When you’ve spent the week getting things done, it’s nice to enjoy a little entertainment over the weekend. If you’ve yet to set up your ultimate home theater, here’s everything you need to know to make it happen.
Build a Home Theater PC
A great home theater setup starts with a great home theater PC (HTPC). Best of all, you get to decide what’s great about it. You choose the operating system, the hardware specifications, and what you want to do with it. Even better, most home theater PCs don’t require much power and, as a result, cost fairly little to build.
On the extremely low end, you can use a Raspberry Pi. For as little as $ 300, you can build a reasonably powerful AMD-based machine. Even a build with bells and whistles can cost under $ 500. If you prefer OS X to Windows or Linux, our always up-to-date hackintosh guide offers a cheap build suitable for home theater use. Whatever you choose, when you build it yourself you can always upgrade it to add new capabilities down the line when your needs change.
Choose a Platform
Building a home theater PC is one thing, but the interface you choose for it makes a big difference on your day-to-day experience. For the most part, people struggle to choose between XBMC and Plex. Both have a variety of pros and cons, and if you want the best of both worlds you can use them jointly somewhat. For the most part, Plex provides a better experience if you want to access your media away from home, especially on mobile devices. XBMC offers more customization options so you can tailor your home theater experience to you. Check out our full comparison to learn more and figure out which platform works best for you.
Of course, some prefer to use a computer as their media server and stream content to a set top box. Plex’s media server software is compatible with nearly everything as it broadcasts via DLNA. That means you can stream to most video game systems and set top boxes. If either of these options sound good to you, you’re in luck: we have guides for both situations! For further information, check out our video game console streaming guide and/or our set top box comparison.
Select a Screen
By default, most of us watch movies and television on, well, television sets. Finding a good set isn’t too difficult, after all. You just have to choose the right size, read reviews to make sure you’re not buying a lemon, ensure your set has the ports you need, and calibrate it. That said, flatscreen TVs aren’t your only option. For around the same price, you can put a movie theater in your home with an inexpensive HD projector. Although not a perfect option for daytime viewing, when ambient light doesn’t get in the way there is really no TV that can mirror the size and quality of a projected image. If you already have a TV elsewhere in the house, you should strongly consider a projector for your main home theater—especially if you can keep the room reasonably dark.
Get Some Content
If you have nothing to watch, your home theater setup won’t be of much use. You can make your HTPC download everything for you automatically (or have your NAS do it, if you’ve got one). Downloading your content may not always be legal, depending on where you get it, but if you want to ensure you don’t illegally download anything we have a guide for that, too.
You’re all set. Now you can sit back, relax, and enjoy your ultimate home theater. Have a great weekend!