I recently told you about how my two year old ate Wall-E. Yes, my two year old managed to get hold of a Wall-E disc and scratch it up with his teeth. It was a Blu-Ray disc to make matters worse. I decided on the spot that I needed a Media Center PC for the family room and I was going to put all the DVD’s on it for everyone in the family.
Lets go over some factors that will come into play. Everybody has heard of the “Wife Acceptance Factor,” or the “Spousal Acceptance Factor.” Yes, it is real. Whatever I build and put into place has to work and work well. I have to conquer the following points.
- Entry into the system - It has to be easy to start using. I have satellite TV so I will not be using this for Live TV although I do have a Media Center Server that records OTA broadcasts that we will be able to watch on this system.
- Stability – It has to work and work well.
- Remote Control – If the spouse doesn’t like the remote it will be a tough sell.
- Aesthetics – If it looks ugly it’s not going to go in the spouses living room.
Sounds like a challenge doesn’t it? I think I can overcome everything in this list except perhaps the aesthetics. A computer in the living room is not going to work. I could get one of those HTPC cases but that would be too easy. I could also get one of the new Acer or Philips Atom boxes but that would also be too easy. It wouldn’t make for an interesting blog post either.
I did a quick inventory of what I had laying around that might fit a motherboard inside of it. I found a DVD player, old VCR, a couple of DirecTV boxes, an old Gateway streaming server, and a Series 1 Tivo by Sony.
This box is roomy, sturdy, and looks good so I thought I would crack it open and see what it offered inside. I have had this box apart before when lightning zapped the modem. I went with an Ethernet hack card that worked perfectly for years. It’s a bit dusty inside but here is the layout.
The front of the Tivo is on the bottom. Notice the CAT5 cable that runs through a vent hole in the back. The power supply is uncovered on the top right and the IDE drive is obvious. It’s a nice rubber shock mount for the drive and has room for another. At this point I was hoping to re-use the drive mount. I thought about trying to re-use the power supply as well. The fan on the back of the chassis should be very easy to re-use if it’s quiet.
It’s embarrassingly dirty but this is not a box that is opened up a lot.
Here it is one more time but nice and clean. Both shots above are in the same orientation so you can see where the parts were and what was underneath them.
One of the first challenges was to pick a motherboard. I wanted small, powerful, and QUIET!
It was down to Asus vs. Zotac in the mini ITX motherboards. I chose the Zotac board and you can read all about it here. It’s a mini ITX with the NVIDIA ION chipset. That means it supports 1080p video and has HDMI out. This particular board also has a wireless card that supports N. I liked it over the Asus board because it has an external power brick. That means less heat inside the case and it should be a quieter solution as well.
Here is a quick unbox set of photos for the Zotac.
The last two shots should put the size of the board in perspective. It’s tiny.
Modifying the Tivo box
The Tivo case needed a lot of modification. The back panel needed cutting and there were no mounts for the motherboard. It sounded so simple when I first thought about it but it was not an easy task. The back panel had to be at the right height for the board to mount on the standoffs that were to be screwed into the bottom of the case. That was the biggest issue I had with the motherboard.
Here is the stock back panel from the outside and inside. I cut it out with a jigsaw and cleaned it up with wire brushes and files. I could not make the back plate for the motherboard line up on the back of the Tivo correctly. You will see on the next shot. You can also see a gap that I have in there due to moving it over a little bit for extra clearance.
Mounting of the motherboard was easy. I had already premeasured the height of the motherboard in relation to the standoff i was using and the height that the back panel insert needed to be. I just had to drill and tap out the holes to create the threads.
I used a hand tapper to set the threads into the drilled holes. The standoffs fit perfectly.
Here is the board installed. My photo documenting skills are a bit weak. I should have taken more. Here you can see one standoff not aligning properly. It takes a bit of tweaking much like it does installing in a regular case.
Now I need a solution for Infrared, a power switch, hard drive light, power light, and a DVD reader. I thought about not including the DVD reader but the challenge of getting a DVD into this thing was huge and I couldn’t back down!
I used the infrared receiver from a Vista Media Center remote that was reported to work well in Windows 7. I can happily report that it is true.
The IR receiver is USB and I want the receiver inside the box. The Tivo case has a windows for IR to penetrate and I wanted to use the same window.
This shot shows a hole in the center of the box. This is where the Tivo mainboard had it’s IR receiver. The spots to the left and right are LED positions that I will use for the hard drive light and power. (I say will use because this portion is not done yet!) I didn’t want to have a cable exit the case and then plug in to USB so I needed a solution to use inside of it. There are two USB headers on the motherboard. Each header supports two USB connections. I used USB expansion card that comes with most motherboards.
The only USB card I could find was from a MSI motherboard. It also had a diagnostics plug and lights. I removed that and the metal portion.
I then had to create a custom bracket to house the DVD reader. I chose a slot loader so I wouldn’t have to deal with the tray and the front of the Tivo. It still had to have a hole cut in the Tivo and this is the part that I was most leary about.
The DVD reader from Pioneer also had a mini SATA power plug. I had to purchase a special cable to power it. You can see the power cables routing all over the case. This special plug required me to use a power splitter and you can see it in the first shot. I may cut, splice, and solder some dedicated cables in the future.
You can also follow the USB cable from the box back to the header plug on the motherboard. I have one open USB port inside the case so I wonder what I could use there? There are two extra SATA power plugs hiding over by the hard drive.
You can see the masking I used in order to protect the front when I cut the hole in the front of the Tivo. I used the felt that lined the entrance to the slot loader and put it in the hole of the Tivo. It’s still a little rough looking in this photo and needs some cleaning up.
Windows 7 installed on it via an 8 GB USB stick and I am configuring drivers and Media Center applications now.
I could have saved a ton of time and money buy purchasing a small Atom/Ion box to serve as the Media Center but this was a lot of fun. It’s fun to get crafty every once in a while. The box is not perfect. I made mistakes here and there but none of which will effect it’s playback. I am looking forward to the software installation and experience of pulling movies off of Windows Home Server to my new TivoCenter!
I’ll have more photos and video for you soon. Let me know what you think.