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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  • JarredWalton - Friday, May 2, 2008 - link

    Or rather than ripping at full bitrate, you could reencode to something smaller, so you can get 5-10GB per movie and still have a good quality 1080P output. AutoMKV is the new tool for stuff like that. Reply
  • legoman666 - Thursday, May 1, 2008 - link

    I rip all of my movies to h264 + ac3 in a mkv container. Just because you illegally download movies in mkv format does not mean that everyone else does also. Reply
  • kevon27 - Thursday, May 1, 2008 - link

    I only do bluray... DVD's are for the peasants. I not going to subject myself to that low quality bit torrent stuff you commoners are use to.
    Pip-pip!
    Reply
  • Locutus465 - Thursday, May 1, 2008 - link

    You know, you can rip bluray, bluray rips are also available online.... In fact I think anand specificall discussed ripping "high deffinition content" in mkv format... what do you think he means? Reply
  • Locutus465 - Thursday, May 1, 2008 - link

    Ok, so how does that iPhone web interface work? I was thinking of developing somethign for PPC that would allow roughly the same kind of access, but I guess if there's stuff in the works I'll just check that out. Reply
  • crimson117 - Thursday, May 1, 2008 - link

    It's just a web interface that happens to work in the iPhone browser. You could also access it from a laptop or desktop on your network.

    I'd love to see a developer come up with a native iPhone app for controlling media setups, though I expect there'd need to be some special software running on your media pc.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, May 1, 2008 - link

    Exactly, the options are two-fold:

    1) Develop an iPhone optimized website (ala digg.com/iphone or iphone.facebook.com), or
    2) Create an iPhone application that triggers web services running on the HTPC itself.

    With the SDK due out this summer, I'm hoping the latter will be a possibility.
    Reply
  • Locutus465 - Thursday, May 1, 2008 - link

    Perhaps I'll see what can be done on PPC and put it out there then so non-GSM/apple folks can enjoy that kind of fun ;) Reply
  • cghebert - Thursday, May 1, 2008 - link

    Anand,

    sweet setup! Will you guys be doing any of your HTPC stuff with windows xp for those of us who haven't yet "upgraded" to Vista?

    Reply
  • allengambrell - Thursday, May 1, 2008 - link

    Check out myTV plugin for media center for managing your tv shows. It works much better the video brower or mymovies because it uses a full database and downloads all the episode and show information from the web. I use it to manage all my recorded and downloaded shows.

    Also are you going to install a ATSC tuner? This is one of the best things about media center. I have dish too but the offair recoreded shows look much better on media center than on dish.

    If I were you I would move the storage for the dvds and media to a fileserver dedicated for this purpose. You can then not have to worry so much about noise because you can hide it away from the rest of the rack. I run a gigabit network and have no problem playing recored HD shows or ripped dvds on 3 differant computers at a time. The only storage I have in my media center pcs is for recording show off the offair antenna. This is only because some nights I am recording up to 3 hd shows at a time and I am afraid that that and the playback may be a little to much for the network to handle.

    Also myMovies and myTV both work great in a client/server setup you can put the database servers on the media server and then any changes you make on one computer will be reflected on all.

    I have also tested a htpc with the same chipset that you are using and to me it seems to be really slow compared to my other intel/nvidia based htpc. It even has some trouble decoding recoreded hd shows fast enough to not to get skips and audio sync issues. I would stay away from it.
    Reply

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