Should I build a new media PC?

Eight years ago, approximately, I built my last media center computer. My family and I used it a lot, but it was in the era when set-top boxes were still mostly in their infancy.

I did it fairly simply. I bought a used desktop model (a tower wouldn’t fit on a shelf in my cabinet) and began a partial remodel. I tried to do it fairly cheap. I opened up the case and replaced the RAM with more, swapped the hard drive for a higher capacity one, and replaced the video card with one that had component out and the audio card with one that had SPDIF out. Both cards ran their output to the A/V receiver where the signal was processed and carried out to the TV via HDMI.

Once built and hooked up, it was time to install the software. I tried a couple of kinds briefly, both Microsoft WMC and XBMC (since changed to Kodi), but couldn’t get into either. I settled on Media Portal and added some codecs and ways of playing them, which mostly consisted of VLC Media Player. There are many other types of software out there that can run your system, as well. Many are Linux-based, such as OpenELEC.

In addition, I added a way to convert recorded files into the format of choice. I do not recall the software I used, but multiple ones are available.

Finally, I used one of my own old tower boxes in my office to create a backup server which I based on FreeNAS.

There is more that can be done, many people add a TV tuner, for instance. This will give you an idea of how I did it the last time, and likely a similar way to how I would do it once again, although with newer and more powerful hardware.

That leaves the real question: are projects like this still worth it? Especially for somebody who has Fire TV and Roku and doesn’t need to make a library of kids movies anymore? Let me know what you think.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

5 Responses to Should I build a new media PC?

  1. TechFan says:

    A huge criteria is having a dead silent system, if keeping the unit in the media/family room. I have built many systems, and spent way to much money - but it was a fun hobby.

    The two absolute best solutions moving forwards -
    1. Nvidia Shield + OTA Digital Tuner. Watch OTA TV, Neflix, Hulu, Vudu, and even Amazon Prime (which most Android devices do not offer) - and it makes for a great Kodi device. If into simple games, like Crossy Roads, this is a great option. Plus there are a lot of SNES Emulators and stuff.

    2. Xbox One + OTA Digtal Tuner. Same as above but you also have an Ultra Blu Ray Player and AAA game tiles.

    Both support added an external Hard Drive do store all your Media. Personal, I have all that on my Main Windows 10 gaming PC, synced to OneDrive for my backup, and use Plex for my Media Front End (as it's on the Xbox, Shield, Roku, AppleTV).

  2. Patrick Gallagher says:

    I added a pile of storage to an older (4th gen i7) computer, and have it connected to the network in another room of the house. It stores all the media and manages a plex server, which is accessible from any of my devices. I removed pretty much all the software other than the media serving and media creation tools - just RDP into the box locally and manage things, install security updates. It's a brilliant concept, and it works almost flawlessly - I have a friend thousands of miles away who can access the server and watch media I shared with them on their devices as well.

  3. Christophe H says:

    IMHO, a media PC like the one you describe is now useless. Nowadays, with smart tv, and mobile device, having an attached media center is a nonsense.
    I have a Plex server (one at home, another in the cloud with almost unlimited disk capacity) which permit me to have access to my movies from everywhere.
    Even If I have a netplix/prime subscription, we cannot rely on them to keep their movies/tv show forever (look what's going on with disney movies on netflix). So I'm still buying media, I rip them myself to put them on my plex server so I can watch them where I want, when I want with no time limit.
    Of course I need high bandwidth to watch full HD movie (I cannot rip 4K yet), but beside that, it's far easier that way.

    • Enis C. Philpott says:

      So-called Smart TVs are a no-go for those who (ike me) see them as backdoors thwarting personal privacy. In such cases, a Pi or NUC-type device can deliver those parts of the 'smart" experience the viewer actually wants without all the stuff he or she doesn't (i.e. cameras and microphones built into the TV set, unused apps, etc.). Given these boards have nearly all the power of an eight-year old tower at a small fraction of their size and cost, I still find them ideal for such projects. I avoid anything labeled "smart" (like TVs and phones), since they send out far too much data about me and my habits to who-knows-where.

  4. ftanner says:

    I took a more "modular" approach than you did. At the "TV end" of the chain, I use Rokus/Smart TVs/whatever.

    However, from the other end, I have a PC running Windows 7 with the Mezzmo streaming software on it. I have a NAS (with the drives in RAID5 for some fault tolerance) full of the movies that I have purchased over the years. This allows me to stream movies on any device in my home, sort of like my own in-home version of NetFlix. I chose Mezzmo for my own personal reasons, but insert your DLNA "server" software of choice for Mezzmo, and you have a pretty good setup. Most of my movies are in HD, but I have a few 4k movies and it works great.

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