When deciding how you will enjoy your various digital media on your TV, you have a difficult choice to make: Home Theater PC (HTPC) or a set top media box. While both reach the same end result of getting digital content to your TV, the price, maintenance, and features vary drastically.
So which is the right choice for you? Read on for a breakdown of the characteristics of each and decide for yourself.
The price difference between these two options can vary considerably. Set top media boxes can cost anywhere from $60 to a few hundred, and HTPCs can cost anywhere from a couple hundred to a few thousand. There is a reason for the price difference, as a HTPC can also be used as a computer, and the parts can be upgraded over time. With a media box, you are stuck with the features and connections it comes with. The cost of a HTPC can be reduced if you use a computer you already own, however. The vast difference in price points here really shows the huge difference in the type of user for each of these options. The media box option is for the average consumer who wants a reasonably priced, easy to use media device with decent features. The HTPC user wants a custom experience with greater control and the ability to push the device performance into the high end if desired.
The differences here are as stark as the price comparison above. Set top media boxes require almost no maintenance once they are set up and connected to the network the first time. HTPCs need to be assembled in some cases, have the operating system configured, have networks and media streams configured, and have routine computer maintenance such as updates and virus scans performed. Unlike a media box that “just works”, a HTPC will likely require some troubleshooting during setup. However, there are users who enjoy building, configuring, and maintaining their HTPC, and treat it as a hobby. So, your choice here really just depends on how much effort that you want to put into your media device.
This is another area where the two options can be vastly different. Set top media boxes can offer media streaming from various services such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and others. Some media boxes also offer network storage streaming, USB hard drive connectivity, and various media slots such as SD and USB. Not all of these devices offer all of these features, for example, some media boxes will only allow you to play media from streaming services and have no features to allow you to play the content you already own. If you choose to purchase a media box, make sure that it has all of the features that you require, as you will not be able to upgrade it later. One good feature of media boxes is that they are very small and very quiet, so they make an easy and unobtrusive addition to your home theater set up.
HTPCs offer access to any content you wish as long as you are willing to pay the subscription fee, install the appropriate software, or set up the necessary media stream. HTPCs are very flexible in this way, as they can be set up to output to more than one TV, act as a DVR for cable or satellite television, playback Blu-rays and DVDs, and perform standard PC functions as well. The downside is that it is up to the user to configure the operation system, components and drivers, and set up networking and streams. HTPCs are also often bulky and noisy as a result of their increased power.
If you want a way to view media on you TV that is simple, cheap, and straightforward, a set top media box is likely the right choice for you. If you like building and configuring PCs, want power and flexibility, and have the extra money to spend, a HTPC could be up your alley.
Author bio: Zack Mandell is a movie enthusiast and owner of www.movieroomreviews.comand writer of movie reviews. He writes extensively about the movie industry for sites such as Gossip Center, Yahoo, NowPublic, and Helium.