Project idea #3: Home-theatre PC (HTPC)

“Ob­vi­ously, the core func­tion­al­ity of the HTPC is me­dia con­sump­tion, al­low­ing for easy en­joy­ment of your dig­i­tal en­ter­tain­ment con­tent, both stored lo­cally and streamed from on­line.”

APC Australia - - » Mini-pc Projects -

A MINI-PC’S IN­HER­ENT CALL TO ARMS.

Im­ple­men­ta­tion as a home theatre PC (HTPC) is a core us­age sce­nario of al­most any NUC. The small size, typ­i­cally sub­dued styling, quiet op­er­a­tion, en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and abil­ity to be VESA mounted for an in­con­spic­u­ous setup, all make for at­trac­tive at­tributes to­wards HTPC op­er­a­tion.

Ob­vi­ously, the core func­tion­al­ity of the HTPC is me­dia con­sump­tion, al­low­ing for easy en­joy­ment of your dig­i­tal en­ter­tain­ment con­tent, both stored lo­cally and streamed from on­line. One im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion to make is the soft­ware you wish to use and the level of in­te­grated func­tion­al­ity you want to achieve.

The sim­plest form of HTPC is es­sen­tially a desk­top PC at­tached to a TV. This means com­plete with mouse and key­board in­puts and typ­i­cal oper­at­ing sys­tem func­tion­al­ity — likely Win­dows. Pair­ing the known desk­top en­vi­ron­ment with de­cent me­dia player soft­ware, for ex­am­ple, the ever-trusty VLC me­dia player will get you en­joy­ing con­tent quickly. The down­side is that the user ex­pe­ri­ence will for­ever hark back to it’s ori­gins — the desk­top.

If you’re look­ing for some­thing a bit more couch potato friendly, con­sider some front-end soft­ware so­lu­tions like Kodi or Plex. These soft­ware so­lu­tions pro­vide in­tu­itive GUI de­sign and im­proved user ex­pe­ri­ence with the op­tion to ex­tend fur­ther to fa­cil­i­tate me­dia cen­tral­i­sa­tion and po­ten­tially also serv­ing to other de­vices on the net­work.

Many of the NUCs and NUC clones fea­ture in­frared re­ceivers on the front of the unit. This is per­fect for pair­ing with an IR re­mote con­trol. The use of the IR re­mote will re­turn the ‘couch mode’ feel of the HTPC setup and help to dis­guise its desk­top ori­gins.

You can take this setup a step fur­ther by util­is­ing a me­dia cen­tre fo­cused, open-source (free), Lin­uxbased oper­at­ing sys­tem such as the Open Em­bed­ded Linux En­ter­tain­ment Cen­tre, bet­ter known as OpenELEC. This me­dia cen­tre OS has a pre-con­fig­ured ver­sion of Kodi in­te­grated and ready to look af­ter your HTPC needs. Use a re­mote con­trol rather than a key­board and mouse for con­trol­ling your OpenELEC + Kodi HTPC setup and you’ll for­get in no time that your home theatre is a PC.

When con­sid­er­ing the hard­ware spec­i­fi­ca­tion for this us­age sce­nario, it’s im­por­tant to get a few foun­da­tions set from the get-go. For ex­am­ple, what type of me­dia will you be play­ing? Are you just us­ing 720p and 1080p me­dia? Or do you en­joy Blu-ray con­tent and per­haps even 4K con­tent too? If so, you will need in­creased pro­cess­ing power to get the job done for the higher res­o­lu­tions and bit rates. It’s also worth be­ing mind­ful of hard­ware op­ti­mi­sa­tions? For ex­am­ple, Sky­lake pro­ces­sors have a hy­brid soft­ware and hard­ware HVEC and VP9 pro­cess­ing method that was op­ti­mised with the lat­est Kaby Lake CPU re­leases to fa­cil­i­tate full hard­ware based 4K HVEC and VP9 pro­cess­ing sup­port.

Util­is­ing hard­ware pro­cess­ing wher­ever pos­si­ble is a great way to re­duce sys­tem over­head and thereby po­ten­tially al­low for a lower spec on CPU re­quire­ments and im­proved mem­ory avail­abil­ity.

This hard­ware-based so­lu­tion re­duces sys­tem over­head and in the case of the re­lease of the op­ti­mised Kaby Lake mi­croar­chi­tec­ture, can also sup­port DRM as­pects of emerg­ing high bit rate, high def­i­ni­tion au­dio-video stream­ing ser­vices.

A NUC-like ded­i­cated XBMC HTPC box so­lu­tion that runs OpenELEC.

OpenELEC run­ning Kodi for sim­pli­fied HTPC me­dia brows­ing, play­back and con­trol.

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