Is there a future for Home Theater PCs?


Do Home Theater PC’s (HTPC’s) have a future? If yes, how will they look and operate? And if not, what will people use instead to bring Internet digital content to their TV’s? Could there possibly be an HTPC in your future?

There are billions of dollars and thousands of jobs at stake in determining these questions, but it’s hard to say that the answers are yet apparent, much less already decided. Having played and worked in this area for a while now, I thought I would jot down some ideas. The timing seemed appropriate as a follow-up to Dave’s recent article on media streaming devices, and as I just finished building a couple of new HTPC’s (and also, sadly, retired my prized DivX Connected “Gej-box” media streamer).

The latest media streaming devices that Dave looked at included a digital media adapter from Netgear, a networked Blu-Ray player from LG, and another networked Blu-Ray player from Sony. Despite how new they are, they still seem to be hobbled by the kind of issues that have faced basically all streaming devices since they first appeared a few years ago. These devices are inevitably limited in what they can do, either in terms of playable file formats or by a particular digital distribution systems (i.e. Netflix, Amazon VOD, YouTube, etc.). None of them have proven to be “universal players,” despite some of the marketing copy them employ. And as Dave noted, the context for such devices is still somewhat dominated by gaming devices such as the XBOX 360 and Playstation 3, that also have very strong streaming options, but still share a number of annoying limitations (some dictated by hardware, some by business decisions).

Fundamentally, these networked media devices are asked to do something they are just not fully designed to do, no matter their particular pedigree or price point.

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