Acer Revo as a Home Theatre PC (HTPC)
I *love* digital media. I like all my movies, music and TV shows to be available whenever I want to access them by browsing through them on a nice graphical display. I hate having to use any physical media like CDs or DVDs, I just want one magic box in the living room with everything available at the click of a button. I finally have a great solution but before I talk about that lets have a look at the what I’ve tried in the past.
Media Playing External Drives
First I got a Freecom external hard-drive with embedded media playing software and buttons on the case for navigating it. This was the cheapest option at the time but the UI was basic, ugly and navigating a large music collection was pretty much unworkable. It also had no remote control, but the market of consumer electronics for this purpose was relatively young back then.
Archos 605 and DVR docking station
Next I got the docking station and remote control for the Archos 605 30gig portable media player that I already had. The archos wasn’t cheap (300 euro and another 100 for the docking), but it was a brilliant portable media player for its time and it worked surprisingly well in the home with this upgrade.
The downside was limited storage and eventually lack of support for newer video codecs and containers. Recent mp4s and mkvs just weren’t working on it. It is still handy as a portable player though, especially on holidays.
After this I got a Playstation 3. I was already tempted to get this purely for the gaming side of things, but apparently it could play (and stream from networked PCs) music and video too. Perfect I thought! but it was another case of the hardware being capable but the software and UI being under developed and painful for large collections. Also Sony annoyed a lot of people by not improving the codec support.
It is great as a DVD and Blu-Ray player and I’ve rediscovered the joy of gaming after a 10 year hiatus. Excellent value for money, but not a full featured media player.
The Acer Revo (aka media playing heaven)
This brings me to the conclusion I made a month ago: PCs are now small enough and cheap enough that it’s worth buying one for the specific purpose of playing media – a Home Theatre PC (HTPC) as they are known. I had a few hard requirements:
- Ability to play Hi-def video without skipping
- HDMI out providing HD video and 5.1 surround sound
- Small and quiet when in use
- Low power usage
- 200-300 Euro price range
- Wired and wireless networking
There were other common requirements that didn’t matter to me such as DVR functionality and an optical media drive. I don’t care about recording live TV and I already have the PS3 that covers gaming, and the rare cases that I’ll want to play a DVD/CD/Blu-ray.
- Intel Atom 330
- 2 Gig Ram
- 250GB drive
- 6 USB ports
- HDMI out
There are both lower and higher spec’d Revos, but I felt 2GB of RAM was necessary but 4GB was not and I also wanted the Atom 330 over the 230. You can buy it with either Linpus Linux or windows 7 but Linux is about 50 quid cheaper. I went for this and decided to put Windows 7 on manually myself.
Follow-up posts provide guides to setting up the best software for a HTPC: