HTPC - All in One Media Streaming Solution
Nothing can do a better job for media streaming than an HTPC!
It's easy to get caught up in all the excitement with the latest media streamer from Roku, or what seems like an endless list of new models released for the Android platform. But let's not forget the humble Home Theater Personal Computer (HTPC) that served us faithfully for many years to stream media long before Roku or Android were even a blip on the radar.
The HTPC has been and is still widely used in many household all over the world as a media player. It serves us well by hosting XBMC, Plex or even other less well known media center software. It can hold many gigabytes of music or movies, and present them to us at a moments notice.
Watch Free Local TV
As great as online streaming is, it is still not a replacement for live local TV. It's best to take advantage of Free over the air Network HD channels with an HD antenna placed in an attic or on a roof. Learn more… A small media center HTPC and network QAM Tuner like the HD HomeRun also makes a great free DVR and eliminates another source of increasing monthly fees.
Media Streamer, Player or HTPC - Which is Best for You?
Feeling unsure about media streaming and need help deciding which device would be the best choice for cutting the cord? While each device has pluses and minuses, sorting them out can often be confusing for beginners. Take this quick quiz to help find if a Home Theater PC, Media Streamer or Media Player will work best for you.
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While there is no question a Roku or Android media streamer makes it very simple and easy to stream content to your television from the internet. They can still be limited and picky on which file formats they will play. With an HTPC, you are never limited by file types and you can play pretty much any content from the hard drive or from websites on the internet which use Flash. An HTPC can still do double duty as a computer whenever needed in a pinch.
In the last several years computers have gotten much smaller and quieter than they were years ago. An HTPC no longer needs to be contained in a large, noisy and ugly tower. They now come in much smaller packages that are hardly much larger than a Roku or Android TV media player. With built in HDMI ports and Solid State hard drives, you can place it right next to your TV and not even know it's even on.
The following are some of our favorite small form factor computers that can easily be setup to be used as an HTPC for streaming your own media, or media from any internet site.
Intel ATOM D2500
This is a low cost popular HTPC Box for those that want to run Linux as an operating system. Kodi/XBMC will run fine on Linux. This box is fanless and comes with 2GB of Ram. It does not come with a hard drive, so a SATA or SSD drive that will fit the small form factor case is also required.
This is still one of our favorite small form factor computers. A MacMini is tiny yet still very powerful and can do pretty much anything that is asked of it. It can be used as a Plex Server and also used to record live HD TV from an HD HomeRun QAM Network Tuner as a Monthly Fee Free, DVR. Current models can be configured with i7 CPUs, and have up to 16GB of Ram. Although haven a MacMini this powerful will cost a pretty penny, the good news is for an HTPC you can get by with an entry model just fine. An i5 CPU will still have plenty of power to play anything your throw at it for years to come and cost pennies a day to operate. A MacMini can run either Windows or Mac OS and will handle Plex or XBMC perfectly along with all the great Kodi - XBMC Add-ons for watching Free TV and Movies.
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See all you can do with a MacMini as a Media Center HTPC
While a NAS box is not the same as an HTPC since it can't hook directly to your television. NAS boxes are still very powerful and some have processors that are almost in the same class as some desktop computers. A NAS is better suited to work together with a Roku or other media streamer and act as a server to store your media files. These files can then be played through PLEX on your Roku or other media streamer which is attached to your television. Some of the best NAS boxes are made by QNAP and Synology and we have a more in depth comparison guide and live demos to show you the many features a high quality NAS is capable of.
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Limitations of an HTPCWhile a HTPC does offer many great benefits, there are also a couple of drawbacks.
An HTPC can be more difficult to setup. It takes a bit more work to get your HTPC configured and built. Unless you are buying a Mac Mini, which already comes pre-assembled. Some HTPC packages are bare bones. This means you need to put them together with parts that you choose, then install the operating system and other software. An HTPC also requires you to keep your Anti-Virus software up to date and scan for viruses and malware regularly.
The media center software needs to be configured for media streaming. Setting up an HTPC requires codecs, media player software and a way to control it from your couch. This takes extra time and tinkering and if you have basic technical skills it's not a problem. If you do not have basic computer skills or know someone that does, a Roku is pretty much a plug and play media streamer that may work out much better for you.
Initial cost of an HTPC can be another drawback. While a Roku or Android Media streamer can easily be found for less than a $100 dollars, be prepared to pay several times more than that for a high quality HTPC. (Click here to find best the deal on a Roku) Although, an HTPC will usually last you quite a few years where you may end up upgrading an Android TV Box or Roku several times during this same period of time.