The Center of the Media Center World
More and more of the media we consume is stored and transmitted digitally these days, and that has positioned the computer as the natural choice for the center of your entertainment experience. These home theater PCs (or HTPC for short) can work with a variety of sources: CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray, digital downloads from Amazon and iTunes, streaming video from Netflix or YouTube, digital cable or over-the-air TV, and more! HTPCs can also be customized based on individual or family needs and can help reduce the clutter of having several remotes for different devices as well.
Stream and Store in HD
Streaming video and audio really doesn't need much power, though for full HD playback it is a good idea to use a fairly robust PC. Similarly, Blu-ray movies don't need a ton of performance, but if you plan to use the system for anything else then it is a good idea to go a little higher on specs than the base requirements for playback. Storage is one area in particular that is important for HTPCs: downloading music and movies can eat up hard drive space quickly, so multiple terabytes of drive space are not uncommon for folks with large media libraries.
Get All the Channels
For those still using traditional TV services, there are tuners available that allow viewing and recording of multiple channels on a computer at the same time. Folks using free, over-the-air digital TV (via an antenna) have options for very affordable tuners that come in both internal and external (USB) variants. Digital cable is a little trickier, in that access to premium stations requires the ability to decrypt the protected channels sent by cable companies. Tuners now exist for that as well, which make use of CableCard technology!
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