I broke down and bought the parts for a home theater PC (HTPC) / to build with, and for, my sons at Christmas (shh! It's a surprise!). I have been progressively "cutting the cable" from Comcast because their services cost far more than they ought to, and we don't really watch cable anyway. Now that CenturyLink has fast speeds in my neighborhood, I'm not chained to Comcast any more, and plan to ditch them shortly. Yay choice!
Still, I have been bouncing back and forth between the idea of a smart TV, or something like an Xbox, or an HTPC. I finally had to jump. The boys need a computer, and this kills two birds with one stone.
The machine is slightly Frankenstein due to its competing priorities: I wanted it to work for the boys to learn on, so it seemed like a good idea to make it physically larger, and expandable. I bought a full size tower case and motherboard, which is fairly un-HTPC. There will be plenty of space in there for future additions like perhaps a tuner card, fat media disk, video card or more RAM, depending on their interest in coming years.
OTOH I didn't want it to be completely grotesque, and it needs as quiet cooling as is practical in my small budget, because it'll live by the TV in the living room. There are not many affordable cases that are non-hideous, so I settled on something called a Thermaltake V3 Black Edition. It is at least understated, and seems to have a massive amount of vent area, so maybe the fans will run quiet.
Next I decided to put more of the budget into core parts - the motherboard and CPU, and, erm, economize on some other things like the keyboard and mouse, which the kids are so hard on anyway. I found a motherboard with good HTPC features like pass-through HDMI (yes!) and 7.1 channel HD audio.
Once this machine is built we will have our very humble old TV, an Apple TV, and this - with Windows 8 Media Center and probably Plex, to watch things Apple doesn't provide, as well as DVDs and Blu-ray disks. We also have a very basic home theater in a box, which I'll keep using for sound. The boys also do a little gaming here and there - mostly Minecraft, and this should serve for that, so they can stop flogging the family MacBook Pro.
I bought all the parts in one visit to Micro Center, and the staff there was wonderful. All that's missing, I think, is one HDMI cable - but we'll see when we put it together!
I was aiming for $500 - $1,000
Prices: List (Actual)
Thermaltake Chassis 36.99 (21.99)
Samsung 120 GB SSD 79.99 (69.99)
Core i5 4670K Processor 199.99 (199.99)
Asrock Z87 PRO4 Motherboard (HDMI & 7.1 HD Audio) 149.99 (84.99)
Corsair 500W Power Supply 59.99 (49.99)
Windows 8 99.99 (99.99)
Crucial 8GB RAM 59.99 (49.99)
LG Blu-ray/DVD burner/optical drive 109.99 (49.99)
El Cheapo WiFi dongle 19.99 (9.99)
Bottom of Barrel Logitech Wireless Keyboard/Mouse 29.99 (19.99)
2 Year Unconditional Warranty 29.98 (29.98)
Tax N/A (49.64)
Total 876.88 (736.52)#htpc