I previously, I built myself a Home Theater PC that runs XBMC ( XBMC ) a free open source home theater system derived from a project that started on the classic Xbox but it's now available on nearly every platform. Mine is a bit of an all in one dream machine, powered by an AMD A8-3870K and running Windows 7 under it, it runs XBMC along with SABNZBD, SickBeard and CouchPotato which allow it to automatically download TV shows and movies as they are released, as well as the Transmission daemon which we use in my condo to torrent things. Recently I also got it running Steam Big Picture Mode, so it can now switch from XBMC to Steam BPM seamlessly... It's basically the ultimate game console now. Just waiting for the Steam Summer Sale. But we can talk about that older build later.
My roommate enjoyed my machine and her older hacked Western Digital WDTV box is hitting a wall with certain MKV containers (The WDTV is missing a few things from the MKV spec) and 10bit encoded anime. I won't be building her an all in one box but rather be building a Linux based XBMC machine that will run the custom version of XBMC, designed to have the machine operate the most like an appliance, OpenELEC. ( OpenELEC Mediacenter - Home ) She also loves Linux so it's her preference. :P The parts have been ordered and arrived today, putting it together and taking photos as I go.
CPU: A6-5600K ($61.99)
MOBO: MSI FM2-A75MA-E35 ($59.94)
RAM: Corsair CMV4GX3M1A1333C9 4GB ($23.99)
WIFI: TP-Link TL-WDN4800 450MBPS Dual-Band Wireless N PCI-E Adapter ($29.99)
PSU: Thermaltake TR2 500W Power Supply ($39.99)
Case: Nmedia HTPC-6000B ($74.99)
Remote: Mediagate GP-IR01BK ($27.99)
One of the main goals here is to construct a box that, while a bit pricy, will also last 4-7 years and it will play any kind of media file and even access various online streaming services which make having a cable TV connection obsolete. HTPCs aren't the most demanding machines but video codecs evolve and they require either more CPU power or newer hardware acceleration. 10bit h.264 encoded anime is not capable of being decoded on hardware accelerated video decoders so a lot of low end systems that rely on GPU video decoding hit the wall, the software shifts back to CPU decoding instead of GPU decoding and CPU doesn't have enough power. This will also be an issue as h.265/HEVC and Google's VP9 codecs come out. This is where little boxes fueled by Intel Atoms or AMD E-350 or E2-2000 boxes will become an issue. As they are embedded CPUs they can't be upgraded either, the entire box needs to be replaced. The A6-5600K on the other hand, with dual 3.6ghz cores should have enough power to decode h.265/HEVC and VP9 when they become standard, well, at least at 1080p. For 4K either a CPU upgrade or modern GPU with hardware support for those codecs will be necessary. By using a larger machine with PCI-E ports and an upgradeable CPU socket, either option is viable and the rest of the machine doesn't need to be upgraded. There is even a 4.4ghz quad core APU compatible for this motherboard coming out next week that could readily popped in.
I'll post assembly and setup/installation photos and maybe we can talk about HTPCs while we're here. I'm actually a big fan of them and my HTPC box has saved me a lot by letting me cut the cable TV connection entirely, saving $75 a month.