What is HTPC, aka Home Theater PC, and what is it used for?

Diana Joan

Mar 11, 2016 08:59 am / Posted by Diana Joan

This article will be a general introduction to Home Theater PC’s. The amount of specialized knowledge about a HTPC can be overwhelming for someone who simply wants to know what is HTPC. What you’re reading will be a quick overview and guide to what a home theater pc is and what they’re generally used for. [Read: 5 Must have Android apps for HTPC or Home Server control]

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HTPC: Short for Home Theater Personal Computer, HTPC generally refers to a computer that is connected to a television and often includes software and hardware elements such as a TV tuner card, surround sound, music and a video player, large storage capabilities, and often LCD displays. May also be called a media center.


For many years tech-enthusiasts and retailers alike have been striving for a way to bring together the ultimate in integration. Until now, most attempts have ended in failure, difficutly, or required a level of expertise, passion, and dedication that was far beyond the capabilities and interests of the average comsumer. Most “home media devices” available in stores deliver users some content and some functionality, but don’t do everything well. In addition, media servers can be very expensive and only offer a fraction of the functionality that you can setup yourself through Experience HTPC tutorials.

What is HTPC and why should I want one?

A HTPC is a Home Theater Personal Computer. These are computers which you would normally buy or build yourself which is solely designed to connect to your television. A HTPC is basically an all-in-one entertainment system. A basic home theater media pc should allow you to: watch live HD television, watch movies (all formats), record television, play games, view videos/photos, and listen to music. Even a cheap home theater pc will have all of these features.

Connecting your HTPC to a television used to be quite difficult, but the standardization of HDMI – which can carry both video and audio – has simplified the process greatly. Older televisions may require more connections such as composite, VGA, coaxial, etc. If you’re building an HTPC currently, you will most likely want to make sure to stick to HDMI – or possibly DVI if your setup allows for it.



Home Theater PC Versus Media Players

Media players are the more common alternative to home theatre PCs. These vary from small streaming devices such as Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV to larger entertainment devices such as gaming consoles, AppleTV, etc. While media players are a simple option compared to an HTPC, they don’t have quite the capabilities – and especially openness of available options.

While a media player will tend to rely on the applications and services designed for it, a home theatre pc will allow you to access any streaming website, video rental service, etc. For more about media players you should check out our review of Raspberry Pi vs Amazon Fire vs Kodi Media Center or the review for Chromecast vs AppleTV.


One advantage to media players is that they consume less power than an HTPC. This may or may not be a deciding factor for you, but the difference is substantial. The opposite end of this is that some people build a NAS (network attached storage) + HTPC combination machine that is always on and acts as a home server for automated backups, downloading, and file serving. These NAS + HTPC machines tend to be low power and energy efficient due to them being “always on”.

Is it possible to watch normal TV (Cable, Satellite, etc.) with a HTPC?

Yes! If you’re using cable television you’ll have a few more options available than satellite users, but both can be routed through your home theater pc with the use of TV tuner cards. These tuner cards are more recent when it comes to satellite television, but cards for cable have been available for a while. There have been some troubles receiving HD channels via satellite tuner cards, but the same issue isn’t as prevalent for cable users.


Another very famous TV Tuner is HDHomeRun Prime from SiliconDust. This can replace your Set Top Box from your cable provide and present a nice interface to view and record TV content. It can also stream channels to other devices, including Kodi devices, on your local network.

Local channels are also available for use on your HTPC. These over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts are 100% free and are normally in high-definition. You will need some sort of antenna to get these channels… Lifehacker has a short tutorial on selecting the best OTA antenna for building an HTPC.

A home theatre personal computer is a great solution for anyone that is looking for an all-in-one video solution. They’re reasonably affordable and extremely powerful and versatile. Hopefully this short write-up explain what is a HTPC and helps you decide whether or not you need one.

What Can A Home Thater PC Do?

First and foremost, a Home Theater PC can replace most, if not all of the componenets in your living room. A properly configured HTPC can act as:

– Most Video Game Consoles
– Digital Cable Box
– Bluray Player
– 3D Bluray Player
– DVD Player
– Digital Video Recorder DVR
– Basic and HD Cable Tuner

While you can save a lot of space and make a few extra bucks selling some old equipment by adding a HTPC, the list of what is replaced doesn’t begin to tell the whole story of the capabilities. Proper setup will give you way more than you bargin for. The end result is a setup that is visually pleasing, fully customizable and unique, seemingly endless in possibility, and very simple to navigate. Here are a few ideas of what to expect when you’re properly setup through Windows Media Center:

– Fully Control Everything With a Remote or Smart Phone
– Launch Media From Smart Phones and Tablets to TV Through HTPC
– Rip Bluray and DVDs with One Click Right to Your Library
– Rent Movies Through Media Center and Watch Them From Custom Library
– Setup and Mimic Most Game Consoles and Install Hundreds of Games
– Launch 3D and Internet Games from Customized Browsing Setup
– Fully Organize All Media In Your Computer
– Playback 1080p Video
– Social Networking, Weather, and Email Apps
– Share Media From All PCs in the Home To The Main HTPC
– Stream Tons of Internet TV, FREE
– Download Music, Downlaod Movies, Download TV Series (Protect Yourself against Copyright Laws
– Browse and Install New Applications From Your Couch
– Browse the Internet From Any Browser Right From Media Center
– Watch, Pause, Rewind, and Record Live TV From All PCs in the Home
– Use Multiple Music Applications With a Remote (Listen Through Your TV or Surround Sound
– Easily Get Setup to Playback Any Audio and Video Format
– Bitstream HD Audio Codeces Like Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master
– Easily Schedule, Playback and Manage TV Recordings
– Watch HD Trailers Before you Buy, Rent, Download, or View From Your Collection
– Organize How You Choose What to Watch or Listen to By Genre, Year, etc.
– Playback Blurays on Your PC or Laptop
– Manage and Review Your Feeds and Subscriptions From Media Center (It’s Like a Magazine That You Create
– Enough Tips and Tutorials to Satisfy Even the Most Advanced Users
– So Much More To Come

If you’ve read this far your already on your way to a complete HTPC Experience. Check out our Gallery and Free Tutorials to see that we mean business!