There are still plenty of reasons to consider a home theater PC these days. In addition to simply recording over-the-air television like a DVR, home theater PCs can store your entire music collection, and even your DVDs (with enough storage space), and can even place big-screen, surround-sound gaming within easy reach.
Some industry have audaciously declared the HTPC to be a failed technology, citing the comparatively complex keyboard-and-mouse control scheme of HTPCs when compared to set-top-box media extender units like the Microsoft XBOX 360 and the Apple TV, which stream data directly from your home PC and can be controlled with just an infrared remote or game controller.
However, all is not so rosy for media extenders. A media extender itself is much like a PC in many ways, with a CPU, a GPU, a hard drive, and memory â€“ the difference is that a media extender’s hardware is tightly integrated with its software, so the CPU and GPU can be somewhat less powerful than those in a HTPC.
The current Apple TV uses a 1GHz Pentium M CPU and an NVIDIA GeForce Go 7300GPU, and has 256MB of DDR2 400 SDRAM. Yet, consumers are unwilling to pay high prices for what they view to be a comparatively simpler appliance, so margins on media extenders are far slimmer than on fully-fledged HTPCs running Windows Media Center Edition 2005 or Vista Home Premium, so much so that many media extenders are practically subsidized by the company that produces them, in hopes that digitally-delivered content sales will make the entire venture profitable.
There are some things that you can’t do on an Apple TV or an XBOX 360, though, such as recording over-the-air telelvision for later playback (Apple, for instance, would rather have you purchase the shows from their iTunes store), and playing your PC game library (in the case of the XBOX 360, you’ll need to buy the console version â€“ if one is even available).
In addition, you can manage your content directly from a home theater PC; since it’s stored locally, you can easily organize and delete items, instead of trekking to your PC if it’s in another room of your house. You can even manage content that’s stored on other computers, through networked drives.
Sure, not all of the HTPC experience is quite as elegant and simple as a media extender unit, but if you’re a PC enthusiast, this will hardly be an issue when compared with the superior versatility of a HTPC. What’s more, new wireless keyboards like Logitech’s DiNovo Edge with its integrated trackpad are designed specifically for home theater use, virtually resolving the issue of a simple input device.
If you’re a PC enthusiast, you likely won’t want to go to a big box store for your HTPC â€“ you’ll want to build your own. And luckily for you, the enthusiast PC component industry has already been riding the HTPC wave for quite some time, with high-performance Micro ATX motherboards, quiet cooling solutions, and of course, horizontal form-factor cases styled like stereo components, complete with VFDs and big volume knobs.
Thermaltake is one company with a broad array of home theater PC chassis solutions, from the Bach, Tenor, Mozart, and Mozart SX horizontal enclosures to the large tower-style Kandalf cases, which share styling cues with Harman/Kardon stereo and multichannel receivers. Who said that a HTPC case had to be horizontal?
In this review, I’m taking a look at the Thermaltake Mozart VC4000 media center PC case (not the huge dorm-refrigerator-sized TX version). It’s a popular HTPC chassis, used by at least one major system integrator for their HTPC offering, so I’ve decided it’s deserving of our attention.
However, the design considerations for a case that’s well-suited to a home theater PC are generally quite different from what’s required for an enthusiast case. HTPCs are typically built with cooler-running CPUs that don’t see much overclocking action, so instead the focus is on cooling systems which run quietly and efficiently. We’ll see how well Thermaltake addresses the concerns of noise and usability with the Mozart chassis, in addition to the usual thermal tests.