When you have built your HTPC system the next thing to do is to install an OS (Operating System) so you can either use the OS's default media player or install a better media player.
We have 5 to choose from, below we will give more detail about each so you will have a better idea of the OS for your requirements.
Although you may be tempted to buy a new windows PC system as now they come pre-installed with Windows 8 thinking you will get the perfect hardware and HTPC media software in one go. Then beware as Windows 8 does not come with Windows Media Center & it does NOT play DVD's or live TV through a installed tuner card.
You can get these from Microsoft for a fee if you own Windows 8 Pro you can get them for around $10, but if you have the regular Windows 8 it will cost you $99 to upgrade to the pro version.
You do have another option and that is to forget Windows Media Center altogether and install XBMC, Plex or a similar front-end instead.
If you want DVD playback you will need Windows Media Center installed as that has the codecs to play back DVD's.
Windows 7 Home Premium can be used as the OS for your new HTPC. And unlike Windows 8, Windows 7 comes with Windows Media Center installed and has the codecs to play back DVD's.
Windows 7 is a better update than the slow Windows Vista, but I still think XP is the best Windows update of all time. The builtin Windows Media Center gives you an easy access to music, pictures and movie files.
This is an obvious choice for most HTPC users as it will be the most installed operating system out there. The biggest advantage are the built-in codecs and easiness to get fluent playback of videos.
Windows 7 is excellent for Blu-ray video, live TV, games, Hulu and Netflix.
Mac Operating System
Because of the Macs closed environment and inability to install anything without going through iTunes, I would not recomend the Mac.
You do have a couple of choices though. There is a version of XBMC you can use and Plex is another.
Video playback in general is great so long as you use the video formats that are naturally supported by the Mac. In practice though the Mac OS X’s hardware acceleration support is not as good as Windows or Linux, and it's hard to play HD MKV files smoothly.
You cold use Linux Ubuntu as the operating system in his HTPC. However, Ubuntu is doing great efforts in making Linux work for the everyday users who are not very technology oriented.
Linux is very varied and there are quite a few variants of Linux to choose from. The challenge with Linux is that you need to be quite knowledgeable to fix any issues that might occurs. That said there is a couple of vesions of Linux designed especially for HTPC.
- OpenELEC. This is a stripped down vesion of Linux, with just enough to make a HTPC system work using OpenELEC's choice of Media Centre XBMC. and the size of OpenELEC is around 80-125MB.
- XBMCbuntu. This is a version of Ubuntu with XBMC pre-installed to run upon bootup and is around 680MB in size.
Linux is an optimal OS for XBMC media center with less demanding hardware needs.
Windows XP with SP2 is an older version of the Windows, the features that are missing if compared with Windows 7 are the builtin DVD support and a media center software that is designed for HDTV's.
Windows XP is a reasonable choice especially if you want to use a slower PC, I would recommend using it if you have a low spec PC with Windows XP already on it. The main limitations with Windows XP are the codecs. So you will need to know which codecs are needed and where can you can get them e.g. H.264 codecs is one thats not included.
A way to get the codecs is to download a codec pack that comes will a lot of codecs and usually comes with the codecs you might need.