The evolution of the HTPC
Ten years ago, the home theater PC really didn’t exist. Back then most computer users used their PCs for productivity applications like Word and Excel, while gamers were booting up Quake for the very first time (the original Quake was released on May 31st 1996 according to Gamespot.com). Sure, there were TV tuner cards back then, in fact ATI and Hauppauge were battling it out quite fiercely in the multimedia segment, but most computer users weren’t using these TV-capable PCs with the mindset of digital media being its primary use. Instead TV tuning was considered an added bonus.
Slowly but surely though, that mindset started to change.
After the TV tuner card, arguably the first technology that played a significant role in the HTPC’s development was DVD. Thanks to DVD, computer users could watch high resolution full-length DVD movies on their PC for the first time. Newer, more powerful system chipsets also played an important role in the HTPC’s development that’s often forgotten. Core logic manufacturers such as Intel, VIA, SiS, and NVIDIA integrated new features that had never been found on the chipset before such as audio and networking. Traditionally these duties had been provided by separate external devices. These manufacturers also enriched their chipsets with lots of connectivity options, such as USB and FireWire. With the chipset’s added complexity, manufacturers were able to more easily produce fully-fledged PCs that took up smaller amounts of space. This finally culminated into Shuttle’s XPC lineup, which also played a significant role in the HTPC’s development.
Shuttle’s XPC demonstrated to the world that a PC a little larger than a shoebox could perform on par with a full-sized desktop system. Starting especially with their second generation chassis’s Shuttle also demonstrated that their XPCs could be stylish, sitting right alongside the receiver, DVD player, and other components inside a home theater system with no problem aesthetically. The days of the boring old beige box were finally over.
The one key downside to Shuttle’s XPC however was its high cost. Prices on XPCs typically started around $300 and quickly went up from there. While $300+ may not sound like much to some, for most that’s a lot to pay for what is essentially just a case and motherboard. And it’s a case and motherboard with limited expansion options at that. Meanwhile, system cases that rivaled the XPC in looks were few and far between, sometimes coming from obscure manufacturers and always selling for a premium.
Fortunately nowadays things have changed. Not only can you find a wide range of HTPC chassis to choose from on store shelves, they come from known names in the case business like Antec, CoolerMaster, Lian Li, Thermaltake, and many others. In addition, prices on HTPC chassis sell for the same price, if not lower than many full-size desktop cases. When you combine this with the fact that chipsets have more features integrated into them than ever before, you can build yourself a pretty powerful HTPC for the same price, if not less than a typical gaming rig.
That’s what we set out to do in today’s article, and with the help of Newegg that’s exactly what we’ve accomplished. Let’s go over the parts we’re using for this build…