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HTPC

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September 18, 2009 6:09:34 AM

I have a bunch of scratch laying around, and I am thinking about building a HTPC. I have been a bit out of the loop lately since I built my last i7 rig, and haven't kept up with everything that has been going on.

Caveats:

This system would be used to play HD content, and not much else, but I would essentially like to be able to play any video I can find.

High quality sound output - on board is fine if it delivers high quality 5.1.

Small, low power, low heat: it will have to sit in an enclosure with a ridiculous amount of other AV hardware.

Wireless control that is not cumbersome (I don't mind navigating a standard computer interface, but I would prefer not to have to scroll a pointer with a ridiculously small trackball or some such).

My main system has a large RAID array, and I would prefer to keep my media local to that computer. This necessitates playing files over my network, which is currently wireless. I would like to avoid the hassle of stringing cable, but would also like to be able to be able to play a 1080p video file without copying it over the network, so replacement routers and network hardware may be required.

I am not particular to any specific OS.

A case that doesn't look terrible.

I am slightly interested in video capture - I have a DirectTV HD DVR, so it isn't by any means necessary; the last time I built a media system, it was far more trouble than it was worth.

I don't want to spend a ridiculous amount on it - I don't really have a number, but I have no need to game or do any sort of productivity work. The only thing I would ever use it for, other than video is possibly internet browsing or internet radio.

I haven't had the time to do the research into HTPC cases or software in the last year or so.

Any recommendations or system builds are greatly appreciated.

Thanks.

More about : htpc

September 18, 2009 12:11:29 PM

There are some nice linux builds out there that include plenty of home media features and won't add a cent to the hardware costs of your build. XBMC (xbox media center) can be installed as a primary OS, and access remote files, and is always adding new and interesting features. Myth TV is another popular project that has very good DVR capabilities. If you have at least a basic understanding of linux, they are both excellent options for HTPC.

For low power / low heat, Phenom II or Athlon X2 will probably be your best bet. You could use a Core 2 Duo, but buying an LGA 775 board locks you into a socket type with no future. If the board or CPU were to die a year from now, or you want an upgrade, it'll be more expensive.

As for wireless infrastructure, wireless -n products are an official standard now. D-Link and Linksys make the most popular high end consumer routers. Look for products with dual radios, and support for both 2.4 and 5 Ghz. If you want to see some benchmarking, head over to smallnetbuilder.com
Wireless control, there are plenty more options out there now compared to when I last did an HTPC build years ago. Look into a keyboard / mouse combo from Gyration if they are still around. They've had accelerometer based x- y- axis control years before the Nintendo Wii hit the market, and it works pretty well from the unit I had.

Best looking mATX case is a micro tower that Silverstone carries in my opinion. Think it's either the SG03 or SG04. They are aluminum, and cost right around $100.
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September 18, 2009 10:39:00 PM

Thanks for the help, a few more questions:

What about integrated graphics, is it where it needs to be, such that I shouldn't worry about any off-board card? If so, what chipsets should I look at? Do any of these support HDMI (not a huge deal, but the simpler I can make cabling, the better.

I currently run all my Audio through an SPDIF switch, is there a way I could have the Computer deal with this in an intelegent way? Better yet, could I run both the audio and video from other sources through the computer so that when I wanted to play an X-Box game or watch satellite, I would only need access the computer?
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September 18, 2009 11:08:49 PM

if you get decent on board you will be fine (so AMD 785G chip set)
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