What Is a Home Theater PC (HTPC)?
A home theater PC (or HTPC) is essentially a high-quality source device attached to your A/V system. The HTPC can feed audio and video content into the rest of your home theater's A/V gear (and vice versa). If you go relatively high end, you can create an HTPC that funnels audio and video into your system at a higher quality level than many moderately priced, stand-alone components.
You can create a home theater PC out of an existing PC; buy a home theater PC right off the shelf (or off a Web page); or even build your own. Building an HTPC requires a fair amount of knowledge about PCs, including some skill at opening up a PC and installing new cards and drives and being able to install and troubleshoot drivers and other software.
Depending on your needs, a home theater PC should be able to do some or all of the following:
Store audio (music) files: No matter the file type, HTPCs need hard drive space and software for audio files.
Store video clips: Homemade camcorder movies, downloaded movie trailers, or even downloaded full movies and TV shows belong on the HTPC. You need (again) hard drive space and software to make this happen.
Play CDs and DVDs: This is an easy requirement because most PCs can at least play back CDs, but playing DVDs is also essential in a home theater environment.
Act as a DVR (digital video recorder): This is an optional function that uses the HTPC’s hard drive to record television shows — essentially making it act like a TiVo or your cable or satellite provider’s DVR.
Let you play video games on the big screen: With the right hardware, PCs are sometimes even better than gaming consoles in terms of game-type stuff, such as frames per second (or things blown to bits per millisecond).
Tune in to online music and video content: You can grab a lot of awesome content on the Internet these days. Why not enjoy it on the big screen and with the good audio equipment?
Provide a high-quality, progressive video signal to your display: All PCs have a built-in video system that’s designed to display on a PC monitor. Most PCs, however, can’t display on a TV, at least not at a high quality. An HTPC needs special hardware — which doesn’t cost too much money — to make this happen. (This investment also gives you better performance on your PC’s monitor.)
Decode and send to your display HDTV content: This is another optional function. With the right hardware inside (an HDTV-capable video card and a TV tuner card), HTPCs can provide a cheap way to decode over-the-air HDTV signals and send them to your home theater display.