Consumer hi-fi equipment - like DVD and DivX players - are easy to handle, but reach their limits quickly. The main problem is that if a new video or audio format comes out, or there is a new version of a codec from Real, Quicktime, Windows Media or DivX, the device often cannot play back the data correctly anymore. Also remember that high-definition television (HDTV) is almost here, which also means that looking to the future is more important than ever before.
Home Theater PCs, also called HTPCs, are much more future-proof, because updating their software is much easier to do than with a consumer unit. The HTPC concept also affords the buyer more latitude in choosing hardware.
Check out our review of the latest Windows Media Center 2005 operating system, Windows In The Living Room: Part 1 .
Outward appearance makes HTPCs stand out less compared to other PCs; their cases are designed to look like hi-fi components. This makes it easy to integrate them aesthetically into the living room, without giving the impression that an ugly PC box is standing there, out of place.
Such home theater PCs are equipped with mainly standard PC hardware, but the user should take care that the fans used make as little sound as possible. After all, you want to enjoy the audio and video, not fan noise. A passive cooling system that manages without fans would be ideal.
In this article, THG compares four HTPC cases, as well as a prefabricated barebones model. Three of them include a remote control and Windows XP multimedia operating software for couch potatoes. For the rest there are separate remote controls, which we also present. We also offer important tips for equipping these units with the appropriate hardware.