If you have old computers around the house doing nothing, you might want to hold off on getting those SmartTVs or streaming boxes. Instead, save that money for later and use one of those old computers as your home media setup.
Ideally, you want an old netbook or laptop for this job. If all you have are old desktops, they’re fine, too, provided you’re willing to put up with the constant noise from the fan and occasional ones from the motherboard. As for hardware, even computers from five years ago (maybe even older) should be plenty capable.
Connecting To The TV
What good is setting up an HTPC if you can’t connect it to the TV, right? If the computer you’re using has an HDMI port, then just stick it right in. If all you have is DVI output, that’s good, too — just pick up a cheap DVI to HDMI cable and you’re all set. For desktop machines without either, you can just install an older graphics card with an HDMI output. Want to get your 5.1 audio? Not a problem, either. Connect your PC via TOSlink cable to your AV receiver and you’re done.
If you prefer not to have the unsightly computer in the living room with your TV, you can use a media extender (usually a small set-top box) to stream from your PC straight to the living room. Got an Xbox 360? That will do, too.
There are plenty of readily available options here, both paid and free. There’s Windows Media Center, SageTV, XBMC and more. We suggest trying out downloadable versions until you settle into one that makes the experience feel just right. Also, it’s better if you start everything from scratch (i.e. reformat the drive and install a fresh OS), although you can just resort to running cleanup and optimization utilities if you’d rather not.