Friday, May 10, 2013

Building Your Own Home Theater PC on the Cheap – DIY HTPC Systems Under $500

Laptop with folder and film reel symbols
Image from istockphoto.com
With so many different gadgets attached to your home theater system, you might ask why you need to add a PC (personal computer) into the mix. The answer is simple, a Home Theater Personal Computer, or HTPC is capable of integrating many of the tasks that previously required different components. These tasks include recording TV, watching steaming video, storing digital media files and playing music, to name a few. The best part about HTPCs is that they can cost very little money to build or program, even by computer novices. Also, HTPC’s can be configured to work with a remote, eliminating the need for a keyboard and mouse on your couch.

If you would rather purchase a fully functional HTPC off the shelf, there are many options available that still meet a low budget. Companies like Assassin HTPC and Performance PC offer complete systems for less than $500. System costs go up from there with high end systems available for thousands of dollars.

For those who don’t mind (or even relish) getting their hands dirty, here are three inexpensive ways to build your own HTPC:

Convert a New Computer – Computer manufacturers have created smaller computers called Small Form Factor for light computing tasks like internet browsing or running a cash register. Despite their size, these little PC’s pack enough processor and graphics power to stream HD quality video. They are also small and quiet so they won’t take up much space in your entertainment center. Ideal products include the Shuttle X350 and the ASUS EEE Box. As an added bonus, Windows 7 and 8 come with a Media Center that can do most of the tasks you need. For those who want to stay away from Microsoft, an Apple Mac Mini also makes a great HTPC with plenty of blogs and forums dedicated to it.

Convert an Old Computer – Most people have an old PC gathering dust in their closet or basement. These can easily be converted into powerful HTPC’s with very little money. All you need is an HD capable video card and the XMBC operating system. This Linux-based system is designed to control all of your media functions with very little memory usage. How-to guides and tutorials are available all over the web like this great article from Tech-2.

Build One from Scratch – For those who love to build things from scratch, the Raspberry Pi development kit is a perfect solution. This is a Linux-based computer board that is the size of a credit card and has enough computing and graphics power to make a good HTPC. It’s used for hardware development and DIY projects by students, hobbyists and entrepreneurs. Lifehacker, the DIY website, loves the Raspberry Pi and has a great tutorial on building a raspberry Pi HTPC.

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