So.. I now have an HTPC setup.
The results are.. mixed.
What I bought was a used stereo-form-factor pre-built pc from ebay.
This was a machine that was once top of the line for it's form factor and cost $2500 in 2009 and I was able to pick up for a little more than $300.https://www.maingear...ters/axess/index.php
5 years later and the specs are still very respectful for it's form factor (it has an i7 chip and 6gb of ram).
I thought having a desktop capable machine would be nice because it's possible I'll end up using it for some always-on fun computer simulations (machine learning, artificial life, etc.).
Dirhael's posts in this thread were right on target:
JRiver really does a nice job of playing and showing audio albums, with scraped background images.. Just looks really elegant while playing. Thought i may end up going back to XBMC since i normally want to find files to play by navigating folder structure not via fancy powerful tag album artist thing.
But XBMC visualizations are just terrible.
They are both confusing to customize, with JRiver being truly opaque.
Both would be fine for use as my music player -- I have thousands of cds and records that i hope to eventually convert so i can listento it with the htpc computer. For now i'm using Jriver.
Anyway, overall, the HTPC does work, and sometimes it's pretty cool.
But for the sake of other people considering HTPC life, let me discuss some of the bumps in the road i'm experiencing:
First, my decision to by a powerful pc to use as an htpc has come with a few serious drawbacks. First, it's LOUD. I hate that. I've already gone in and tweaked some underlocking and turned down the fans as much as i can, but there's just not avoiding the fact that this thing gets hot inside and there is no room for good big silent fans. This is not even mentioning the power consumption.
Second, the small form pc case means its hard to replace components (see fan replacement issue above).
Third, digital audio output sounds great. Analog output is of very low volume with this motherboard drivers (ive already upgraded, flashed bios, gone hunting for solutions so i know there is nothing much to do about it), and this creates serious humming noise on my audio input line to my reciever.
Fourth, you might ask why i would want to use analog output when the digital works great and sounds great. The reason is that my receiver decodes the digital fine but will not pass it through to my secondary speakers or my wireless speaker inputs which require analog. So i have to make a choice of digital audio and no secondary speakers in other rooms, or crappy sounding buzzing analog. Not happy about this. And this is a good receiver. It might be solvable by upgrading to some new $500 receiver but that's not going to happen.
Fifth, I underestimated how difficult it would be to read text on the tv screen. Perhaps that's because i still have an "old" style tube television. But it does mean that actually working within windows on the tv screen is unbearable so requires a secondary screen (or remote login) to do most things involving normal windows applications.
Summarizing, here's what I would advise for others considering making the leap to HTPC:
First, take the issue of noise VERY VERY seriously. Decide whether you want a really small quiet htpc device -- follow Dirhael's route for a passive cooled small and "relatively" low power machine. And consider if one of those dedicated media-playing machines might be the way to go -- ask yourself if you really need the flexibility of having a fully desktop grade pc as your htpc.
Or if you really want a full power machine, think hard about whether you can't use a standard small tower case and place it somewhere out of the way. That would allow you to build it with normal sized components -- which would cut down on price and give you a lot more flexibility to build a fast quiet powerful machine.
I think if i were to do it all over again I might try to find a way to fit a small tower into my living space.