I've lurked here for a while, and recently had a bit of a windfall so I thought I would consider taking the HTPC plunge while end-of-year prices are out there. I would like to get 1 HTPC for the living room, and dedicated media server, setting up a home network. Later I might get a raspberry or something similar for a bedroom HTPC-lite.
A bit of background: I'm on the lower side of intermediate in terms of technical knowledge. I don't follow things closely enough to know all the acronyms off the top of my head, but I can follow instructions. I'm not overly intimidated at the thought of putting together PC parts and loading all the software, the issue is knowing what to buy or download. The research can be a little overwhelming. I am going to have to start over after becoming single again, so if I'm having to buy all new stuff I might as well do it right. I like the idea of paying money up front for entertainment, with much lower monthly costs for usenet, or something, instead of cable. So I am wondering if I could get some recommendations.
Things I don't need a living room HTPC system to do:
* I don't need to play games or act in any way as anything other than a dedicated media computer. I have a laptop that I use for everything else.
* I don't need to buy a super-small box or anything. I'm not overly worried about space. I would rather have good airflow and low noise, etc.
* I have a blu-ray player to play disks, so I am assuming this can be plugged into my TV alongside the HTPC, and I can just switch inputs if for some reason someone brings over a blue-ray or I get a gift or something.
Likes but not needs - would drop if conflicted with other needs, or wouldn't pay a large premium for it:
* The living room HTPC case to look like it belongs in an entertainment center, not like a typical desktop computer.
* Has the necessary hardware/software to play nice with a future home theater sound system (5.1 or 7.1 but specific system currently unknown/unresearched) to be purchased in the next few months
*I would like to use a Linux-type OS (openELEC?) with XBMC if it will be sufficient for needs, rather than pay for Windows 7 or 8
*I know that iTunes would need Wine to work with any Linux. I'm not sure if openELEC would support Wine or not, or if you don't really need iTunes on an HTPC that is playing music from a central server - although I would expect I would be using iTunes on my laptop to play those same music files off the server.
Needs - these are core things I would like my HTPC and proposed server set up to do
* Play OTA network TV and record shows off of it (record 1 while watching 1 other). I have a 5-year old and am currently keeping cable only for kids channels, but can drop it during a trial period without having a big fee for a few more weeks. I'd like to record what kid content I can get over the air from PBS and supplement that with content from usenet, since I have a good FIOS connection.
* Rip blueray disks (but not play them per se) with intact menus and play back the ripped files - I read somewhere that the most common ripping format loses all the menus. (I'd like to get rid of all my disks and de-clutter my life)
* Supports usenet account and common accessory programs (sickbeard, etc).
*works with music stored on server (also to be built) to play back audio at really good quality (not a hard-core audiophile though - I don't want to pay thousands extra for absolute audio perfection)
* Plays back ripped video at the same quality level as if I were playing a blu-ray disk. If the picture is noticeably degraded to the eye I won't enjoy it, I don't think.
* For server I think I would go with RAID 1 - that's where all the data is backed up, right? So essentially buy twice the disk space you want to have available for use. I figure space for a couple hundred movies with room to grow.
I have no equipment to start with/cannibalize, because in the split all I am walking out with is my laptop. I did get a 60" smart plasma (not 3D) over the holidays, and would like to take good advantage of the new toy.
Thanks for any help the community can give. Appreciate it very much!