Cheap guide to Home Theater PC (HTPC)

I am moving out to a new apartment soon and have been looking forward to set up a budget home theater system. Preferably using the stuffs that I already have to minimize the cost.

Before I start, here are my ‘modern & most demanding‘ requirements :

  • Watch local live TV channels & listen to local live radio stations without antenna
  • Able to play DVD and Blu-ray discs
  • Play both SD and HD videos from my portable hard disk
  • Play high definition audio formats (MP3, etc)
  • Watch Youtube and other online streaming contents
  • Surf the Internet in full fledged desktop format
  • Play advanced PC games via a wireless controller
  • Run Android games and apps
  • must be FAST FAST and FAST!

As this will probably be quite a long article, I will probably segregate it into segments. Hey, at least I don’t burn myself out and you guys got something new to read everyday as well (well, that is IF I manage to update it daily – which is not that frequent anymore.. hahaha :mrgreen: )

It looks like I need a Home Theater PC based on the requirements. While those high ends Android TV’s are cheap and can do most of the stuffs listed above with some limitations. I have actually thought of buying one for myself. However – being a power user, why limit when I don’t have to? 8)

Don’t underestimate the Android MK802, other than running on Android 4.0, with some custom tweaks, it can even run Ubuntu!

Buying a HTPC off the shelf seems to be the most easiest and less headache solution available. Not only it looks great on your TV cabinet, it is also damn expensive as well.. hehehe :mrgreen:

So how do we resort to a (possibly) better and cheaper solution?

Simple, use your existing desktop PC! But wait, will that huge ugly chunk and noisy desktop be placed on top or beside your TV cabinet? It does seems out of place doesn’t it? And placing it there will lose you the ability to use your desktop PC as a standalone device (in the case of connecting display straight to your LCD / LED / Plasma (not recommended) TV). And in some cases, your desktop’s worth more than a dedicated HTPC 🙄

Would you like to know a way which you can keep your original desktop setup (like the picture below)?

… and still able to run a dedicated HTPC on your big TV?

I am not talking about the standard hooking the CPU display to both your computer monitor and your big screen TV. That will just result in 2 screen / monitor settings. Although this is OK for some, but what happens.. let’s say you want to use the desktop for some web browsing, and the kids want to watch youtube on the big screen TV. Everytime the clip ends, you need to stop whatever that you are doing and click on youtube next video. Plus, you can’t do anything when video is in fullscreen, else it will jump back to windowed mode.. then you hear your kids screaming and before you know it, you’re screaming and pulling out your hair as well 😛

So, would you really like to know the way to get around this?

I’ll explain it to you in my next post tomorr… just kidding! I’ll explain it here right now so there is something new that you can learn today and possibly teach others how to do it as well. Unfortunately this is not a free approach (I wish it was free, if by any chance you guys know how to do this for free, share the word!) but it was cheap enough compared to an additional PC / HTPC that fits this requirements.

There are several paid applications (or visualization) softwares available on the internet for this. I’ve come across several but the ‘cheapest’ (review coming soon once I purchased it) is SoftXpand which supports Windows 7 (both 32 and 64bit). It is currently priced at USD49 for its Windows 7 version.

How does it work?

Simple. In term of hardware – Leave your standard desktop as it is – just connect another pair of keyboard and mouse (wireless preferably), and connect your TV from PC HDMI port (or VGA out if you do not have HDMI). You need to have 2 display cards for this. But the norm are 1 built in and another PCI-E graphic card on most PC – that will suite the requirement well. If you want another dedicated audio out, you may want to purchase a cheap USB soundcard too.

Pictured above is my planned setup for ‘the cheap guide to HTPC’. That little keyboard like thing is the Cideko Air Keyboard. It is a wireless keyboard and also an air mouse. You basically wave the device and your mouse pointer will move accordingly (uses a gyro to track movements). This little thing retails around RM199 currently found @ Digital Mall (possibly cheaper @ Lowyat plaza). Considering a full fledged wireless keyboard and mouse costs around the same and not suited for HTPC, this one here is the chosen one 🙂

It is wise to use an USB hub and place it near your TV. This way you can attach Cideko’s wireless dongle facing towards you. Also allows easier access to USB so when your friends brought movies stored in their external HDD or thumbdrives, just plug it in and leave that on your TV cabinet. Your friends will wonder on WHAT are you running these on and will start to follow the cable trails… 😛

Now back to the software side.

SoftXpand cleverly splits your PC into 2! So whatever you do on your current desktop system does not effect what you do on your HTPC. You can even play multiplayer games between these two if your hardware is capable.

So there you go – for around RM350 / USD110 you can get yourself a HTPC that is capable to play HD videos, surf the internet, play advanced PC games (with multiplayer options), probably hook up a webcam for living room Skype video call, do all sorts of things that you can do on your desktop PC…

And also run Android apps and games.. which I will cover in my future blog (seriously!). Not to mention about the other requirements (watch local live TV and radio channels on your PC / HTPC). So stay tuned and subscribe by filling up your email on the form that’s located at the right side of this blog. Basically (it looks like below and around) here ->

Not subscribing? That’s okay.. I put this up for myself really (because I’m a bit forgetful) 😀

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , ,

5 Responses to “Cheap guide to Home Theater PC (HTPC)”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Buy a skybox at rm300 and watch all of astro channels plus more for 20 bucks a month. It also plays via usb all known video formats saving you the need to buy a media player.

    Rather prefer to do my computing in front of a real pc as the kids would normally occupy my one and only tv.

    • neato4u Says:

      Thanks buddy for the tips. Yes I checked about skybox but it also requires an astro dish. Plus, the subscription for a year is an added RM250 making it more expensive then my planned setup. Unfortunately it doesn’t fulfill most of my requirements.

      With SoftXpand, you can still use your pc for your computing needs, and in addition, use the TV for gaming and movies (and computing too if needed) simultaneously.

      Skybox is more suited for those who are more focused in (primarily) watching live tv and (optional) playback of movies via usb. And that’s just about what you can get with a roughly RM550+ vs RM350+.

  2. Mini PC Says:

    Mini PC…

    […]Cheap guide to Home Theater PC (HTPC) « Neato4u's Blog[…]…

  3. Product Review – SoftXpand Duo 2011: Cheap HTPC with SoftXpand « Neato4u's Blog Says:

    […] previously mentioned on my ‘Cheap guide to Home Theather PC (HTPC)‘ post – Here is my unbiased honest product review of the key product which makes […]

  4. Russell Says:

    If some one wishes to be updated with latest technologies then he must be pay
    a visit this web site and be up to date every
    day.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: