HTPC first build - help with some questions

I have built many desktops and thinking of building my first HTPC.

I have read many threads on config but need answers on O/S & software.
Maybe it should be in software but this forum is more active and it is related to Home builds.

Also I hope the answers will help other people building their own HTPC.

What software should I use, I have ruled out XP MCE as I have herad of compatibilty with hardware problems.

I would like a HTPC as a pure media center, no gaming, mame etc. Functions should include
1. VCD, DVD playback
2. TV watching and recording
3. Listening to music files (mainly mp3)
4. looking at photos (mainly jpeg)
5. Playing video files from HD, all codecs e.g. avi (divx, xvid, etc), mpg, mpeg 2, 3gp (from mobile), rm/rmvb, and basically any video file with the right codec just like my PC.
6. remote control support for above functions through a nice GUI. No need for mouse or keyboard.
7. autosizing for pictures and video for my tv screen.
8. Allow me to install new codecs as and when needed e.g. mp4, mkv etc and still play without problems.
9. Play video (Disc and files) at full screen i.e. no borders, controls etc.

I am not too familiar with software DIY, so software with menus for configuration is about my limit and some driver and plugin installation, no compiling, coding, configuration file editing etc.

Which software(s) can do all this. I have XP license only.

I have looked at GB-PVR but cannot find anything on QT .Mov files or rm/rmvb or .3gp files support

any helpful answers will be much appreciated.
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  1. I am looking at doing something similar, but as an addon to a gaming rig (i.e. to make my wife be quiet since I don't have anymore diamonds... apparently if it has a remote its no longer "a stupid computer")

    THG actually did a review of the VL-System's M-Play 202

    THG VL-System's M-Play 202 Review

    The newer one that is out is the VL System M-Play Blast, I will be ordering it from (not promoting the site in particular, its just the only place that I found the VL System M-Play Blast available)

    As far as I can tell, its as simple as just installing the software and customizing the controls for the remote.

    Oh yeah and even though its meant for MCE, XP will work.
  2. I built my HTPC back in early 2004 using an Athlon XP 2500+, the Antec Aria, and the ATI All In Wonder 9600XT. I built it because I wanted to ditch my DVD player and VCR, and I wanted to have all my media in one centralized location. I'm using Windows XP Pro on it and it suits me fine.

    I went for the AIW 9600XT because I simply wanted a single video card to handle video capture, and video output to my PC. I also thought that I might use it to play some games on my TV at 640x480 or 800x600 resolution. I even bought a gaming pad just for that. Let's just say that my gaming pad is a nice dust collector and leave it at that. May primary rig is my gaming machine. The AIW 9600XT will not decode scrambled channels, in fact, I don't know of any card that will decode scrambled signals. If you want to record a game on ESPN while you are out, you'll need to set your cable box to that channel and set up the capture program to record from composite in, and not from the TV/antenna setting. Multi-Media Center, the software that comes with the AIW 9600XT, is okay. I personally haven't really tried anything else, but MYTHTV (open source and free) is on my list.

    Anywaste, you need consider the parts carefully. First is the case. Are you basically looking for a m-ATX that is small and unobtrusive, or a regular size ATX case? I opted for m-ATX to fit in the space where my DVD and VCR used to occupy.

    Next would be the appropriate motherboard. I had to do extensive research (over 2 months) to find the right m-ATX mobo. I wanted a mobo that can undervolt the CPU, and also have the 'Wake on RTC' feature in the BIOS which was pretty rare back then. I wanted to undervolt my CPU, because of heat issues in a small case, also Athlon XPs can run at stock speeds even at lower voltages. I think I have my Athlon XP 2500+ running at stock speed with 1.375v, the default is 1.65v I think. 'Wake on RTC' is important because I do not want my HTPC to be on all the time. Basically, you set the BIOS to turn on the HTPC at a specific time every day, or on a specific day of the month. It's not very advanced, but it's better than nothing.

    I dump all my music into my HPTC. I prefer OGG over MP3, but that's just a personal choice, and many of my movies are converted to DivX and stored in my HPTC so I can keep my DVDs in prestine condition. Of course this can take up a lot of hard drive space. I have 3 hard drives in my Aria, 1 80GB for the OS and other programs, and 2 250GB drives for my movies and music. I prefer not to get higher capacity drives because they create more heat and noise. Bigger capacity drives have more platters and more heads which means lots of heat and noise. But platter density has increased over the years. Hitachi makes platters now that can hold up to 188GB per platter (topside and underside of the platter combined).

    Whatever components you decide on going with just keep in mind that you will most likely want it to be as quiet as possible. Some helpful tips are:

    1. Get a CPU that consumes very little power like Athlon 64, Sempron 64, or one of the Pentium M variants. They will be easier to cool. No need to undervolt since these CPU uses Cool 'N Quiet or Speed-Step.

    2. Be prepared to replace the stock HSF with something quieter and get the Zalman Fanmate 2 to control the speed of the fan.

    3. The video card shouldn't be too powerful unless you intend on playing games. I recommend an ATI card because their TV output is generally better than nVidia's.

    4. Whatever PC case you get, try to get one that uses a 120mm exhaust fan. They can move the same amount of air than smaller fans at lower RPMs making them potentially quieter. Cases using 80mm fans are okay, but avoid anything using 60mm fans.

    5. The motherboard should also be passively cooled as well. There is alway an aftermarket Zalamn Heatsink that can be used to replace a loud fan.

    Anyway, there are lots of things to consider. Have fun.
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