Upgrading to a new Media Center PC – Part 1, Why a PC for the TV?

Mac Mini as HTPCMedia center PCs or HTPCs seem to have come into their own in the past couple years.  Services such as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu give the average person legal ways to stream content off of the internet at little or no charge.  Additionally, backups can be made of the of DVDs in one’s collection and viewed off the PC itself.

Systems such as the PS3, Xbox360, and Wii are good media streaming solutions for some, but have drawbacks.  These include the fact that there is a limited interface for Netflix (here’s how to use the old interface for a PC) and that you have to pay for Hulu Plus to use it on game systems.  Google TV hasn’t taken off the way some would have liked, and Apple TV and the Roku player are limited to what the manufacturer gives you as well.

The Mac Mini (pictured above) is probably a decent solution as it’s small and well designed.  However, Mac products are generally more expensive than PC products.  I have not tested one, but here’s Engadget’s review if you’re curious.

To put things in a more positive light, PCs are more customizable than most other systems and you can use them for photos, movies, games, or general web browsing.  One could even install a different operating system like Linux if Windows doesn’t suit you.  The PS3 was originally capable of this, but this capability was unfortunately taken out later in an update.

Despite all these advantages, most people do not have a PC hooked up for TV use.  If the performance reasons listed are not enough, consider that the average consumer pays around $75  per month for cable.  Our bill for internet is currently only $15 per month with some haggling with AT&T for a “3 Mb/s” connection.  This is more than adequate for streaming media from Netflix, Hulu, or Pandora (music).  Add in what will soon be $8/month in streaming from Netflix with their new plan and our “cable” and internet comes to only $23 per month.

If one was to cancel cable, over 12 months that represents a savings of $624 per year; much more for some.  Add in that you can get uncompressed HDTV signals broadcast over the air, and “cutting the cord” using a HTPC starts to make a lot of sense economically.

The two main barriers to HTPC entry, in my opinion, are the initial cost of buying a PC and the fear that the setup would be overly complicated.  Additionally, the fact that you can no longer simply “turn on the tube” takes some getting used to.  When we “cut the cord” we noticed watching a lot less TV which isn’t such a bad thing.  Probably the reason I have time to write this site.

HTPC upgrade in progressMy original PC, a Compac Presario SR1834NX, was purchased to go along with my LCD TV around 5 years ago.  I didn’t watch too many movies on it, but it was fun for playing computer games on it and watching Youtube videos.  A video card upgrade allowed several good years of use, but after getting an HD camcorder, it could no longer handle what I needed it to do well.  Additionally, I needed a PC with a 25 pin parallel port for my router project, so this seemed like a good use for my old PC.

It was time to upgrade.


This meant buying an Acer AX14200-U5832.  I’ve been really happy with it so far (and Windows 7, as I’m a longtime XP user).  Be sure to check out part 2, for some details about my setup and part 3 to see how the upgrade went.

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