So you’ve set up an awesome home theatre, but you’re still using outdated DVDs and Blu-ray discs. If you’re tired of hearing all the talk about PC-based media centres, take some time this weekend and set one up for yourself — you won’t be disappointed with the results.
Choose Your Hardware
Whether you build a new computer from scratch, buy a cheap nettop or customise a jailbroken Apple TV, it’s easy to see why a DIY HTPC won most popular set-top box in our Hive Five — heck, even two of our writers said they’d rather spend money on an HTPC than a new iPad. We’ve run down the pros and cons of each set up before, so check out out Ask Lifehacker on the subject for more information.
Once you’ve got the basic hardware down, you have a few add-ons you can build in to beef it up even more. If you want live TV on your media centre, you can get an internal or external TV tuner that will work with your cable or antenna. You can also get a remote that works out of the box with your media centre software of choice (see below), or get any remote you want and use something like LIRC to link the two together. Your iPhone or Android device makes a handy remote, too.
Choose Your Software
As you’re perusing your hardware options, it’s a good idea to keep in mind what software you’ll use as well. We’re pretty partial to XBMC around here: it has a huge community, tons of great add-ons that expand its functionality, and you can customise it to the nines. Plus it’s open source, which means there are a lot of neat variations out there, like OpenELEC, that offer other features.
Of course, you could also try something like Plex, which has great streaming features, or Windows Media Center, which is especially easy to use for non-geeks. Most of this software is free, too, so you can try a few things out before you settle down on one.
Gather Up Your Media
Next, it’s time to decide how you’ll get your media (and where you’ll store it). Obviously, you can rip those DVDs and Blu-ray discs yourself, which gives you complete control over the process — but takes a long time. Alternatively, you can set your computer to automatically download new TV shows as soon as they’ve aired, essentially turning it into an internet DVR. Couple this with a self-built NAS and you’ve got a nice streaming setup going.
Alternatively, you could stream those videos over UPnP from any computer in the house, or, if you want to get really traditional on is, just stick a really big hard drive in your HTPC and store your videos there instead.
Up The Wow Factor With Awesome Extras
Okay, so now you have a box that looks awesome and plays all your digital movies. But if you really want to go the distance, we’ve covered a few ways to really power up your HTPC. If you want to enable Blu-ray playback for those discs you haven’t ripped, you can do so with a simple XBMC add-on. You can also turn your media centre into a video game console so you have all your media in one place. And, if you have more than one HTPC in the house, you can synchronise them all together so you can pause a movie in one room and resume it from that same spot in another.
We’ve talked a lot about DIY media centres over the years, and while it can feel like we’ve exhausted the topic, we know there’s so much more out there you can do. If you’ve built a media centre for yourself and have any tips we didn’t mention, be sure to share them in the comments below.