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Media Center PC FAQ – What Can I do with a Home Theater PC (HTPC)

Media Center Computer and Home Theater Frequently Asked Questions

Custom Media Center & Home Theater PCLately I have had a lot of people asking me questions about setting up the perfect Media Center / Home Theater PC (HTPC). They have had a wide range of questions ranging from the benefits and abilities of Media Center systems, to why their family would need one.

First let me say that I think any family would be well suited with a Media Center. The reason being that it can do such a wide range of things it is useful to every member of the family.

So with that being said let’s address some of the questions I have received about Media Center PC and Home Theater PCs. Since all Media Center PCs can vary in their design and function I will be basing the information below on “Custom Built” Media Center Home Theater PCs I found at CPU Solutions.

I will also link to both systems I have reviewed at the end of this article.

So let’s checkout some of the most common questions people have about Media Center and Home Theater PCs and the answers to these questions.

Media Center PC & Home Theater (HTPC) Questions and Answers

01. What is a Media Center or Home Theater PC?

A Media Center Home Theater PC is a computer that is designed specially for the purpose of enhancing the multimedia experience in the home.

02. What can I do with a Media Center or Home Theater PC?

A Media Center / Home Theater PC allow users to take full control of their media. Some of the main functions of a Media Center PC are:

  • Recording your favorite HDTV / TV shows.
  • Watch Blu-Ray DVDs and standard DVDs in the comfort of your own home.
  • Provides an HD 5.1 / 7.1 Audio experience to make the most out of your Music and Movies.
  • Transfer VHS Home Movies to HD Video and DVD.
  • Burn DVDs and create backup copies of DVDs you already own.
  • Watch one TV show while Recording another.
  • Skip through Commercials similar to services like TiVo
  • Use a Remote to manage your PC from the comfort of your couch.
  • Watch HD streaming video for free through sites like NBC, CBS, ABC and more…
  • Backup your Audio CDs and Add them to your MP3 Collection.
  • Manage iTunes and your Massive MP3 Collection.
  • Showcase your Favorite Photos and Create Slideshows on the fly.
  • So much more!

Because a Media Center Home Theater PC is a true computer it can do anything your home PC can do and then some. This gives you almost unlimited options for what you can do with your system.

03. Can I connect a Media Center PC / Home Theater PC to my TV?

Yes! A Media Center PC utilizes HDMI and DVI video outputs which are compatible with most modern HD TVs.

04. What Does DVR and PVR stand for?

Digital Video Recorder / Personal Video Recorder.

05. How does a Media Center PC differ from a standard DVR / PVR like TiVo?

A Media Center PC allows you to do everything you can do with your home PC, and is not limited to just recording TV shows like many standard DVR / PVR services.

06. Can I Record HDTV with a Home Theater (HTPC) Media Center PC?

Yes! The two Media Center PCs I reviewed come with a Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250 TV Tuner. This capture card is capable of recording and viewing dual ATSC video streams at once. (ATSC is the HDTV standard.)

07. Is there a Monthly Service Fee?

No. With a Media Center PC you are in complete control of your media, and what you do with it. As long as you already get cable or an HD/Digital TV service you can record any of the shows you already watch without any hidden costs.

The Media Center PC acts as a VCR, but unlike a VCR records “Digital” video in “HD” which can be played off the hard drive, or burned to DVD. Whichever suits your needs.

08. How many Movies / TV Shows / Music can I save on a Media Center HTPC?

Because a Media Center is a PC it is easy to upgrade. This means that you can add more hard drives and larger capacity drives as time goes on. So you can have practically unlimited space if you choose.

The systems I reviewed come configured with 1.5 Terabytes (TB) of storage by default.

This is roughly 300 hours of True HD video!

You can also lower the resolution the system Records at to get even more storage out of your system.

09. How does a Media Center PC manage my Multimedia? (Videos / TV Shows / Music )

The two Media Center PCs I checked out came preloaded with Windows Vista Home Premium which comes with Windows Media Center built in.

Windows Media Center is a very elegant solution for managing all your Media. It provides a very nice graphical interface that is easy to use and navigate to give your Media Center a professional and clean look. No more browsing through folders to find your Favorite Movies or Shows!

10. Can I Manage my Music and MP3s with a Media Center PC?

Yes. Windows Media Center will also manage Music in addition to Video.

11. Can I Manage my Photos with a Media Center PC?

Yes. Windows Media Center is designed to be the one stop solution for your entire home Media collection.

12. What Video Formats does a Media Center Home Theater PC Support?

Because a Media Center is a PC it is not limited to existing or limited Media formats. If you come across a video format you cannot play you simply need to load additional video codecs to add extended functionality for video playback.

Some examples of supported video formats (with added software support) are:

  • DVD, WMV, AVI, DIVX, MPG, MPEG2, MP4, MOV, QT, RM, FLV and more!

13. What Audio Formats does a Media Center Home Theater PC Support?

This same goes for Audio formats. Since you are using a computer to manage your media you can add addition functionality for audio playback through software updates.

Some examples of supported audio formats (with added software support) are:

  • WAV, WMA, MP3, MP4, MID, RA, CD and more!

14. Will a Media Center PC allow me to Backup TV Shows and Movies I Record?

Yes! A Media Center PC offers you the ability to burn DVDs which will allow you to backup any media on your system. This includes music, movies, TV shows, photos and any other file type you would like to save.

15. Can I add my own Files to a Media Center PC?

Yes! Because a Media Center is a computer and not a dedicated DVR / PVR box, you can add you own media files to it.

This means if a friend has movies, music, or TV shows they share with you, you can add them to your collection on the Media Center Home Theater PC.

16. Can I Play Games on my TV with a Media Center Home Theater PC?

Yes! A Media Center PC is a full fledge computer so it can do anything a standard computer can do. You would just want to make sure that you add a decent video card to your Media Center PC is you plan on gaming with it.

Final Thoughts on Media Center / Home Theater Systems

That should cover many of the questions you may have about Media Center Home Theater PCs (HTPC). If you have a question that was not covered in the FAQ above please feel free to leave a comment and I will try to answer it for you.

The answers to the questions above were based off of my review of the following two Custom Media Center Home Theater PCs from CPU Solutions.

Home Theater Media Center PC

MITX INTEL Mini Media Center PC HTPC

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