Home Theater Personal Computer

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A Home Theater Personal Computer [ həʊm ˈθiɛtə ˈpɜːsənəl kəmˈpjuːtə ] ( HTPC ) is a device based on PC components that can replace classic hi-fi devices and is particularly flexible thanks to its modular structure.

Examples of Home Theater Personal Computer Systems

Other names

In addition to the name HTPC , the name Media Center PC is also common, which was probably coined by the Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition . The term living room PC can mean an HTPC, but initially only indicates a quiet PC, which does not interfere in the living room and does not have to have a home theater function.

Advantages and disadvantages of an HTPC system

Due to its modular structure in terms of both software and hardware, an HTPC can u. a. take on the following areas of application:

An HTPC can therefore replace DVD players , CD players , DVB receivers , video recorders or hard disk receivers and integrate them into one device. In addition, it enables the playback of high-resolution video (e.g. HDTV , Blu-ray Disc ) and audio sources (e.g. DVD-Audio ).

The biggest advantage of an HTPC is that it works like a normal PC and therefore an enormous variety of software is available for it.

The disadvantage is that an HTPC can quickly become very expensive. This is because it is often built in a small housing for optical integration, which is based on the appearance of a DVD player or similar device. This small housing requires highly integrated components that are comparatively expensive.

With the HTPC, the bundling of several functions, such as video recorder and IPTV in one device, can lead to brief resource conflicts which can then be perceived as jerking or the formation of blocks. In these cases, the use of external devices such as hard disk recorders can help to relieve the HTPC.


The term HTPC first appeared in the early 2000s, because PCs were not powerful enough before that. In Germany, the topic first received greater attention through an article in the specialist magazine c't , which documented in detail the assembly of a living room computer called SVP (Sound and Vision Platform) . Other articles in other magazines quickly followed. The Commodore CDTV , which was still based on Amiga hardware, anticipated part of the HTPC development as early as 1991. The first practical PC to look like a CD player was probably the Olivetti Envision from 1995. It had an MPEG accelerator card that enabled (S) VCD to be played back smoothly despite the relatively slow Intel 80486 -DX / 4-100 or Pentium 75 processor . The Envision was equipped with a remote control, infrared keyboard and a living room-friendly user interface called "Olipilot" that ran under Windows 95 . The next interesting model was the Fujitsu-Siemens Multitainer, which completed the concept with an integrated TV card .

The ACTIVY MediaCenter from Fujitsu Siemens Computers (2001) and the free myHTPC, which was discontinued in the alpha stage , were one of the first interfaces ( front end ) specially optimized for display on the television .

In 2002 Microsoft published the Media Center Edition of its Windows XP operating system for the first time, but initially only in the USA. Two years later the successor was also sold in Europe.

From 2005 to 2011, many Apple computers were also equipped with a simple HTPC interface called Front Row and a simple remote control.

In the editorial of c't 25/2016 the editors found the HTPC dead, the main reason being the lack of 4K / UHD support.

The individual application and the environment are decisive for the suitability of an HTPC.


Construction as an all-in-one solution

HTPCs are based on standard PC hardware and are therefore particularly flexible. Their performance varies greatly depending on the area of ​​application. In contrast to normal PCs, HTPCs place particular emphasis on low noise levels. Many models therefore have very complex (and expensive) cooling mechanisms such as heat pipes in order to be able to do without the typical noisy PC fan.

Usually starts immediately after booting a software (front end) that optimizes lying on the hard disk data for display on a TV and easily by remote control use can. It is usually also responsible for receiving television programs and can also process other information, such as RSS feeds or the weather forecast.

Structure according to the client-server model

Another concept is that of the client-server model . There are central servers and several hard drives with multimedia files (such as music, DVDs, etc.), with the server storing the data and sending it to the clients via stream. Most of the hardware can be relocated from the living room, which means that less attention has to be paid to noise development.

HTPC as streaming client

The HTPC itself can also be used as a universal streaming client. The output can then take place through its HDMI outputs on a television set and audio signals through an existing stereo system.

Streaming clients as users of the services of an HTPC

These clients are simple playback devices, comparable to DVD players without a DVD drive, which forward the received data directly to either the television or the stereo system.

The advantage of this concept is that several recipients in the house can access the central memory of the HTPC and the clients are relatively inexpensive.

A disadvantage is that, for price reasons, the clients are usually based on special chips that do the decoding themselves. As a result, some of the flexibility is lost, since these chips can only decode certain formats and cannot be upgraded. On the other hand, PC-based clients are more expensive. Another disadvantage is that the server usually runs all day. This can result in additional electricity costs of several 100 € per year.

The alternative of installing several full-fledged HTPCs would not only be much more expensive, but would also lack synchronicity: the data only has to be fed into the server once and is henceforth available everywhere in the house. The server often also has several TV tuners (mostly DVB-S ), which means that the clients also function as set-top boxes .

Media center operating systems for PC



The following Linux distributions use MythTV in the standard installation:

The following Linux distributions use Kodi (formerly XBMC) in the standard installation:

Other Linux distributions that can be used as media centers:

Media center applications / front ends

An (incomplete) list of the products on the market (both free and commercial) that are suitable for use in media center computers.

Platform independent

Windows only

Mac OS X only

  • Apple Front Row (discontinued)
  • CenterStage (discontinued)
  • iTheater (discontinued)
  • XHub (discontinued)
  • nessViewer
  • MediaCentral
  • Plex Home Theater

Linux only

Individual evidence

  1. Volker Zota, Peter Röbke-Doerr, Christof Windeck: The PC as a multimedia all-rounder for the living room. In: c't magazine. heise.de, October 2001, accessed on March 5, 2011 .
  2. Christof Windeck: Editoral c't 15/2016. In: c't Magazin 15/2016. heise.de, 2016, accessed on February 24, 2019 .
  3. microsoft.com