Home Theater PC - How do you do it?



I was reading this thread: http://club.myce.com/f34/how-put-my-dvd-movie-collection-onto-hard-drive-play-t-v-320764/#.UBN48rSe7MA the other day and noticed it was pretty old, so I figured I’d start a new one. I’m sure things have changed a lot since then. There are a lot of options these days so let’s talk about what you’ve got and how you use it.


I don’t have a dedicated HTPC yet. I still use an old Athlon 64 based e-Machines laptop connected by S-Video to a 10 year old Trinitron when I want to watch internet programs. I have a network storage drive (a Seagate Go-Flex 2TB with an additional 1TB drive attached) and have ripped most of my movies to it. I do want to build a HTPC though. I’m thinking something along the lines of a low power Core i3 and a small SSD for program storage. I figure that combination would keep power consumption pretty low, and the SSD would keep it pretty responsive. Budget allowing I’d probably add a good size ‘Green’ drive (a couple TB?) and of course I’d like a tuner for recording. What do you guys use?


Don, there are a lot of choices, and a lot of “What are YOU willing to do?” options.

I personally still keep older PCs running XP because Nero 6 & 7 have a great, easy video-editing tool. They stripped this off in the last Win7 versions, so fine, XP boxes stay, doing what they do.

Hauppage 1600+ (1800s, 2200s) TV-cards, those have hardware MPG encoders. This supposedly reduces CPU usage, so an older CPU is just fine. But those are the more expensive cards ($70-120). They do produce an excellent video-quality ‘capture’ of a TV broadcast.

There’s also a storage-issue. We have a PC-as-DVR unit (the older WinXP box), and a separate media-server (Win7-64) because it offers the huge 3-4Tb HDD storage capabilities. We tend to record on one PC and do the broadcast-edits (usually old movies from TCM, the ones that will never make DVD-BluRay releases), and then shuffle those off to the media-server for ‘watching’ and storage.

If we had to replace the XP box with a newer board & processor - newer, faster, etc - then ASROCK still offers good motherboards with floppy-drive connectors for an easy XP installation, still using the hottest new processors, though. (Otherwise, we’d have to slipstream in an XP CD with SATA drivers for ASUS, Gigab, etc.)

There is another useful debate going on about How Best To Use SSDs, and “reliability” is my concern. By getting two smaller units (40-60Gb?) I can clone off a fully-loaded C: Drive and be quickly back in business if I suffered a Rootkit attack, or an SSD death. And fairly economically, too.

This would be useful, also, to enforce a discipline to put all data onto a Data-Drive HDD. If the SSD died, then fine, no data, no recordings are lost. If it never does, then I’ve wasted $50-60 on an identical duplicate SSD. One year, I’ll use that for Win10-SP3 or whatever.

So… am I willing to do Video Edits? (Chopping off Beginning & Ends of TV recordings? Am I willing to do Chapter Marks? Do I need or want to do Menus?)

Do I want to consider using an Old PC with a good TV recording card for that then?

Do I want to consider a newer box for bigger media-file storage?


Another note about TV Cards…

The lower-end cards (sub-$70, even $30, and all of the USB-types) don’t have “hardware MPG encoding”.

The great debate is, “Can’t a multi-core CPU and good software produce just as-good results as hardware-MPG TV cards?”

Obviously, those lower-priced product-makers say YES.

Then, there’s another question. “Do you ever want to watch one channel while recording another?”

If you say YES, then you’re looking at the higher-end Hauppage 2200 cards that are ‘dual tuners’. “Dual” is the key word - one is recording, one is for watching on SEPARATE channels.

If you can tolerate watching the TV channel that’s being recorded, then every other TV card is fine for that.

There are other factors in all these debates - some claim TV cards are passé, or will use a standalone DVR instead. That’s why one of the first questions remains, “What am I willing to do? Do video-editing for a better result, or be happy watching the occasional commercial pop in?”


Figure out what size/type of case you want first and then work from there. Measure the space you plan to fit it to because most non-ITX cases are too deep to for most racks. Also, think about how quite you want it to run. Then build from there. Also, get a wireless keyboard with a touch pad built into it. It is much more convenient than trying to work a mouse on a less than ideal surface.

It took me a while to find a case that was shallow, used standard power supplies, was fairly quiet, took micro ATX boards and had space for a DVD drive and two 3.5" HDs. The Silverstone GD05B was the only case I found that met all my criteria. I have a standard power supply in it, a micro ATX board Phenom X4 clocked to 3.4 ghz, 2T HD and a card/eSATA/USB reader in the DVD slot. I still have room for another internal 3.5" HD when I need to expand storage capacity.


It’s amazing how little horsepower it takes to handle HD these days. On the big TV we have an Acer Revo 3600 (2 core Atom with ION graphics, providing a whopping 8 CUDA cores) and it handles 1080p just fine. That is unless the stream uses SilverLight, M$ofts DRM laced protocol. I watch NetFlix and ShoTime on demand in 480 because of that. I also have a HDHomerun 3 tuner CableCARD box that streams Cable TV in HD (or whatever resolution is provided for a given channel) so we almost never use the TV’s built in tuner anymore. I too have the Seagate NAS and have a USB Hub plugged into it that also connects my printer to the network. Software-wise I use nothing special. Google Chrome for SCRABBLE and general web-viewing, MPC-HC or Splash! Lite for playback, ANT Movie Catalog to organize and launch Video playback and HDHomeRun QuickTV to watch the tuner. I did upgrade the Rvo to a 64GB SSD and 4GB RAM. Maybe when the i3 Ivy Bridge parts come down in price I’ll build me a real HTPC…


Thanks, Oly… exactly what I was hoping to read. I was curious about what other choices people were using. Big Cities that offer Subscriber Services can indeed dispense with TV cards entirely, and I keep hoping this will be the wave of the future. Sadly, I have friends working TV stations and they can’t imagine what their work would be like - I still think Talking Heads and All Their Technicians would be useful.


RF distribution (OTA or Cable) I’m pretty sure will be with us for a while longer…If local TV had to compete on a global scale I’m sure it would be a fail. Consumers have a much too big an investment in equipment that uses RF feeds to switch instantly.


Many people with HTPCs also use them for gaming. Many young people I know do this in addition to movie watching, Internet surfing etc. I use mine for just about any use I would a desktop PC. Sitting on the couch using the computer like a desktop is a nice perk and the less powerful low wattage CPUs aren’t up to the task of a lot of desktop work. This is why I think choosing the case is the first step in building an HTPC as it will be dictated by the components you will need. If all I did with an HTPC is watch 1080p video then a small itx setup with a low power dual core would work. Heck, I wouldn’t even need an HTPC for that function. Move away from this though and a low power (wattage and CPU) setup will be inadequate in no time.


[QUOTE=olyteddy;2646097]It’s amazing how little horsepower it takes to handle HD these days. On the big TV we have an Acer Revo 3600 (2 core Atom with ION graphics, providing a whopping 8 CUDA cores) and it handles 1080p just fine. That is unless the stream uses SilverLight, M$ofts DRM laced protocol. I watch NetFlix and ShoTime on demand in 480 because of that…[/QUOTE]

Yeah I noticed that too. My cousin came over and we tried NetFlix (his account) on my laptop. Even though my TV display is 480i if we tried to watch NetFlix in HD it looked like a slide show. Vimeo and TouTube both stream fine in HD. I thought it was a problem with using XP. I’m still saving up for a HDTV. Soon (I hope) I will be shopping for one.