Why every living room needs a PC

I spend an inordinate amount of time in my living room. Part of that time is spent watching television. When I'm not watching some of my favorite shows, I'm probably reviewing video games. But there's something else that I have in my living room that I wouldn't go without: a PC.

The idea of having a computer connected to an HDTV certainly isn't new. For years, companies have been marketing PCs as fine solutions for those who want to relax on the couch. Dell, Acer, and others have all gotten in on the fun.

But the value of owing a Home Theater PC starts with price. Whether it's Apple's Mac Mini you're looking for, or something on the PC side, like Acer's AspireRevo or Dell's Zino HD, Home Theater PCs are now easier than ever to get your hands on. In fact, Dell's device starts at $250, and can be customized with all the bells and whistles for less than $600. The same can be said for most of the Home Theater PCs on the market, aside from the Mac Mini, which will set you back a bit more.

Once you pick up the device of your choosing, you'll be shocked to see how much value you really get out of it. No, it won't replace the powerful desktop you have running in the home office. It won't even be as easy to use as Apple's iPad for those times when you want to quickly check your e-mail. But it extends the functionality of your living room beyond anything currently available on the market. And that's a boon for any tech lover.

Work or play?

Admittedly, I wasn't so keen on getting an HTPC at first. I figured that I would be allowing my work to encroach upon my personal time. Rather than enjoy the computer, I'd be checking e-mails or writing stories from the couch. No matter where I went, I'd be within arm's reach of a product that would increase the amount of time I work each week.

But then I bought an HTPC and that preconceived notion went away. Now, I sit in my chair in the living room, pick up my Bluetooth-connected keyboard and mouse, and flip the channel to the proper input. I boot up the PC and watch as my Windows desktop fills up all my 50 inches of my Panasonic plasma HDTV. It's a beautiful thing. And although I might check my e-mail at first, I've found that I'm using the HTPC more as an entertainment product than a replacement for my notebook.

For instance, just last night, I couldn't find anything worth watching on television. Rather than flip to the OnDemand channels or get up to pop a Blu-ray disc into my PlayStation 3, I flipped over to my HTPC. Within seconds, I was accessing YouTube and Hulu content. And since it's a real computer, I was also able to run a quick Google Search for something my wife wanted to look up.

Now, some might say that an HTPC is obsolete. Currently, devices like Roku's HD XR, or even the Apple TV can deliver content that's already available on the Web. Roku's box offers Netflix access, the Apple TV lets users view content from iTunes, and even the TiVo has access to Amazon's Video On Demand service. And since Google TV is right around the corner, much of the functionality built into the HTPC is well on its way to being replaced.

But I view it a different way. Google TV is obsolete. So is every set-top box. They only perform a small portion of the functionality that I can enjoy on my HTPC. Plus, in order to get all the services I can access on my HTPC, I would need to pay for each set-top box because of the odd licensing deals vendors and service providers set up.

That doesn't work for me. And it shouldn't work for you. The future of home entertainment is firmly planted in the living room. And although new services are coming every day, the standard old computer still works best when attempting to achieve that goal.

Get an HTPC. Trust me, you won't regret it.