Ever since I first heard about home theater PCs (HTPC), way back in 2002, I've wanted one. Badly. To me, an HTPC is one of those killer products that offered what I would consider to be a perfect experience; the ability to have all my media centralized around a single interface and made for a more traditional entertainment experience. The problem though was that, until recently, setting up a system was a little outside my comfort zone when it came to the costs. It was fucking expensive to set up back then. But, that was then and the times they do a change. It's not only ridiculously easy to build an HTPC but also quite reasonable in terms of the costs.
Back in 2002 I was a lowly intern level scrub with the pay to match and computers capable of running Windows Media Center were a little expensive and required a shit ton of upgrades hardware wise. You couldn't just buy an inexpensive model off the show room floor and expect to have any cash left over. I don't recall the specific prices involved for all the components but I do remember knowing with a complete and total certainty that getting an HTPC at that time just wasn't going to happen. So, broken hearted, I moved on and focused on my career and drinking for the next 9 years.
Then, last August, I started looking into getting one put together again. I had some other, business, needs that required a dedicated desktop computer, to be placed in a closet, and I just figured, what the hell, why not kill two birds with one stone; have my utility computer and look into getting a Windows Media all at the same time. I mean, why not? The main purpose was for a backup machine which would only be ran on a slim time window and the rest of the time it'll just be sitting there. Kind of a waste to just leave it sitting there doing nothing most of the day, right? Right?
Now, since I had done all the research into what it would take to build an HTPC back in the day I started looking up all the parts to build one. For my preferred system I was thinking about:
- ATX Media Center case $75
- An ATX Mother Board that can have a decent amount of RAM $299
- A decent amount of RAM $149
- A processor to match the motherboard $269
- HDMI Video Card $99
- 1 Blu Ray Disk Drive $90
- 500 Gig HDD (with a few extra external terabyte drives for the media) $60
I figured I'd get the parts and put it together myself; these things are like legos with how everything snaps together only where it belongs. Add a little MythTV (go FOSS) and I'd be good to go for a bit of time and around $1,100 (after shipping). But, the practical side of me couldn't accept that like I assumed I would. $1,100 is still a lot of money regardless of how you look at it and, I couldn't kid myself, it was going to take a bunch of effort to learn MythTV as a platform, not to mention how long it would take to put the thing together (I try to never underestimate my ability to procrastinate). So I decided to look up good old Dell and see what my options were. My mind blew.
Turns out that the lowest Dell desktop model available at the time had HDMI outputs native and is only $299. I don't know when it started to be "standard" for commodity PCs to come with HDMI outputs but that was a good call. Plus, since the Dells come with Windows 7 Premium, and that it comes with Windows Media Center as a part of the OS, there's no need to learn MythTV (something I just wasn't motivated to do).
Still, the specs for the Dell wasn't really all that great; only 2 Gigs of RAM and a Celeron processor (why do they still make these?) just wasn't going to cut it. After upping the specs on the CPU and ordering 6 Gigs of RAM from Crucial the total cost ran around $450 and came with a year warranty which was something unexpected but nice.
It's pretty cool that getting a home HTPC set up is now as easy as ordering any other computer.