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HTPCs (and the like)

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So a while back, I posted about building a HTPC for my dad. After a few more conversations we decided to wait until June (expected release date of the PopBox) before we decided on what to get him.

Initially, my assumption was to go and get a Boxee-like device (WD Live, Popcorn Hour, ASUS O!Play, etc) and then get another external hard drive to hook up to it recorded with the various TV shows and movies I've bought/added over the years. One conversation led to another and before I knew it, he wanted more and more out of it but wanted it to be cheaper and cheaper (typical right?). So eventually the "features" list grew to the following:

1. Internet (WiFi)
2. Composite in to record from DirecTV (later transfer to DVDs)
3. Playing VCDs, SVCDs, and other DVDs that can't seem to play on his current settops
4. Burning DVDs (for home movies, etc)
5. Small as possible
6. Remote control and a simple, intuitive interface
7. Media card reader (SD/MS/mSD/etc)
8. Blu-Ray
- obviously not possible given his budget and the current $100 average price of an internal BD player + DVD Burner combo.

Obviously, the initial build of the HTPC reusing a 1 GB module of DDR2 RAM and my E8400 brought the whole project down to $275 including the remote, WiFi card (already have), and a DVD burner. Of course, he kept touting he wanted it to be a shocking $180. I'm throwing around the costs on a settop box like the Boxee and PopBox coupled with an external hard drive ($200 easy). Seems he's intriqued by their size, yet he still wants all those functions of a PC without the cost of a PC. A third option was a nettop PC and frankly we weened away from them because of the relatively small hard drive included.

So now, I'm narrowing down the choices to:

1) build the HTPC ($280)
2) buy a settop box and a external hard drive ($220)
3) (perhaps) buy into a nettop and a external hard drive later on ($280)

I'll just put down a list of devices I've looked at, top, down, and all-around which actually made it to the list of "possibles":

1. ($180) ASUS O!Play (w/out WiFi)
2. ($200) ASUS O!Play Air (w/ WiFi)
3. (expected $200) Boxee
4. ($200) PopBox (no WiFi)
5. ($230) PopBox (WiFi)
6. ($200) WD Live (no WiFi)
7. ($280) Build above HTPC
7. ($208) Acer Aspire Revo AR1600 (Nettop w/ 160 GB HDD, ION, Atom N270)
8. ($330) Acer Aspire Revo AR3610 (Nettop w/ 160 GB HDD, ION, Atom N330)

There are other settop players like the PopBox and WD Live, but I quickly ruled them out due to clunky interfaces, false advertising (promised features that don't work), and/or bad support by their parent companies.

Perhaps more of you out there in TG land are in a similar position that I am with HTPCs. I'd also advise waiting for the Boxee and Popbox to finally release before jumping into building your own or buying something already in the marketplace.

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