I’m extremely satisfied with my current hardware lineup and wanted to share the list of what’s working for me right now. I’ll update the list as I swap hardware in and out – but this is the gear I’m leaning on today!
MAC MINI – The obvious mothership to my system is one of the most recent Mac Minis. Although I preferred the original design and liked having an optical drive for the occasional DVD, I can’t argue with the much faster processor and the suite of possibilities it brought with it. I also like having a full operating system so I can easily add trimmings that the aTV simply can’t offer.
HD HOMERUN – Combine an HDHR with EyeTV and you instantly have a dual tuner HD PVR that allows you to watch, time-shift, and record live TV in full HD. They run around $100 and (like a lot of stuff on this list) seem like a steal when compared to the alternatives.
YAMAHA SOUNDBAR – Although I can’t argue that having a full 5.1 or 7.1 set-up yields the best all-around sound experience, aesthetics are a key part of my HTPC set-up. So I decided to try out a Yamaha soundbar – which contains 30 small speakers that create a decent virtual surround experience driven by an onboard Dolby Digital/DTS receiver. I recently tried out a 5.1 Klipsch/Yamaha set-up and found the sound wasn’t worth the yards of extra cords. The soundbar was back in business less than 72 hours later.
REMOTE CONTROL – I’ve tried all manner of universal remotes in the past but always came back to wishing I could just use Apple’s sleek remote to control everything. Unfortunately, it can’t (easily) turn my TV on, nor can it control my soundbar. So I was elated when I found a remote on Amazon that’s small, sleek, and had a learning IR feature built in. Long story short, it does everything I needed it to and little else. It was $10 – I ordered two in case they get discontinued.
HD ENCLOSURE – Large amounts of storage are key in my HTPC set-up – I love having a large library of media available. I had a few external USB drives plugged into my Mini and wanted to tidy things up. For $100, I bought a four drive bay and combined all my external drives into one box. Highly recommended.
HDMI EXTENDER – When I decided to add a TV to our kitchen, I knew I wanted to be able to mirror the TV in my main room. A cheap solution would be a DVI splitter plus about thirty feet of HDMI cable. But I wasn’t up to run the cable and went looking for a solution elsewhere. Monoprice (as usual) came through big time with a wireless HDMI extender that throws an HDTV signal easily thirty feet and through one wall to the kitchen with zero audio lag.
AIRPORT EXPRESS – For multi-zone audio playback, iTunes + Airport Expresses + Apple’s Remote app = pure bliss for me. The AEX can be bought used on the cheap and instantly adds a digital audio out that can be flipped on via iTunes or your iPhone/iPad.