Convergence is the big buzzword in the world of consumer electronics. It seems that, at every Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) invites Bill Gates to speak to the industry to highlight the very bumpy road from analog AV gear to computer-controlled home theater systems.
The most obvious example of PC convergence is the home theater PC (HTPC), which is basically a powerful computer configured to manage audio and video files, record HDTV like a TiVo, manage photos and even surf the Internet. Some companies get even more advanced with HTPCs, enabling them to control complete home automation systems. Nearly all of these systems run on Microsoft Windows, more specifically today Windows Vista or Windows 7, whereas other more traditional media servers run on more generic operating systems and are more specific in their tasks, i.e., being solely a music server or a video server. The learning curve has been slow in the HTPC world, mostly because of issues in tweaking the Vista operating system for the needs of home theater users.
No HTPC can directly currently receive a signal from satellite TV, meaning that after a $10,000 investment in an HTPC, a consumer might be asked to sacrifice watching NFL football on Sundays via the NFL Sunday Ticket Program. Consumers are slow to adopt home theater PCs. Installers are also reticent to install them, as connections to the Internet and PC capabilities open them up to a world of troubleshooting (like viruses that may download to the PC) that their support models are not designed to support. Installers tend to like closed-ended systems and media servers that are more limited in scope, as they are less susceptible to problems. No matter what, installers need to keep an eye on this new category of gear, as there is no stopping home theater PCs.
One of the key requirements for an HTPC is an HDMI Output, something many have.
Apple in the World of Home Theater PCs
Apple is known for doing its own thing. They are no different in the world of home theater PCs. Apple refuses to put RS-232 connections on their systems, thereby flipping the bird to the entire custom installation community. The Apple iPod is the class of the music server business, but they only sell music files that are one-fourth to one-fifth the resolution of the not very high-resolution compact disc through iTunes.
Audiophiles and everyone else who cares about the quality of their music at home have noticed that Apple doesn't care about quality.
Apple's TV product was one of the worst media server devices we've seen to date, but their version 2 is drastically improved. Evidently, they didn't read any of the reviews calling for a simple and affordable RS-232 connection, so that people who have real systems with real remotes (such as Crestron) can use their products.