In a recent article, we told you about 5 reasons you might be motivated to build your own PC. Reasons ranging from gaming, to content creation, and more.
Here’s another situation perfectly suited for a custom computer: a home theater PC, or HTPC for short.
More and more people today are doing what is called “cutting the cord,” saying goodbye to the linear format of old fashioned cable television, and relying solely on a diet of streaming content from services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, and the ever-growing variety of other streaming platforms.
While some consume this content on the small screen – smartphones and tablet PCs – watching a great movie on Netflix, or your favorite TV series on Hulu, or even the World Cup on a sports streaming service Fubo, is much more enjoyable on a large flat-screen TV.
Roku boxes have become very popular, and for good reason. They’re nice devices, especially the latest generation. But sometimes you want a little bit more computing power and a little bit more flexibility.
Imagine being able to do anything on your TV that you can do on your Windows computer. Searching, research, word processing… with an HTPC, your TV can be more than just something to watch TV on.
Some hardcore techies build a home theater PC with a Linux operating system. And that’s fine if you’re technically-minded. But for most people, a Windows-based PC is the best choice. The already familiar graphical user interface operates just like it does on a computer. There are just a few factors that make the home theater PC a little bit unique versus other scenarios.
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There’s certainly nothing wrong with having a standard ATX computer tower as the case for your home theater PC. But since this PC is going to be out on display in your family room or living room, why not go with something with a little more pizazz? There is a wide variety of case form factors designed specifically for home theater scenarios.
There are a LOT of choices. You can even go ultra-small.
Just keep in mind that a small case can be much more challenging to work with on the build. And you certainly can’t fit a higher end graphics card in a mini PC case. So if you want graphics power – perhaps the ability to play PC games on your TV computer – you’ll want to go with a case that isn’t too small to house a decent graphics card.
There are a lot of options here depending on your preference. But the solution we think is best is a combination keyboard mouse pad with illuminated keys.
This model by Logitech is absolutely superb. It’s rechargeable, it’s wireless, and the range of that wireless is excellent. I have yet to find a scenario where this model suffers due to range. I’ve seen this keyboard deployed with PCs in conference rooms and living rooms alike. And it always impresses.
There are also mini versions If you’d like something that’s more the size of a standard remote control, but still has a full keyboard so you can take full advantage of the capabilities of a PC. I’ve found these cheaper, smaller units don’t last as long as the Logitech, but they’re great on a budget or if you just HAVE to have it small.
Searching in particular is enhanced greatly by having access to a full keyboard… anyone who has tried to search for “Game of Thrones Outtakes” using only a Roku remote will no doubt agree.
Not everyone has a wired internet connection right next to their television. If you do, that is going to be the most stable signal source in most situations. Most people will instead need to make sure there’s a good quality Wi-Fi adapter on your build and that you have a good strong WiiFi router in your house (or a mesh system) placed in such a way that good strong signal is getting to the area of your home theater PC.
Televisions, even flat screen TVs, give off a sphere of radiation when they’re turned on. While that sphere of radiation isn’t wide enough to do you harm while you’re sitting on the sofa, it is wide enough to cause disruption of Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth signals from devices that are placed very near to the television. You may need to experiment with this a bit to see what works best for you. The wireless signals that you’ll need to make sure transmit well for your home theater PC are the WiiFi Internet, and also the signal between your PC and your wireless keyboard/mouse controller.
In many scenarios, placement of the PC somewhere above the television (if it can be done so in an aesthetically pleasing way) is often the best for reception of wireless. Underneath or even inside the entertainment center / cabinet can sometimes work, keeping in mind that wood impedes wireless fairly well. Some entertainment centers have special doors with netting to allow signal through discreetly.
In any case, probably the worst place to place your home theater PC would be behind the television, as this will maximize the interference coming from the TV’s radiation. It’s a tempting place to try and put the PC because it results in a nice visually clean setup. Your results may vary, so feel free to experiment around before you decide on a final spot to place your HTPC.
As for the insides of the computer, you typically just want to go for a nice middle-of-the-road specification for the PC. At the time of this writing, that would mean a decent Intel Core processor or AMD Ryzen processor, 8 to 16 GB of RAM, and a solid state drive for storage. The size of the storage that you need in the computer depends on whether or not you’re going to rely solely on streaming sources of entertainment. If you’re going to play movies, music, etc. from downloaded files, install games or other programs, etc., then you’ll need more storage. In other words, the same considerations that you would give for a normal PC when it comes to storage, you need to make those same calculations for your HTPC based on how you intend to use it.
Have you built your own home theater PC? We would love to see pictures of your build! Feel free to share it with us on Instagram @diybuildpc or in the comments below.
Some people get really creative with HTPC builds, maybe more than with any other type of PC, so we’d be really excited to see what you’ve done or what you intend to do.
If you have questions about a particular case you’re considering, or some other piece of hardware for your HTPC setup, feel free to ask us in the comments below and we’ll try our best to answer.