Top 10 Ways To Power Up Your Home Theatre PC

Whether you’ve built yourself an XBMC machine, a Boxee box, or a Windows Media centre PC, here are our ten favourite ways to turn a home theatre PC into a media-watching powerhouse.

10. Load Up On The Plug-Ins

If you haven’t gone into your media center’s plug-in repository, you’re missing out. XBMC alone has a ton of cool content available, including those that let you play Netflix, Blu-Rays, Grooveshark, and more. You also have skins galore, which can make your home theatre PC a gorgeous beast suitable for impressing all your friends. And, of course, you can grab plug-ins for Windows Media Center and Boxee as well.[imgclear]

9. Whip Your Metadata And Art Into Shape

Of course, if you want to take full advantage of those beautiful skins, you’ll need to make sure your media’s metadata and art are up to snuff. Programs like XBMC follow specific rules to determine which files are what, so you’ll need to make sure your library follows all those rules This can take a bit of work if your library starts out disorganised, but it’s worth it for the wow factor it adds to your machine.[imgclear]

8. Add A TV Tuner

So you’ve got on-demand movies and TV shows on your machine, but there’s still something to be said for seeing what’s on the tube when it’s on the tube. With an inexpensive TV tuner, you can turn your on-demand-only home theatre PC into a full-featured, DIY DVR. You can watch live TV, record your favourite shows, and funnel them right into your media centre program of choice. There’s no need to buy an expensive separate device when you can integrate it into your existing system.

7. Automatically Download TV Shows As Soon As They’ve Aired

If the TV tuner route isn’t quite your style, you can also download your favourite shows using BitTorrent or Usenet and get them funnelled into your favourite media centre program. Our detailed guide will help you set up an automatic downloader that’ll grab new episodes as soon as they’ve aired, so it’s almost like having a real live PVR right on your system.[imgclear]

6. Get An Awesome Remote

Sure, the Windows Media Center remote might have worked fine when you first bought your machine, but why add more remotes to your coffee table when you could control everything with one, universal remote? We’ve shown you how to control a PC with any infrared remote using LIRC, which is a perfect setup for home theatre PCs (I’ve now got a single cheap remote controlling my HTPC, audio receiver, TV, and more). If you’d like something a bit easier but more tuned to your media centre of choice, you can always turn your iPhone or Android phone into a killer remote, too.[imgclear]

5. Set Up An HTPC That Non-Geeks Can Actually Use

Programs like XBMC are great, but let’s be honest: they really aren’t that friendly to the less tech-savvy. It’s a sad fact, but if you have a spouse or roommate that isn’t quite as in tune with the inner workings of your PC, they’ll have a hard time watching TV without you around. We’ve gone through how to set up a more friendly media centre before, and it’s worth a look if you’re getting sick of turning on the TV for your roommate every time they continue their Doctor Who marathon.[imgclear]

4. Build It Into Your Entertainment Centre

If you’ve got a box or old tower stashed inside your hotbox of an entertainment centre (or worse—sitting next to it, looking all ugly), it’s time to turn it into a more permanent fixture. We’ve gone through one cool way to do this, and all it uses is a bit of IKEA furniture and some elbow grease, and it does a great job of keeping your entertainment centre looking clean and your PC running cool.[imgclear]

3. Rule It From Afar With Wake-on-LAN

Unless you keep it on and running full steam all the time, you’ll actually need to get up and press the button to turn it on. Since most of us are a bit lazier than that, consider setting up a Wake-on-LAN system for your home theatre PC. With it, you’ll be able to turn it on from anywhere in the room, just like you would a normal set-top box for your TV. Some IR receivers even support Wake-on-LAN, so you could turn it on using the power button on your universal remote.[imgclear]

2. Synchronise Your Media Centre Between Every Room In The House

If you have more than one home theatre PC in your home, you probably like to watch TV as you move around the house. With a bit of set-up, you can actually get XBMC in sync across all your machines, so you can pause your media centre in one room and continue watching where you left off in another room.[imgclear]

1. Turn Your Media Centre Into A Video Game Console

If you aren’t satisfied with just the usual music, movies, TV, and photos, you can actually turn your media centre into a video game console as well. With a plug-in and a bit of work in XBMC, you can add emulators and ROMs galore, browse through them just like you do movies and music, and play them on demand. No longer do you need to waste space and clutter your cabinet with old game systems and controllers—you’ll be able to play nearly anything from one device, with whatever controller you want. You can also do the same thing in Boxee as well.


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