Technology changes the way we live and for many the Internet has surpased television programming as their number one recreational activity. So like me, you probably have a large LCD / plasma TV in the room you deem the living room. However for me personally, the idea of sitting in front of it for periods of time actually channel surfing or even worse watching one channel's programing schedule for a period of time has become an alien one. Modern life, choice and of course the aforementioned interweb has killed off both the desire and the attention span. Actually using a TV in the way we did back when I was a child in the 80's seems as ridiculous as having a land line telephone (I tried to sign up to ebay.co.uk and it asked me for one the other day. I thought "you what, I've not had one in a decade, surely only telesales people use them to ring you"). No, old form TV is dead to me, I couldn't care less about the shared watercooler experience of "did you see *insert inane shit reality TV show here* last night". When Virgin (my cable ISP) fell out with Sky and removed channels and then did not pass on any saving (they are back now) and then decided to start throttling Broadband services in classic 'large corporation we can get away with anything we like style', something had to give. And the giving was me giving them back the TV service, and upping the broadband connection. TV when you want it via the Internet is now a reality and getting better all the time and the main thing, other than wildlife documentaries that I would actually care about using my TVs 50,000 - 1 contrast, 100 mghz and full HD for, is movies and well there's Blu Ray for them. So with traditional TV banished from my home, and I'm guessing an increasing number of other's home's too, it's time for the Internet to find it's way out of the ghettos of the office, the laptop and the PC workstation and into the promised land of the living room. And bellow are five small Pc's that should be more than adequate to handle the transition. Of course it's not an 'either or choice', if you love your Freeview / Sky. Virgin etc. TV viewing habits, there's still plenty of good reasons to get your TV hooked up to a PC.
The Studio Hybrid from Dell is all about space saving, power saving and ultimately (according to the marketing blurb) Earth saving. The Dell is a pretty attractive little desktop that will look stylish in the living room without claiming much real estate. As shown above you can stand it horizontally or vertically depending on your taste / available space. As a living room PC you will ultimately want to connect it to your shiny new living room dwarfing TV and the Hybrid has both your normal monitor connection and HDMI. Prices start from around £340 in the UK and run to around £560 for the 4044 with Blu-Ray.
Packard Bell's iMax 3515 / 3516 is much larger than the Dell or the tiny Asus Eee PC desktop, but its mini tower is still half the size at least of the company's full size PC's. The 3516 retails for around £480 and can read Blu Ray Discs. Depending on your space and aesthetic taste, the Packard Bell packs a decent spec with the Intel® Core 2 Quad Q8200 processor and 3GB DDR2 and optical S/PDIF to connect a surround sound amplifier. There's no HDMI and like all these smaller PC's the Graphics card is a little disappointing, though its adequate enough for most living room based computing tasks it's probably going to struggle with a bit games.
Sony Vaio VGX-TP2S/B is constructed with the living room firmly in mind, with it's Blu Ray reader, HDMI port, remote and wireless keyboard receiver built into the case and its got a built in wireless receiver for connecting to a network. Being a Sony though the price is between £800 and £900 (depending where you look) in the UK and while a round case is a bit different, nothing in the spec (on paper at least) makes this vastly superior to the others here, other than of course the Eee Pc, but then that retails for a quarter of the price and really is meant for net surfing and very simle tasks.
For around £500 the HP Pavilion Slimline s3644 with Blu-Ray Combo stuffs a lot into its slimline case. The AMD Phenom X3 8250e processor (e is for energy saving) means it's not too power hungry. The spec includes a Digital TV Tuner, 4GB of ram (the most of any system here) and like the Sony it has a 500GB hard drive so you can pack a lot of media onto it.
The Asus Eee Box (available in black or white) is not a multimedia machine and is aimed squarely at those who as Asus have noticed use a computer to essentially launch the Internet and get online. In terms of a living room PC this is a great option for those that already have the DVD, Blu Ray, sound system etc. and would just like to be able to go online and read a cool blog (like LateMag) or check their email from the TV while eating their toast before work in the morning. It's Tiny and cheap and essentially does what it says on the tin. The first of the new generation of PC's that has come to be known as Nettops, taking their name from their netbook cousins also pioneered by Asus. If a simple way to access the internet from your TV is all you want from a living room PC, at less than £200 and with built-in wireless this is a great choice.
Of courses these are not your only choices, there are the high-end dedicated media center PC's many of which will look much like your existing separate AV components. If you know your way around the insides of a PC then there's a large array of barbone PC's from Shuttle that you can upgrade to fit your needs. Low power "eco" offering like the Advent Eco PC which claims to use 78% less power than a normal PC ( I imagine they measured that against a pretty power hungry machine which did not have the equivalent spec so be dubious of items which make "eco" claims). And of course for those who can't live without Apples operating system and badge theres alway's the diminutive Mac Mini.