I recently did exactly this with an Intel NUC DN2820FYKH. This was a bit of a gamble because I wasn’t entirely sure the spec of the NUC was up to scratch for a home theatre PC.
Turns out, it actually is – with a couple of caveats which I’ll go into in a moment. You’ll need to add RAM (I went with 8G on mine) and a laptop drive. SSD will perform better, but it performs well on a standard 5400 RPM. The Celeron DN2820FYKH performs quite admirably – I suspect the Core i3, i5 and i7 versions would do everything you need – albeit with a slightly bigger power footprint.
Firstly, I didn’t use Windows. I don’t even like Windows, so that was never an option. I used XBMCBuntu – a fairly lightweight version of Ubuntu with XBMC pre-packaged. I then add the ‘mythbuntu-control-center’ package to add MythTV backend and set up MythBuntu components for Live TV. You can do this the other way around too – install MythBuntu and then add XBMC packages. I just prefer the XBMCBuntu startup splash screens for my HTPC so I do it the other way around 🙂
Then, find yourself a Sony PlayTV USB Tuner (if you want Live Terrestrial TV). The NUC has no space for adding TV tuner cards so you’ll need a USB tuner. The PlayTV has worked flawlessly for me and I highly recommend them. I picked mine up from EB Games in Melbourne, but you can get them on eBay too. Sadly they don’t appear to be made any more, which is a shame as they’re the cheapest and most reliable way of getting Live TV on your MythTV setup on Linux.
Once you install XBMCBuntu and add the Myth components you’ll need to make a couple of tweaks to make it run a little more smoothly and use less power. If using less power was possible. The things runs at about 6W idle, which was why I went with this – I got sick of the power crazed standard HTPC. Firstly, go into the XBMC settings and switch off the RSS feed scroller – that alone drops the XBMC process usage from around 35% constantly to about 10%. Also, if you’re using the Hybrid skin, turn off the background raindrop effect – for another significant processor drop.
Switching between screens on Hybrid skin isn’t silky smooth, but it isn’t far off. Watching TV, movies, listening to music etc is all perfectly smooth. And with built in Infrared, in a 4 inch footprint that costs around 6 watts of energy, this is a highly recommended setup for a Home Theatre PC and requires no active cooling and can sit outside of a cabinet just alongside the TV without looking out of place. And as HTPC’s go, the price is pretty good too. It’ll cost you around $350 all up, less if you only need 4G of RAM.