To HTPC or not to HTPC

I have a small dilemma I’d like to share with you – and maybe get some feedback: I’m planning to buy a computer, as I currently don’t have a computer for myself at home (well – that’s not really true: I have about 6 of them, in various stages of assembly, but none of them is more recent then a Pentium 3 type and I really don’t have the time or the patience to start making something useful from all the parts). So I have set aside a budget for purchasing a computer in the next month or so. Its not that I really need one – I have one at work (not a laptop like in my previous job that I could carry it with me home – hence my need for a new one) and at home I usually leech one of Karen’s PCs – which she is mostly fine with (notice the “mostly” part – another reason I should get my own).

Now, I would really like a good laptop – either some generic PC (MSI is cheap, Dell has good offers, and they’re now supporting Linux, and I can always get a Lenovo/IBM ThinkPad with which I had good experience), or maybe even a Mac BookPro (still not available in black, but I can work with that 😉 ).

I would also really like an HTPC (Home Theater PC). The main reason is that I download a lot of video content that I want to watch on my TV (mostly Anime, most of which is not [yet] distributed in English speaking countries so I think its OK). Currently my procedure has always been to encode it to MPEG4, burn to DVD and play on my DVD reader, but this is really hassle – especially as Anime is often distributed in files carrying multiple audio tracks and the subtitles not encoded into the video. Also changing DVDs all the time is annoying. An HTPC can solve me all those problems – I could put the downloaded files directly on the HTPC and it could play whatever I give it without any conversion necessary, and with enought disk space (I’m planning on 320GB, although 500GB would not be much more expensive) I can store a lot of stuff that can be watched without getting of the sofa… Another feature that isn’t that important for me but I could see a use for is – PVR: I would be able to record shows from my satellite TV connection (“Yes”) and watch them when I have the time (instead of missing the show and having to download it from bittorrent 😉 ).

Money-wise, an HTPC costs about as a cheap laptop. If I want a good laptop, it would probably be around 7000 to 10000 NIS (Macbooks cost a lot) while an HTPC would be about 4500 NIS with a nice flat DVD-player-like case – a cheap bulky case, in addition to being cheaper would allow me to buy cheaper components and would make the whole package around 2500 NIS.

So, I’m wondering what I should get. A laptop would sure be nice, but I don’t really need it for computing outside the house – I have a desktop at work which I’m not going to replace and a palm PDA for the meager computing I need while being outdoors (mainly note taking, calendar and address book management). I would use a laptop mainly at home and maybe on holidays (though my girlfriend would not like that) to do what little computing I do at home these days. OTOH, an HTPC might be more useful and I can make do with what I have now a few more months (say – about half a year before I have money for another computer).

Please tell me what you think.

9 Responses to “To HTPC or not to HTPC”

  1. Ofir:

    I vote HTPC, thinking about going that way myself.

  2. Elad:

    How much the ability to comfortably sit on the couch in front of your tv with your computer instead of coming to its desk worth?

  3. Guss:

    Elad – are you talking about laptop vs. desktop ? not much – the way I used my previous laptop (from work) is that I would put it on the desk where I can sit on a proper chair and use a proper keyboard (and not get distracted by TV), but having a laptop as my main computer makes it possible to take it anywhere, and also hook it up to the TV.

    If I don’t buy an HTPC, I’ll buy a laptop so at least it will be possible to use it for some of the things I’d use an HTPC for.

  4. Eran:

    Buy the laptop, build the HTPC.
    If you have the parts for six “sort-of” Pentium 3s then you can build one machine, with the additional purchase of a TV card or something, and it’ll ultimately cost you much less. A machine like that, with the proper programs, will be able to record any input (and thus have the necessary properties of a PVR) and handle all video play other than really high-def stuff.
    Terra is just an Athlon XP2200+ with an X700 and I can play anything on my TV up to 480 high-defintion.

  5. Guss:

    Ok – first thing, I don’t want to put a tower case near my TV. The whole point of an HTPC is to put something a bit less of an eye sore in my leaving room. The case, the micro-ATX I need for it plus a special DVD drive that fits in the case, together add up for more then half the cost of the device. If I don’t get these, a standard computer that can do MPEG4 decoding is about 1000NIS – I can get one and a laptop.

    Also, the most modern CPU I have in my PC graveyard is about a P3 600 – hardly in the same league as an XP2200+, and I don’t believe it can handle MPEG4 decoding in real time. Building an HTPC from the parts I have available is not an option.

    I was toying with the idea of just getting the parts for an HTPC and assembling it myself, but this would save me the 150NIS Plonter is going to charge me for the work, and maybe about 100NIS more for parts that I can find slightly cheaper elsewhere. Really not worth it, especially considering that building stuff into a slim HTPC case is rather difficult and easy to mess up.

  6. Jonatan:

    I didn’t understand that main idea of having HTPC, you can buy a computer and download/encode/burn the media while you sleep (you sleep, do you?).

    As well, you sad that you have around six computer, why didn’t you set up a cluster and use them all? 😉
    think about it, it will be a grate learning experience, and a better use for them (if you don’t need them for something important then this.).
    the main prob with this is the setup process, it can take a lot of time (but then, less then 6 months).

    Have a good luck with you chose,
    Jonatan.

  7. Guss:

    Thanks – but setting up a cluster will indeed take a lot of time that I don’t have (I’m very busy at the moment and in the next few months – to the point that sleeping is something I don’t do enough 😉 ), and besides unlike the common belief, a cluster is not like a stronger computer – a cluster can only utilize CPU time towards things that are easily parallelized, such as doing the same computation on a lot of data. For my intended use (home computing, video viewing, etc’) it doesn’t lend itself.

  8. Oren:

    It’s few years later from previous discussion. I would like an HTPc. Do you know any HTPc with plugin for Mako/Nana10 . I tried to find a boxee application for mako and failed.

  9. Oded:

    Your talking about the software – though this post was about the hardware 😉

    I’m happy with Boxee without the Mako content, but a friend of mine is using the original XBMC (the software that Boxee is based on) and that has a Mako plugin – http://code.google.com/p/xbmako/

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