Building a Home Theater Personal Computer (HTPC) requires specialized hardware to deliver a high-quality viewing experience for the customer. Each piece of equipment must connect and properly provide the necessary services and resources to support the different demands required from an HTPC system.
A useful feature of an HTPC is the ability to record a video program to watch at a later time. HTPC systems can be designed to display live television, stream movies and Internet content, display family photos and videos, and even surf the Internet on a television. Consider the following hardware when building an HTPC:
- Specialized cases and power supplies - Smaller motherboards can be used when building an HTPC so that the components can fit into a more compact form factor case. This small form factor looks like a component usually found in a home theater. Usually an HTPC case contains large fans that move more slowly and create less noise than those found in an average workstation. Power supplies that do not have fans can be used (depending on power requirements) to further reduce the amount of noise created by the HTPC. Some HTPC designs contain high-efficient components and require no fans for cooling.
- Surround sound audio - Surround sound helps to bring the viewer into the video program. An HTPC can use surround sound from the motherboard when the chipset supports it, or a dedicated sound card can be installed to output high-quality surround sound to speakers or an additional amplifier for even better sound.
- HDMI output - The HDMI standard allows for transmission of high-definition video, surround sound, and data to televisions, media receivers, and projectors.
- TV tuners and cable cards - A tuner must be used for the HTPC to display television signals. A TV tuner converts analog and digital television signals into audio and video signals that the computer can use and store. Cable cards can be used to receive television signals from a cable company. A cable card is required for access to premium cable channels. Some cable cards can receive as many as six channels simultaneously.
- Specialized hard drive - Hard drives, that have low noise levels and have reduced power consumption are commonly known as audio/video drives (A/V).
Instead of building an HTPC, some clients may opt to build a Home Server PC instead. The home server PC can be placed anywhere in the home and be accessed by multiple devices at the same time. The home server shares files and streams audio, video, and photos to computers, laptops, tablets, televisions, and other media devices over the network. A home server may have a RAID array to protect valuable data from a hard drive failure. To stream data to multiple devices without delays, install a gigabit NIC.