What happened to the HTPC?
When we first started doing the podcast many many years ago, the Home Theater PC was a thing. DIYers built them from scratch and others who were not so technically inclined could buy fully built ready to go products from third party vendors. Xbox owners were lucky enough to have the Windows Media Center client built into their gaming consoles so they could leave the PC in an office and still have the HTPC experience in the family room.
Fast forward ten years and HTPCs are not really a thing anymore. You can still buy some prebuilt products like the Intel BOXNUC8i3CYSN1 NUC 8 Home, a Mini PC with Windows 10. No kidding that’s the name. It's available at Amazon for $425. If you are the handy type you can build one from scratch. The Tech Buyer Guru has a parts list that goes for less than $750 with all parts being purchased at Amazon.They even have step by step instructions on how to assemble the PC. We feel that this would be the way to go. Once built it would be on par with HTPCs that cost two or three times as much.
Once the PC is built then you have to install software. Windows no longer comes with what we found to be the best media center software “Windows Media Center” so you have to download and install your own. There are plenty to choose from and they are free!
Plex - Plex brings together all the media that matters to you. Your personal collection will look beautiful alongside stellar streaming content. Enjoy Live TV & DVR, a growing catalog of great web shows, news, and podcasts. It's finally possible to enjoy all the media you love in a single app, on any device, no matter where you are.
Kodi - Kodi spawned from the love of media. It is an entertainment hub that brings all your digital media together into a beautiful and user friendly package. It is 100% free and open source, very customisable and runs on a wide variety of devices. It is supported by a dedicated team of volunteers and a huge community.
Media Portal - transforms your PC into a complete media solution.
It runs on basic hardware, connects directly to your TV and displays your TV Series, Movies, Photos and Music in a much more dynamic way. All in the comfort of your living room, on your big screen LCD or Plasma TV or projector!
There are others as well. Once you install the software you point it to your media files and you are off to the races.
Back in the day that would be enough and you would be the envy of everyone on the block. But today there are so many options for getting your content that an HTPC with just the media server software falls short. Early on there was no Netflix, Hulu, Apple, Google, or Amazon content so it didn’t matter. Today we have content all over the place. And the problem is that the PC interface to that content is not really usable with a remote control.
Sure there are plugins that are developed for these media servers to try and fix the interface problem but DRM protected content just do not play well with these products.
In actuality, the real reason the HTPC dropped off the face of the earth is because of the Set top box. The Rokus, AppleTVs, and FireTVs of today do so much more and for a faction of the price. Plus you can get players for your device that work with some of the media servers out there. Plex in particular looks great on these set top boxes. All you need is a computer somewhere on the network that runs the Plex Software and you have access to any content on your phones, computers, and set top boxes.
This is not how the original HTPCs worked of course. In the old scenario the computer’s video was run to the TV and when you launched the player it went full screen similar to video games taking over the computer’s interface. This method is by far better as you don’t need to keep a noisy PC in the room with the TV and the content can be served to multiple TVs and devices throughout your network.
So what do you think? Do you want a HTPC? Do we need them anymore?