I’ve been working with Home Theater Computers for over 10 years.* Back in the day, a HTPC was the only way to get a progressive-scan DVD player.* There were lots of caveats, and there were no fancy 10′ interfaces like there are today… it had the same usability as a computer.* I used a highly-programmable remote to attempt to automate everything (turn on everything at once, open up the DVD player application), but it ended up being many many hours spent with very little benefit.
There are a few media center suites, but the most popular by far is Windows Media Center.* The appeal to transforming a computer into a HTPC is that you can access all of your media (downloaded Divx movies, mp3s, HD-WMVs, DVDs, home videos, photos) from one location.* Imagine replacing an entire rack of home theater equipment with a simple box.* The HTPC cases available today also make your PC look like home theater equipment.
I’ve been using Windows Media Center for about 4 years, and I have a love-hate relationship with it.* A general-purpose computer will NEVER be as reliable as an appliance, and that’s my major problem with it.* Sure, it has features that other appliances can’t touch (download DVD titles over the Internet, stream NetFlix in real time), but it just isn’t reliable.*
You have to consider the SAF (Spousal Acceptance Factor).* You’re probably a busy guy, and do you really want your wife and kids bitching at you to fix the TV because it froze or crashed?* If you have a HTPC then you must realize that have to add “TV technition” to your list of support roles.*
One of the reasons I use Media Center is to save on the $5 fee that DirecTV charges for their DVR service, which calculates out to be $60 a year.* You can easily spend four times that in a new hardware upgrade.* Not to mention the electricity costs… a typical HTPC will eat up abour 200 watts, and it has to be on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (4800 watts a day x 365 = 1,752,000 watts or $140 a year).* Compare that to a typical DVR appliance which uses between 20-30watts, and it costs $14 a year…*
I have several Media Center PCs (so we can watch recorded shows on any TV, no matter where they were recorded), so the electricity costs start to stack up.
Several other gripes: the remotes “crash”, not all of the buttons work, a PC is always noisier than a DVR appliance, the electricity and heat issues, hunting down the right codec when your DivX movie has no sound,*limited high-definition recording options, tweaking your video card to get the best output…
You can spend a lot of time making things work more smoothly, but then you’re spending more time fiddling with the damn thing then you are actually enjoying watching TV.
So I’m getting rid of Media Center… I’ll watch my downloaded videos on a Playstation 3 (which also has a BluRay player).* I’m using a QNAP NAS to store videos, and it can stream directly to an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3, which reduces the need for a HTPC… and the NAS only uses up 5 watts of electricity.