The HTPC or "Home Theater PC" is a popular but often nebulous concept. Everyone would agree that a fundamental component is that the pc be connected to a television but what the HTPC is used for is something to debate. Some people use a HTPC to play games on the big screen, while others see it as a way to enjoy high-quality DVD, others see it as a music/video/image jukebox, and still others see it as a way to get a low-cost HDTV by using a desktop monitor rather than TV.
The problem with having a HTPC doing multiple tasks is that it becomes more difficult to integrate the software and yet your wallet gets thinner and thinner. Instead of starting off with a full-fledged HTPC, we're going to start with a very introductory approach to the HTPC and then through follow-up articles, add more features.
For this introductory HTPC article, we have two very specific tasks: DVD upsampled to HDTV resolutions, and a personal TV recorder. Since we're "lazy," our HTPC needs to perform like a real piece of home theater equipment as much as possible. The system should integrate itself seamlessly, and shouldn't force the user to think about it as a computer. The HTPC also has to have an advantage over a similar dedicated component – there's no point in reinventing the wheel unless you can make it faster, smaller, and cheaper.
Why these two tasks?
We've designed this system as an ideal starting point for anyone with a "HDTV ready" television.
Having a PC-based TIVO is ideal for a number of reasons. The most important factor is cost. Both TIVO and ReplayTV charge a subscription fee and ridiculous premiums for larger hard drives. With a PC, you can add and replace IDE hard drives on a whim and also enjoy free TV listings. In addition, it is possible to enjoy higher quality video through a PC-based system through improved video scaling than would otherwise be possible with a standard unit.
Finally, ATI and other third-party software applications have media server applications that will allow their multimedia products to stream video to client systems on your desktop, and NVIDIA is expected to add this capability to its Personal Cinema line in the near future.
The upsampled DVD is the more important feature in our HTPC today. Even if cost is no object, the HTPC approach to DVD can offer better picture quality than any stand-alone unit. DVDs are recorded with 480 lines of resolution, however it turns out that upsampling the video to a 720p or 1080i resolution for HDTV and HDTV-ready televisions will offer the best quality.