Friday, July 1, 2016

What I have loaded my HTPC with, part 1

In the meantime between the last post back in March and today, I've been experimenting with different HTPC setups and I can say I've come up with a solution that serves me well, at least until I'm bitten by the modification bug once again.

Let me start with the fact that I use my HTPC primarily for gaming, with all the bonuses and complications that arise from it. Windows 10 is my primary OS.

So, why don't you have an Xbox One instead?, someone would ask. For a few reasons:

1) The Xbox One cannot, and probably will never be a streaming client to a gaming desktop. Microsoft needs to justify people investing in an Xbox instead of an HTPC. The reverse is possible, but I'm not interested in the reverse, especially when Microsoft is attempting to port its major Xbox One releases to the new UWP app standard introduced with Windows 10.

2) The PC has three major advantages over console: modding, graphic quality and backwards compatibility. On an OS as new as Windows 10, I can play even games from the DOS era without many issues. I also have the benefit of easy modification of the files to suit my needs as well as a level of graphic quality not possible in a console. Meanwhile, the three major console manufacturers are opening themselves to backwards compatibility, but at a price... A steep one, if I may. For example, the remaster of the Batman Arkham games planned to current gen consoles, "Return to Arkham", which will cost $49.99,
simply does not look as good as the max graphics on PC. These are games that can be had for cheap nowadays on Steam, but you cannot play them in either the Xbox One or the PS4 except for paying extra for a remaster that still doesn't look as great as the more accessible PC version. You can play Arkham Asylum on PC with an Xbox One (or even Xbox 360) controller as well as pretty acceptable WASD setup on keyboard.

3) Consequently, as I choose to game on the PC platform and my HTPC is not suited to high end gaming, I must use a streaming solution to have my games available in my living room at greater quality. Steam In-Home Streaming offers me just that, and, through a wired network connection, the latency is minimal. There are a few drawbacks to this approach, namely the dodgy compatibility with Nvidia's Dynamic Super Resolution feature, but I can easily play my FPS and RTS games on my desktop and move to the living room when I want to play fighting or third person sandbox games.

4) The Xbox One does not have a Kodi client available. At the moment, I believe Kodi to be a superior media center to its competitors, which are in no way badly written software, but Kodi does offer a level of customization that hasn't yet been attained by Emby Theater, for example. Perhaps this will change one day, but for now I find Kodi the superior alternative.

5) An HTPC setup allows me to emulate many different retro consoles, something not yet possible in current gen consoles such as the PS4.

In the next post I will show the software I use and give directions on possible setup alternatives. Stay tuned, and hopefully it won't take four months to return. :)

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