WELL, HERE WE ARE: our first attempt at an HTPC stylized build. We knew from the get-go that the Phanteks Shift was the case of choice for our home theater aspirations. Having worked with its cases extensively over the last few years, we’ve learned that the top-quality materials and consideration toward builders ingrained into every facet of Phanteks’s design make most builds in its cases a cakewalk. Knowing we’d be working in a tight chassis with an ITX system meant we would definitely hit problems, so having a quality case was an important first step.
The Shift comes in two variants: the shorter, stubbier standard Shift, and the longer, water cooler supporting Shift X. As our build is aimed at longevity, rather than brute power, the Shift X is a little overkill for what we had in mind. Air cooling is the name of the game, along with designing a compact machine that can happily sit next to a set-top box or amplifier, and not be that noticeable.
But why build this machine in the first place? What can an HTPC provide that a good smart TV can’t? The answer? Control and versatility. For us, it’s the control element of an HTPC that’s most appealing. You’ve probably seen it: a smart TV that gets slower over time as the hardware ages, the storage fills up, and you’re just left with a frustrating menu system that chugs away, wasting your time. Our media consumption is no longer as on-demand as we’ve come to expect.
If you build your own home theater PC, however, you know exactly what you’re getting, and if you have any issues, you’ll likely know exactly what the problem part is. Being able to choose your spec is a big deal. Couple that with the fact that you can run practically any streaming service on a Windows PC via a web browser, and load your own media from masses of affordable local storage, or even from a network attached device, and the PC quickly pulls ahead, more so than a Raspberry Pi, Fire Stick, or anything else, for that matter.
The only downside? It requires a lot of setup. So, we’d better begin.