Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Top 5 Reasons to Use a Home Theater PC Instead of a Cable DVR

I've used a Home Theater PC to run my TV for several years now and I often get the question "why don't you just use the cable box PVR?" It's a valid question and one I don't mind answering. Admittedly there are some things you should understand about going the HTPC route. Always remember that even though there are no rental or subscription fees, an HTPC will typically cost you more money up front. Another thing to keep in mind is that building and/or purchasing an HPTC requires some technical knowledge. There are typically things that need to be tweaked, worked on or settings to get just right to make it work the way you want it to. It isn't as easy as plugging it in and your done. With that being said, I still think using an HTPC is a huge improvement over a cable or satellite box DVR.
Here are my top 5 reasons for using an HTPC:

1. You control your content - A big reason many turn to HTPC's instead of a cable box is the ability to use the content recorded on your HTPC the way you want to use it. With a cable box, you record shows and they remain on your cable box. No archiving it to a disc so you can play that show on vacation, no uploading the show to your Ipod, Zune or any other portable device. No watching the show you record on your living room cable box on your bedroom TV. Remember, you have zero subscription costs with an HTPC so once you fork over the money to purchase or build one, you have the guide, the content and the features you already paid for. There is no more "renting" involved.
With HTPC software like Beyond TV, Sage and MCE you have the ability to edit a recording, compress a recording to save disc space,

2. Skipping commercials is easier - Beyond TV (the HTPC front-end software I currently use) automatically detects commercials on a recording so when I watch a recorded show and it comes to a commercial break, I can simply hit the channel up button on the remote to skip to the end of the commercial. You can't do that with your cable box.

3. HTPC's can expand with your needs - With an HTPC, you can add tuners, the latest sound card, the best video card and add space with a larger or additional hard drive. One of the most important expandability features is that you can add as many TV tuners as your PC can handle. This means you can record multiple shows and watch a show at the same time. An extreme example of this is the Medusa PVR highlighted on the Snapstream Blog

4. Your Content Follows You - With HTPC software like Beyond TV and Sage TV, you can add a second, third (or however many you need) HTPC as a "client PC" for another room. Lets say you are watching a show in your living room and stop the show to clean up the dishes in the kitchen. You then go to the bedroom and turn on the TV (with client HTPC attached) and select that same show. The HTPC will ask you if you want to start back where you left off in essence giving you a "follow-me" type of behavior. You can store all shows, movies music etc. on one server PC and access that content from any attached HTPC on your home network. You can't do that with your cable box.

5. HTPC's go beyond TV viewing - with an HTPC, you can essentially replace your CD Player, DVD Player and do much more right from your couch using a remote control. I use mine to view live TV, record & time-shift TV, play music from a large selection of playlists set for a certain mood or genre, watch "archived" movies right from the hard drive (or from a DVD of course), watch streamed multimedia content from online video providers like netflix or joost, I use a single remote control to perform all of these operations. An HTPC is capable of image processing as well. You can dramatically improve picture quality on any form of video playback.

There you have it. If you are willing to invest some time and some up-front money to build or purchase an HTPC box, you have your five reasons to do it. This post was inspired by Darren Rowse's Problogger blog. He's asking bloggers to write their "Top 5" posts as part of a group writing project.