My old HTPC was just a bunch of spare parts all thrown together. Now that I have finished playing around with media center and have a good idea of how i want to configure it, its time for some serious hardware upgrade. I’m also prepping for ditching my satellite connection and go full OTA. Eventually when a network cable card tuner is available I’ll add cable back in but through the HTPC. The biggest caveat…My wife needs to be able to use this without issue.
So getting right to it here’s the build for my new HTPC;
Factors that were considered during hardware selection were HD playback including HD audio pass through, low power consumption, quiet operation, upgradability, and need to look sharp and blend in with my home theater. I chose my default starting point for all builds right now. The Intel Core i3-530 and H55 platform. Its has excellent video and audio without any add in cards required. It’s low power and powerful. 2x2GB OCZ DDR3 RAM. I love this gigabyte H55M-UD2H motherboard. It has all of the features I look for in a board and I prefer the dual PCIe x16 slots just in case I need them should this be repurposed in the future.
The Case chosen for this build is a Lian Li PC-C37. This case is low profile and drop dead sexy. It has a couple of small 70mm fans on either side for cross airflow. This might have been a problem with noise since small fans typically are quite loud. I was please to discover that these are low RPM and silent. I’m not sure how effective they’ll be as the CFM feels fairly weak, but this isn’t a workstation either.
The Corsair CX400w PSU Plenty of rock solid power for this build. Installed upside down in the case to take advantage of of the case venting in the lid.
The stock cooling solution from intel might have been enough, but there was no way to be sure until i fired it up. I didn’t want to hear the little guy spin up when I taxed it, so I added a big honking cooler. This is a low profile case, height is a major concern. I chose the Scythe Big Shiruken 120mm heatpipe heatsink, it comes with a trick slim 120mm fan. Again like the PSU there is venting on the lid so I’m taking advantage of it.
Unfortunately it uses the same crap pushpin style connection of the OEM HSF. It’s a tight fit, so small fingers are a plus.
With the RAM Installed the board is ready to be tucked into the case. It fits perfectly and most of the wiring will reach everything from beneath the board.
The Sony BD-ROM player is attached to the 1st of 2 drive cages. If I wanted to use a larger 3.5” storage drive this would be the place to put it. Since I’m not I didn’t. I also removed the tray cover as these sometimes get hung up on the case cover when retracting the tray. I also prefer the look when the tray is out, make it look a bit less PCish. I chose this particular drive as it was cheap, ~$50, and I only wanted Blu-Ray and DVD playback. This is not a burner for either format.
Finally I installed the Drives along with a 3.5” to dual 2.5” bracket. The system drive is an OCZ 30GB Vertex SSD with a WD 320GB scorpio platter HDD for recording space and non essential programs. I went with the SSD so that drive performance wouldn’t be an issue when firing up the system from sleep or while navigating. This is also why I went with 4GB of RAM
Here are some shot with it all buttoned up and ready to be tasked into service.
What about the tuners you ask?? I don’t really like card tuners inside the HTPC and never really had any luck with them. I have an HD Homerun sitting on the network. I’ll be adding a second one once the cablecard version is out. The OTA dual tuner version is enough to get me started.
Since the interface will so important for acceptance by my wife and kids, I’ve enlisted the use of a Logitech DiNovo mini as well as a Logitech Harmony One Remote. The DiNovo is more of a backup than for everyday use. Primary interface with be via the remote. To get the remote to talk with the HTPC I simply added a USB IR receiver in the rear i/o. Then ran the IR receiver to an inconspicuous place within line of sight.
A few screenshots of the system running. Obviously I normally run in full screen not a window, but for the screenshots a window is needed.
Here we have the desktop, WMC load screen, and the crossbar interface
MediaBrowser handles most of my media only the TV functions and pictures use WMC everything else is MediaBrowser.
Here we have my main menu, sub category level (Blu-Ray), Selection level (Dark Knight), and playback (Dark Knight again) screenshots
Here is the music plug-in within MediaBrowser.
Netflix is not part of MediaBrowser neither is Pictures, Hulu or the Live/Recorded TV functions.
My Software load out is minimal and I’ve provided a list of it with functionality below, but my WMC interface is highly modified.
Windows Professional 7 x64
MediaBrowser for Frontend for most content
Haali Media Splitter for my BD collection which is stored as .mkv
Virtual CloneDrive for my DVD collection which is stored as .iso
AnyDVD HD for exercising my fair use rights
Meta<browser/> for meta data collection of my library
Microsoft Security Essentials for client AV.
That’s it! TV is recorded through WMC and placed on the HTPC’s HDD before being pushed out to WHS. Overall the system Performs very well. It’s super responsive and playback is flawless. As with any build all is not perfect. The remote doesn’t seem to work very well as I’ve tried several iterations and still doesn’t perform functions correctly. Part of this may be user error in the setup but since 95% of the issues are in media center I’m thinking the IR receiver is the issue so I’ll swap it out and see how that goes. So it looks like the mini keyboard, which works better than I thought, will be the main interface for now. I still need to go through and customize the schedule for live TV as I don’t really care to see all of the extra channels.
Overall the wife has been…oh lets see…”receptive” Which is a huge step and I would say other than the remote issues this has been a successful project.
Listen to BYOB show 13 for my audio review and discussion of this build. For more info please visit us in our forums.
Mike M. (no-control)