HTPC Tip Of The Day: Building Basics


A lot of people prefer to build their own HTPC. There are a few different reasons for this including customization, cheaper then an OEM PC, and hardware choice. Of course the most important reason is because it is fun! Even though my latest HTPC is of the Dell variety, I still tweak and build when ever I have the time and money ;).

I will get into the specific builds in a minute. Right now I want to talk a bit about the general philosophy that should guide you regardless of the type of HTPC you build. The whole point of an HTPC is that it will be hooked up in your home theater and as such should look and feel like a consumer electronics device such as a DVD player or cable box. The Wife Acceptance Factor, WAF as it is known to enthusiasts, is the metric by which your HTPC will be judged. 

Think of WAF as the Olympics. You have four events you have to participate in and you have to perform at the top of the game to impress THE judge. The four categories you have to excel in is:

Usability –  Is it as easy as a DVD player to use? Will it take longer then a minute to figure out how to use? Consider this, you may think you are in an event that will take a while to complete and you can take your time. However, lots of time you don’t even get past the first minute and you have failed.

Function – Does the HTPC freeze? How stable is it? Even it freezes the third Tuesday of the fifth week of every month you could be in for a reduced WAF.

Looks – Beige Box? I think not!

Noise – During this event, you some how have to perform a miracle of making this machine not seen and not heard but it still has to look good and match the decor. 

Good luck? Even if you perform at the top of your game and you expect a gold medal or at least a job well done. It can be all undone by these simple words. It really isn’t like the cable box can we switch back? 

As you can tell by now there is a lot to take into consideration when building your next HTPC. Now that we have our guiding philosophy in place, lets talk a bit about the two different types of HTPCs we can build.

Stand Alone HTPC 

The first and what I think is more popular is the stand alone HTPC. This HTPC performs all functions and is typically not connected to a server. Though with VMC users, many folks have a stand alone HTPC that only performs PVR duties and the rest of the media is served from a server. 

The stand alone box is typically a full-atx build with a couple of TV Tuners and maybe even a sound card installed. The downside of this is that you have to stuff more hardware including extra hard drives for storage space which can add a significatn amount of heat. The upside is that the larger cases and motherboards allow for more flexability and larger quieter fans for cooling.



Client HTPC

The client HTPC connects to a server that performs all of the media streaming and PVR duties. This allows for a lot less hardware and typically a much smaller case such as the TF5 from Omaura picture below.

It is hard to argue with the looks and feel of a well built slim client. However, from an enthusiast perspective it does limit the hardware you can use.



Speaking of builds, does this mean you are finally going to do build guides again? You slackers!  As a matter of fact it does! No ETA yet, but we are working on them 🙂