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How To: Build An HTPC (With Windows 7)

Even if you’ve built 100 desktop PCs, piecing together and installing a truly effective HTPC will make you smile. I’ve toyed with the idea for the better part of eight years, leaving a PC next to my A/V equipment on four or five separate occasions. But not once has it given me that feeling of satisfaction until now.

Coming to the table with a system able to output to the latest connectivity standards, able to support the latest content types, and able to play the latest games (with the help of a reasonable graphics upgrade, of course) makes a strong case for rolling your own HTPC. And it’s no longer just about showing off, either. Now there are functional and practical reasons to take the plunge. After all, with a five-channel amplifier onboard, the need for a stereo receiver is diminished if you don’t have one already.

Media Center recognizing the inserted movie and pulling down related information from the WebMedia Center recognizing the inserted movie and pulling down related information from the Web

Then again, most folks with networked storage and large television probably already have their own amps too, in which case, it makes sense to employ the digital audio output on MSI’s Media Live DIVA motherboard, as we’ve done here. It’s only a shame that there’s no way to play back SACD content on an HTPC—that’s the only capability we gave up in swapping in AMD’s Maui box and shipping out the Philips DVD 963SA that populated the machine’s spot only days before.  

Lastly, now that this HTPC system is set up and running in a “production” environment, we’d love to get some input from you. What sort of media center-related content would help in your own living room? What sort of follow-ups to this fairly simple build would answer your outstanding questions? Let us know in the comments section and we’ll be sure to plan our upcoming A/V coverage accordingly.

Parting Thought

Throughout this first-look at Windows 7's Media Center software on our shiny new HTPC, I kept thinking back to Microsoft's demonstration of remotely controlling the suite at CES. "How cool would it be," I asked, "if the next generation of remotes included touch screens for navigating the interface, since this is something Windows 7 will support?"

This is, in fact, something I'm hoping to see. Until then, though, it's worth noting that you can navigate your A/V library on the couch using a diminutive nettop and "Play To" your HTPC, just like you'd copy a file to a flash drive using the popular "Send To" shell functionality in XP or Vista. In a way, that's a very similar way to manipulate the HTPC without having to get up off of the couch or fiddle with a vanilla remote control. 

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