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Building The Ultimate Home Theater PC

Building The Ultimate Home Theater PC
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Requirements: The all-round HTPC should not look any different from a DVD player. Can you find the PC among the DVD players in this picture?

Why can't you just go out and buy a true home theater PC (HTPC) for your living-room? You've heard the grandiose marketing pitches from vendors touting the era of HTPCs, but at the end of the day, can you really find a PC that is quiet, looks like a DVD player and lets you do everything you want with a remote control that you can use while laying on the couch?

Many have already made their dream computer a reality in a classic midi-tower box version, complete with TV tuner, hard-drive recording and DVD burner. Now all that remains to be done is to pack it all into a small slim line case and make sure that this PC won't produce any major fan noises or overheat.

In other words, these requirements don't demand the most powerful hardware components - just the most suitable ones. We thus decided to go with the Hiper Media Chassis to build our dream HTPC. This case has room for a Micro-ATX board and a PCI, AGP or PCIe card mounted crosswise and comes equipped with an internal power supply.

The biggest challenge with this case is to build in effective and quiet cooling despite its small dimensions. Moreover, no graphics card can be used - the lone slot is reserved for the TV tuner card. We describe our experiences and failures below when we used the Hiper Media Chassis case to build what we hoped would be our dream HTPC machine.

Generating A Master Plan

To avoid jumping in and randomly throwing together a system, we first compiled all the functions and properties of our HTPC. The list was not very long, because the main features were TV capability and playback of various video and audio formats.

Functions
  • TV tuner card (depending on regional offerings) - available in analog, digital DVB and hybrid versions, in HDTV as a single-slot version; even models with integrated CAM smart card reader for pay TV are available
  • Playback of DVDs, WMVs, DivX, MP3s and other popular video and audio formats
  • TV program recording
  • DVD burning
  • 7.1-channel sound
  • Ports for S-video, composite and, if necessary, HDTV component output
Properties
  • Quiet
  • Form factor of a hi-fi component
  • Multifunctional
  • Remote control for all major functions

Once you look at the requirements, you realize there's nothing exotic or futuristic about them. Everything looks feasible. No sooner said than done.

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