I have been using my PC to stream video to my PS3 for the last many many years. We started using Netflix (which we love), however if requires us to update the firmware on the PS3 all the time. My PS3 has started supporting less and less video files.
I have been contemplating just getting a WD TV box or a Samsung TV that will run the Plex app. However I have been thinking that maybe an HTPC might be fun to make and actually be a better choice.
So my questions are as follows:
How much should I expect to budget for a silentish ( Currently there is no theatre system just the TV speakers ) system that will also play games (Skyrim, civ5, and anything my 5 year old son might want to play) on my 32 inch HDTV?
What will I really be gaining over just a better box that streams? ( I am not sure what exactly an HTPC does)
Am I correct in thinking that there really is no need to upgrade something like this that often (unless I start playing more demanding games?
Thanks in advance. Also if there are things I might have missed go ahead and ask away.
I recently went the HTPC route (thanks to this forum). I also looked at some of the cheaper set-top-box options (WDTV, Roku, etc). Some of the reasons I decided on HTPC:
Complete integration of all media including music. HTPC is all-purpose, whereas set-top boxes and smart TVs are really just designed for TV.
Option to do internal storage, including SSD. I believe WDTV only does external HDD for storage.
Ability to experiment with different operating systems (XBMC, Plex, etc), apps, and plug-ins, rather than be limited to built in proprietary software.
More flexibility to get free content. The focus of set-tops is on pay services (Netflix, Huluplus, etc.). I do not watch enough TV to subscribe to anything, but I do watch a lot of free stuff on Hulu. The set-top boxes give you access to Huluplus only if you subscribe to the service. HTPC gives you access to anything you want on the internet.
Some downsides of HTPC:
There is no avoiding fan noise unless you are willing to spend a ton of money.
More complicated to set up.
Cost. Set-top is definitely the cheapest way to go if all you want is something to play your content and stream Netflix.
I have been running HTPC's for 7 years now. Typically, a standard build of an HTPC should go between $400-$600 (not including monitors, TVs or tuners). The real decisions you have to make is how you want to use the HTPC.
First, are you subscribed to digital cable, and do you want to replace the cable boxes (in my case, renting two DVR's from Time Warner Cable was $60 per month, and now I spend $2 per month for a cable card). Digital cable card tuners run from about $100 (2-tuner) to $200 (3 or 4 tuner). If you are not subscribed to digital cable, clear-QAM tuners are less than $100 for a single/dual tuner. The tuners are not mandatory, but give you the options of viewing over the air TV, cable TV and/or digital cable TV - and using the PC as a DVR.
Second - do you want to use extenders (XBox 360/Ceton Echo/PS-3, etc)? The XBox360 and Ceton Echo (both around $180-$200) function like a cable box, viewing all TV programs on the HTPC, as well as recorded programs and ripped DVD/BluRays. The PS-3 and other devices are good for watching ripped DVD/BluRays - and support is coming around for watching live TV/recorded programs.
As a rule of thumb, the HTPC should be built based on one core per tuner, and one core per extender, with 2GB RAM to start, and 2GB RAM per concurrent extender/tuner. So if you have 3 tuners, and 1 extender, it would be suggested to build with a quad core processor, and 8GB RAM. Minimum requirements are a dual core with 4GB (you may find that while watching/recording more than 2 programs at the same time gives pixelation occasionally).
There are a lot of options. Deciding the on the functionality you want determine the price.
Regarding free content, as long as you have access to the internet you have access to it. Hulu has most current shows on NBC (The Office, Parks and Rec, SNL) along with Daily Show and Colbert Report, for example. The set-top box only give you access to these if you subscribe to Hulu+. The SuperBowl is being streamed this year by CBS Sports. You would not be able access this stuff unless you have a regular web browser, which I don't think is built in to WDTV Live and similar devices.
If you already subscribe to cable or paid content, then HTPC probably isn't necessary.
You could build something top of the line I would think for $1000. Then again, you could also build something for around $250 that is silent using a budget AMD E350 or Intel Atom (chips designed for netbooks), but those are slow and have some known performance issues (e.g. streaming Netflix). All depends on what your needs are and where you might be willing to cut corners.