I've spent the past few months documenting much of the physical construction of my home theater, but now I'm finally able to get to the AnandTech tie-in: building the HTPC.


The theater needs a computer

You don't have to guess that I view the PC as the center of the digital home, it's the best home for media in my opinion and it continues to deliver the most responsive user experience. While the idea of a PC (or PC-like device) in every room of your house isn't quite as fleshed out as I'd like it to be, a Home Theater PC (HTPC) is easily a reality today.

I decided early on in the theater project that I didn't want to fumble with discs, I wanted all of my movie content stored on a computer and I wanted to be able to browse it via any internet enabled device. Many high end home theaters feature a large touchscreen to control all aspects of the theater and automation, but rather than spending tons of money on a crappy touch interface I wanted to have the whole thing controlled via an iPhone (or optionally, any other web enabled device). The vision is that you'll be able to be anywhere in the house, go to a webpage, browse my listing of movies and hit a button that will prepare the theater for you (lights dim to the appropriate level, masking system/lens adjust to the aspect ratio of the movie, etc...), then all you have to do is walk in and start watching. The software side will take quite a while to implement, mostly because it requires a working theater which I don't have at this point. The other thing it does require is a HTPC, and that's what I've been tinkering with for the past few weeks.

I half heartedly built a HTPC to play around with several weeks ago. I had a Thermaltake Armor case leftover from the AMD Quad FX launch and I threw a Gigabyte X38 board in there, along with an early Yorkfield (45nm, quad core, Penryn) and a Radeon HD 3870. The case was big enough that I could toss in 6 of the 8 1TB drives I'd planned on using for the final build; I'm not sure exactly why I even bothered, I guess I just wanted to see such a huge array under Vista.


The first HTPC, it wasn't very good.

Needless to say the first HTPC build was far from a HTPC, it was simply a PC that I put next to my TV. I watched two movies on it, it worked as expected, but it was far too loud since I hadn't done anything to ensure silence.

Choosing a Case
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  • Milleman - Sunday, May 11, 2008 - link

    Would be a great idea for Anand to also test the LinuxMCE on the HTPC while still at it.
    Link: http://www.linuxmce.org/">http://www.linuxmce.org/
    Reply
  • at80eighty - Wednesday, May 07, 2008 - link

    i haven't posted in years here, but i had to stop & say hotdamn - that's a SWEET setup! you've come a long way man. congrats Reply
  • vailr - Monday, May 05, 2008 - link

    Zalman HD160B Home Theatre PC Enclosure
    http://www.excaliberpc.com/Zalman_HD160B_Home_Thea...">http://www.excaliberpc.com/Zalman_HD160...e_HD160/...
    Reply
  • wjl - Sunday, May 04, 2008 - link

    Anand,

    if you're not only into media center but also in home automation software, maybe you should check out the LinuxMCE project. That's based on Kubuntu (which in turn is based on Debian as we all know), so you'll get not only a solid MythTV-based media centre, but also a "one-button" setup to dim your lights, start the necessary hardware, all that.

    Do yourself a favour and look at their video; I'm sure you would like that one. A friend of mine got addicted to the idea instantly, and he's now selling HTPCs.

    best,
    Wolfgang
    Reply
  • ira176 - Sunday, May 04, 2008 - link

    I'm interested in building one as well. One thing I'd like to do is to put my movie collection onto the HDD. I'm tired of swapping DVD's in and out of the player. Only problem is, I don't know what program to use to rip DVD's onto the computer. Any help would be appreciated. Reply
  • ChuckECheese - Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - link

    Try DVDFab HD Decrypter (http://www.dvdfab.com/free.htm)">http://www.dvdfab.com/free.htm). There's a free version that works great to rip entire DVDs or just select parts. I just rip the main movie to get rid of the previews, warnings, etc. Reply
  • quadraphonic - Saturday, May 03, 2008 - link

    You posted the tools, I'm curious about what you end up with, file-wise, for your digital library. I'm very interested in encoding my own DVD collection. Any suggestions, guidelines? Reply
  • vskatusa - Saturday, May 03, 2008 - link

    I have researched this board and it is my understanding that the HDMI output does not render 5.1 but only 2 ch stereo. Have you tried connecting the hdmi to a receiver and verify if it indeed outputs 5.1? Reply
  • Sam comment - Friday, May 02, 2008 - link

    anand, if having weired problems and/or picture and sound not up to mark...try isolating htpc...meaning component output for video and optical for sound...to av amplifier, which hopefully has a good upscaler, I have a z9 that does a good job once drm's removed...(to drm enforcers I say that I promise to use 'my' movies I bought with 'my' money for 'my' fair use...so take this as end user term that goes with my purchase of your video or which you want my money)...

    a computer is notorious for constant changing current demand, hence varing volatages at the micro level causing all sort of electronic harmonics that escape with digital outputs like dvi and hdmi...causing havoc with da converters downstream...

    I was trying out media server as well...just like the idea of having all my vast collection of movies on server, so dont have to move too far from the beer and popcorn to change if a movie is not achieving the desired feeling wanted...

    Sam
    ~Ps...guys this is not two rich fat slobs discussing...once you get to your forty's you find that most of us have some extra cash for our 'toys' and leave the women to their 'boytoys';
    Reply
  • DeesTroy - Friday, May 02, 2008 - link

    I have been dabbling with HTPCs for a few years, though I'm certainly not an expert. I think most people underestimate the effort required and all of the stupid limitations placed on the user due to DRM or just the software maker. For example, want cable card? You'll have to go to Dell or HP if you want that and you can only use Vista MCE. Want to record sattelite HDTV? They are coming out with something you can attach to your PC soon, but it's not out yet to my knowledge. Want to watch live or recorded TV using another computer? Not something that's really supported with XP or Vista MCE. Sure, you can use an XBox 360 or a special extender, but not that spare PC you have lying around.

    Stability is of the utmost importance. Much testing must be done to ensure it all works right including the remote control. I generally charge 2 to 3 times the build cost for a HTPC due to all of the testing required to ensure it works right.

    I don't understand the extreme dedication to building a quiet and good-looking HTPC in Anand's situation. If it's in a separate room, you probably won't be able to hear it over the fan noise from your projector. You can mount your Blu-Ray drive externally with USB or eSATA. Depending on how you set it up, RAID may not really be a requirement unless you want the redundancy. If you have trouble with stuttering, drop the RAID array as some people have reported stuttering primarly with BIOS-based RAID arrays.

    HTPC support by hardware and software makers is somewhat lacking too. Try using a GeForce 8 with XP and 1080i ATSC HDTV. NVidia still hasn't, to my knowledge, implemented proper hardware support for MPEG2 deinterlacing under their XP drivers, so you get this weird stuttering that you don't get with a GeForce 7 or an AMD card. It works in Vista. Of course, this "feature" isn't documented anywhere, so it took me the better part of 6 months to figure this out. My AMD 3650 suffers weird random crashing when I open or close BeyondTV and/or PowerDVD.

    Lastly, it will be difficult to find a single, slick-looking interface that integrates your TV, movies, and music. At least, from the sound of it, Anand isn't doing TV on the HTPC. Honestly, Anand, if you really want to get into the nitty-gritty of the HTPC world, do some work with HDTV and see where you get.
    Reply

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