How to buy a home theatre PC

A reader asked about buying a PC for his home theatre

Kurt asked the Answer Line forum about buying a PC for his home theater

If your PC will stay in the home theater, get a desktop. Price and expandability will be more important than portability.

Beyond that, pretty much any medium-priced desktop should pack enough power. My test PC--a low-end custom-built job made last summer--does the job just fine. And it has only integrated Intel G45/G43 graphics and 2GB of RAM. At the very least, go for a Windows 7 Windows Experience Index of 3.5 (mine is 3.7). To find a PC's index in Windows 7, click Start, right-click Computer, and select Properties. Click the Windows Experience Index link.

One feature your PC must have for hassle-free home theater service: an HDMI connector. That shouldn't be too much trouble; they're pretty standard these days--at least on desktops.

For an operating system, go with Windows 7 Home Premium. Why? Windows Media Center, that's why. With a very TV-like interface, it gives you a DVR, television programming from assorted Internet stations, and other goodies.

Speaking of a TV-like interface, you'll need a remote control. Generally speaking, PC remote controls are three-piece affairs: you get the remote itself, a USB-based receiver you plug into the PC, and software. If you stick strictly to Windows Media Center, you probably don't need the software. SnapStream Media's Firefly Mini remote is pretty nice.

What else you need depends on what you want to do with your PC. A USB tuner like Hauppauge's WinTV-HVR 950Q will allow you to record over-the-air and basic cable broadcasts, turning your PC into a DVR. Two such tuners will let you record two programs at once. However, you can't use a PC to record satellite or premium cable programming.

You can also add a Blu-ray drive to your PC for about US$65. I have to admit that I haven't tried this myself, so I can't compare the experience to using a regular Blu-ray player. Past experience, however, suggests to me that it wouldn't be as trouble-free an experience.

Which brings up a whole other issue you may want to consider: A great many new Blu-ray players, such as the Samsung BD-P3600 and the LG Electronics BD370, come with support for various Internet video services. You might want to consider buying one of these instead of a PC. You won't get every Internet video source, like you could with a browser, but a player is cheaper and much easier to set up and use with a remote control.

Read the original forum discussion.

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Lincoln Spector

PC World (US online)
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