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The DVR revolution has been in full effect, but now the on-demand streaming revolution is starting to take over. Pay TV providers continue to charge ridiculous prices and fees for TV and DVR services, while the allure of free broadcast TV and value driven streaming services like Netflix offer more variety and convenience. Truthfully, there has never been a better time to dip your toes into HTPC waters, and the benefits it can bring to you and your family are immense - if you can get past the misconceptions and dive in.
Myth #1 - HTPCs are too complicated for the average user
According to WinSuperSite's Paul Thurrott, Windows Media Center PCs are simply too complicated. This myth continues to persist even to this day, a time where the current population runs with multiple computing products (many based on Windows), tablets, and smartphones of all types, and numerous other CE devices. A huge majority of users operate Windows PCs and notebooks daily, so that can't be where the complication is.
As noted above, early HTPCs were often tricky to get working with home theater components. Today, PCs based on Windows 7 are stable and Media Center is also easy to set up and get working. The prevalence of PC friendly digital TVs and HDMI on both make connecting HTPCs to your living room set simple and easy, and all the headaches with bitstreaming audio have been solved. Furthermore, Homegroups in Windows 7 has made networking and media sharing between PCs super easy.
Myth #2 - There's too much maintenance.
Operating a PC requires no more maintenance than any other PC, usually less. Disable software and Windows updates, and treat it like a device instead of a computer. PCs can be made with such low power requirements, just leave it on all the time and you'll have the same convenience as a cable box.
Sure, every now and then you may want to do some Windows updates, but do it on your own schedule and infrequently. Remember, you're probably using an HTPC much differently than your laptop.
I agree, but beyond the initial setup, why on earth would you use one?
The two most common applications found on HTPCs (Windows Media Center and XBMC) both work fine with Media Center remote controls; you'll be in those two apps 90% of the time. If you need to do something that requires a keyboard and mouse (like streaming from the web in a browser), use one of the thousand free PC control apps that turn your smartphone into a trackpad and keyboard.
Myth #4 - I can't use digital cable
You can. There are two-tuner CableCARD capable tuner cards and devices now priced around $100, and four-tuner varieties for less than $200. Cable companies are finally starting to get the hang of activating them, too.
Myth #5 - A PC is expensive compared to the DVR from my cable provider or TiVo.
This varies a bit on the provider, but when I was paying for DVR services from my cable company, it was costing me over $20 per month with all the fees tacked on. Over the long haul, that DVR is likely going to cost you the same or more, all while not doing as much as the HTPC. TiVo is a great product sold at a reasonable charge in the store, but there's a fee for the service in the form of $15 per month or $500 up front. There is no monthly fees for Windows Media Center, and a great HTPC can be built for $600 or less.