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Three Mainstream Home Theater PC Cases Compared

Three Mainstream Home Theater PC Cases Compared
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The good old whitebox PC that many of us associate with boring beige boxes has almost disappeared from retail markets. Although business-class systems remain rather simple devices, the consumer market is now fragmented and colorful. Fancy gaming systems and powerful overclocking PCs for enthusiasts are available with or without in-your-face designs and mods. Traditional home PCs are being replaced by more space-efficient notebooks.

However, two additional PC types are conquering the living room: small, low-cost nettop PCs and HTPCs (home theater PCs), which offer all the functionality of a standard PC, but feature additional enhancements for living room-type applications. This extra functionality, combined with the aesthetic demands of a very public, visible environment, demands a very special housing.

HTPC Hardware

In all actuality, most PCs can serve as an HTPC, but there are several points that require careful consideration.

First, you want to be sure that the system is powerful enough to play and record all audio and video sources, including full bit rate high-def streams. Modern integrated graphics solutions, such as AMD’s 780/785G with Radeon HD 3200/4200 graphics, Intel’s G45 with GMA X4500HD, and the Nvidia GeForce 9300/9400, are all capable of handling MPEG-2, VC-1, and H.264 when paired with a decent processor.

However, HD video playback doesn’t stop with handling audio and video. Playback also requires decryption, which requires computing power. We want a processor that can handle everything. Hence, we recommend a 2.5 GHz dual-core CPU or better. Two gigabytes of RAM should be sufficient, but more sure doesn’t hurt for Windows 7 or Vista running Media Center.

Enthusiasts will want to pay more attention to the platform nuances. Only Intel and Nvidia support 8-channel LPCM audio via HDMI through their integrated graphics solutions, which is necessary if you want to decode DTS-HD or Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio on the PC and then send 16-bit, 48 kHz sound to your receiver. 

Currently, there are also a couple of options for bitstreaming those high-def audio formats, too. You could use a discrete audio card, such as Asus’s Xonar HDAV 1.3,. Or, you could go with a video card like AMD's Radeon HD 5870, which has a protected audio path and now requires software support from companies like CyblerLink and Arcsoft.

HTPC Cases

Finally, there’s the HTPC case, which plays a role in defining the power supply, remote control, form factor, cooling options, and visual appearance you achieve here. Some HTPC cases come with integrated touchscreen displays. Others feature a small vacuum fluorescent display (VFD), or no display at all. There are full-height and slim designs, full ATX and microATX. This article looks at four mainstream HTPC cases by GMC, Moneual, and Silverstone in the price range of up to $360.

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  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 2 October 2009 17:24
    The Antec NSK 2480 was completely neglected. It's about £80 and includes a 380W 80+ PSU.
  • 0 Hide
    mi1ez , 2 October 2009 20:00
    "The front panel is made of brushed aluminum, while the rest is 0.8 mm sheet metal."

    What metal?
  • 0 Hide
    Nick_C , 6 October 2009 17:24
    Ditto on the Antec NSK 2480 - it's an excellent, affordable, very quiet, mATX full height case and only costs $128 at today's $/£ exchange rate.
  • 0 Hide
    Solitaire , 8 October 2009 20:46
    Hell, what about the MicroFusion? Or, given they put up the Lascala, the full-size Fusion?! Lots of good HTPC cases out there, and this lot was somewhat lacklustre for their prices!
  • 0 Hide
    Stupido , 25 November 2009 15:23
    I also would like to see more antec HTPC cases reviewed... To me they look the most optimal price/feature/performance.
  • 0 Hide
    zilexa , 3 March 2010 06:13
    Too bad you guys didn't reviewed the Silverstone ML02 or even the thinnest mATX HTPC case, the Silverstone LC19.

    Absolutely unique about these cases is that you DO NOT have an internal power supply! Instead they give you a laptop like adapter :) 

    This is a true must for HTPC lovers since no power supply means A LOT less heat and less sound! (no power supply fan!).

    The GMC or Auzentech looks like the two cases I mention, but it does have an internal PSU.
  • 0 Hide
    zilexa , 3 March 2010 06:14
    BTW the cases I mention only deliver 120 watt. But thats more then enough for a 780G based AMD system with a 2.6 GHz CPU and 4GB ram, one 2.5" hdd and one 3.5" hdd.