Home Theater Computer - HTPC Digital Media Servers
From what was once a well equipped multimedia computer -- the Home Theater Computer, or "HTPC", has evolved to what is now a full function digital media server. Dedicated digital media servers are now purpose-built and commercially available that are extremely sophisticated -- yet are increasingly user friendly. HTPCs provide digital storage and playback for your favorite movies, music and photographs or can immerse your senses in a big-as-life game of Halo3 or Madden NFL.
The technically savvy home theater enthusiast can construct an HTPC with a little time and ingenuity. The basic components necessary include a stable and feature filled motherboard, blazing fast processor(s), a LOT of hard drive storage capability and a robust video card. My personal HTPC that I built a couple of years back sports a 3 Gig Pentium IV, 800 gigs total disc storage and an HDMI video card with 1G dedicated memory. It is admittedly dated a bit but still performs quite nicely and streams HD video without a hitch.
If you are wanting a dedicated home theater computer and have the available budget you may opt for one of the many commercially available HTPCs that are currently being produced. And if your pockets are really deep I suggest you go for a Kaleidescape -- the sweetest media server I've ever seen. The Kaleidescape has been available to the high-end home theater enthusiast for a few years now. The touch screen controller features images of DVD covers that you simply touch to browse or watch. And as you touch one DVD cover that image is immediately surrounded by other movies of that genre that are in your collection. The interface is extremely user friendly and after a short orientation session even the "technically challenged" are able to utilize its deep functionality.
Canon PC Media Centers produce an excellent line of home theater computers that will not break your budget and your kid's (or your) college funds. For more information on Canon PC Media Centers follow the link located on our "More Resources" page.
One of the neat features of an HTPC is that you can create a playlist that includes a custom open for your theater, your feature movie(s), vintage intermission shorts or perhaps a cartoon to precede your features. Then your whole night's entertainment is choreographed without further input. Some digital media servers can even be programmed to trigger room lighting and screen or curtain movements. They are indeed quite ingenious little boxes.
UPDATE - Another device of interest - although not technically an HTPC - is the new media streamer from Syabas Technology dubbed a "networked media tank". More info here at
Popcorn Hour A-100
Another interesting set-top-box is the unit from VUDU. Here's more info on the VUDU HD movie player.