Building a Fantastic Media Center Computer

This tutorial will walk you through the several options for a home media center that is available (also known as Home Theater Personal Computers or HTPCs). A growing number of people are adopting the cord-cutting lifestyle, forgoing traditional television networks in favor of streaming services and other options for live television viewing.

media center

This book should assist you in replacing your outdated set-top boxes and enhancing the functionality of your television, whether it be smart or not. It includes easy, ready-made solutions as well as instructions for building your own dedicated media machines and the software needed for them.

Why Install a Media Center at Home?

The television is extended by an excellent home media center, but it offers considerably more utility. People can:

  • Give you permission to keep viewing live TV.
  • Access to a range of streaming services, including Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
  • Allow playback from networked computers or external hard drives.
  • Permit PC games to be played occasionally on the couch!
  • Permit access to social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.
  • Permit Blu-ray, CD, and DVD playback.

Depending on how much money you have to spend and how much setup complexity you can handle, you may end up with any or all of the aforementioned functions. There are possibilities, regardless of your spending limit or tolerance for experimenting.

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Your Requirements

It is important to think about what you actually need in a media center before delving into detail about the possibilities. Do you mostly want to watch Netflix, TV, and the odd DVD? Have you fallen victim to the Ultra HD Blu-ray craze? Are you seeking the most recent 4K HDR technology for the crispest possible image?

Do you already use Apple devices and prefer to keep all of your technology under one roof? Do you have a hankering to create something entirely original from scratch? You can choose between one of these choices by using the responses to each of these questions:

  • Since media servers first appeared, televisions have become much smarter, and many now include all the essential components of an HTPC in a single box. This is the best choice if all you’re after is a clear image and easy access to streaming services like Netflix.
  • The Roku box/dongle, the Amazon Fire TV stick, and the Chromecast are the most popular wireless media devices, and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. All of these choices are compatible with the Plex media server as well as the majority of popular streaming services. For less money than a specialized media center, any of these will typically meet your needs. Reading research on these services before deciding to create an HTPC is worthwhile to see if you can save money because the majority of these devices now support 4K.
  • Apple TV: An independent device called Apple TV connects via HDMI to the television you’ve already bought and uses your home network to access Apple streaming services. There are devices that offer a comparable service to the Apple TV, such as the Amazon Fire TV stick. You would be hard-pressed to find a better option than the Apple TV for your needs if you are an unwavering Apple fan.
  • Media Center Extender: These gadgets connect your PC to your pre-existing television, despite the fact that they are much less common these days. Playback of computer-based media, including downloaded music and video files, is made possible through this. The standalone options are essentially nonexistent, but the Xbox One and PS4 can still offer the same service.
  • Build a Custom HTPC: This choice is both the most flexible and challenging. You may have it set up precisely how you want it and even extend your game library to your living room by designing a custom PC for your media demands. Given that modern lower-range PCs are more than capable of HD playback, it is the most flexible option financially. With the option of adding 4K HDR to your setup, the usefulness expands in accordance with your financial capacity. In order to provide you with a completely personalized experience, there are also a ton of options for onboard software.
  • Reuse an old computer: Finally, reusing an old computer can be the ideal method to retire an old workhorse and put it to good use. Most older laptops can be modified to give many of the capabilities of a modern media center, and the quality shouldn’t be too bad unless you have a large 4K-ready television to plug it into. Of course, everything relies on the specifications of your previous computer.

Apple TV

media center

Since it was released in 2007, the Apple TV has seen significant development. What began as a device to transfer data from your computer to your television has evolved into a complete media system.

Although it will also get along with PCs to share material through iTunes, Apple TV fully interacts with all other Apple products. The Apple TV box may also be used by HomeKit users to control their smart home, and the new Apple TV 4K is capable of delivering the best video with the least amount of hassle.

For Apple users, the advantage of this setup is clear: All of your iTunes purchases are accessible from the cloud, and local storage is also available in case of internet disruptions. It is effortless to transfer media between your television, iPhone, and iPad thanks to the compatibility of all of your Apple devices.

With the inclusion of Channels, live television can now be viewed on-demand utilizing a pay-as-you-go model. This fills the need that many people perceive between a strictly on-demand service and live television.

Any capability to play DVDs or Blu-ray discs is one area where Apple TV falls short. If you already have a sizable collection of physical media, this may not be the solution for you since the majority of media is now available on demand or may be purchased digitally.

Even though Plex does not yet fully support 4K HDR capabilities, Plex customers can still browse their collection using the Plex app that is accessible from the App Store. Although many of the games on the iPhone, including Minecraft, are App Store exclusives or upgrades of titles already available for Apple portable devices, Apple has recently made a push into the gaming industry.

You’ll be happy to know that Kodi can be used with the Apple TV as well if you’re already familiar with it. Later in this book, we’ll cover both Kodi and Plex.

The Apple TV is a great option if you already adore Apple products for movies, television, and on-demand content. These days, a wide variety of gadgets perform comparable functions, including the Nvidia Shield, the wildly popular Chromecast, and the Amazon Fire TV stick. However, if you’re used to playing console games, there is an option.

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Xbox One X and PS4 Pro

media center

Play games on a console? Then it’s likely that you already own a media device that works well! The idea of using a gaming console as a media center has been around for a while. This idea has now been broadened by the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro to encompass practically all streaming services.

With its capabilities for full HDR at 4K, the Xbox One X is difficult to surpass if your main streaming or DVD and Blu-ray viewing needs are met. The PS4 Pro offers nearly the same service as the Xbox One S, but because it lacks an HD Blu-ray drive, it lags behind its rival from Microsoft.

You may access your computer’s extensive library of movies and music from either console as well. We have already gone into great length about the advantages of both systems, and we also offer an easy-to-follow tutorial for connecting your Xbox to your PC.

Streaming video services are not currently supported on the Nintendo Switch. Nintendo does, however, want to incorporate the service in the future. Even though the Switch is now just a gaming console, the connection between the Switch tablet and television has the potential to give Nintendo users a really special experience.

Make Your Own

Building your own media system from scratch is the true holy grail of media. This provides you with complete control over the caliber and delivery of the media. Additionally, it enables you to partially future-proof your system, preventing expensive changes anytime technology advances.

Your set-top box, cable box, DVD/Blu-ray player, and in some cases even your television are all replaced by a good media center. Some people choose to utilize a 4K computer monitor in place of standard television.

The amount you should spend on a system entirely depends on what you plan to use it for, and a solid computer can always be upgraded in the future.

Budget builds will more than satisfy if your primary interests are in viewing television programs and movies, but if you want a gaming and video experience that is seamless, you should consider higher-quality components that can handle the demands of today’s games.

In this tutorial, we’ll lay down the costs for a cheap build that is both portable and silent and is intended for viewing television and movies.

Case: SilverStone Sugo Series SG09B

media center

For this build, we’ll be utilizing a microATX case. Although there are smaller cases available, this one is fairly quiet and has enough for future modifications. It also doesn’t have some of the flashier LED effects and plastic molding found in gaming versions, so it should look great in any living room! Many people agree that the Silverstone Sugo Series SG09B is an excellent case for the money.

Processor: AMD Ryzen 3 1200

We’ll utilize the AMD Ryzen 3 1200 as our processor. Since their introduction, these processors have received a great deal of praise for their incredible value and consistently good performance for their price range. The stock Wraith Stealth cooler, which comes with the processor, is silent, keeps our processor cool, and is ideal for this kind of design.

  • 3.4 GHz Precision Boost (up to 3.45 GHz with XFR)
  • True quad-core, unlocked CPU architecture
  • A future-proof, VR Ready platform; Includes AMD Wraith Stealth cooler
  • Supported technologies are zen core architecture, AMD sensemi technology, avx2, fma3
  • The maximum system memory speed is 2667mhz; a Large 10MB total cache

Motherboard: ASRock AB350M Pro4 AM4

This motherboard has all the features required for a system of this kind and works well with our chosen processor. The motherboard can generate 4K at 24Hz, however, adding a graphics card can increase this. Even while this board isn’t as high-end as the items you’ll find on gaming computers alone, its quality at this pricing is hard to top.

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  • Chipset: AMD Promontory B350
  • Memory: 4x DDR4-2667/2400/2133 DIMM Slots, Dual Channel, ECC, Non-ECC, Unbuffered, Max Capacity of 64GB
  • Slots: 2x PCI-Express 3.0 x16 Slots (one runs at x4), 1x PCI-Express 2.0 x1 Slot
  • SATA: 4x SATA3 Ports, Support RAID 0, 1, 10
  • Video: Integrated AMD Radeo R-Series Graphics in A-series APU
  • Supports AMD Socket AM4 A-Series APUs (Bristol Ridge) and Ryzen Series CPUs (Summit Ridge)
  • Supports DDR4 3200+ (OC) (Ryzen CPU) / 2400 (A-series APU)

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RAM: G.SKILL Ripjaws V Series 16GB

RAM is one item that is never worth compromising on. These paired 8GB sticks provide good performance and should keep your system running smoothly into the future. Avoid troubles later by getting good RAM now.

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  • RipJaws V Series, designed specifically for AMD Ryzen X470, B450, and newer; Intel Z170 and newer.
  • 16GB kit containing 2 x 8GB modules, DDR4-3200, 288-Pin, CAS Latency CL16 (16-18-18-38) at 1.35V
  • Brand: G.SKILL, Series: RipJaws V, Model: F4-3200C16D-16GVKB
  • ECC: No, Dual Channel Kit, Recommended Use: High Performance or Gaming Memory
  • XMP profile support to reach up to the rated overclock speed or run at the default JEDEC profile speed
  • Rated XMP frequency & stability depends on MB & CPU capability
  • Check G.Skill QVL or RAM Configurator on the G.Skill website for validated motherboards

PSU: CORSAIR SF Series SF450 450W

Another component that is prone to failure is power supply, therefore it’s critical to choose wisely and buy a dependable product straight away. This microATX PSU from the well-known PSU manufacturer Corsair has received positive reviews from both amateur and expert reviewers.

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  • SFX Form Factor: High-end performance in a small form factor
  • 80 PLUS Gold certified: High-efficiency operation for less excess heat and lower operating costs
  • Fully Modular: Make your builds and upgrades easy, with clean, great-looking results
  • 100% Japanese 105 electrolytic capacitors: Premium internal components ensure solid power delivery and long-term reliability
  • Zero RPM Fan Mode: Virtually silent operation at low and medium loads
  • Seven-year warranty: Your guarantee of reliable operation that will last across several systems builds

Hard Drive: Seagate ST3000DM003 3TB

Storage is vital for an HTPC. You need a location where you can keep all of your movies, television shows, music, and other media without worrying about running out of room. A single 3TB drive should be adequate to start, and if you fill this one up entirely you can always get a second drive later.

You should have a completely functional media machine with the aforementioned components! However, there are a few extras to take into account that, depending on your needs, can enhance your experience.

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  • 3TB, SATA 6Gb/s, 64MB, 5900RPM
  • Quiet & Low Power consumption
  • Best for Desktop or all-in-one PCs, NAS, Surveillance CCTV DVR
  • Designed for 24/7 Operation

SSD: SAMSUNG 850 EVO 250GB

media center

Nowadays, solid state drives (SSDs) are widely used in computing, and it is simple to see why. Your computer will run so much faster thanks to an SSD that it will revitalize outdated equipment. While there are a few things to keep in mind while upgrading, any SSD will, on average, perform better than a normal HDD. The true storage secret is to keep your operating system on an SSD and your files on a far larger HDD.

Blu-ray Drive: Pioneer 4K UHD Blu-ray Burner

If Blu-ray is your thing, be sure to invest in a drive that is completely up to date. Because of this drive’s ability to read and write full HD Blu-ray, your DVD/Blu-ray collection should continue to function for some time.

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  • Pioneer external drive bundle includes a 1 pack of 25GB M-DISC BD-R, Cyberlink software download installation code, and USB cable
  • EQUIPPED with a super lightweight design (230g) for slim portability and a USB 3.0 connector
  • SUPPORTED WITH M-DISC: compatible with M-Disc, a special disc that is treated with a super hard coat to prevent scratches and resist fingerprints for long-term data protection
  • SMOOTH MOVIE PLAYBACK: PowerRead feature enables the drive to bypass obstructed areas of a disc and attempt to move forward quickly to the next available data point, resulting in smoother playback
  • A SMARTER DRIVE: Enabled with Auto Quiet mode

Graphics Card: GIGABYTE GeForce GTX 1070 Ti

Your system can benefit greatly from a graphics card (GPU), but they are never free. Both bitcoin miners and gamers know and trust the GTX 1070 Ti graphics card. The majority of games may be played on your system thanks to this card’s full 4K HDR output, but at its present cost, it greatly exceeds the budget for this build. Fortunately, you can always add a card to your system later.

While the majority of people’s wants will be met by this approach, manufacturing computers is usually rife with disagreements of opinion and drastically varied outcomes at various price points. If you ever have any doubts about what to buy or how much to spend, take some time to read reviews of any parts you are considering and consider your options. You can save a substantial amount of money by taking advantage of part specials or by getting lucky and obtaining a relatively fresh part used.

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  • Power by GeForce GTX 1070 Ti
  • Integrated with 8GB GDDR5/256bit memory
  • Featured WINDFORCE 3X
  • Protection Metal Back Plate; HDMI-2.0b*1 (Max Resolution: 4096×2160 @60 Hz)
  • RGB Fusion-16.7M Customizable Color Lighting
  • Form Factor: ATX

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Media Center Software

You need software to provide you access to your streaming services and locally saved files now that your hardware is set up. With the correct software, even an outdated computer or laptop may be given a new lease on life as a media server. While you might not be able to enjoy the full 4K quality with it, the device will be once more usable.

Prior to its discontinuation and incompatibility with Windows 10, Windows used to have its own software for this purpose called the Windows Media Center. Most HTPC systems employ a combination of Kodi and Plex, which are now regarded as the best software options available.

The two pieces of software perform similarly, however, Kodi is made to save and display media on the same device, while Plex is made to be a cloud service that streams video from a server to a device.

Kodi

media center

In 2002, Kodi was first released as the Xbox Media Center, but it has since evolved into an open-source media player that works with practically every device. Although it is frequently used on Mac and Linux computers and may even operate on a Raspberry Pi, for the purposes of this post we will assume that your HTPC will be running Windows 10.

Kodi is a terrific method to keep your media library organized on one device and will play practically any file you throw at it. To meet practically anyone’s aesthetic preferences, Kodi may be customized with a variety of skins and backgrounds.

There are several profiles accessible as well, allowing you to keep your television viewing private from other people. The official Kodi app, Kore, enables remote management of Kodi. Any smartphone or tablet can now be used as a remote as this one connects to your home network.

Additionally, Kodi has a variety of user-made add-ons that provide access to a vast array of web material. When using these services, users are urged to utilize a VPN, and those who have in the past streamed content illegally in their area have been issued copyright notices.

Before beginning here, make sure you know what is and isn’t legal. Sadly, Kodi no longer supports authentic Netflix or Amazon Prime accounts, despite the fact that these streaming services are still accessible through a web browser or a Windows app.

The clear leader among single-point media centers is Kodi. Kodi is the most widely used front-end software for custom media centers, which is not surprising given that it is free and open source and has such a high degree of customizability.

Plex

media center

Plex and Kodi are comparable in many respects, but there are some key differences. While Plex functions like a media server and transcodes video before sending it to one or more devices, Kodi is an enclosed system made to serve media on a single device.

Price is another significant differentiation to be made with Plex. Although many Plex apps need a Plex subscription to operate, Plex includes a free option that works similarly to Kodi. These apps allow users to view and record live television programs and support numerous devices. Plex subscriptions are inexpensive, costing $4.99 per month and $39.99 per year, respectively.

Unfortunately, Netflix is not available on Plex. Since Netflix changed the way their service is provided, many customers claim that the old Netflix for Plex software stopped working in 2015. It doesn’t appear that a fix is imminent.

It’s not surprising that they are widely used together given Kodi’s excellent design and user experience and Plex’s easy architecture, which enables anyone to build their own cloud media system. The Plex for Kodi addon makes it simple to access your Plex server from within the Kodi client, and fortunately, both services make it simple to integrate the two.

Conclusion

Budget-friendly custom media center construction is a terrific method to avoid traditional television networks. You have much greater control over your own media when you have a single point of access, regardless of whether your media is digitally stored or stored in the cloud. Try these necessary mobile apps designed for cord-cutters if you want to control your media streaming services from your smartphone.

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The pinnacle of geeky entertainment systems is a PC in the living room, however, there are many alternative ways to stream video to your television. There are advantages to switching from your outdated TV set-top box to a computer that goes beyond just watching your favorite programs. An HTPC can also bring all of a computer’s features into your living space.

Choose one of these fantastic media center distros for your HTPC if you’re willing to employ a Linux-based setup.

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