Updated: September 16th, 2012

The Idea

imageFor the past month I have been exploring options and building a perfect Home Theater PC for my 50” Vizio plasma. Besides the obvious, it has to play movies, youtube videos, etc, I had a few concrete goals in mind. Here they are:

  • it absolutely had to handle 1080P h264, specifically movies encoded using x264. An average movie size for this format is between 8.5 and 13 GB. There were 2 problems to overcome: the CPU had to be able to handle the decoding (my desktop dual core Conroe barely kept up) and the network had to be fast enough to stream in real time from my storage PC a floor away.
  • I needed to have the easiest control over the whole thing. VNC wasn’t good enough, because I don’t always have a laptop lying around.
  • It had to support 7.1 sound.
  • It had to have excellent picture quality on the TV, preferably during both movies and regular browsing/reading, etc. HDMI/DVI was optional, depending on how good the analog quality was.
  • It had to be as cheap as possible but still good enough to do the job really well.
  • It had to have a serial port (most micro ATX motherboards nowadays do not, which is upsetting).
  • It had to look slick and unconventional – unlike a regular PC.

Setup

After lots of research, I used the following components from the following sources (best deals I could find):

Processor

Intel Pentium Dual-Core E2200 Processor, 2.2 GHz, $79.99, no tax, and free shipping. I decided to go for a relatively cheap but still very powerful CPU and the results exceeded my expectations. More below.

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Motherboard

ASUS P5KPL-CM LGA 775 Intel G31 Micro ATX Intel Motherboard, $67, no tax, and free shipping. Also available on Newegg for $54.99 + tax + $8.97 shipping. It has on-board 7.1 sound, 2 PCI slots, and a serial port (for my good old Packard Bell serial remote control). No HDMI/DVI and no onboard RAID but I didn’t need those.

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Memory (RAM)

OCZ SLI-Ready 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Memory (OCZ2N800SR2GK). $38.99 + tax, free shippping – $25 rebate. Also available on Amazon.

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Case and Power Supply

Antec New Solution Series NSK2480 Case, $107.99, no tax + $17.82 shipping – $8 coupon (code: TAKER). Even cheaper on Amazon. The case already comes with a 380W power supply, so I didn’t need to buy a separate one. It provides plenty of power for the HTPC. Also, there’s a lot of space inside for ventilation, and I didn’t get a crammed feeling when installing my components. Ventilation is a separate point I’d like to highlight with this case, as it came with 2 120mm fans and 2 extra ones just in case. The lowest of 3 speed settings has worked great for me.

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Wireless HTPC Keyboard + Mouse

DSI 2.4GHz Wireless Keyboard with Optical trackball, Black, FK-760, $52.99, no tax, and free shipping. Inspired by the famous mysql geek Jeremy Zawodny here and here.

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Update: Still having doubts about what the best HTPC keyboard for the money is, I started a thread on avsforum.com titled Best HTPC keyboard reception-wise? Adesso vs DSI vs Logitech vs … ? With the forum’s help, I arrived at these conclusions:

  • the keyboard you can see pictured below can be branded by DSI, Adesso, and other companies but it’s the same thing, so there’s no point trying out the Adesso one if the DSI didn’t work well for you.
  • the DSI/whatevercloneofit fit my needs best, after comparing it to Logitech diNovo Mini and the full size diNovo version, Microsoft, and others.
  • the price of ~$50 is simply unbeatable.
  • the trackball mouse is probably the best for a keyboard of this type. I tried the touchpad on the diNovo and it was crap.
  • the left mouse trigger button located on the right side under the keyboard as well as the left/right mouse buttons on the left side of the keyboard are exactly what I wanted from the usability point of view.  I can hold the keyboard with either hand and still click like a champ.


Tip: My only complaint with the DSI was spotty reception from my couch, which is about 12 feet away from the computer. If there was something in the line of sight (huh? Isn’t it supposed to be 2.4Ghz?), the mouse started getting choppy and I was missing keystrokes.
However, Charger2000’s suggestion to buy a USB extension cord (I bought this one from monoprice.com) and use it to raise the keyboard receiver to about 5 feet off the ground worked like a charm and I am finally very happy.

Wireless PCI Card (802.11N)

Airlink AWLH6080 300N Wireless-N & G PCI Adapter for Desktops, $44.99 + tax, no shipping as I picked it up at a local Fry’s. I needed to start experimenting with 802.11N because I didn’t want a swarm of network cables laying around. More on this later but I can tell you it’s great. Also available on Amazon. Windows 7 picked it up with no extra drivers to install. Perfect. If you can't find any Airlinks around, Amazon has plenty of other Wireless N cards to pick from (I would try to match the router brand, btw).

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Wireless Router (802.11N)

Airlink AR680W 300N Wireless-N & G Router, I think about $50 + tax at Fry’s. Also available on Amazon. Or, again, if you can't find Airlink available, there are plenty of other Wireless N routers.

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Speakers, Surround Sound

Logitech Z-5500 505W 5.1 Speakers, on sale at Dell for $170 a few months ago. Also available on Amazon.

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DVD Player/Burner

LG Black DVD Burner, $25 or so. I picked a cheap and good one, and it’s worked flawlessly. I decided to skip trying to match the silver shade with the case and just go for the black one. I am not interested in Bluray players but if you are, you are welcome to substitute this DVD player for one.

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Graphics Card [OPTIONAL]

MSI GeForce 9400GT 512MB PCI-Express Graphics Card for $60.43 with free shipping and no tax on Amazon. Optional because the motherboard already contains a VGA out which proved to be personally enough for me. However, this card is awesome if you need more performance for gaming or more than just VGA – for example HDMI or DVI. Check this out. This 9400GT has HDMI, VGA, and DVI outputs!
Update: Kyron in the comments mentions a trick to allow passing sound over HDMI using this card.

I was also careful in selecting a card with a single slot cooler profile – most new video cards nowadays come with an extended cooler which hangs over a nearby PCI slot, which is absolutely unacceptable when you only have 2 of them.

You don't need a low profile video card if you use the recommended NSK 2480 case – any card with a regular height will do.

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Sound Card [OPTIONAL]

Diamond Multimedia XtremeSound 7.1 Sound Card with Dolby Digital Live (XS71DDL) for $50, free shipping and no tax on Amazon. If you need a digital optical out or decided to go with another motherboard that doesn’t support 7.1 sound but want to have 7.1, I found that this sound card works really well.

Make sure you have a free PCI slot if you’re planning on using this card (the motherboard I picked has 2 PCI slots, 1 of which is used by the wireless card, so you should be able to add on another PCI card without a problem).

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Hard Drive

Some old 60GB hard drive. I’m planning on streaming most things, so it’s not worth spending any money on this item. You can pick a 1TB Western Digital Black drive on Amazon for about $100.

Operating System

Update 5/12/09: Windows XP 7. The new Windows 7 is still in RC at the time of this writing but it is so good and so ready that many are already using it in their day-to-day systems. I put Windows 7 onto this HTPC a few days ago and I must say – I am very-very impressed. There's not a single hiccup, bug, blue screen, or hangup. The OS is beautiful, sleek, fast, robust, and operational. It even comes with its own Media Center but it didn't seem to detect any of my media on remote servers. I highly recommend Windows 7.

If you're not afraid to try Linux (you shouldn't be – it's great and free), I recommend Ubuntu or OpenSUSE.

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Verdict

The final product exceeded my expectations. Not only did it play 1080P h264 perfectly, it didn’t even need a separate graphics card to take over the load. The CPU usage is about 35-40% when playing 720P and 40-50% when playing 1080P. No need for DVI or HDMI input – the standard VGA connector is very crisp and provides much better fine print and detail than HDMI. I can read and browse small font without any problems. The sound is superb as well, after all the tweaking, so no additional sound or video cards were needed. Using the wireless ultra light keyboard as well as the remote, I am now able to control everything on the screen with ease.

Update 1/2/09: having used this PC for a few months now, I stand by all of my selected components. The system is stable (hasn’t crashed once) and runs cool and fast.

Temperatures, Ventilation, Cooling

The case provides excellent ventilation, as I already mentioned. The CPU idles at about 30C and goes to 45-48C when playing the highest quality 1080P HD video I could find. In short, the case is cool and quiet.

Wireless (802.11N)

After playing around with the 802.11N (or at least Airlink101’s implementation), I have to say I’m quite impressed. I get speeds of between 3 and 5 MB/s (Megabytes per second) and all 720P and most 1080P content streams live. Some really hi-res 1080P movies require to be downloaded first, which confuses me. During streaming, instead of using 4-5 MB/s, VLC (or MPC, or any other player I’ve tried) uses only about 1-2 MB/s and starts lagging. I don’t yet have a workaround for the player to utilize 100% of my bandwidth and stop lagging. Do you?

One thing I really hated about Airlink101 is their software (the firmware seems great so far). It’s the most basic piece of crap software accompanying hardware I’ve ever seen. Absolutely no thought and effort went into it – I believe it’s still on version 1.0 or 1.1. It’s so bad, even the Windows default wireless manager is better. The final straw was the absence of a setting to connect to preferred networks only. After I found my computer randomly connected to some open netgear network one day, I decided to not use Airlink101’s software for a long-long time, maybe ever.

The Sound

ASUS’ onboard 7.1 HD audio delivers very decent sound. I’ve installed the latest drivers, enable virtual fill (so that 2 channel sound gets automatically distributed to all speakers), and hooked up the Logitech Z5500 5.1 and another Logitech 2.1 to form a pseudo 8.2 speaker system. This thing has thump!

A note on VNC: I ended up not using it as it was creating sync issues while playing video (vsync?). If I turn on VNC while playing a video (and even if I turn it off), the vsync issues are quite apparent. The wireless keyboard is a better solution anyway, so I am quite happy with it (though it could use larger operational range).

HTPC/Media Center Software

Network file sharing + file manager (Total Commander or any other) + Media Player Classic + ffdshow codec set have worked very well but I still wanted to find the perfect media center program for visually pleasing media experience. It turns out there are a few candidates. Here they are:

  • XBMC – free, not bad at all, but it was too buggy and couldn’t find my network drives.
  • Mediaportal – also free and also buggy. It couldn’t play a lot of video files.
  • SageTV – not free. Worse than the 2 above. Absolutely no reason to pay for something this bad when free alternatives are available.
  • MeediOS – free. Too buggy to even run.
  • Boxee – free, there is an alpha Windows version but it’s quite buggy. Boxee is probably the best one of them all, at least looking at all the recommendation on the web but the software isn’t very stable yet. It’s very socially oriented, which I like a lot. They’re active on twitter.
  • GB-PVR – a Windows PVR and Media Center. Haven’t tried it as I’m now convinced I’m better off without a MC.
  • Anything else major I’m missing?

So, as of this time, Total Commander, Media Player Classic, and the ffdshow are still my preferred method of watching videos. I don’t feel that any of the programs I’ve tried are ready for prime time yet.

Remaining Work

  • I’d like to figure out how to wake up the machine on keyboard event. I don’t think it’s possible with the wireless keyboard like that, but I’m not 100% on that.

Update 3/1/09: Figured it out:

- open up Control Panel
- go to your Keyboard
- select the Power tab
- pick the right keyboard
- click Properties
- go to the Power Management tab
- check the "Allow this device to bring the computer out of standby" option.

If you want, you can repeat the same actions with your mouse.

Worked like a charm, except Windows currently wakes up from sleep randomly if this setting is on (both XP and Windows 7) – I am unsure of the fix right now.

  • I’d like to know how to stream videos utilizing full network capacity rather than buffering what's needed and hiccupping when a slowdown occurs.

Pictures Of The Final System

IMG_4007

IMG_4008

IMG_4009

IMG_4010

IMG_4061

And I couldn’t resist:

IMG_4120

● ● ●

Artem Russakovskii is a San Francisco programmer, blogger, and future millionaire (that last part is in the works). Follow Artem on Twitter (@ArtemR) or subscribe to the RSS feed.

In the meantime, if you found this article useful, feel free to buy me a cup of coffee below.



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  • http://john-tavares.ca Mat

    Hey, Your set up looks pretty good! I'm thinking of doing a similar thing – cheap is my main priority and your system seems to fit that! Mine will be used predominantly for my DVD backups, so I'm going to used a TB hard drive and avoid the streaming – did you do this to reduce sound or just to keep the storage pc? This will be my first PC build so I'm a bit nervous!

    Anyway, good system you have built here, my only additions will be a blu-ray and a big HD!

    All the best,

    Mat

  • Cigars

    Have you considered using Linux for a project like this? There are also fanless processor boards by Via that would likely cut back on the size of the unit.

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    I have considered Linux but still looking for THE ONE distribution/media center app. I've seen LinuxMCE which is really nice in theory but I think it's quite ugly and I don't need most of the functionality (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2176025602905109829&hl=en).

    WinXP was a quick patch, though I'm shocked to say I'm quite happy with at the moment. It [surprisingly] consistently sees my network shares, plays movies and music fine, and supports all the drivers.

    A fanless board wasn't required – the board is already micro-ATX. The case is a bit large but it has just enough space and provides excellent cooling.

    Thanks for the suggestion anyway ;)

  • dre

    Have you tried using xbmc its available for pc now.Ive only used it on my old xbox which is what I use for streaming but it does not do HD very well so I was wondering how it works. This is what I want to build to replace my xbox but I would like to retain xbmc.

  • substancev

    Sweet … I was looking to build a cheap box for exactly this…

    I'm currently using HP Pavilion laptop dv2000 series… has a dual core amd processor 2 gigs of memory.. 128 megs on the video ….

    I run linux on two partitions… one partition is my desktop where i do my work… the other partition is linux without a desktop enviornment. I have linux setup to launch the xserver and launch XBMC right over it. I can product 720p images onto my 50" plasma from LG.. looks awesome but i drop about a frame or two that i can notice… i'm looking to take my laptop out of the picture… I like this project and will try to build and improvise..

    If your interested in XBMC you can goto xbmc.org and check out the live installation cd… you can even install it on a 2GB usb or compact flash drive and have it boot from there… eliminating the harddrive totally. and it can stream data… also what it cannot do … if your good in linux… you can go in to the os and tweak.

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    I'll be trying out xbmc, as a lot of people are recommending it. Thanks guys.

  • swanee

    Sweet this is exactly what i was looking for at a really reasonable price

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    I've tried XBMC and Media Portal and didn't enjoy either. They're both too buggy and slow for me at this point. I'll be sticking with good old media player classic and Total Commander for the time being.

  • Mikozuna

    Fantastic article!!

    I was recently at a friend's house, and my jaw hit the floor with his Media PC set up. So now the bug has me. I think he said he spent about 800-900 on his, but i think that was just for PC. So with my budget being a little tighter, the component you listed sounds like it's going to fit the bill.

    Thank you for a awesome piece!!

    Michael

  • http://www.geektonic.com Brent

    Nice writeup. I recommend SageTV for a very good, multi-platform HTPC software. XBMC is a good choice if you don't care about TV/PVR functionality as well. Boxee might be a good choice too.

  • BJ

    I'm with Brent.

    Boxee is going to blow you away.
    http://www.boxee.tv/

    You can get a remote (there's some hacks to get the apple remote working in linux) and you'll never need that wireless keyboard. It does Hulu, YouTube, CBS and best of all Netflix streaming.

    I literally cancled my cable TV last week and I'm just using rabbit ears (for HD network tv) and Boxee on an AppleTV.

  • Alin Hanghiuc

    How is the noise level from the fans when you play 1080p video?

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    @Brent and @BJ
    Thanks guys, I'm downloading Sage TV (having low expectations) and will be definitely checking out Boxee. Will report my findings when I finish.

    I do like my keyboard because I like to type in movie names on imdb.com, search google, etc, and I don't mind using it at all. I also have a remote that I could use (the Packard Bell one) but I found that I didn't need it anymore.

    Thanks for the suggestions.

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    @Alin
    I hear nothing from the PC at all. Granted, I sit about 12 feet away but let me tell you, I hear the TV screen buzzing, especially on bright backgrounds, a lot more than I hear the PC. The case has 2 or 3 fan settings, I run mine on the lowest and have never experienced overheating or performance issues.

  • Alain

    Hi,

    Nice choice of hardware. May look to do the same think has I already own the case and Sata HDD.
    I could not find any mention of your choice of Heatsink/Fan for the processor.
    Which one have you used and what is the noise level?

    In addition, I'm already a mediaportal user and like the fact the the Ms MCE remote is working out of the box.
    Mediaportal can be used without keyboard if you install VNC for installation of software and the remote for operation.
    Are you using any remote control?

    Regards,

    Alain

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    @Alain
    I didn't use an aftermarket heatsink/fan. As I mentioned before, the processor doesn't overheat or have any problems whatsoever, even while playing HD content.
    Currently it's idling at 32C and mobo at 28C.
    When I play 1080P, it goes to about 48C CPU and mobo stays at 28C.

    As far as remotes, I am not using one besides my keyboard. I do have one but I found I didn't care much for it, they keyboard approach is very satisfactory to me.
    I did decide against VNC though, at least while playing movies because all the screen grabbing made the video sluggish in certain places.

  • Tsikwa

    Nice setup… Am also using the NSK Case (heavily moded though). Am using the Gigabyte mATX AM2 Mobo with onboard HD3200 ATI Graphics with VGA/HDMI/DVI…. Plays 1080P fluidly with a low power Athlon BE2400 dual core and 4GB of RAM. Running Vista Ultimate 64. 2×1.5TB Seagates as Media Center Storage. 2xLG-BD-HD ROM (SATA) and 1 2.5", 7200rpm drive as boot drive.

    Media Centre Powerhouse indeed.

    The rig is set up with 2xAvermedia PCIe Combo Tuner Cards plus one ATI 650 HD Tuner for a total of 3 ATSC and 2 NTSC Tuners. It is set-up for agressive Power Management (Wake on LAN – so when my 3 Media Extenders need to stream from it – it automatically "wakes up". Of course it also wakes up by itself when about to record.)

    Power Usage – 78 watts idle, 94 watts when recording 3 HD Shows, 100 Watts when watching 1080P Content.

    Next Add-On:

    An external RAID Box to expand my storage — so my DVD Rips (ISOs) and my prized TV Recordings will have extra storage.

    • Jeroen

      Hello Tsikwa,

      Are you watching the 1080p content with MPC or with Windows Media Center? I have trouble playing them with the latest. The audio has no problems, but the video starts to stutter after a few minutes. Please advice.

  • Rob

    This setup is exactly what im looking for. Great posting. I have a few questions since I never built a computer before. Aside from the components you purchased, is there anything else I would need? What about a power supply? Is there any place you can link me to that gives a tutorial of assembling the components? How does it connect to your TV, through HDMI? I have tinkered with computers in the past, but never put one together from scratch. Thanks for the help.

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    @Rob
    sure, here you go.

    The case I picked (actually cheaper on Amazon than where I originally bought it from: NSK2480) specifically already comes with a 380W power supply, so you don't need to buy one.

    Assembling components… well heh, I guess I learned over a long period of time, playing around with components, replacing one at a time, so when it was time for a new computer, I already knew what to do. I could recomment googling around for what exactly you're not sure about. Also, avsforum.com is a great place to post anything Audio/Video/HTPC – they even have a dedicated forum. If it's anything Linux related, LinuxQuestions.org is a great forum to read.

    As far as connection to TV, I ended up going for the regular 15 pin monitor cable instead of HDMI or DVI. The reason being that it gives me a much clearer and sharper picture while browsing and reading, at least on my TV. DVI->HDMI on the other hand produced very blurry and washed out at places pictures. It was still great for video, but not usable for browsing and reading at all. Your mileage may vary though, as they say. Cables are so cheap nowadays, you can afford to get them all and try for yourself.

    My main advice is not to be afraid and try everything. It's quite hard to actually fuck something up – sometimes you might think you have but the components nowadays are quite smart. You won't burn a CPU if you don't put a heatsink on (but it probably will turn off within seconds) as you used to back in the day, you won't lose your data if you disconnect a harddrive and connect it back, etc.

    Good luck!

  • Rob

    Was wondering if you can help me out with another question. How would this wireless setup work with streaming HD video? I am trying to figure out how I can watch my HD home videos, which are stored on another computer, wirelessly. Would this work? Also, would you be able to download from Netflix wirelessly?

    Thanks again

  • Rob

    1 final question. (I hope!)

    I went to purchase the motherboard today and noticed the same brand next to it (more expensive board) and the box indicated HDMI motherboard. The model was P5E-VM HDMI.

    Why does this motherboard refer to HDMI and the P5K-PL does not?

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    @Rob
    wireless works exactly the same as it does on a laptop, for example. The sharing is done via Windows network sharing. I'm not exactly sure what you are asking, can you be more specific? Don't see a reason why Netflix streaming wouldn't work, as long as your connection is good enough.

    As far as HDMI, the P5KPL-CM has neither HDMI nor DVI outputs, that's why it's not an HDMI board. The P5E-VM does, so you've pretty much answered your own question.

    P5KPL-CM also doesn't have onboard RAID but I didn't need any of these things. A $50 motherboard has a low price tag and I didn't need any of those extra bells and whistles. It's entirely up to you which board to get, but one of my goals included a limited budget.

    Have a happy PC building!

  • Mike

    I have been trying to set up a D-link media center extender in my system and when I try to connect it to the Airlink device, it never acquires an IP. The Airlink log shows repeated requests followed by an offer, but no joy. Connecting to the Airlink via a cat-5 cable works just fine. Has anyone encountered this issue?

  • http://none Doug

    I am hoping that one of you pro's will take mercy on a noob here and help with my questions! I am about to build my first HTPC and this system looks great, but I have some questions:

    1. What do I need to get to input my off air HD antennae into the system? A TV tuner card? If so, any recommendations? I would like to be able to PVR with this from the off air antennae that is bringing in the locals and could use some advice on this front.

    2. Is there a way that I could have the HTPC be the sole input to the TV and stream my PS3 through the HTPC which will be controlling the sound etc? If so, what kind of inputs do I need in order to accomplish this? Will the Tuner card have the inputs to handle this as well? The PS3 is used for gaming and for watching blu ray movies, is this system up to par to stream blu ray content as well? If not, what upgrades would it need?

    Thanks in advance, I look forward to hearing from you on these questions!
    Doug

  • Joe

    Not to be an ass, but why on earth did you choose a silver case with black components and having also a black tv? Looks really ugly!

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    @Doug
    Unfortunately, I haven't done any recording and I don't have a PS3, so I can't advise you. I would recommend avsforum for that.

    @Joe
    I liked the case mostly for its functionality and price (includes 380 power supply). My TV is silver and black, and the case matches it in tones.
    As far as the black DVD burner, that's the only thing I don't like but it's almost impossible to pick out a silver DVD burner that would match and not stand out due to different shades of silver. Plus it cost me $20. :)
    It won't turn heads but people are intrigued by the box when they visit my house.

  • Steve

    Great write up and nice setup!
    Have you looked at GB-PVR? Does some really cool stuff like automatically playing random trailers (auto downloaded, so they arent always the same & are current) before the movie you selected and a configurable live TV-Guide.

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    @Steve
    I haven't tried GB-PVR yet, but I've added it to the list. Thanks for the tip.

  • Walt

    Any idea whether this set up would play Blue Ray discs if a Blue Ray drive was installed? I have read that certain chip sets don't support the players and/or codec..

    Any thoughts?

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    @Walt
    Sorry, I don't know the answer to that as I'm not planning on getting a Bluray player. CPUwise, I would imagine it should be fine.

  • Mike T

    Great build….I have been building rigs like that for about a year now. I really like VMC. I have tried just about everything else and I always go back to VMC.

    I think the only thing you are really missing is a remote. You could do just about everything besides web surfing through VMC with a remote. They are really cheap on the egg and the recievers are small and easily hidden.

    As for Blue ray you need to make sure the onboard video on the mother board supports blue ray bplay back. Just a note if you are going to buy a blue ray player do not buy a OEM version unless you own a blue ray playback software. The software which there are no free ones avialble is about $80. You can get an OEM drive for $90 ( no software included) or a retail version for $109 with the software. It looks like the rest of the rig would be blue ray compatible. Although it does suck up a lot of CPU.

    Some other things I like to consider and also use in my builds is a front panel lcd. They are fairly inexpensive and can display track info when your tv or monitor goes into Hybernation.

    Mike T

    -Mike

  • Tom Brandstetter

    Please tell me what utility you are using to monitor the CPU temperature. Thanks

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    @Tom
    I use the ASUS utilities that come with the motherboard, something like this.

  • Max

    I would like to build a HTPC to connect to my 60" 1080 plasma.
    I need it to play HD x264 (mkv) and bluray 1080p without any hesitation.
    I also need hdmi and digital optical out.
    What motherboard would you recommend for this build and would you choose another processor for my build?
    Thank you for any advice.

    Max

  • jam

    so im new to the HTPC world and was planning on either building one or buying one on the cheap. I want it to just serve as a DVR (while letting me watch tv on another channel at the same time), surf the web, stream online content, view pictures and play music, and eventually in the future play blu-ray. I have a Samsung 46inch 1080p LCD that i want to hook it up to. I saw an Acer aspire x1700-u3700a for $479. It would need a HDTV tuner and wireless card added in order for it to work as my HTPC, which would add $150 to the total probably. You build minus the surround sound, comes out to be about the same price. I was wondering if you could compare the Acer to your build and if it would be better for a newb to just go with the Acer. And will the Acer serve the purpose?

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    @Max
    I don't have a bluray player, so I can't vouch that this CPU will play it OK but I think it should. For optical out, I would recommend a budget (but really nice) Diamond XtremeSound XS71DDL for $50.

    As far as the motherboard with HDMI, I don't have one off the top of my head but you can easily find one by looking around.

    @jam
    The Acer doesn't look too bad. The reason I like to build my own boxes is I'm not sure what components guys like Dell or Acer use inside (a lot of times they're lower grade, slower ones). In case something breaks, I will know the architecture already and will most likely be able to diagnose the problem faster.
    The Acer box has more RAM and a decent hard drive, plus it has a graphics card. Feel free to try it out, you can always return it if you don't like it.

  • Mike T

    For blue ray play back you need a motherboard that either nvidia 8000 series and above or ati 3000 series and above. I have used Asus alot and they make very reliable boards.

    I use this one all the time and it has HDMI.
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131324

    For the cpu for Blue – ray you need atleast a 2.3 ghz dual core I use this one.

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103255

    The cpu works with thee motherboard i Listed.

  • Athan

    Nice setup you have there!

    I'm doing research right now for my Media Center PC. I just recieved today my 42" LG flat panel lcd and I'm very excited on the quality of that tv. Supporting FullHD is a must today for TVs.

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    Finally figured out how to wake up the machine on keyboard event with the Adesso wireless keyboard:

    – open up Control Panel
    – go to your Keyboard
    – select the Power tab
    – pick the right keyboard
    – click Properties
    – go to the Power Management tab
    – check the "Allow this device to bring the computer out of standby" option

    Worked like a charm. If you want, you can repeat the same actions with your mouse.

  • jam

    will a Linksys 54G modem with an adapter for the HTPC stream video off the internet well enough? in other words is it worth me spending the cash to get the router you suggested if i already own an older linksys model

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    @jam
    it should be fine for streaming most videos, but you may have trouble with the HD ones, depending on the quality of your connection. But it's an easy test – if you already own the router, just test it with another computer on the wireless network, like your laptop. If everything you want plays without buffering issues, you're good.

    Youtube HD is the highest bitrate video type I know of as of right now, out of the mainstream sites, so be sure to test it out.

  • http://codinghut.com Vaelek

    I have tried almost every HTPC software there is and come to mostly the same conclusions as this article. However, I have found the app with the most potential to be Media Portal. It has quite a lot of plugins (of which I'm still working my way through), and has been able to play every video format I've thrown at it yet (including MKV). I did install ffdshow and and mkv codec, worked like a charm for MP but most xvid and all mkv still do not play for me under VMC (64bit). The ONLY thing keeping me tied to VMC currently is that it has the best NetFlix instant play support. Though I am working on a plugin for MP as well.

    The point of all that blathering is just that I think Media Portal has undergone a fair amount of development since this article was posted and is quite stable in the 1.0 branch, as well as having a 2.0 alpha in the works, as it got somewhat of a bad review here. It also has the best playback control I have found yet (in terms of FF/RW/etc from the remote). Though Boxee is one to keep an eye on. I've finally gotten invitation to the windows alpha, and while it's still in its infancy, it looks to hold a lot of promise.

  • TimeFreedom

    @ Artem Russakovskii;

    I don't understand how you can play 1080p movies, MKV, through VGA on a HD TV? Please advise.

    TimeFreedom

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    @TimeFreedom
    1080P can play just fine over VGA – you don't need HDMI. See some discussion here.

  • Kyron

    Just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to write this article. its exactly what i needed upon deciding to ditch the old xbox360 for a proper media center and it's the right price as well :)

    Thanks again!

  • Kyron

    Oops, forgot to add, after testing out my laptop as a HTPC for testing connections to my Sony Bravia 46" tv, i noticed my Dell 1330 XPS does not support audio/video HDMI….only video HDMI. I was having all sorts of problems trying to get an audio signal to the tv using RCA stereo cables and the like, but had no luck.

    But after researching the MSI 9400GT card you recommended I realised it does support a video/audio data stream via the use of an internal SPDIF connector cable that comes with the vid card which you simply connect to the sound card. You might want to update that info into the vid card section of your article as I'm sure it would help a few people who have less than new home theater receivers and speakers as opposed to the direct cable Logitech PC speakers you use ;)

    Now I know i will be able to run HDMI out from the vid card into the Sony Bravia, and then the digital out on the tv goes right into my home theatre amplifier :)

    I screencapped this from the manual ->
    http://i38.photobucket.com/albums/e142/kysterama/hdmi.jpg

    Cheers!

    • John Askew

      Please be aware that digital audio pass-through from TV to digital out reduced the sound to stereo PCM due to legislation.

  • Hollywood

    I use the same keyboard and love it. I have found my battery connection does act up causing me to loose my connection. adjust the batteries and all good. I plug my keyboard usb in the back so it is out of site.
    I used a Hiper HTPC case from Newegg(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811214030) , Asus p5n7a-vm, E8400 cpu, 4Gb OCZ ram, Sony slim-slot load Blue-Ray, hauppauge 2250 and windows 7rc. So far it is very fast and flawless. Hiper case is the smallest and best I have seen. Built in VFD (works in windows 7 but only shows date, time and "Media Center"), built in wireless, cardreaders. Even works with my Harmoney remote.

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    @Hollywood
    I haven't had to replace my batteries once yet, since writing this article. Never lost a connection either – it was just not as good until I got that USB extension cable.

    The Hiper case does look nice but it's a bit old now and discontinued. You can get a lot of good cases now that are probably better. The reason I went with mine is because it came with a good PSU and didn't cost a fortune. Nice case, nonetheless :)

  • Phil

    All,

    This is a great post and fairly recent. So, I am in the process of selecting hardware and software for my HTPC but still clueless in terms of what software to use. I want to be able to record movies from TV and of course watch TV, and rip all my DVDs. I like Linux (it's free) though am no expert and I have heard great things about XBMC, in terms of Linux what Linux OS would you guys recommend and what Media Center software given my requirements.

  • Artemous

    Great job on the media PC. I use a Xbox running XBMC and have been for about 4 years now. It is convenient to play music & movies, but limted in terms of using Internet applications. Just as you said in your media lineup, it's kinda buggy too.

    I've been considering putting one of these together. Problem is: Both my 42" Panasonic plasma (720p) and 62" Toshiba DLP (1080i) have HDMI inputs only. If I opt for a motherboard with built in HDMI output (or I pick up an ATI Radeon HD2400PRO), will it do the trick?

  • Artemous

    Phil:

    I would probably go for the Windows Media Center. If you are not comfortable with a Linux based solution, you may want to consider BeyondTV. For $100, you not only get the software, but they will bundle a remote control as well. Check out this PVR comparison on Wikipedia for more info:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_PVR_software_packages

  • Phil

    Artenous,

    I have been playing with UBUNTU for a while & I can get around but I need some info in terms of versions, is it full blown version of UBUNTU or some scaled down version? & of course, what media center software if I went the UBUNTU route?. Also, if I get a TV tuner card, can I connect my HD Direct TV box into?

  • dev

    Very well written. Thanks.

  • Justin

    One question.. What if i want to install a tv capture card, so I can use the Computer as a DVR with HD?

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    @Justin
    No problem, just make sure you have a free PCI slot and you should be fine.

  • marc

    Hi, I'm trying to stream HD (h.264) movies wirelessly from computer in the livingroom to computer in bedroom. I have been trying to use homegroup on windows 7rc and a dlink 655 exteme router. I get 300Mbps at the computers, but the video studders constantly. I've been trying to play them through the windows media center. is there any way to fix the studdering so i can watch the movies wirelessly. my hardware should be fine. dual core e5500 3.2ghz, nividia 9600gt.

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    @marc
    If you pause and restart, does the studdering disappear? I.e. is it 100% network related or could it be wrong/not installed graphics drivers?

    In general though, I'm facing the same issue with pretty much any video playing program – if it's network related, just freaking prebuffer enough, you know? But I haven't found a method to force a certain prebuffer level. I mean, oftentimes the bandwidth usage is 1/5 of the max and then studders show up during bursts, like action scenes.

    However, I do suggest you give Media Player Classic + ffdshow codec a go. I've had much better luck with it than Media Center.

  • marc

    pausing has no effect. how do you increase the prebuffer on windows 7?

  • intermediategamer

    this was what we need!efficient PC building!incredibly nice work dude!

    does the P5KPL supports SLI either Crossfire?or maybe,is there any other upgrades you recommend for gaming needs?
    thanks a lot anyway for the answer

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    @intermediategamer
    Well, for $50 you can't ask much, and indeed it doesn't support SLI because there's only 1 PCI-E slot (at least that's my reasoning). My goal was not to create a gaming rig but rather an HTPC with playing video in mind. I'm sure you could find something a bit more expensive that would do what you want though.

  • intermediategamer

    oh,well,can you make any efficient PC building again later for us?like for home office,gaming,workstation,or else?i really like your point of view :D

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    Perhaps when I upgrade my workstation to something else, I'll do another writeup. In the meantime, I highly recommend trying AVSForum's HTPC section: http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/forumdisplay.php?f=26

  • intermediategamer

    oh,i got a little problem,would you help me?
    When i suggest your writing as a guide to build PC to my friend,he follows it,and here is his PC spec:
    -Asus P5KPL-CM
    _Intel Pentium Dual Core E2500(instead of your recommendation,he got a special discount for this one)
    -Visipro 2GB DDR2 RAM(1 piece instead of 2)
    -a used GeForce 9400GT 1GB
    -a piece of used harddisk
    -custom case,no additional cooling
    Windows XP SP2 OS that he transformed it to Windows7 with a transformation tool

    He experienced some lags in certain part of some game and got problems on playing HD video(he uses HDMI connection to his LCD TV instead)

    Got any solution?

    Hope you don't mind to help!thanks!

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    @intermediategamer
    It could be many things, like drivers (the usual suspect), hardware, etc. You're much better off asking specific troubleshooting questions like this in the AVS Forum.

  • Jason

    Excellent write up.I've been playing with HTPC's for the last two years and every day I find further interesting information regarding muti media centres.I've struggled with achieving the ultimate HTPC and its been an interesting road trip. No offence, but with regards to your VGA choice of connection, this is no way achieving the HDMI performace watching HD content onto your TV properly. 780G chipset with onboard IGP HD3200 graphics running Mediaportal on a Vista OP is the ultimate I have to say. As for CPU's AMD Home page refers to no less than tripple cores to achive excellent HD reproduction without issue. Windows 7 is also the bomb with RC 7264 fixing the Nova T 500 twin tunner card issues and the latest WIN7 ATI 9.7 drivers fixing the green screen issue in lower 720p channel signals. Sorry I was rambling there. Just a bit of usless information that may help someone outthere that are experiencing an issue.

    Cheers Artem, great write up.

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    @Jason
    heh, well mine works without any hiccups whatsoever, the CPU is plenty powerful and I welcome you to stop by and check out how VGA runs 1080P :)

    I can't wait for Windows 7 final, because I had to temporarily switch back to XP due to faulty audio drivers. More here: http://vip.asus.com/forum/view.aspx?id=20090506091429190&board_id=1&model=P5KPL-CM&page=1&SLanguage=en-us

  • Jason

    Gidday Artem, Yes my 6 year old pentium at work will run 1920 x 1080 through VGA allowing me to watch an Mvk HD movie at that rez. But you are not getting true 1080Progresive scanning. Yes your PC is capable of it and the TV is but then you go and shove the signal through analog VGA conector is criminal. This is a major bottle neck, but only in my opinion. Dont get me wrong, the picture is still magnificient and admitedly ideal for viewing more so text than anything. But you have obviously never watched an HD Movie through an internal Blue Ray player where as from start to finish all components support and are affected by the HDCP (HighDefCopyProtection????) Which you must realise VGA dosnt suport. So this raises an interesting debate, one of which I may have intirely missunder stood. I look forward to yours and anyone elses thoughts regarding HDMI vs VGA. Cheers Jason

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii
  • Jason

    Gidday Artem, I did read the information you suggested above and I'm sorry to say they too have been completely miss informed.
    DVI-D (D for digital) is the highest resolution connection. DVI-I and DVI-A (for more information check this site: http://www.datapro.net/techinfo/dvi_info.html). HDMI is a digital connection for Video and 8-channels of Digital Audio as well as device control features (basically DVI with audio).

    Here are the advantages and disadvantages of connection types:
    http://www.ramelectronics.net/html/howto-av.html

    I believe and ofcourse I'm only guessing here that you and the others in denial may not have actually experienced True 1080P HD. Because it is imposible to achieve True HD content through an analog connection. Yes I hear you when you say your picture is good. But I dont want other people reading your article to fall into same miss conception. Technology going forward already shows us clearly the road taken to achieve better and more vibrant quality images starting at the bottom of the list RCA Composite, SVideo, Component RGB, VGA, DVI, with HDMI at the top of the food chain and for good reason. My only thoughts are that your perception regarding VGA as being equal were deluded by incorrect settings within your system that didn't really do your initial HDMI setup the justice it deserves. As for why that was could have been numerous settings within your drivers, video settings, Operating system, CPU and or the version of HDMI cable you were using. You will possibly have witnessed under that setup, blurred picture, tearing, stuttering, audio sync issues and a number of other little anomalies. Yes you are almost there to the perfect budget HTPC, but not quite! and of course at the end of the day, this is only in my opinion. keep up the good work.
    Regards

    Jason

  • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

    @Jason
    Thanks for the detailed educational comment. :)

    Let me assure you that I'm in no way in denial. I think I can blame most of the problems on my TV (Vizio P50) on which HDMI looks worse than VGA, especially for text. I've had trouble hooking it up otherwise so I resorted to VGA and didn't find any loss of quality.

    But then remember, my intent was not to play Bluray – I don't even have a Bluray player. My intent was to play X264 encoded H264 movies and those do look stunning.

    The TV itself doesn't even support 1080P btw. I'm sure my mind will change when I upgrade to a new TV and I hope your comments prove useful to others here.

    Thanks again.

  • http://filetonic.com/blog/2009/07/24/dvd-firmware-upgrade/ DVD Firmware

    Wow, what a great resource. I like that you went with an inexpensive DVD player though I'd be tempted to go for Blu-ray myself.

  • Brad

    You forgot MythTV.

  • d3us

    I have tested a lot of MCs. In my opinion, just 4 of them are good and worthy of use.
    1. Boxee – It is alpha version, but it works very very good
    2. GameEx – It also works nice and it has console emulators, so if you want to play some old games this one is for You!
    3. SesamTV – It's not so good looking, but works perfectly.
    4. Media Portal – This one is pretty buggy. But it's good looking one and it has a lot of options so i hope that they will fix those bugs. (I tested it in x64 OS, maybe it will work better in x86 one)

    I have to mention that all of these are Free and if you install any pack of codec (for example CCCP or k-lite) you can watch DiVX and MKV movies with subtitles.
    Enjoy

  • http://none Jacob

    I am really surprised you missed MythTV and Mythbutu. I heard about Myth before i heard anything about any of the software you listed. It is free, and I believe older than any of the ones on the list, but im not 100% on that.

  • Dustin G

    I have to say this website was a GOD SEND! Thank you VERY MUCH!

    A friend of mine just turned his old rig into an HTPC and it interested me enough to want to try it myself. However, I had to start from scratch and I was at a loss until I found this post.

    However, I am using the ASUS P5Q-EM mother board, which seems like it might be an upgraded version of what you use.

    Thanks for showing me how to build a great HTPC for VERY cheap!

  • Mike

    Thank you for your wonderful website. I'm just picking up all the information to build a HTPC HD. Hopefully I will manage to do this.
    There has been a lot of different tastes about wich Media Center is best.
    Does somebody know how Windows 7 Media Center will works?

    Thank you for this website.

  • Artemous

    @Mike

    I'm just getting around to building a HTPC. The copy of Windows XP Media Center had problems so I'm going for Windows 7. My research tells me that ALL versions of Windows 7 (with the exception of Enterprise) come with Media Center – unlike XP & Vista.

    My biggest concern at this point are the drivers (or lack thereof). I hope my wireless keyboard/mouse (as well as my basic hardware) work with Windows 7.

  • d3us

    @Jacob, MythTV is not one of my fav, but if you want to watch TV on ur HTPC, than u should try it :)

    @Mike & Artemous, do not worry about W7, you have all drivers you need (I cant guarantee about very old HW). Media Center is one of the best SW. It's so smooth, and it has all you need, but forget about subtitle with your DivX movies… That's why I don't like it…

    BTW, you should try Fusion Media Explorer. Very good looking, but it has some pros, from unknown reason, You can't add 700 movies and 5000 songs.
    Not so sure what is limit because, every time is different number… To bad, it looks very good :(

  • Artemous

    Installed Windows 7 Ultimate last night. Beatiful OS. Microsoft hit one out of the park…this time. I was going to go to Ubuntu Jackalope, but Win7 kills it.

    I noticed the the Media Center was painfully slow. From what I can tell, the system was not being taxed in terms of processor & memory. Doing a little research – and downloading the latest video driver – corrected the problem. The keyboard is not the only problem I need to resolve (basic wireless Internet keyboard; If you hit the Internet Explorer or volume control buttons, the system shuts down). Other than that, the MC interface is clean, it has a great guide for my analog cable, and I can still play my movies off the network share.

    I will continue playing with Win7. So far though, it is win.

  • Fabs

    perfect motherboard there !

  • Douggy

    Wow! I may say you are Genius! Now I have a question? So you build up this specs and its an outstanding work of art Full HD setup for your 50" Plasma i would like to know cause my LCD TV is only LG 32"LH20R not even close to your TV but can we also use your powerful specs for my 32 LCD TV? or We have an option specs for lesser cost?

    • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

      Douggy,

      I think the setup here is cheap enough and your 32" is not that much worse than my 50". Feel free to follow this guide.

  • Artemous

    @Douggy:

    if the goal is to watch HDTV, this setup should work fine. You can build a very low cost box (in this example, under $400). If you want to do high-performance gaming, you'll need to beef up this rig. However, if you want to do basic TV and watching downloaded movies, something like this should work fine.

    – Biostar G31-M7 TE mATX Socket 775, Intel 450 Bundle (microcenter) $80
    – 2GB DDR2 Memory (newegg) $50
    – Western Digital WD3200AAJS 320GB drive (newegg) $48
    – APEVIA 500W ATX Media Center case (newegg) $40
    – Hauppauge – PCI TV Tuner Card (bestbuy.com) $90
    – GIGABYTE GV-R465OC-1GI Radeon HD 4650 1GB Video Card (newegg) $60
    – SONY SATA DVD-ROM Drive DDU1681S-0B (newegg) $19
    – Windows 7 (Use the release candidate or get Ubuntu) ???
    Approx: $387

    ** NOTE: This is only a quick estimate. Verify compatibility of the components before buying. You can possibly reduce a little more if you buy the stuff on ebay/used or skimp on the hard drive/memory.

    Good luck!

  • http://www.ticketluck.com/sports-tickets/Nascar-Sprint-Cup-Series-Auto-Club-500-Qualifying/index.php Nascar Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 500 Qualifying

    Did u Think of this setup yourself or did
    u follow a consumer electronic guide if u
    did please post the name of that guide
    i would very much like to subscribe for it

    • Artemous

      Didn't really use a guide. I just selected compatible components and put it together.
      You can also use newegg.com to help select the components.

      BTW: You may want to check with your local computer store for the board/processor combos. I find that newegg/Tiger charge too much for shipping sometimes.

  • preston hull

    in regards to the guy that pointed out the color indifferences, a simple fix is to visit your local big city and their biggest hair and nail supply store. if you know your color, picking a decent match is only a bottle of nail polish away. it will finish clean, same texture as the plastic it covers and matching is simple enough. though a slightly darker grey over that silver box would be sleek and secksee.
    currently i am running a intel duo 1.8 w/ 1gb ddr2 and wifi on a laptop on my 47" XVT 240 Hz Vizio LCD. it's gorgeous. I use CCCP and ffdshow and simply shared my external hdd's from my main office system to my network. both computers are on win7 ultimate. i also have a hpdv9010 bad boy that rips blu ray to 1080 mkv to the network for suorcing new HD content. there are also 2 netbooks that can run the SD content just fine. both have win7 pro. for HD playback i currently use ArcSoft Total Media Theatre 3 Platinum which integrates natively to WMC so that plays back across the network with one system install. i also run foobar2000 w/ fooAvA 1.05 ui config and 1.8TB of flac on all computers mentioned. it plays flawlessly and gapless on every machine simultaneously while steaming a 720p to the tv. my problem is i cant stream 1080p while all systems are accessing music on the network. anyone have any ideas on fine tuning network utilization? i think i have it just how i like it except this small hiccup. thanks and great tutorial, i may replace the laptop server with one of your piecemeals. thanks for sharing!

  • http://- Trommo

    Hi,

    Looks like an excellent machine that you've built. Well done! I gave myself a similar challenge but I must admit I did not have a need for it to look unconventional but I did want it to be similar width to a DVD player or amplifier. I built my system on the cheap in a big way. I'm actually surprised that it works! I bought an old Dell GX 280 3Ghz machine (not dual or quad core – just P4). Then I bought an ATI HD 4550 video card. I've go a DVD drive internally and an LG Blu-Ray/HD-DVD drive in an external RITMO (so, so cheap) case connected via USB2. I only run Windows XP, Service Pack 3 (the RITMO case does not work without SP3). For control I use an XBOX 360 controller (via the w/less dongle). I use a small freeware app to let it give me full mouse functionality. I also have an on-screen keyboard which I only need to use on rare occasions (I used to use a similar wireless keyboard to the one you have shown above, but I used it so infrequently that I've moved it to another HTPC in the house).
    I can watch Blu-Ray, HD-DVD, DVD, MKV, AVI, DIVX, XVID all at source quality or upscaled to 1080P. I use Arcsoft Total Media 3 Platinum to play Blu-Ray. I use an older edition of Power DVD for playing HD-DVD titles. For DVD I just use Arcsoft. For most other files (esp. MKV, I use Media Player Classic). The ATI HD 4550 is an amazing little card which usually sets you back approx' $65(AUD). Its GPU takes care of the video processing + it supplies the 7.1 audio down the HDMI connection to the 1080P flat screen. I use Vista Codecs pack to ensure that Media Player Classic can do its thing.
    Once upon a time I used to run Media Portal but on a machine as low spec as mine the latest edition of Media Portal hung my computer – completely killed it actually. I had to do a total reinstall. Now I just use my trusty XBOX 360 controller to navigate XP. It's not a pleasant 10 foot GUI but it works. Once the file is playing, who cares? (OK, me…). I like the look of what you've built. I'm currently working on a server for my house ( to store ISOs of all my Blu-Rays, HD-DVDs & DVDs (& of course my many media files, MKV etc). Once I've finished that, I may have to upgrade my HTPC to something more along the lines of what you've got so that I can install Windows 7 & use its Media Player. Then the rest of my family may actually learn how to operate the thing!
    N.B. I have also installed a new sound card recently as my amplifier is an older unit that does not take HDMI, nor can it process 7.1 surround sound (5.1 yes, but not 7.1 which I was keen on). So I bought a low profile Asus Xonar DS 107dB SNR 7.1 PCI Low Profile (PCI only as that was the only remaining slot my machine offered – I actually removed my TV tuner card to allow for the sound card!). The old GX 280 does not offer a lot of expansion (so I now use a USB TV Tuner). The sound card offers 7.1 analogue output. I am yet to find the software that will use the machine's processor to decode 7.1 HD audio (Dolby Digital & DTS varieties) and utilise the 7.1 analogue out. Once I have the 8 analogue audio channels, I connect the first 6 (5.1) to my existing amplifer's 5.1 channel input and the remaning two channels (centre rear channels) to the stereo input of a second-hand Harmon Kardon stereo receiver that I picked up for a bargain, and there's my 7.1 surround sound (I have read that there's a piece of software that will allow the 7,1 decoding by the CPU – but I haven't searched too hard yet as I have not yet bought the two rear centre speakers) What a project! Fun + challenging and on more than one occasion frustrating… sometimes rewarding. I find your system very enticing.

    • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

      Thank you for your feedback and thoughts, Trommo.
      It is indeed very rewarding when something you've thought up and assembled works and does the exact job you wanted it to do.
      Good luck with your system!

      • http://- Trommo

        Thanks! You too!

  • mzmiat

    Artemm that was a great article your wrote. I am glad to have stumbled across this site and your unit looks very good! I like your processor choice and your speaker setup. I didn't build my HTPC but I knew that I wanted one that would do everything that you described. I ended up ordering a BodhiBox from BodhiBoxes (just Google their site.. I think its just bodhiboxes.com ) which had alot of the features that you described on this page. I actually wrote a review about it on http://www.hometheaterforum.com/products/bodhiboxes-hd-htpc-unit/reviews. The unit I purchased seems to use all low profile parts so its as tall as my VCR. The motherboard has the toslink (optical) out for my 5.1 speaker setup that I had on my home theater and it also comes with HDMI. I didn't order the optional video card so my video card is integrated to the motherboard but its not bad. Its ATI 4000 series and it plays everything I throw at it very well. I am sure if I had gotten the optional video card I would be able to play games at decent frame rates (1080p). Mine came with a wireless keyboard and mouse however I seem to like the keyboard you chose for your unit and will most likely buy that same one. I noticed you didn't include a media center remote. The remote works really well with Windows Media Center and even Power DVD, Hulu Desktop, Boxee, and XBMC. I would also suggest you add a blu-ray drive. With the BodhiBox unit I bought it came with a blu-ray drive and Power DVD pre-installed so I can watch blu-ray movies as well. Anyway great setup you have and I hope more people join the HTPC revolution!

  • Paul

    Just found this build report and am well impressed. It looks nice and clean, and not cluttered at all which I always struggle with on my machines (have built 3 now). Also, the CPU usage you get when running full tilt seems quite low to me – did you do any special tweaking inside for that? Cheers.

    • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

      Thanks. Nope, no tweaks – it's running a barebones OS.

  • cheap laptop

    I am really surprised you missed MythTV and Mythbutu. I heard about Myth before i heard anything about any of the software you listed.

  • David A

    Hello im about to build my HTPC in 10 days when my credit comes in. Need Your Opinion!
    For- Browsing,Streaming,Downloading, Listening & Watching Music & Movies on my Vizio 40"LCDHDTV1080P 240 Hz – with the option to add a graphic card for gaming later (Intergrated graphics should be okay for everthing else?i suppose?)

    1-Antec NSK1480 Black / Silver Steel MicroATX Desktop Computer Case 350W 80 PLUS Certified Power Supply $110.00

    2-ASUS P7H55D-M EVO LGA 1156 Intel H55 HDMI USB 3.0 Micro ATX Intel motherboard $125.00

    3-Intel Core i5-661 Clarkdale 3.33GHz 4MB L3 Cache LGA 1156 87W Dual-Core Desktop Processor $200.00

    4-G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ $107.00

    5-Western Digital Caviar Black WD6401AALS 640GB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive $75.00

    6-LITE-ON Black 4X BD-ROM 8X DVD-ROM 32X CD-ROM SATA Internal 4X Blu-ray Disc Reader Model iHOS104-08 $65.00

    Total Cost $777.00
    Linux Ubu free or Windows7for $30
    I get free cable tv so ill add tuner later
    System should last about 5 to a lucky 10 years

    What i do know is i like the case
    the i5-661 proc. this is a special one
    and h55 or h57 chipset some say h57 has prolbems because newer as oppose to h55 hence that is y i selected this should i get h57?

    Thanks 4 your reply

    • David A

      I just decide to buy an alienware aurora!$2500.00 Dollars
      -i7 930 overclocked
      -6gb 1333mhz ddr3
      -GTX 480 Nvidia
      -Win7 OS
      -2tb raid
      -dual drive with bluray reader
      -with all the other little features
      -plus warranty in home 1year
      waiting for starcraft2 & diablo3 plus Total War games

  • Matt

    Hey. Yes you may be playing the 720p/1080p movies but you have it connected to the analog VGA port, so the quality is degraded.

    • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

      Heh, if you saw the picture, I would dare you to spot a difference.

  • Isaac

    Hi
    Is 2GB of Ram enough??

    • http://beerpla.net Artem Russakovskii

      Yeah, 2 gigs is just fine if you are only planning to run media applications.

  • Michael

    Hi i built a htpc a while ago now and its time to upgrade, been searching websites and forums all over looking for a great set up for a reasonable price.

    i already have a coolermaster htpc case but all my original innards need replacing as its an old 1.4 ghz athlon processor running graphics from a motherboard with agp slots ( old i know ) but it did the job of media files and internet surfing and plus i used it for my i pod.

    i still want it for those things but i want to be able to play games and run blu ray at speed , i want something kick ass in a htpc case.so im buying the system bit by bit and hopefully doing the build in july.

    so far ive bought the motherboard which is a :
    gigabyte matx 785gmt-usb3 £71.00

    i also bought dvd writer lite-on sata £21

    Processor i will be purchasing next is the amd3 965 phenom II black edition. £132

    DDR3 memory ripjaw 1330 £85

    HDD samsung spinpoint 1TB F3 £51

    The only query ive got is the manual to the mother board states a psu of 500w or greater but my case has a 450w already installed, any ideas suggestions should i replace or keep with the 450.

    If so ive looked at a corsair 650w tw at £71.00 but im worried at how it will fit into my case or is it overkill.

    also will be running xp and windows 7.

    Any suggestions on how i would improve on this set up or different ideas as i do want to run games as well, esp on my sony bravia 40".

    Thanks

  • Joe

    Two questions

    What's the best way to output audio to a home theatre in a box from an htpc?

    Is there a way to get audio over hdmi from any video card ?

  • dajomu

    I was wondering hows the sound while playing music? I am thinking about buying the Z-5500, but I am afraid the sub is too big together with the satellites and that the midrange sound is not sufficient.
    I want to replace my home-cinema Samsung ht-bd1255 with these speakers coupled with my Asrock ion 330 media-center.

    • Durken

      Read some reviews on the Z5500. I bought mine 6 months ago. Best buy ever.

  • bag321

    I'm surprised you missed MythTV and Mythbutu. I heard that before, I hear any myths about any software you list.

  • lilmike

    What yall should do is just buy a few external hard drives and a external media player like the western digital media player, and this media player will read any video format even blurays. $100 or $120 for network capable one. no need for a computer its got usb ports hdmi ports and network ports again witch u could also hook up to any cpu or network too. nd its portable u can bring it anywhere, bring to a friends a bar dont matter!

  • Arron

    Ive used MediaPortal with the Movie plugin(gets data from imdb.com) and TVSeries plugin which collects data from thetvdb.com. This has been an awesome set up, it hasn't been too buggy, I mean free is still free after all. Combined this with a cheap generic remote control, and VNC from the main PC in the same room and im all set.

    There is a web based remote control program ive set up for it(so i can pause etc from a web browser when i cant be assed finding the remote) that i wrote in the mix. email me on [email protected] for source

  • jerryk

    I'm setting up something similar, but much cheaper and smaller. It's a "Giada Cube N3" barebones that I got at Polywell computers in South City for a mere $160. I threw in a laptop SATA drive and 4 gigs of SODIMM DDR2 that I had laying around, et voila!

    The Giada has built-in Nvidia ION graphics. Excellent Linux driver support and built-in acceleration for common video formats. I loaded Ubuntu 10.10 on it, and have been messing around trying to set up a media experience.

    The sticking point at the moment is remote control. I really DONT want a cord across the room going to a keyboard on the coffee table. So I've been trying to get LIRC working for infrared remote. I've used this before, but with serial port. Like many modern PCs,
    the Giada does not have a serial port, just losts of USB.

    There does exist a LIRC driver for USB-serial converters, but getting it working has been like pulling teeth. Let's just say I had to get out the oscilloscope and function generator…. It's almost there, but I got distracted, and the project is now on the backburner. Meanwhile, the Giada is working great as a desktop Linux system. Might have to get another one :).

  • honestly

    Actually, all you need to play 1080p HD Blu-ray x264 movies are an Intel Pentium 4 CPU, or AMD equivalent, and an AMD ATI HD graphics card. Also, you probably only really need 512MB of RAM. MPC is the best software to use when playing HD movies.

    I only have single core P4 1.5Ghz CPU and HD movies play perfectly on my 1080p screen because when you use MPC it allows the HD decoding to happen on the AMD ATI HD video card. Therefore, it only utilizes a maximum of 20% of the CPU.

    If you think about it, I doubt stand alone Blu-ray players ship with a 2.4Ghz (dual core) or 3.5Ghz (single core) processors just to play a Blu-ray movie.

  • enjoi74

    What do you think about the nsk4482 mini tower. I found one almost half off the $185 sticker price. Using it ofcoure for the same purpose you are using it for.

  • Sam Wharfe

    Wow! This looks like a pretty sweet build..

    I am thinking of building a media station myself.. I probably won't bother with a graphics card though.

  • Floretta Pinkham

    This is a great configuration but technology has change soo much with TV's. There are so many options now. Do you think this would still be valid? The logitech Revue is a very condensed version but it connect with all the services seamlessly

  • ryan stephen

    i have a quad core amd phenom atm but it is a bit sluggish with my blu ray movies ( i have a blu ray drive ) i am looking at upgrading would you say i should go for a i7 with 3.4hgz and like 8 or 12 gb of ram plus like and ssd and a hdd becasue im not streaming as ive had alot of trouble with my ruter that ive had for two months ?

  • Jakes

    Looks Very nice, my current setup is a HP Small Form Factor pc, dual core Athlon 64 4200+, 3 gig ram and 1gig Radeon HD 5450 graphics card all in the original SFF case. Will probably get a better setup when I move out of my parents house