I'm looking to go with a light front-end backed by a media server of sorts; with a slight wrench thrown in.
Up front, I'm looking for the standard streaming, probably using MCE with Boxess and XMBC integration; but I'd like to be able to game on it, though nothing too heavy or too often. At the server, I'd like to house the storage (obviously), along with encoding capabilities and 'DVR' like functions, which means a tuner card. Anyone have any suggestions on the most efficient way to accomplish this?
Here's the standard template for you all:
APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: 2-4 weeks
BUDGET RANGE: ~1k up front, ~500 back
SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: Watching TV via tuner card/streams, 1080p, 'DVR', gaming
PARTS NOT REQUIRED: Keyboard, mouse, monitor, OS
PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS: Newegg
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
PARTS PREFERENCES: n/a
SLI OR CROSSFIRE: No
MONITOR RESOLUTION: 1920x1080
You create significant extra cost and burden your network doing it this way. You don't get the advantages of a small frontend if you want a full fledged PC as your HTPC including the gaming functionality.
In the configuration you describe, you give the frontend more CPU power than the server - if you're insistent on having a backend, give it the power to do the encoding quickly. Faster CPU, more and faster RAM.
I'm not the expert on this but wonder if you'll have problems trying to transmit raw blu-ray datastreams across the network unless you're running gigabit ethernet between the boxes.
Why not just put two 2TB drives in the HTPC and be done with it? Most people have their video input source in the living room anyway, so you can easily implement a DVR solution with a TV tuner and software there - you might not have a satellite receiver or cable box in your server closet.
I'm running an HTPC system using a Q6600 cpu, 4GB ram, an x25-m ssd system disk and a WD 1.5TB hard drive for my media, and an HD 3870 gpu - it does almost everything I want except PC-dvr, which I'll add when FIOS comes to my neighborhood (and until then I have software that can archive shows on the HTPC off of my ReplayTV dvr)
One more thought...if and when you want to stream to other locations, then that HTPC serves as the media server for those other clients. I do that to my upstairs bedroom TV; I can play my SD video or music over my 802.11n network without streaming issues. I haven't really tried HD transmission but I think that it should work for compressed video like .mkv files.
The more I look at it the more I feel I should go that route; but having the storage offloaded to its own machine makes me a lot more comfortable. It's also about having access to it from anywhere, not just the htpc. However, just because it's in the living room doesn't mean I don't have access to it... so I'm being kind of shallow there
I was originally planning to basically use the unit in the living room as an 'extender' or sorts, but the more I looked into it the more I realized I want to be capable of gaming on it, as well; which completely screws the lightweight idea.
One thing about having a back-end, though, is that I don't have to be as concerned with space and heat issues, and expandability is quick and painless. But, that could also be an exercise for another time once I determine if I really need it.