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Do HTPC's become obsolete?

5381 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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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. ;)
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.
just so I understand better. HTPC's are basically desktops, in a tiny box without a screen/keyboard/mouse...?
Not so.

HTPC hardware is optimized for audio/video playback and ergonomics (low noise, good looks, fits in a HT rack, etc.) A corollary to that is low power to reduce noise and heat. A gaming PC, for example, usually makes a lousy HTPC for the living room, though some people into gaming go that route.

Software is optimized for ease of use on a HDTV and easy playback of video and audio, both from local or internet sources. Design goals are good visibility from a distance, easy navigation (probably with a remote, but mouse and keyboard or other interfaces are possible) and access to a number of media sources.

Optimal hardware and software can be debated indefinitely, especially since it changes every few months. The best HTPCs I have built are based on Gigabyte mATX boards with ATI 4200 graphics and low power (45w) dual core AMD processors. These are a single board solution and very reasonably priced. The best case solutions are lightweight aluminum, low profile mATX cases with relatively small power supplies. Throw in a 2TB low power drive, 4GB RAM a BD-ROM player and Win7 Premium and you have a basic HTPC. Add a TV tuner or video capture device and Bluetooth mouse/keyboard (for configuration chores), MCE remote and it rounds it out. If Windows Media Center is inadequate, install MediaPortal, XBMC or SageTV for the interface.
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HTPC software becomes obsolete as well... Then there is software that never worked well or needs hacks to overcome design flaws.

Either Win7 or Linux can be used for HTPC. It all depends what the builder and maintainer is comfortable using. For most people, that is Windows. I tried Mythdora and Mythbuntu. It was just too much effort and some third party apps that only run on Windows were missing. Win7 is definitely more stable than Windows XP. Windows also provides several good choices for HTPC interfaces. With Linux, the choice is smaller.

I don't know why some people go with such overpowered hardware. I play back BDs at 1920x1080p on a regular basis with no problems. That's using a 2.8GHz AMD 64 X2 CPU and ATI 4200 graphics. I've also done it with a 2.5GHz AMD 64 X2 and ATI 3200 graphics. How about an AMD 5200+ (2.7GHz) and ATI 2400 or ATI 4550. That works like a charm too. An nVidia 7600XT that played 1024x720p would not play 1920x1080p so it needed upgrading. Before that, I was playing HD with a 2.8 GHz Pentium 4 (not even a true dual processor) and an ATI AIW 9800 Pro. Building HTPCs, or any PC, is about building a balanced system that works well. One the one hand, you can overcome shortcomings with high powered CPU or video card (as in the P4 example.) On the other, you can build a balanced system that performs well with moderate spec components.
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I have IR remote control and receiver that cost $2 plus $3.50 shipping. It is quite decent, as good as some much more expensive remotes. The one I now use (on 2 HTPCs) cost $11, including shipping. It works perfectly for XBMC and only needs one tweak for MediaPortal. Note that these must be used with their supplied IR receivers. The IR codes are not MCE compatible but the USB receiver is.
what is the easiest combo of software and hardware to go with that will be able to last a while?
A single board solution in an HTPC case is the best way to go. (The KISS principle is especially useful for HTPCs.) Some motherboard makers have boards designed specifically for HTPC, both mATX and mini-ITX. There have been some suggested builds in this thread based on both AMD and Intel processors. I suggest you review that starting at post #657 on page 44. Tuners are discussed here.

For software, Win7 Home Premium x64 is a good start. Some people use the included Windows Media Center. XBMC is a very nice media player. You might want to consider SageTV or MediaPortal for TV. If you are familiar with Linux, Mythdora or Mythbuntu are a good place to start but you may need different hardware for Linux.
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