I've been looking into something similar to AppleTV, where I can put all of my "legally" acquired HD movies to watch on my TV. Any recommendations? I could put 'em on my PS3, but I'd have to convert to H264 and it only has a 40 GB HD. I'd love to just be able to plop some .AVI files on there and be good to go.
hdmi out if you cpu has it is the best way to play true HD content on your tv. i bought a cheap laptop at bestbuy with a 500gb hd, and i have and external 1tb hooked up to it at all times. it also has a bd drive, but i mainly use my ps3 to watch movies since my harmony remote now works with it with the ps3toothfairy. pretty soon i'm gonna need a 2tb drive with all these 10gig 1080p movies i have downloaded. are mkv's even able to be streamed? i never tried figuring it wouldn't work.
I'm just saying that most HD scene releases are in some form of H.264 already and only require remuxing so they're not in the MKV container (remuxing is a much simpler and far less time-consuming process than transcoding).
If you don't mind dropping a couple of c-notes, Acer's AspireRevo nettop (think netbook sans the screen) can be had for $200 and has enough horsepower to play back full HD content. Install a good media manager on there like XBMC (free, open source) and you've got much more flexible setup than Apple offers for about the same cost.
Even if you don't do it exactly that way, it should give you an idea of the framework you'll need to get your setup rolling.
(For reference, my expertise is in Windows Media Center, so you may want to ask someone else for advice on non-WMC setups. Mine is basically a computer running the Windows 7 version of MC with the Media Browser plug-in, pulling content from networked drives. It works well, too- 300 movies and 50 tv series to date and everything works like a charm. Oh, and it looks snazzy. )