In this article, I will share some of my thoughts on what makes a truly user friendly media experience and offer some practical tips on how you can get the rest of the family to use your HTPC, too.
Having owned home theater computers in my living room for over ten years (starting with the XBOX media center in 2001), I have gained quite a bit of experience of what works and what does not work as a media center.
I will use XBMC media center as an example in this article, but you can apply the same principles with other software such as Windows Media Center, Media Portal or Plex.
As long as your HTPC hardware has enough performance to play high definition content smoothly and silently, you should be fine.
Playing Blu-ray discs with bitstream HD audio is not necessarily on top of the requirements for most spouses, so stop tinkering with the hardware details too much at the beginning and focus on the big picture, i.e. the user experience.
Organize your media library
The most important thing is to have a lot of interesting media content on your HTPC (both offline and online). If your spouse’s TV shows and your children’s videos are well organized and easily accessible, you can be sure that your HTPC gets used a lot.
However, even if you have the greatest movie and video collection, it does not help if the content cannot be found easily and quickly.
So, it is a good idea to have shortcuts to your favorite folders so that the most used content can be found quickly.
Rip DVD collection to the hard drive
You should rip all your family’s DVDs ready to the hard drive, so your family can instantly start enjoying their favorite videos and movies.
3. User Interface
Simplify media center menu
If you are using XBMC media center or Windows media center 7, you should customize the main menu and leave only the items that you really use frequently.
For example, leave only
3) Recorded & Live TV
4) Custom strip which has icons to e.g. Netflix
5) Favorites shortcut to children’s videos
Setup auto login
It is a good idea to setup auto login for your HTPC and disable the other common password prompts, so everything is easy to use. Furthermore, add your media center software to the startup applications, so that it will open automatically when someone turns on the computer.
4. Remote Control
Get a universal remote
Remote control plays an important role in the user experience. To make controlling practical and easy, a universal remote is a must.
One of the Logitech Harmony’s remotes is a good idea to control TV, A/V receiver and HTPC with one single remote. Furthermore, make sure that the IR receiver is located close to TV, so that there are no interruptions to the line of sight.
Control audio with an A/V receiver
Once you have a universal remote control, you should set it up so that you can control the volume on the A/V receiver while other buttons controls the HTPC.
Set volume to max on your operating system (if you use analog RCA cable for audio) and control the volume with your receiver. Alternatively, use optical Toslink cable or HDMI to get digital audio. When using digital audio, you cannot control the volume on your computer side, but it needs to be done on the receiver side.
At the end of the day, getting your family using your HTPC is quite simple.
Simply make the HTPC experience as intuitive and simple as watching regular TV and I guarantee you’ll get family’s approval for your next hardware upgrade project.
Tip: you could also spice up the experience by doing these 10 actions to boost your HTPC.