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Are "Media Centers" still cool?

Last response: in Home Theatre
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December 17, 2012 2:15:03 AM

Thanks to the closing sales of numerous movie rental stores, I have more DVDs/Bluerays than I care to disclose and not enough space to store them while still being readily accessible. I remember a friend from college several years ago put all of his music and movies onto a media center computer to allow easy access to a large collection as well as create a backup. Is this still a logical option?

Guidance questions:
Are these still being produced? Any reputable suppliers?
What specs should I consider other than massive storage?
What sort of operating system and/or software would be most useful?

More about : media centers cool

December 17, 2012 2:21:19 PM

It's still a very elegant option, however the legality of such a system is still at issue. Copying DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, even for personal use/backup is, by the strict letter of the law, illegal and therefore will not be discussed in this forum.

As for your questions, Media Center Computers or Home Theater PCs (HTPCs) are still very relevant, but I do not know of any company that builds to that specification. In truth, the only distinction between any computer you purchase off the shelf and an HTPC is the additional storage space and a TV Tuner card.

You can look to the specifications of my HTPC in my signature block. This is overkill for just playing back DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, but it works for me. If I wanted/needed more TV Tuners, I'd probably need a better processor and more RAM.

I used to use Windows XP MCE 2005 as my media player. I now use Windows 7 Home Premium (which includes Windows Media Center) and PowerDVD for Blu-Ray discs. Others seem to prefer XBox Media Center for Windows or Linux. Others still prefer Mythbuntu which is a combination of MythTV (media center) and Ubuntu (OS).

Hope this helps some.

-Wolf sends
December 18, 2012 10:55:04 AM

i'm not entirely sure of that wolfshadow. its a huge grey area. as long as you still own the disk while you have the digital copy and as long as you do not share the data then i dont see it as a problem. the trouble comes when you share, download or backup then sell your original copy.

--

to answer your question:

i know for a fact that there are cases for media center pcs available and micro atx form factor motherboards which fit them. i have even seen a few micro form factor pcs available and there probably are a few manufacturers who do build to the specification but i would advise making your own from parts.

the biggest turn off to a media center pc for all of your dvd movies is hard drive space. you can buy a 1tb hard drive for about $100 but at full quality you are quite limited as to what you can put on them. if you wanted to keep a reasonable budget and back up all your movies you would need to reduce the quality or at the very least cut the data down to just movies without the special features. yes, there are softwares available which can do both.

i have a 1.5tb drive which i have used when traveling to play movies on my laptop and if i remember correctly i can fit around 30-35 dvds in .iso format.

even with 10 such drives that would only be 300-350 movies at full quality iso or perhaps double that number if you take out special features and compress them. even so, look at the money involved in drives alone.

---

i have quite a large collection as well. at least 850 or so different titles and doubless triple that in actual disks. storing that much data is an impossibility for all but the rich or obsessed.

i have 7ft long shelves floor to ceiling and it still is not enough space so i can definitely see your dilema.

---

now as far as an option which does not break the bank?

have you looked into dvd carousels? some can hold hundreds of dvds or cds and reasonably priced. if you chain a few together you could put an entire collection at reach while packing the original cases away in boxes somewhere.

just an idea.
December 18, 2012 4:53:11 PM

SSDDX and I may disagree on the issue of copying DVDs for home usage (as I said, it's still at issue), however, the verbiage of the FBI warning has changed over the years:

Verbiage from an older DVD (Alien)
Quote:
Any use or exhibition of this video other than non-commercial home viewing is prohibited.


Verbiage from a newer DVD (The Avengers)
Quote:
This product(including it's soundtrack) it authorized for private use only. All other rights are reserved. Unless expressly authorized by law or in writing, by the copyright owner, any copying, public performance, or other use of this product or any part of it is strictly prohibited.


I think the relevant point is that as long as you're not sharing the content, neither the MPAA nor FBI will be busting down your doors.

Regardless, I would point out that in addition to SSDDx's recommendation to build your own HTPC (which I would also recommend), there are HTPC cases that will house full ATX motherboards as well (NMediaPC Black Aluminum 6000B for example). This particular case has five internal hard disk drive bays: one for your OS drive and four for a hefty storage array. The extra expansion slots would easily allow for multiple TV Tuner cards (multiple room streaming) as well as a RAID card for your storage array

For any system in which you intend to store massive amounts of data, I must recommend going with some form of redundancy. Trust me, the last thing you want to happen is to have a 500GB drive full of movies fail on you without a backup. Four 3TB drives in a RAID5 array would give you about 9TB of redundant drive space. The average DVD (minus special features) runs around 4GB, uncompressed. I've never looked at a blu-ray disc, but I've heard it runs around 20GB for just the movie. That comes to about 2250 DVDs or 450 Blu-Rays.

Understand that four 3TB drives (and spares), a RAID controller card, multiple TV tuner cards and media extenders for multiple rooms isn't exactly going to be cheap, but if I were building for a whole home solution, this is what I'd look at:


PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant / Benchmarks

CPU: AMD FX-8120 3.1GHz 8-Core Processor ($139.99 @ Microcenter)
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-970A-D3 ATX AM3+ Motherboard ($89.98 @ Outlet PC)
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws Series 16GB (4 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($74.98 @ Outlet PC)
Storage: Crucial M4 128GB 2.5" Solid State Disk ($109.00 @ B&H)
Storage: Seagate Barracuda 3TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($129.99 @ NCIX US)
Storage: Seagate Barracuda 3TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($129.99 @ NCIX US)
Storage: Seagate Barracuda 3TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($129.99 @ NCIX US)
Storage: Seagate Barracuda 3TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($129.99 @ NCIX US)
Video Card: XFX Radeon HD 6670 1GB Video Card ($74.98 @ Outlet PC)
Case: nMEDIAPC HTPC 6000B HTPC Case ($86.98 @ Newegg)
Power Supply: Corsair Builder 600W 80 PLUS Bronze Certified ATX12V Power Supply ($51.98 @ Newegg)
Optical Drive: LG UH12NS29 Blu-Ray Reader, DVD/CD Writer ($34.99 @ Newegg)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 (OEM) (64-bit) ($89.98 @ Outlet PC)
Other: StarTech PEXSAT34 PCI-Express 2.0 x4 Low Profile Ready SATA III (6.0Gb/s) 4-Port SATA and 1-Port eSATA Controller Card ($115.99)
Other: Ceton InfiniTV 4 Quad TV Tuner ($199.00)
Other: Ceton InfiniTV 4 Quad TV Tuner ($199.00)
Total: $1786.81
(Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)
(Generated by PCPartPicker 2012-12-18 13:45 EST-0500)

Also add a Ceton Echo @ $179.00 each for each room you want connected.

Not exactly a budget build, but the one single media center device I would look at for a whole home solution. In truth, I'd probably be looking at a much larger external storage array, but this is what I came up with for a single device. This build (and four Ceton Echos) could easily handle streaming AND recording for up to four separate rooms in your home (two tuners assigned to each room).

-Wolf sends

P.S. Yeah, I went a little nuts.
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