A lot of people have asked me this question in the past: what exactly is a Home Entertainment PC? The easy answer is that it's a PC that you have in the living room, which you use to stream media onto an HDTV. It just requires some cables and then you're ready to go. The problem is that most PCs are pretty big and would be an eyesore in your living room, which is why we've put together this post to show you how to do this.
There are two ways to go for converting you PC into a HTPC. The first option involves using a smaller case or computer to serve your HTPC needs. The second option would entail getting an all-in-one computer, like an iMac, a Lenovo Ideacenter, or an HP Touchsmart. The latter option is a great way to cut down on some devices and tech for smaller homes and rooms. Almost all of your media needs can be met by an all-in-one computer. You can get your shows from iTunes or Netflix, set up your gaming console to use the screen, and since most of these come with bigger monitors, including the 27" iMac, you'll get a great monitor as well. Prices vary from about $500 to $1,800.
The easiest way to convert your PC into an HTPC is to simply purchase a new HTPC and transfer some files over using an external HD or your WiFi network. Converting an existing PC into an HTPC is somewhat more problematic. The reason is that you'll need to get yourself a newer, smaller case. Once you have the case, which usually comes with almost everything included except the hard drive, you can just install your old hard drive into this new HTPC. If you are planning on doing so, we recommend using only a data drive, not a drive on which Windows was installed, because Windows might have trouble running with all of these hardware changes. It's best to have a fresh install on these machines. These types of computers are what we call barebones computers, which some parts missing so that you can customize them. However nowadays, most HTPCs come with everything included.
The new case can be of a few different small dimensions, but one of the smallest that we've seen is the Shuttle X350. The basic configuration starts out at around $400 which includes a 160GB hard drive. It comes with built-in WiFi, so that there are no extra wires to deal with. The X350 is small enough to mount behind an HDTV. The drawback is that it's fanless, so your HD could hypothetically overheat.
Another interesting option would be the Asus Eee Box. It starts out at $270, is about the same size as the Shuttle X350 and has similar features. Both of these HTPCs are 1L computers, meaning that they are quite small and compact.
Lastly, if these HTPCs don't really work for you since you've got a Mac and would rather have another Mac product, then the Mac Mini does a great job. It's very similar to the other computers. The one thing that you have to remember is that there are many of these computers available right now, and it's definitely convenient to have one of these in your living room.
[Top photo by Tweaktown, Eee Box photo by Jim Teece]