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Do HTPC's become obsolete?

5380 Views 32 Replies 11 Participants Last post by  ScaryBob
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.
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 - 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"?

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?
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.
HTPCs are basically PCs that have (some of) the following characteristics:

- Input devices for "living room" style access. Remote Controls, Wireless compact keyboards, or (my personal favorite) The Loop.
- They often have access to a TV Tuner and provide PVR functionality. Sometimes they are internal (PCI Express card), external (USB), or a network device (Silicondust HDHomeRun).
- They often use some sort of case that emulates the design/style of AV components. Here is an example.

There is a sub-category of HTPC (or some might call it a totally different category) of "Network Media Player" which would describe single purpose devices/products like the Boxee Box or Apple TV. HTPCs have a superset of that functionality, and are often designed to be "do everything" devices. They can play Blu-ray discs, watch all streaming media over the internet (where network media players are often blocked from certain sites). Another differentiator between network media players and HTPCs is HTPCs can bypass GeoIP restrictions since modern operating systems have built in support for VPN networks and you don't need any fancy networking hardware to do it.

I am of the opinion that streaming video via the web "is the future", and you want to make choices that allow you to effectively use a browser from 10 feet away from your HTPC. For browsers, good mouse control is important. Google Chrome is particularly good as a HTPC browser since (in the latest beta versions) you are able to set a default "zoom" setting for all web pages. Another good browser is Kylo (based on Firefox).

Windows 7 is the OS of choice for HTPCs because Windows Media Center is excellent, and it lets you scale the UI (Control Panel\Appearance and Personalization\Display). This keeps everything nice and readable from your sofa.

Mac Mini's have been used as HTPCs by Mac enthusiests. The hardware is fine (provided you don't care about Blu-ray support). The only issue is that the hardware costs the same and is a lot less capable than the ASRock HTPC I linked earlier. Oh, and Mac OS X isn't very good as a HTPC OS. It doesn't have anything comparable to Windows Media Center, and last time I checked it doesn't support the interface scaling features that Windows 7 does.

Maybe I should verify that last point. I have a Mac, but I don't use it as a HTPC so I may be out of touch on it's lack of interface scaling.
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Having said all that, Linux/MythTV is the OS of choice for HTPC, but if it is too exotic for you then look for a Windows-based HTPC app or solution that properly supports Canadian OTA and that respects your consumer rights.
The issue with Linux/MythTV is that there are still plenty of holes in driver support. The last time I looked into it I couldn't get the Hauppauge IR blaster working, for example. These problems are difficult to mitigate short of buying new hardware or writing your own driver.

The two issues you cited about Media Center are easily fixed: use another PVR application like Sage TV, which is a much easier work around than solving the driver issues that one would regularly encounter on the Linux side of the fence.

Does MythTV have support for something equivalent to Media Center Extenders/SageTV Client/BeyondTV Link, so that you can watch TV and schedule recordings from TVs other than your "primary" HTPC?
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