Home Theater/Computer Advice Bleg

Posted by on March 12, 2010 in Entertainment, Technology | 0 comments

I need some IT help, so I contacted the folks at Popular Mechanics with a question that I think would make for a good story. In the meantime, I thought I’d post it here in case any tech-savvy readers stumble by.

Here’s the email. I can’t be the only person asking this question, can I?

Dear Editors: Technology is finally getting to the point where I can merge my PC/TV/DVD/etc… and I want to take the right steps to build a quality home theater/computer for the least expense possible.

My Current Situation: I’m an avid Netflix user and have Charter digital cable with DVR. I currently have a Dell laptop through work and I’m planning to buy my wife a netbook to use around the house. Our old Dell tower (running XP) is filled to the brim with music and pictures. I have a Droid phone and my wife has an iPod touch, so we rarely use the home computer for ad hoc internet browsing anymore. It’s basically a digital filing cabinet at this point.

My Future Situation: My wife told me I can buy a HD flat screen TV if I lose some weight (I’m very susceptible to bribery), and I expect to buy one before this fall. My old DVD player is on the fritz, so It’s time for me to get a new DVD player too. Also, I’m putting off buying a new computer or extra hard drive until I know what role it’ll play in the new entertainment center. My A/V and surround sound system still work fine.

My Question: I’m planning to move all of our electronics to a credenza (which I’ll build) in the den/family room. What combination of gadgets do I need to buy to have a fully functional home entertainment center? On my new TV, I want to be able to stream Netflix movies, watch HULU videos, shop for media and products on Amazon, browse through my digital music library, and do work on Microsoft Office files if I have to. Naturally, I want it all networked with my other devices and I want all my data backed up on a regular basis. I’m not quite ready to give up cable for purely online media, so I’m holding onto my cable connection for the time being. But that might change when more sports are available online. What should I do?

Obviously, we’ll need to buy a blu-ray player that also streams Netflix videos. We’ll also need a wireless keyboard and mouse to use in the den. For the rest, a friend recommended attaching a cheap Acer netbook and external hard drive to my new TV to provide an internet connection, operating system and storage for all of our pictures/videos/music. Not to sound too critical, but that seems like a ‘duct-tape solution’ to me. The little netbook would be open and running 24 hours a day, emitting light from inside the credenza and heating up all the other electronics.

Is there a cheap tower I can buy that’ll have Microsoft 7 (and hopefully Microsoft Office) already installed on it? Also, despite the iPod, we’re PC users. I’ll change my OS if I have to, but that’s an awfully small corner to paint ourselves into if you ask me. Anybody have any tips? I’m not looking for perfection. I’m looking for a cheap and effective solution.

UPDATE: I got a lot of advice via email and in person from friends and strangers alike.  After two years of patience, I finally pulled the trigger: Building a HTPC Console

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