It seems I could spend weeks researching what needs to go into an HTPC... But I'd like to have one a little sooner than that!
I would like for it to be able to do the following:
1. Record, Playback Live TV (Dual Tuner), I get cable for free at my apartment complex... no set top box or anything, i just plug it in to the TV and it works. Guide is on channel 2, has HBO and showtime also.
2. Play Internet TV
3. Play bluray files over the network (although not required as I currently use my PS3 to accomplish this, and can continue to do so.
I have a couple of questions that I can't seem to get firm answers on...
1. Will something like Windows Media Center be able to download the guide from somewhere since I don't necessarily have a cable provider? Its the apartments cable, and I dont know who they get it from...
2. Is it better to get a separate video card or use the integrated?
3. Is there any advantage to use HDMI to carry the video to the TV? (46" Samsung HD LCD).
4. Is it better to have a separate video card & separate TV tuner? Or an All-in-one card?
5. Do they not make pre-built systems that will do everything I am looking for that don't cost $500+??
1.) No idea, but WMC seems to be the go to solution for HTPCs.
2.) Depends. Is this strictly an HTPC (no gaming)? How much do you have to spend? I tend to recommend an i3 and H55 board with integrated graphics (enhanced onboard graphics) for HTPCs.
3.) Besides getting true HD? There's also bitstreaming, or delivering both audio and video. Regardless, it's pretty much the standard, so it's advisable to use HDMI.
4.) I would go with separate cards. Or with the i3, a single card (the TV tuner).
5.) Not really. This is kind of a niche market.
Here's about what I'd look at. I'm leaving out the TV tuner, because I simply don't know enough about them to recommend one. Also, keep in mind that Sandy Bridge (Intel's next CPUs) is due out in a week or so. They're supposed to be like the second coming....
I have a question that will impact the optical choice. What exactly do you mean by "play BluRay files"? Do you actually want the disk to be able to be played on the PC, or do you want it to do 1080p streaming?
CPU/Mobo: i3-540 and Gigabyte GA-H55M-USB3 $193 after rebate
RAM: Kingston ValueRAM 2x1 GB DDR3 1066 $26
HDD: Samsung Spinpoint F3 1 TB $70
Case: Pick out one you like. Make sure it's either ATX or microATX
PSU: If it's a media center case, it's likely to have a PSU already in it. Use that. If it doesn't, Antec Earthwatts 380W $30 after rebate
Optical: Assuming you don't want a BluRay player, pick up literally the cheapest SATA DVD burner you can find. If you do want a BluRay player/burner, pick up the cheapest one you can find (either with or without software, whichever you want). The DVD burner will be under $20, the BR player will be around $50, a BR burner will be around $100.
Total: $419, without case, assuming BR burner. $339 without case, assuming DVD burner.
You don't need anything specialized (outside of software) to stream files. It's just like any other media being played back.
I'd wait for Sandy Bridge. Right now, it looks like the new i5s/i7s will come into the market at roughly the current prices, which will drive prices down significantly. The new chips are also supposed to see a 20-30% bump in performance, according to anandtech's preview.