DIY Friday: Home Theater PC

Everyone is talking about the iPod – music, web browser, email, and phone all in one device. What else would you need? But when I get home from a long day of rocket science, I wanna lay on my couch and watch a 32 inch plasma, not stare at a 3 inch cell-phone.

That said, we don’t have to resign ourselves to the past. Consider a Home Theater PC system. The benefits are numerous: storage scalability, superior DVD playback, and easy content cataloging.

Microsoft is getting into the game. Vista’s Windows Media Center lets you view slide shows set to music, browse music by cover art (blatantly copied from Apple), and, with a TV tuner, utilize Microsoft’s tivo-like features (rewind live tv and schedule recordings).

But to capably take advantage of all of these features (including HD), you’re going to need a pretty powerful PC. You’re probably going to want 2 gb of RAM and a ton of hard drive space (400G gets you about 88 hours of HD recording). For a reasonably priced and very effective system, check out the Gigabyte H971 entertainment PC.

If you’re an anti-Microsoft/establishment snob or are just wary of new Microsoft OS’s (I’m still stubbornly using 2000 on one of my ThinkPads), go Linux. This barebones Linux system includes a DVD image with opensource TV tuner software. You’ll need to install a processor, memory, hard drive, and MythTV, personal video recorder software. Its magical:

Without breaking a sweat, MythTV meets our specifications for a HTPC. Using a TV tuner card, MythTV can pause and rewind live television, schedule recordings, and excise commercials during playback. If you intend to record multiple shows at once or watch another channel while something is recording in the background, you’ll need a second TV tuner card – which MythTV will handily support. You’ll get picture-in-picture that way, too.

If your video card has an output compatible with your TV (S-Video is the best bet), it’s also fairly easy to get TV-out working on Linux these days. That applies to all the software discussed here, not just MythTV.

Much of MythTV’s functionality is provided by plugins. Most of the modules discussed here are "official" add-ons and will be included with MythTV by default, depending upon who packaged your installation.

Enjoy!

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