Home Theater PC Recommendations

Jeff Attwood recently blogged about how inexpensive it was for him to build a new Home Theater PC (HTPC) based on Vista’s Windows Media Center. As readers of this blog well know, I’m a Vista fan and regularly use the Windows Media Center on my laptop. I have to agree with Jeff that WMC is one of best apps Microsoft has ever produced.

So now I’m thinking of putting together my own HTPC system. I’m not into hardware hacking like Jeff but I have put a few computers together over the years. I don’t find it a particularly interesting topic. I suppose I’m a bit more pedestrian when it comes to gadgets. Software, that’s a different story, but hardware I’m pretty much plug and play when I can get away with it.

My current setup is a Sony Trinitron 32 incher (the Sony tube is darn nice). DirectTivo (I was one of the first 400 purchasers way back when) and a high-end 5-1 surround system. I’m definitely covered for sound. Video is an obvious upgrade. The only thing holding me back on a new TV purchase is whether I want to reconfigure my viewing area or move it to another room all together. Can’t make up my mind on this one.

That leaves the HTPC. I’ve been pretty happy with my old clunky DirecTivo. I’ve plugged it in six years ago and just use it. I’m still not sure my kids know what “live” TV is. With the advent of HD imminent and a soft but high pitched noise coming from the hard drives, I fear the days of my trusty little medial friend are numbered. Time to think about a replacement.

Aside: I’ve kept my DirecTivo alive for so long with one simple upgrade. I use a voltage regulating UPS (I like the Smart UPS’s from APC). I bought a refurbished one for $35 and have never looked back. I now run voltage regulating UPS’s on all my critical electronic components (like my cable modem and router).

Other than WMC I’ve done little research on HTPC’s. Are there plug & play systems available or do I have to build? What experiences have you had and what would you recommend? My music collection is small by modern standards (20 GB). We have cable but I’ve always preferred the Satellite offerings because they just seemed to work better (and they were cheaper at one time, not so much today). On screen caller ID would be cool and even a little Internet surfing would be nice (especially for the kids).

So dear reader, how I should I proceed? Build or buy?

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