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Home Theater Personal Computer (HTPC)

Hivizone HTPC ReviewHTPC - What is it?  For those who might not know, it is a personal computer that is specifically built as a ... home theater, albeit a lot smaller than what most folks consider a home theater since you are using the computer's display versus a tv set.

This has been the norm for a while ... that is, the HTPC used solely as a desktop theater.  But with recent advances in computer technology,   combining specific hardware with the right software finally makes it possible to move the desktop theater to the home theater.

Granted this is not for everyone and admittedly has its share of disadvantages.  But for some, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.


  • Performancesuperior progressive DVD playback at 480p and higher compared to the current crop of progressive players .
  • Scaler capabilities:  ability to scale the image to adjust the height and width to your liking.....minimize or eliminate the black bars (with some distortion).
  • Versatility:  you can use it for the following:
    • play video games
    • write a memo, balance checkbook, create a presentation, etc.
    • play MP3 jukeboxes
    • view high res digital photos
    • view cable modem movie trailers in quicktime, or even
    • surf the net using the big screen.
  • Flexibility:  build or upgrade on your own terms; choose the components you want for the features you are looking for and as your budget allows
  • Audio Compatibility:  fully supports Dolby Digital and DTS
  • Ergonomics: case could be black or painted black to match the rest of your home theater components.
  • Operation:  DVD Autoplay allows automatic playback upon DVD insertion; compatibility with hand held remotes like the Pronto
  • Obsolescence-resistant:  upgrade at your leisure
  • All-in-one possibility:  frees up precious shelf space!   With the HD tuner/recorder on a card now finally available and at the breakneck speed at which technology is going, you can potentially integrate all of the components onto a single platform
  • Cost:  considering all of the above, this route is cheaper in the long run.  Upgradeability also trims out-of-pocket costs to a minimum.  You can literally match the picture quality of equipment running in the thousands for the price of a computer.


  • Complexity: Unless you are adept in working with computers, this can be an overwhelming and frustrating project to undertake.  Lots of configuration time (hardware and software).
    • You can however simply purchase a preconfigured HTPC from a handful of vendors but they do cost a bit of money.
  • Awkward remote operation:  Use of a wireless keyboard/mouse is unwieldy.  Smart remotes like the Philips Pronto is a popular choice but it however adds a bit more complexity (programming) and cost to the equation.
  • Cost: this route is a con as much as a pro.   A bit more expensive than a good progressive player.

As far as resolutions go, some are listed below.  For DVD playback, you'd probably want to stick with 540p or 720p depending on your set's specifications.  But as you can see below, an HTPC affords you a lot more than off-the-shelf boxes.

  • 640x480p
  • 960x540p
  • 1920x1080i
  • 1024x768i
  • 1584x540p
  • 1480x500p
  • 1424x480p
  • 800x600i based on 960i settings
  • 1024x768i
  • 1280x960i

Can you say "nice image"?  =)

How do you get one?

If you are technically advanced that you can assemble and properly configure a computer, then you can build yourself a dandy of an htpc.  If however you happen to neither have the time nor the skills to build one, then you can simply buy one.  Easy enough, correct?  Unfortunately, htpcs aren't quite mainstream just yet, so sources and selection are a bit on the scarce side. Here are a handful of sources:

HDTV Tuner/Recorder

Want not only to receive HDTV programs via your HTPC but also to record HDTV programs?   Then a HD tuner card like the myHD MDP-100 may be the answer for you.  Read the review here.

Aspect Ratio Controlleryxy_free.gif (6556 bytes)

As mentioned earlier, an HTPC provides one Scaler capabilities.  This gives one the ability to scale the image to adjust the height and width to your liking.....minimize or eliminate the black bars (with some distortion).

YXY, developed by programmer extraordinaire Jim Ferguson, provides this capability.   And the best part is that Jim offers it free of charge.  Check it out.

Want to learn more?

I highly recommend that you visit the best HTPC forum on the web at  The experts on the field converge in the Home Theater Personal Computers forum.  Try to absorb as much as you can from the threads.  Read up also on a number of archived articles which serve as handy and useful reference tools.

Here are some handy links: