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Three Mainstream Home Theater PC Cases Compared

Three Mainstream Home Theater PC Cases Compared
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The good old whitebox PC that many of us associate with boring beige boxes has almost disappeared from retail markets. Although business-class systems remain rather simple devices, the consumer market is now fragmented and colorful. Fancy gaming systems and powerful overclocking PCs for enthusiasts are available with or without in-your-face designs and mods. Traditional home PCs are being replaced by more space-efficient notebooks.

However, two additional PC types are conquering the living room: small, low-cost nettop PCs and HTPCs (home theater PCs), which offer all the functionality of a standard PC, but feature additional enhancements for living room-type applications. This extra functionality, combined with the aesthetic demands of a very public, visible environment, demands a very special housing.

HTPC Hardware

In all actuality, most PCs can serve as an HTPC, but there are several points that require careful consideration.

First, you want to be sure that the system is powerful enough to play and record all audio and video sources, including full bit rate high-def streams. Modern integrated graphics solutions, such as AMD’s 780/785G with Radeon HD 3200/4200 graphics, Intel’s G45 with GMA X4500HD, and the Nvidia GeForce 9300/9400, are all capable of handling MPEG-2, VC-1, and H.264 when paired with a decent processor.

However, HD video playback doesn’t stop with handling audio and video. Playback also requires decryption, which requires computing power. We want a processor that can handle everything. Hence, we recommend a 2.5 GHz dual-core CPU or better. Two gigabytes of RAM should be sufficient, but more sure doesn’t hurt for Windows 7 or Vista running Media Center.

Enthusiasts will want to pay more attention to the platform nuances. Only Intel and Nvidia support 8-channel LPCM audio via HDMI through their integrated graphics solutions, which is necessary if you want to decode DTS-HD or Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio on the PC and then send 16-bit, 48 kHz sound to your receiver. 

Currently, there are also a couple of options for bitstreaming those high-def audio formats, too. You could use a discrete audio card, such as Asus’s Xonar HDAV 1.3,. Or, you could go with a video card like AMD's Radeon HD 5870, which has a protected audio path and now requires software support from companies like CyberLink and Arcsoft.

HTPC Cases

Finally, there’s the HTPC case, which plays a role in defining the power supply, remote control, form factor, cooling options, and visual appearance you achieve here. Some HTPC cases come with integrated touchscreen displays. Others feature a small vacuum fluorescent display (VFD), or no display at all. There are full-height and slim designs, full ATX and microATX. This article looks at four mainstream HTPC cases by GMC, Moneual, and Silverstone in the price range of up to $360.

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  • -1 Hide
    vaskodogama , October 2, 2009 8:20 AM
    I won't go with GMC, two reasons, one is the internal DVD, cause when it's broke, it's a headache to change it, and the slot-loadings are more exposed to dirt and etc, and two is the logos in the front ( divx, DTS, ... ). these make this case sooooo cheap look. but the slim design is somewhat good.
    about Moneual, it's good, with the remote and everything, it's great, but the price is a little High.
    and the Silverstone one, It's the best I think, one is the size that left a lot of room for any expansion cards, like tv tuners, DVB cards, good air flow, but the cons is the remote that is not included in the box, but the price is telling, so no problem with that.

    by the way, good cases, sometime gonna build an HTPC! Thanks Tom.
    and if Tom's test a system build of an HTPC with a lowest noise level, that would be great!
  • -2 Hide
    bad_code , October 2, 2009 9:56 AM
    I built a HTPC and the biggest problem I have is the power supply. I have a 430W but if I replace it to get a faster video card I need to check and make sure the fan blows out not up or down because there is not vent except for the back side. I'd never buy another HTPC case that can't take standard sized components. The GMC is out because of the half size PCI cards. The Moneual out because of the 40 mm fans. The silverstone without the remote is not an issue. If you have a blutooth key board like http://www.amazon.com/Logitech-diNovo-Edge-Keyboard-Black/dp/B000J43HJ8/ref=sr_1_16?ie=UTF8&s=electronics&qid=1254477349&sr=1-16 you have everything you need on the keyboard and there is no need for a remote.
  • -1 Hide
    izliecies , October 2, 2009 10:39 AM
    Would a Sempron 140 be sufficient enough for 720p and even 1080p playing when paired with a 785G chipset?
  • -1 Hide
    bad_code , October 2, 2009 12:50 PM
    I don't think I'd try a Semptron, but it may work to some degree. The problem is Blu-ray disks are encrypted heavily and they require tons of cpu power to decrypt the data. You also need a decent video card. I have a 9800GT which is just fine with a 2.8GHz Dual core intel CPU. A Intel Pentium Dual Core E5200 Dual Core Processor: 2.5GHz, 2MB L2 Cache, Socket T would be just fine and is about $30-40. If you are worried about cost, buying a blu-ray player would be much cheaper because you need some special hardware to get 7.1. There are some video cards that incorporate the HDMI audio and video to the 1.3a spec and there are also some sound cards that can do that too. I don't know of any cheap solutions for 7.1 on a PC. The sound cards can run about $200 or so such as my favorite http://www.auzentech.com/site/products/x-fi_hometheater_hd.php. I put an earlier one of similar sound quality in my theater PC but it has no HDMI.
  • -1 Hide
    bad_code , October 2, 2009 12:51 PM
    I meant 30-40 MORE! than the semptron I wish I could edit after posting.
  • 0 Hide
    baddad , October 2, 2009 12:53 PM
    There's also this case http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811133168
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , October 2, 2009 2:54 PM
    These are good, but they look too big and traditional. I would like a review for something like LIAN LI PC-Q07 or the Morex 6610. Both are mini-ITX cases. If you use a Nvidia Ion based motherboard, I would assume you can watch HD movie on it. The system should also be less heat, less power, and less noise.

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811112227
    http://nanoitxpc.com/proddetail.asp?prod=6610
  • 0 Hide
    jeverson , October 2, 2009 3:12 PM
    I have had my eye on this beauty for a while now...

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811129054

    I just noticed that it has $40 off instantly... so tempting... anyway, this case seems to allow for a good compromise between insane HTPC and as low as you wanna go. The only "drawback" some may have with it is that it only supports 2 HDDs. However, it allows/comes with 2 120mm fans for good quiet air flow or you could remove one and use that new Corsair liquid cooler. Also it only supports uATX and uITX boards.

    Now what I would really like to see is a case like this that supports 2.5" drives. If they converted the 3.5" bay they have to support 2.5" drives you could put in a nice "lower end" SSD for your OS and then drop about 3-4 500Gb-750Gb 2.5' drives in there. and have a really nice, quiet, cool running HTPC.

    Hmm... $40 off... must... resist...
  • 0 Hide
    grimjester , October 2, 2009 3:45 PM
    Quote:
    However, the NT01 won’t be sufficient for overclocking.


    It does work for some mild overclocking. I have one in another Silverstone case (GD02) with the same fan setup, running a Q9550s@3.4Ghz/1,13v. However, a) you can fit better coolers in the Lascala case and b) in that size category the Antec Fusion case has better airflow with 2x12cm fans.

    Since I'm a Silverstone fanboy (really like my GD02 case), I'd recommend the GD02 or the new GD04 if you don't have room for a 40+cm deep case. They look nice and the airflow is well planned.
  • 0 Hide
    khourig , October 2, 2009 4:09 PM
    I've always thought nMediaPC had the best HTPC cases. http://tinyurl.com/y9j5xn7
  • 0 Hide
    azcoyote , October 2, 2009 4:12 PM
    How about you guys do a comparative review of Cyberlink, PowerDVD, and Windows Media Player.

    For HTPC users there are a lot of delta in the abilities of each. Some scale better, some have Bluray hiccups, etc, etc...

    A case and OS don't do squat without the software to utilize the player... :) 

    Thanks,
  • 0 Hide
    gsacks , October 2, 2009 4:29 PM
    bad_codeIf you have a blutooth key board like http://www.amazon.com/Logitech-diN [...] 49&sr=1-16 you have everything you need on the keyboard and there is no need for a remote.


    I disagree. For me, a remote is essential, because I control everything in my A/V setup, including the HTPC, with a universal remote (Logitech Harmony). My RF keyboard and mouse are only used when I am doing maintenance on the HTPC or using it for the web browser.
  • 0 Hide
    buzznut , October 2, 2009 4:39 PM
    I really like this article and other recent ones about htpc's. It would be cool to see a bigger roundup, maybe a budget case review with about 6-8 cases for instance. Actually I would like to see more case reviews here, not that I'm complaining. People, including myself come here for the forums and the best news on graphics cards and cpu's and I wouldn't want to change that at all.
    Considering the cost, it seems to me the best bet would be to get an HD4650-70 for hdmi sound. Then a cheap or unused dual core with a 780g would make a great budget home theater rig. Save some money for a blue ray drive.

    I also like the idea of including noise levels as part of the htpc review process.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , October 2, 2009 4:54 PM
    I like the title "Three Mainstream Home Theater PC Cases Compared" then couple that with the last sentence on this page

    "This article looks at four mainstream HTPC cases by GMC, Moneual, and Silverstone in the price range of up to $360."
  • 0 Hide
    niknikktm , October 2, 2009 5:26 PM
    "First, you want to be sure that the system is powerful enough to play and record all audio and video sources, including full bit rate high-def streams. Modern integrated graphics solutions, such as AMD’s 780/785G with Radeon HD 3200/4200 graphics, Intel’s G45 with GMA X4500HD, and the Nvidia GeForce 9300/9400, are all capable of handling MPEG-2, VC-1, and H.264 when paired with a decent processor."

    Scratch Intels G45 off that list. It has trouble rendering HD video. At least it did last I heard. I haven't heard of a fix for it yet. See this link

    http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,2845,2328153,00.asp#



  • 0 Hide
    galvitron , October 2, 2009 6:46 PM
    It is surprising that the Antec Fusion Remote Max was not reviewed. In my opinion, it is better than these cases and is the same size as the big Silverstone in the review.
  • 0 Hide
    gglawits , October 2, 2009 11:30 PM
    Why is the depth of the Silverstone case shown as 170mm in the comparison table? The pictures don't reflect that - from the pictures I would guess that the Silverstone case is approximately as deep as it is wide.
    It is inaccuracies like this one that give Tomshardware a bad name.
  • 0 Hide
    Major7up , October 3, 2009 3:51 AM
    I like the silverstone one best since it would be easier to build a double duty system and store media on it as well, maybe also as a backup or NAS. The only problem would be the noise but I am sure highly clever people could reduce that to acceptable levels.
  • 0 Hide
    r0x0r , October 3, 2009 2:00 PM
    If anyone here is thinking of getting one of these cases (or similar), I will say this:

    Check whether case depth is going to be an issue or not!

    A HTPC looks much nicer inside of the AV cabinet rather than sitting on top of it.
  • 0 Hide
    princessnybor , October 4, 2009 9:00 AM
    The Silverstone case does come with a bezel for the optical drive. It must be affixed with a bit of double-sided tape. Not the most elegant solution, but it does look nice when the drive is closed.
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