Monday, January 26, 2009

Home Theater PC - The Case for Extenders over Computers

I have a confession to make.  While I used to believe there was no device that could compare with a Home Theater PC (HTPC) at each television set, I've come to realize that in a multi-TV home, there is no better solution for your Media Center than an extender.  Not a full-blown computer (HTPC) at each TV, but instead, a consumer electric device known by many as a HTPC extender.

There are many types of extenders available depending on the HTPC software you use.  Here's a sampling of the HTPC extenders available:


  • SageTV HD100 Extender
  • SageTV HD200 HD Theater

HD200 with HD100



  • Popcorn Hour - not sold by GBPVR, but can be used as a GBPVR extender

Popcorn Hour A-110

Vista Media Center (and hopefully Windows 7 Media Center):  Update: The extenders do appear to work with Windows 7 although some are having performance issues with them - it's a beta though so those sort of things are to be expected.  Thanks for noting that Ben!

  • XBox 360 - yes it's primarily a game machine, but if you don't mind the noise many use it as a VMC extender also
  • Linksys DMA2100
  • D-Link DSM-750

D-Link DSM-750



Why Use an Extender?

The advantages of using an extender in a HTPC setup are many including:

  • Easy Setup - No more messing with codecs, video drivers, operating systems etc.  Plug it in, follow a few simple on-screen setup steps and it just works right out of the box.
  • Low Maintenance - Updates come in the way of firmware updates accessible from the settings menu with a click of the remote.  Nothing else to do and it still just works.   If you're one who loves and wants to "tinker" with your setup, you'll still have plenty of opportunity to do that with your HTPC server.
  • Small - Unlike most computers - even those with HTPC's in mind, the extenders fit into nearly any setting near a TV.  Typically smaller than a DVD player.
  • Silent - no fan noise is a good thing.  Our old cable box made more noise.
  • Low Electricity Usage - There is no way to beat the low energy usage of the extenders when you compare them to a computer.
  • Less expensive.  It's tough to build a HTPC at a lower price than the extenders.  Full-blown HTPC's that fit in with the Home Entertainment Center setup can cost you $400 plus.  Extenders are definitely less than you'll spend on a computer.  This also leaves the cash you'll save to go towards your HTPC server computer, tuners etc.
  • Powerful - With all of the above advantages, you're not giving up much in the way of features or power.
  • Faster boot-up.  No waiting for Windows, Linux or Mac to boot up with the extender.  My HD200 boots up in seconds ready for my media consuming ways.

In my home we have one pretty powerful server, a HTPC computer in the family room and three extenders (all SageTV extenders).  For viewing TV, listening to music and watching movies the extenders perform every bit as good as the HTPC in the family room.  What's your opinion?  Would you prefer an extender or a HTPC computer in your home theater, bedroom or living room setup?


There are some cases against the extenders as well.  We'll address the case against extenders in the coming days so stay tuned to GeekTonic.