If you’re still using your Xbox 360 to watch video content, it might be time to choose the right media center solution. Do you really want to burn your console long before the red rings or the yellow light of death signal the end of your favorite toy?

While there are many expensive ready-made solutions, there are several ways to create a streaming entertainment box in your living room on the cheap. With a few open source media programs available, a few budget products, and a bit of free time, you can pick out the perfect media companion in a couple of hours.

In this article, we will look at three possible solutions that you may not have considered, as well as the software you will need for each of them.

Raspberry Pi

We’ve already used the Raspberry Pi a couple of times, but in case you’re not familiar with this breakthrough device, you’ll probably want to read all about what it does and why it’s so cool. . Recently we even covered some cool case ideas case ideas for ranging from simple Lego cases to the «Imperial Pi Fighter», although the device is small enough, you can probably plug it into the back of a TV.

cheap home theater

The potential of the Raspberry Pi as a media center promises to say the least. The $25 small computer uses an ARM-based system-on-a-chip (SoC) architecture, which means it works well with software and Linux distributions written for the ARM architecture. Of course, you don’t need to understand it to use it, especially now that XBMC has its own raspberry flavored project.

Known as Raspbmc, the release uses the excellent XBMC open source media center to watch 1080p video, giving you a barebones entertainment system for the price of a new BluRay version. You can even stream AirPlay content directly from your Apple device once you enable the setting. It takes some time spent setting it up, but that’s part of the fun when it comes to RasPi.

Things you will need:

  • raspberry pi
  • SD card
  • Raspbmc [ FAQ ]
  • HDMI cable (cheap ones work fine)
  • USB keyboard/mouse for configuration
  • Ethernet cable / Wi-Fi dongle for networking (optional but recommended)
  • USB hub for adding additional sources directly (optional)
  • Some time to set it up with Windows or OS X/Linux
  • Remote control like this one for iOS or this one for Android

Apple TV

The Apple TV may seem like the perfect out-of-the-box device for your home theater needs, but in reality, you’ll probably want to get as much out of a jailbreak-pint-sized powerhouse as possible. There is currently no jailbreak for what many call the Apple TV 3, a revised black box version that came out in March 2012. If you decide to buy a new one, you will have to wait before you can install additional software on it, so for now you can buy a cheap used box on eBay.

cheap home theaters

Both the Apple TV (720p, no live streaming) and Apple TV 2 (1080p, some streaming capabilities) have now been jailbroken, allowing XBMC to be installed while retaining AirPlay functionality and iTunes integration, which were device has been developed. , Technically, you can get the best of both worlds while enjoying your media library.

As an alternative to XBMC, you can also use Plex, the media center that James has been raving about over the past year. . Plex is slightly different from XBMC (despite being a fork) in that it uses a separate server and client for media streaming. It works with Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, and even lets you stream on iPads and Android tablets, but you’ll need a second-generation (black) Apple TV to use it.

Things you will need:

  • Hacked Apple TV (hacking instructions)
  • XBMC for iOS or Plex for Apple TV 2 (and server)
  • Media shared over the network

Old netbook or «nettop»

While older computer hardware may not make for the fastest, quietest, or stylish media center, chances are it will do the job at no extra cost. If the hardware is powerful enough to decode HD video and has an HDMI or DVI output, then this will do!

cheap home theaters

I would recommend an old netbook or equivalent for this task for several reasons:

  • They’re small and quiet — some don’t even have fans.
  • They should come with everything you need — Wi-Fi, USB connectivity and HDMI/DVI output are pretty standard.
  • You can install Windows, a lightweight Linux distribution, or run a Live USB mice, versions of XBMCbuntu for the fastest installation

Look for a «no-top» PC with enough grunt (but not too much, you’ll want it to be quiet) like the Acer Aspire Revo (above) that won’t break the bank. These machines are designed to be low power and inexpensive, and they won’t put out too much heat and also require loud fans. A live XBMCbuntu or a lightweight Linux installation with XBMC will not burden you too much, providing a quiet and cheap multimedia solution.

cheap home theater

There is a steady stream of sub-$200 nettops on eBay and according to the official XBMC wiki, most computers made in the last 5 years meet the minimum requirements for XBMC Live/XBMCbuntu. Don’t forget the official forum, which has plenty of advice on the right settings.

Potential software:


We hope these few ideas inspire you to buy a RasPi, a cheap Apple TV, or a low-powered living room PC. XBMC and Plex are two ideal software solutions for a low-budget media center, although for a living room PC, you may need an alternative media-centric Linux distro instead.

Do you use a cheap media center? How much did you spend? Talk to us through your settings in the comments below.

Image credit: Intro (Shutterstock) , AspireRevo & Wii (takot) , Netbook (eko)

Похожие записи