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The Definitive Build Your Own Guide: Off-the-shelf and Ready to Use

Posted on 21 November 2012 by sam

In this part of the guide, we’ll focus on existing media devices that you can just buy and start using. It might seem strange to talk about ready made commercial off-the-shelf products in a build your own guide. However, there are quite a few instances where building your own machine is probably not the best solution.

Three of the most important reasons for buying a complete device are:

  • Money is tight. Ten years ago, building your own machine would be the cheapest way to get exactly what you need. Not so anymore.
  • You prefer tweaking software instead of assembling hardware. Sometimes you just want something that works, so you can start right away choosing your prefered theme and organizing your media collection.
  • You already have a media machine set up in your house, but you want to extend it to another room, another screen, or even across the Internet. A cheap network media player can make your media PC so much more valuable.

This post lists some of the more popular devices and should give you a good overview of what’s out there. Many brand-name devices also have cheap knock-offs. So if price is important, make sure you search around on the Chinese import sites to get a similar device for a lot less bucks.

Media Consumption Devices

This list of electronics focuses on consuming all kinds of different multimedia.

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The Boxee Box

Boxee started as a spin-off of XBMC. Now it’s a fully fledged hardware device with lots of plugins, so you will have fun tweaking that box for hours. You’re either going to love or hate the design.

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Roku 2 XS Full HD Streaming Player

If you just want to stream online TV, like Hulu and Netflix, the Roku streaming players are your best choice.

The XS is the top-end device. There are also cheaper version available, but you’ll have to give up Angry Birds and full HD. It’s your choice.

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Wester Digital WD TV Live

Although very similar to the Roku player above, this one also streams local content. So if you have a media server or a NAS with media files, this will be a perfect match.

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Slingbox

Slingbox devices allow you to use your existing TV equipment from anywhere in the world. The Slingbox transmits whatever your TV or DVR at home shows over the Internet to any PC or mobile phone. The Boxee and WD TV can also be used as clients.

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Android for the big screen

Android on the big screen is still in it’s infancy. Many of the apps you can download are not written for TV and heavily rely on touch input. So, right now, you’ll need to do a little work to figure out which apps work on your TV and which don’t. Next year, I’m confident we will see a lot of apps made exclusively for a big TV screen.

Streaming anything from anywhere and XBMC are just the tip of the iceberg. The options are limitless. This “mini-computer” is so small you can just put it in your pocket and take it with you to wherever you want big screen entertainment.

And it’s also the cheapest of the bunch.

Capture

Want to record live TV or your gaming exploits? This section is for you.

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TiVo

It’s the original and if you’re in the United States, it’s still your best choice.

Lots of space to record, recommendations, Internet connected. It’s all in here.

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Hauppauge HD PVR

This device is very focused at getting the recording part of a PVR right.

It’s not a standalone device, so you’ll need to add a PC to properly control it and store the recordings.

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Over-the-air DVR

It’s hard to recommend other DVRs, because they may not function correctly with your cable service. If you buy one, check first!

The brite-View is different. It is made for over-the-air digital TV and should work anywhere there is an antenna signal available (again, check this first). The user interface isn’t the best out there (especially compared to TiVo), but keep in mind the price. It’s one of the cheapest DVRs around.

Conclusion

After this sneak peak, you should have a good idea of what’s out there and be able to decide whether you still want to go through and build your own media computer. In the next article we’ll go into the various components you need.

Join us in the forum and let us know your own personal choice.