As mentioned on the Project Page, this, is an ongoing project for improving my HTPC solution. Its combination of services allows me to search for, download, and update all of my movies, TV shows and music, regardless of where I am in the world, and without needing any user interaction. Controlling the back-end processes, if needed, can be done through any web browser. When media downloads complete, alerts are sent to both my fiancée’s and my phone, as well as are displayed on our HTPC connected TV itself.
The two sides to a HTPC are the “invisible” background services that acquire, maintain, and organize content (from here on referred to as the back-end), and the user interface that the viewer interacts with in order to experience the content on their TV (from here on referred to as the front-end). A HTPC without a solid back-end will require a lot of “manual labor”, while a HTPC without a front-end will tend to be difficult to use, disorganized, and not very nice to look at. In my personal opinion, since my HTPC is the “hub” of my TV, the front-end is the most important aspect of the HTPC – if my fiancée can’t figure it out because the controls are confusing, then it has to change.
Any computer can technically function as a HTPC, though some will obviously perform better than others. In the case of my HTPC, I wanted a device that I could keep on my TV stand, and I also wanted something that would be relatively silent. After a bit of research, I ended up purchasing an Intel NUC, D34010WYK. The small form factor makes it perfect as a set-top box, the IR receiver allows remote input, and the customizable specs fit perfectly for my needs. While the limited storage options in this model could be an issue, I currently store my media on an external hard drive (I’m exploring NAS options), so this fits my needs perfectly. Additionally, for complete silence and a neat looking exterior, I purchased an Akasa Newton H, an enclosure that acts as a giant heat sink, allowing me to remove the NUC’s single fan. Below is a list of all the base hardware components I used:
This hardware, once assembled, will allow for flawless HD playback over HDMI, Wireless-AC support, Bluetooth connectivity, as well as lightning fast boot times using the SSD.
Another key aspect when it comes to HTPCs is where the media itself is stored. The 120GB SSD mentioned above is simply too small for the amount of media I have, and is used purely for the operating system, various back-end services and temporary storage for downloads before they are organized and transferred to their final storage spot. I’ll preface these next few sentences with the fact that I’m currently investigating networked attached storage (NAS) solutions. The benefit to a NAS is that the media is not stored on the computer locally; it is instead stored in a centralized location making it easier for multiple HTPCs play them over the network. That being said, I’m currently storing my media on external hard drives connected directly to the HTPC. It’s not the best solution, but it’s the cheapest, and better yet, it works.
There are various options for a base HTPC OS. Some people prefer OpenELEC, a lightweight Linux distro that has XBMC (a front-end software) preinstalled. Others prefer Windows 7 due to stability and compatibility with other Windows applications. Some people use their Mac Mini as an HTPC, OS X being the base OS.
Personally, I prefer Windows 8.1 as my HTPC platform. The Metro UI interface allows for easy navigation with a remote control, and the tiles are the perfect size for use as a “pseudo 10 Foot Interface”. Additionally, Windows 8 has a variety of performance tweaks making it faster than Windows 7.
There are also a variety other services and programs installed that weave together to form the HTPC experience, and will eventually be found in their respective Front-end and Back-end pages, when complete.