As someone who has assembled and more than once upgraded a home theater PC (HTPC), the headache is never in the hardware. Visit any of those niche forums dealing with this subject and there are usually lots of tried and tested configurations that a beginner can easily pick up.
The trouble is in the software. For users more familiar with Windows, its media center software is a decent enough solution, but despite the improvements over the years, it's still not the best choice. There are a few open-source or free software alternatives, including MediaPortal (which I have tried), XBMC and GB-PVR, but each have their own quirks and limitations. I have yet to try one that just worked without excessive time spent configuring and tweaking the software. As for trying the big daddy of media center software, MythTV, it's probably beyond me and my family's acceptance level for technology.
Which is why Google's entry into the TV scene was something that got my interest immediately. Running on Google's Android OS, with its Chrome browser and of course, with Google's ubiquitous search, Google TV would be a perfect match. In fact, it's not that different to some of the more promising efforts I have seen, like Boxee, but with Android apps and Google's admittedly powerful branding and backing. Compared to a full fledged PC installed with a powerful media center software, Google TV would seem like a less advanced version with fewer features and less customization, but it's a compromise that most consumers would accept if the interface is user-friendly enough.
But once I read further, it seems that like the many newer HDTVs that I have seen from brands like Samsung, which have widgets and apps that link to online websites or internet TV sources, the full potential of such devices will not be fulfilled here. Yes, it will probably work as advertised in the U.S, but internationally, I have my reservations. Even though Google has stated that Google TV will go international next year, it faces a cabal of content producers that will not endanger their foreign markets by offering their content online. We already don't get the iTunes Store here, and we won't be getting free stuff like Hulu here either.
I'll be cheering from the sidelines for Google TV, but I'm not placing any bets. Incidentally, if there's any way to download and install the presumably custom Android OS for Google TV, sign me up as a trial user.
Vincent Chang / Former Senior Tech Writer
Vincent has written enough about tech to know that he doesn't know enough about tech. But that's not keeping him from going jargon-heavy about processors and mobos. After all, "you can't stop the signal".