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The HTPC / Windows 7 Chronicles: You Asked, We Answer!

Introduction

A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece about building a home theater PC using AMD’s Maui platform and the Windows 7 beta. If you missed that piece, you can find it right here.

Old and busted

The idea there was twofold. First, explore the HTPC hardware environment. It had literally been years since I’d made an effort to replace dedicated A/V equipment with general-purpose PC components, and not for any lack of desire. Rather, I had given up trying to force desktop technology into the living room when, as readers pointed out in the comments section of the last story, you can already get so much functionality from Xbox 360s and $10/month DVRs.

But AMD’s Maui box was cool. It’s truly a configuration designed to address the HTPC space. And even though I’ve seen “Build Your Own” guides on other sites since my original story leveraging G45-based platforms in order to get Intel’s Core 2 lineup in the mix, that’s not the direction that I’d go—for reasons we'll explore in this story. The MSI Media Live Diva motherboard has that DAE-3 digital amplifier onboard, which works with the MS-4140 sound card to deliver five 100W channels right from the back of the PC. For someone who doesn’t already own a good A/V receiver, that’s pretty compelling functionality. I didn’t use those powered outputs in the last story, though, opting instead to tie the Maui platform in to an existing home theater rack.

Naturally, I received tons of feedback, asking not only to reassess the MSI board using those amplified outputs, but also to explore high-definition audio formats, dig deeper into the remote control situation, try out discrete graphics, and get more specific on pricing. If you left feedback on the last piece and I was able to track down an answer, you’ll find it here.

The new hotness

Is It Perfect Yet?

So, between the maiden build and this revised configuration, was I able to settle in on what could be considered the perfect HTPC? Hardly. In fact, as the euphoria of having a respectable PC in my theater room wore off, it became increasingly clear that we’re a long way from true interoperability between desktop hardware and the CE world.

In the following pages I’ll discuss what worked, what didn’t, and what exactly we’re still waiting on before the hardware/software worlds can collide and form a critical mass. You’ll find info on my updated theater configuration, gaming benchmarks on the big screen, a new remote control solution, subjective evaluation of the D2Audio amp, more information on the only sound card out there able to bitstream the latest audio formats, and a brief answer for the folks who want to organize their entertainment on a media server.

A big thank you to the readers who provided feedback last time around, to Cyberlink's Tom Vaughan, and AMD's Jay Taylor for answering questions along the way. The tricked out Maui machine still does its job better now than it did before. Let’s take a look at some of your questions and my answers.

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.