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official blog of marquis montgomery: complete with notes, rants, reviews, tips, and tricks.

TAG: acer

How to build the ultimate home theater PC setup

High Definition Television
Get a good one. That a whole other can of worms, I’ll direct you to Home Theater Mag if you need pointers.

Computer Hardware
One word – Mac Mini.

People who know me wont be surprised by this, but the new Mac mini is probably the best way to get things going on the CPU side of things. Yes, at $699 its a little pricey, but the small size and whisper quiet operation of the thing makes it perfect for hiding behind or under your TV.

Trust me, if you cut corners and get a $300 net-top or something (like I did initially), you will pay dearly. My experience with the Acer Aspire Revo was abysmal. It was great, until I actually tried playing any flash content or 1080p video files. I don’t care how you cut it, a home theater PC is useless if it can’t play netflix, hulu, or a 1080p video file. Even after upgrading to a $450 quad core box small enough to fit in my media center, the AMD processors (what you get for that price) STILL did not give me the performance I needed, and it was louder than my vacuum cleaner. Eventually I ponied up for the new Mac mini (the one with the HDMI port) and its been great. Buttery smooth HD playback of everything, nice and quiet. In fact, after about a month of using it, I don’t think I have ever heard more than a whisper out of the thing. Perfect.

Storage
One thing you need to consider is how your going to store your local library of content. Many of us have a huge stash of audio and video content loaded on a computer or external hard drive somewhere, and your going to want that on your home theater computer, or at least be able to access it somehow. Suggestions – get a Mac Mini with a big enough hard drive for all your content, and if you have more than 250GB of content, get a Drobo. Yes, its expensive. But it automatically backs itself up, and its expandable so you can make your drive pool bigger over time. Totally worth it.

Among other things, what I don’t recommend is you run a separate computer with all your content on it, and leave it on all day just to serve content to your Mac mini. If your like me, you have a Core i7 machine and flat panel display sucking down at least 400 watts of power. Not cool if you leave that on 24/7.

Controller
You will need a wireless mouse and keyboard. Get this, or something like it.

Software
Now there are a number of things you will need to install on this thing to get it going well.
Hulu Desktop – do I even need to explain this?
Plex – Media center software is necessary, and Plex is the one that I have settled on. Boxee and XBMC are notable choices too, however. My advice is check them all out and pick one. Then load up your huge storage library content into its libraries and have fun.
Silverlight – you’ll need this to make Netflix work.

That’s it. Enjoy.

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