Page 1 | Page 2Is it fair to say that audio/video source components have changed radically over the past few years? As technology continues its persistent march forward into the future, it's often our source components that are the first to be put out to pasture. I've been involved in the hobby of audiophilia and home theater for over fifteen years, during which time I've owned countless source components such as turntables and cassette, CD, mini-disc (remember those?), SACD, VHS, D-VHS, laserdisc, DVD, HD DVD and now Blu-ray players. It wouldn't be as bad had I not owned multiples of each, for all too often, even within the scope of a single format, changes would force me to purchase all-new players - or they just outright broke (ahem, first-generation Blu-ray). With source components on their way out, along with physical media, it may seem odd that I'm suggesting that you build a source component in the form of an HTPC, but that's precisely what I'm about to do. Not because I feel you need another source component, but because I believe the HTPC is THE LAST source component worth your investment, for when physical media goes the way of the dinosaur, you'll still have the need for an HTPC.
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HTPCs are nothing new. In fact, they've been with us for some time and have developed a sort of cultish following among specialty forums and such throughout the Internet. There have been a few companies over the years that have attempted to take the HTPC mainstream, but most have largely failed. Others gave them new names, such as Sooloos and Kaleidescape, and found ways of charging a king's ransom for what many knew to be possible for a few hundred dollars. For me, I became interested in HTPCs following a few discussions over on our forum, HomeTheaterEquipment.com, regarding how to rip and store media of different types in order to get off the format rollercoaster. While I wasn't able to contribute to the conversation in any meaningful way at the time - I was a Mac guy and had no Earthly idea how to build a PC, much less a purpose-built home theater one - I was intrigued, so much so that I sought out what I thought was going to be a solid compromise between my Mac self and the HTPC group in the form of the Dune HD Max player. The Dune HD Max player opened my eyes to a whole new world and got me thinking, "What would it really take to build a future-proof platform from which I could enjoy virtually every piece of content I had in my possession?"
As I would come to find out - it's not that hard.
I began my HTPC build by making a list of all the content I wanted to be able to play back, as well as a set of features and/or methods I wanted to employ in order to enjoy said content. It wasn't a big list, but I urge anyone considering a build such as mine to make one, for it's always easier to add and subtract on paper than it is in the physical realm. For me, my HTPC would have to do the following: play back CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays in their full native formats and be able to be upgraded to 4K or be 4K-ready out of the gate, as well as be easy and intuitive to use. That last criteria would be judged not by me but by my wife, who admittedly says a prayer every time she goes online, for technology "scares" her. Since I've been a Mac enthusiast for nearly as long as I've been into home theater, I thought I'd start there. However, it didn't take long before I realized Apple wasn't the place to turn to for true full-resolution playback of anything, even if they scored high marks for ease of use. Knowing nothing of PCs and their respective components, I hunkered down for some long nights of reading and doing research.
What I discovered was, just as with home theater, many of the specialty PC publications tended to focus on the latest and greatest the industry had to offer. Not that doing so is an altogether bad thing, but as great as an Intel i7 Ivy Bridge (or even Sandy Bridge) processor is, it's overkill for what is required to play back HD and even 4K content. I got a glimpse of the battle between AMD and Intel, much like the arguments between audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts, with both sides exuding levels of passionate discourse that rival anything I've seen or read as it pertains to vinyl vs. digital downloads. I'll spare you the details, in hopes that this article will get you on the right path quicker and with fewer headaches than what I endured.
Read about the parts and the build of this HTPC on Page 2.