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.”
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.