Despite the best efforts of the vast telecommunication companies, more and more television content is moving online. Of course, getting it to your TV can be a bit of a problem, but luckily there are a couple of inexpensive home theatre PCs that will help you get that content to your TV. There are a number of options, however, so which one should you pick? Here's a few options, and their strengths and weaknesses.
Western Digital TV Live
Western Digital is best known for making hard drives. One of their devices that they've created is basically a hard drive that can also stream content to your television. Not only will it stream the majority of your media library off of your computer/network, but it also includes the ability to stream Netflix through an app built into the device. Other online content includes YouTube and Facebook access, again through built in apps off of the device. This device will cost about $100. From reviews online, it sounds like the biggest drawback is its interface. Western Digital is a hard drive company, not a user interface company, so while the device works well enough, it just doesn't feel great. With a built in 1TB hard drive, this will cost about $200.
Boxee is another little box that sits by your TV that allows online streaming content onto your TV. Boxee's biggest flaw is that it is unable to stream content from your network/PC, so it is basically just a little Netflix machine. It's biggest feature is that it will actually allow you to tune into basic analog cable coming into your house and even has an antenna in it to allow you to tune into HD digital over the air stations that may be available in your area. They are also trialing a “No Limit DVR” which is only available in select US cities, but it is basically the ability to record unlimited TV through the internet and then play it all back from the cloud for a monthly fee. Boxee's start around $100.
Roku's very similar to Boxee in that it is a tiny little box that is essentially for Netflix, Youtube, and other online apps. It cannot stream anything that you may already have. The difference would be that this little HTPC has apps for sports fans. If you subscribe to NFL Sunday Ticket or NHL Gamecenter then you can use this little guy to tune into those subscriptions and watch it on your TV. If you're a sports fan and need a tiny PC to get your sports fix, this may be the best option. A Roku can be purchased for less than a hundred dollars.
An Apple TV will cost you at least $109. If you're already part of the Apple ecosystem, then it may be the best choice for you. Besides having access to Netflix, Youtube, and other online streaming content, it will also sync very well with your other Apple devices. iOS devices can share all their content directly to your TV, even showing in real time what is happening on the smaller device. Of course, being Apple, it also has some features that cost more – like the ability to play certain music through the device can only be done through a monthly subscription. Other than that, you can also rent TV and Movies from Apple through the device. It can also stream content from your PC or Mac, but unfortunately it will only stream content that is inside iTunes. If you already use iTunes and if all your media is iTunes friendly, then this might be the easiest and most user friendly HTPC on the market.
If you want something just a little more roboust, you may want to consider building your own HTPC. You can get a small computer case designed for use with your TV and put together a small part list that will give you a powerful PC, able to run any software you want to put on it. If you're willing to invest around $300 and a few weekends worth of tinkering time, you can get the best possible HTPC for your home theatre. It will just cost some more. However, once you're done, you'll be able to stream any content on your network, have access to the entire internet (not just specific apps) and not have to worry about any type of provider specific limitation. If you want, you can even spend a little more money and get a video capture card so that you can record content from your TV provider.
Are you thinking about getting an HTPC? Which one makes the most sense for you?