Due to potential complexities, a home theater PC is not for everyone. It requires a certain amount of patience to set up a basic one, and a lot more work to make it easy to use for others.
There are countless sites that cover part selection & assembly or purchase of PCs, I will probably not go into it here. What you need to have really depends on what you plan to do with it. Check the requirements and suggestions of the software and hardware you plan to use, and leave a margin for expansion and upgrading.
To find who makes quiet products for use in a PC, try http://www.silentpcreview.com/
. Keeping the HTPC quiet is often desirable. Keeping the fan and drive noise to a minimum prevents distraction from a movie. Keep in mind that keeping the computer cool and quiet might require compromises such as better fans, bigger heat sinks. I don't suggest just buying slower-flow fans or slowing them down unless you are certain that the components will still operate within factory recommendations.
Currently 512 megabytes is recommended, although I personally could do pretty well with 256 if I needed to, and still not run out of room. Memory is inexpensive, so getting a little more isn't a bad thing.
Currently the best warranty goes to Seagate, with their 5 year warranties on all internal hard drives. The warranty may vary by country, so check before buying.
A single large hard drive is probably the best for quiet operation. For Windows use, I suggest a 10-20GB system and program partition, with the rest of the drive as one large data partition. This is nice because the operating system might occasionally corrupt its own partition because of high file use, a seprate data partition is often still fine.
is a place where you can find performance information on drives, for HTPC, the part of most concern is drive noise and drive heat.
The next up for performance is to buy a small capacity fast hard drive and use it for the operating system and programs, and a large and slow hard drive for data. This allows the operating system and programs to start up and react quicker. This option is only recommended if you have a good means of silencing and cooling two drives.
I recommend at minimum, a standard DVD-ROM drive, although a DVD writer can be bought for very little. A Pioneer DVR-108D can be bought for less than $100 and it can read + & - standard discs, as well as dual layer discs. Advice for re-flashing drives can be found elsewhere on the internet, and is only recommended for experienced computer tweakers. I personally have one DVD +/- writer, as well as a CD read-only drive that tests well with Exact Audio Copy for making good rips for MP3s.
DVD software players
WinDVD (currently latest version is 5.0 Platinum)
Currently no software DVD player has good deinterlacing quality necessary to get the most out of most animation on DVD. dScaler 5's MPEG decoder shows some promise, but as it is alpha level code, the results are mixed.
Divx and other digital media players: Divx site
Some programs can be used to set up audio jukeboxes.
Unless you plan to play 3D games, there is little merit to buying the latest video card. I personally would recommend ATI 8500 or ATI 9500 or better cards because of their HDTV dongle compatibility. Matrox seems to have the best color scaling and TV output for composite or s-video. nVidia supposedly has the next best TV composite or s-video output followed by ATI. ATI has the edge in component output though.
If you have a TV tuner or video capture card, try this software:
It takes a little while to tune everything in, but I think it is well worth it.
Recommended video capture cards:
Flyvideo 2000 or nearly any Philips SAA 713x based tuner card
possibly any Connectix Cx2388x based card.
The Holo3DGraph series has a lot of the best features, and includes a FLI 2200 or FLI 2300 hardware deinterlacer, but it is very expensive, starting at around $400 for a used or refurbished original card (FLI 2200 based), up to $1200 for the second version (FLI 2300 based) with a DVI add-on. Both Holo3DGraph boards seem to be discontinued now though.
First, try the on-board sound chip, especially if it has a working digital audio output. For the price range, Turtle Beach Santa Cruz card has been a favorite in the past. Other recommendations include Chaintech AV710, Maudio Revo and E-Mu 0404. For best sound, a good external sound box is preferred.
For gaming, Creative products are often most recommended.
Personal Video Recorder Software
For the Linux inclined:
I don't know much about Windows equivalents of these, although Intervideo sells a WinPVR. They are on version 3, which I hope is better than version 2 that I've tried.
Nvidia includes Intervideo's solution.
ATI AIW come with their own PVR program. (Which is excellent.) ATI AIW's are also natural video capture cards. In their price range they have no equal.
There is also Beyond TV.
For budget solutions, try these sites:
You may try commercial software as well, although I recommend avoiding Pinnacle's Studio program. Compared to other software, it is inefficient, less flexible and a lot more crash prone.
HDTV on HTPC
ATI has direct support for component analog output on certain video cards. It requires an adaptor direct from ATI. It is model specific, click here for info: ATI Component Dongle FAQ
fractured78 says ATI supposedly does not support HD over DVI. (Jeff: huh? don't they support WXGA? Most digital HD-type displays are WXGA)
I have a DVICO HD tuner, it seems to be pretty decent. They say 1.6GHz CPU for non-ATI cards, and really I think they should say 2.0GHz or better, because some frames do drop, the higher the CPU, the better the decoding. For ATI display cards, 800MHz CPUs are supposedly all that is needed because they have on-board MPEG2 decoding.
For linux Video Input:
Under Linux, the Bt8x8 and Cx8x8 chips are generally the best supported of the available video capture chips. Other types of cards do work but I haven't experimented with them, check the hardware support lists. AVS Forum has a Linux HTPC subforum, please go there for more information.
Thanks to Citizen Klaus, fractured78, mulveling and Skywise for input.