thing. That's something my brother might be able to do, but right now, I just want to get something that I can get up and running, without tons of finicky problems, so my kids can watch some downloaded shows, some streaming shows. We don't have a current video library, but we could use our back-up hard-drive as an external source for movies and series that we might download in the future.
 

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Fair enough. A lot of people aren't into the DIY aspect of computers.

If I were in your shoes I'd wait for the Sandy Bridge HTPC options to become available. It shouldn't be long now for general availability.

If you are looking for "just the basicis" HTPC w/ Sandy Bridge, I imagine such systems will cost ~$500, and they will scale all the way up to ~$1000 before the upgrades stop making sense.

This time next month we'll know a lot more about what is available on the Sandy Bridge front.

If you can't wait for Sandy Bridge and want to order a small-form-factor HTPC solution now, I've heard people say nice things about the Dell Zino HD. The only "issue" with the Dell is that I don't believe it comes with a remote control (for example) that the ASRock Vision 3D comes with.
 
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