April 25, 2008
I've kept a PC in my living room for the past three years as my primary home theater interface, and I heartily recommend
it. It's shocking how cheap and easy it is to build a home theater PC these days.
I've been pondering an upgrade to my creaky old home
theater PC, and rave reviews of the new integrated AMD platform at Tech Report, Silent PC Review, and Tom's Hardware finally pushed me over the edge.
I didn't buy the PSU because I already have that particular model, but I bought everything else on this list for a
grand total of less than 250 bucks. (You can save a bit on the power supply, but I don't recommend it, particularly if you plan to leave your HTPC
running 24/7. Efficient power supplies not only save you money on electricity in the long run, but also tend to be of generally higher quality, and quieter to boot.)
The new AMD 780G platform is striking in its simplicity. Just pop in the RAM and the low-power Athlon X2 CPU and you
have an (almost) complete ultra low-power home theater PC. Just check out the awesome array of rear panel connections:
We have the expected stuff (4x USB, gigabit ethernet), but the exciting part is DVI, VGA, and HDMI video out!
Not to mention optical digital out for beautiful, pristine digital audio direct to your receiver. Those are the key
connections for a home theater PC. We even have an eSATA port and firewire thrown in, which is always nice.
I simply dropped the new motherboard and DVD in my existing transparent acrylic Micro-ATX PC case, replacing the old stuff. (If you're thinking of going this route, I can recommend the Antec Minuet Micro-ATX case for $100, which conveniently comes with an efficient power supply, too -- but be aware of the half-height expansion slots.)
I kept my existing hard drives (a small 2.5" boot drive for low noise / power consumption, and giant capacity 3.5"
drives for long-term storage and recording), and my
Hauppauge PVR-150 dual analog PCI tuner card, which I love to death.
For the longest time, integrated graphics was synonymous with craptacular graphics. That's not the case for this new AMD 780g chipset. The integrated graphics are fully DirectX 10 compliant, comparable to the latest entry-level discrete video
cards. Gaming isn't our goal, though this would be perfectly adequate for many games. More importantly for a HTPC
build, the integrated graphics support the full suite of H.264
and WMV video playback acceleration.
I know a WEI graphics score of 3.5 doesn't sound like much, but brother, let me tell you -- this is light years ahead of anything else on
the market at this power consumption point.
Update: I had a hardware failure of my own causing (don't ask) and I needed to replace this motherboard. Fortunately, there is a new version of this motherboard with 128 MB of dedicated "sideport" DDR3 graphics memory on board. With the addition of dedicated video memory the WEI graphics score went from 3.5 / 3.6 to 4.0 / 4.0!
My old Pentium-M single core struggled to
play back 1080p videos. The Athlon X2 4050e CPU I chose is one of AMD's low power dual core models, far from top of
the line. The testers at SilentPCReview found any modern dual core chip is more than enough for the most strenuous of video playback
Gradually underclocking the CPU, we found that the Blu Ray disc began to stutter at about 1.1Ghz, while
audio glitches were detected in the WVC1 clip at 1.4Ghz. 1.5Ghz was the lowest clock speed that would smoothly play
back all our clips. This was a fantastic result as the lowest clocked X2 on the market is 2.0 Ghz.
AMD is a better choice for a home theater PC because their idle voltage and multiplier throttling -- the marketing
term is "Cool n' Quiet" -- is outstanding. (I'm also glad to have the opportunity to support AMD because I'm desperately afraid of a world where Intel is the only CPU vendor. And you should be too.) This variant of the Athlon 64 X2 chip is so new that
CPU-Z doesn't quite recognize it by name. But as you can see, at idle, it clocks down to a miserly 1 GHz and reduces its power consumption to barely over one volt.
My old highly optimized HTPC build consumed just under 80 watts at idle, up from around 65
before I began upgrading it to make it more Vista friendly. Guess how much this new HTPC platform build, which is
more than twice as powerful, consumes at idle? Let's whip out our handy dandy kill-a-watt and find out:
FORTY. SIX. WATTS.
That is flippin' amazing. We're talking about a powerful modern PC here, with quite a bit of additional
hardware you wouldn't find in most PCs, including a
dual TV tuner PCI card and three hard drives. Granted two of those drives are in sleep mode most of the time, but
still. 46 watts -- twice the power at almost half the energy consumption! Incredible! Silence and efficiency were
nowhere near this easy three or four years ago.
Needless to say, I'm pretty excited about this particular $250 upgrade, and I can sell my old parts to underwrite
On the software front, as I mentioned at the top, I've been a fan of Windows Media Center since the first version; it's one of the best products to
come out of Redmond in years, and the version of Media
Center bundled with Vista (well, Ultimate and Home Premium, anyway) is the best yet. With a hardware setup this
compelling, I'm sure you'll have no problem at all mating it with your favorite HTPC software.
If you do end up running Windows and connecting your HTPC to a DVI or HDMI capable television, beware. Getting
an exact, pixel-for-pixel connection between your HTPC and your TV isn't easy. For example, I had trouble getting the
ATI Catalyst graphics driver to accept 852x480, the standard resolution of our old plasma EDTV. Sure 800x600
worked fine, but the aspect ratio was totally off. That's where PowerStrip comes in.
PowerStrip will let you achieve that ideal pixel-for-pixel perfect connection between your graphics card and your
television. I selected the built in EDTV preset as a custom resolution, and all was well. PowerStrip is the go-to
utility for tweaking home theater display output.
We use our home theater PC every day. It's silent, draws very little power, and it's small enough to tuck away cleanly in
our living room decor. It plays anything through a slick 10-foot UI, and offers unrestricted access to the web
at any time. Putting a great one together today is almost ridiculously easy. If you haven't considered building your own home theater PC -- why not?
UPDATE: since people asked, here's a complete from-scratch build list for a home theater PC.
If you plan to use Vista Media Center, add a Vista Home Premium SP1 license for $110. I also saw that Blu-Ray internal drives (read only) are down to $130 as of the time I'm writing this.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
I imagine that AMD's acquisition of ATI improved the onboard video tremendously.
PCs are not exactly small.
Well, neither is my receiver.. and I have to have that to power my speakers, etcetera. I figure an all-in-one box of typical "receiver" size is pretty easy to integrate into a living room.
Our HTPC is invisible the way it's installed now; it is behind the door of a small cabinet that the TV rests on. The IR receiver is the only visible part.
If your TV's resolution is 852x600, what do you need 1080p playback for?
Jeff, would you mind enumerating the other pieces / parts in your setup? Tuner card, HDD, etc. Also, lovin' the case -- where do I find that thing...? :-)
I love the idea, but what about sharing those videos over to other computers on the network? Like if I record say, Top Gear [On BBC America] then would I be able to watch it on my laptop, and not just on my TV? That would be my goal.
Also, could you save the files to a NAS, over say Gigabit-Ethernet.
Dygear: yes, and yes (I think). You can pick a storage location for recorded video.
I can double-click on the recorded video files from this PC over the network and play them back no problem.
Vista Media Center also has integrated DVD burning support, so you can burn any shows you've recorded to DVD and play them anywhere.
Not to sound like a Media Center advertisement, but other than the digital weakness (cablecard woes) it really is great, IMO.
If your TV's resolution is 852x600, what do you need 1080p playback for?
You need to be able to decode the video at full resolution even if it will be scaled down later on.
I have wanted to do this for a long time, but I can't think of how I can convince my wife to let me do something like this. Another remote, another interface to remember, and two kids to screw it up. I haven't yet seen a 'media center' pc that can rival the old die-hard Tivo (in simplicity and user-interface). Have you?
I will upgrade our TV eventually. I'm sort of waiting for LED backlight LCDs to come down in price and go up in size.. maybe this xmas?
Jeff, would you mind enumerating the other pieces / parts in your setup?
The dual tuner card is linked above (but fair warning it is a traditional full-height card so it won't fit in the Antec Minuet).
As for HDDs, pick to taste. I continue to recommend a 2.5" HDD for the boot drive, because they're so incredibly quiet and they sip power! Eventually I might move my entire config to 2.5" drives as prices come down.
I haven't yet seen a 'media center' pc that can rival the old die-hard Tivo (in simplicity and user-interface). Have you?
I too loved Tivo back in the day.
We ran Media Center and Tivo side by side for around six months, then eventually sold the Tivo on eBay. MCE is maybe 90% as easy as Tivo, but I consider that a HUGE compliment as Tivo is still the gold standard.
MCE is just so much more flexible and offers so many other options, and you give up very little in the way of core Wife Acceptance Factor.
MCE is maybe 90% as easy as Tivo...
I'd love to hear feedback on what we need to close on the other 10%.
SageTV is another alternative to MCE.
I have a pc setup now thats very lean on requirements.
1.2G processor with 512 ram, 80G drive with a Hauppauge card.
It does a great job recording shows and supports HD.
Hate to tell you but I have better numbers with an off the rack $399 Acer desktop:
Now to measure power consumption.
I too have had a PC in my living room for the past 4 years using MCE and absolutely love it. Wouldn't go to anything else for a PVR.
Charlie, I looked up the case I have. It's a Logisys CS688CL acrylic MicroATX model. Unfortunately these are not sold any more; you can only get mid-towers. :(
It's very difficult to find good decent looking Micro-ATX cases; I recommend the Antec Minuet case as it comes with an 80plus certified efficient power supply, looks good, and Antec is pretty reliable for quality.
However, it does suffer from half-height expansion slots, so you'll need to get a half-height tuner card. Hauppauge offers one, fortunately.
Does this mobo have IR built in or are you using a USB IR receiver?
For those that are AMD gunshy (like myself), I suggest the ASUS P5E-VM HDMI + favorite lower power core 2 duo. I'm using an E2180 (2.0ghtz, 1m cache) + 4g DDR2 + WinTV PVR 350. Onboard video is the Intel GMA X3500.
Now I just need to replace the TV card with one that has Vista drivers.
I continue to recommend a 2.5" HDD for the boot drive, because
they're so incredibly quiet and they sip power
Have you considered one of those CF card/IDE adapter cards? It'd be cheaper, quieter and probably less power consuming.
I've been looking into building my own HTPC for quite a while, and I love reading these articles- they help me know what to look for. I am thinking of running MythTV instead of XP or Vista- ever have any experience with that?
I've put together a list of what plan on using on NewEgg. I am looking at using the Antec Veris Fusion case with stock power supply, any recommendations? Otherwise, my parts match up pretty close to yours.
I always thought that Intel speedstep technology to be superior. Cool'n'Quiet is far too troublesome to activate (bios setup, driver download/install) that I never really used it. On the other hand I never had problems with speedstep to reduce the clock on my laptop.
Maybe cool'n'quiet is better now, my old desktop PC is an AMD Athlon 64 bits socket 939 and I found out that activating cool'n'quiet was more trouble than it was worth.
Where does the video come in? Where is the cablecard slot?
No component video is sure to be a miss in that mobo. My home theater PC is that athlon (2ghz) with a DFI lan party SLI-D (great onboard sound) and a GeForce 6600 GT. Pre-historic, bought that 2 years ago, but in my country that is still quite a computer. My tv is not even high definition or widescreen, I have to use 480i (component out at least...) and my 5.1 sound is quite bad. That 250U$ computer would cost something like 700U$ here in Brazil and 700U$ is a lot more money here than it is in the US.
I recently moved my desktop pc had built to the living since I wasn't using it much. My wife was against it at first, but now that it is there, she uses it more than I do. She loves it. We have Netflix, and now we can watch a lot of movies and TV shows online.
This is the first time I have posted but I wanted to tell you I truly enjoy your blog, and find it illuminating and am looking forward to using you new site also.
I do have a question about your HTPC though. I was wondering what are you using for your remote for the PC. I am currently using a bluetooth keyboard and mouse and while that works, I would rather use a remote.
I created Free.TV over eight years ago, trying to build a Media Center PC. I created my own software as well run Media Center and Vista Ultimate. Tivo is by far the easier software. Media Center are more powerful, but there lies in the problem - they are designed to behave like PCs, not appliances.
Where does the video come in? Where is the cablecard slot?
See article: "Hauppauge PVR-150 dual analog PCI tuner card". Cablecard is still immature on PC right now for various reasons.
Cool'n'Quiet is far too troublesome to activate (bios setup, driver download/install) that I never really used it.
Er.. no configuration or drivers are required for Cool n' Quiet. It "just works". I suppose you can turn it off in the BIOS if you don't want it, but it is on by default at least for this BIOS.
what are you using for your remote for the PC
I used the default media center IR remote for a long time, then I switched to one of the Harmony IR remotes:
Oh yes you do need, in windows XP that is.
"To use this feature [cool'n'quiet] you will need an Athlon 64 processor, a motherboard with this feature enable at its setup, to install the Athlon 64 CPU driver and Cool'n'Quiet software. To accomplish this, go to http://www.amd.com, Support Downloads, Utilities, Drivers Updates, AMD Athlon 64 Utilities, Drivers Updates and download and install the CPU driver and the Cool'n'Quiet software accordingly to your operational system."
The driver comes built-in in Windows Vista. Windows Update in Windows XP also download that driver if you run it.
I hate small fans, anything less than 80mm in an htpc is outragously loud.
120mm fan are much much quieter... and a href="http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=articleitem=509num=1"the enermax enlobal fans/a have no comparison... I can't even tell that my computer is on, and its 3 feet next to my ears... and I've got it overclocked from 2.4 up to 3.2 stable.
granted, the case is a little larger, but considering the number of things it replaces... and the extra height allows for more harddrives.
Stock cooler two 60mm case fans?
That is not a setup most of us would usually think of as quiet. Do you run the fans at very low rpm?
I was skeptical, too, but the AMD temperature controlled cooler is amazingly quiet. Part of it is the CPU never gets very hot, even under dual prime95 load.
The fan connected to the CPU_FAN header on the other hand had an almost linear relation to the Core temperature, following it very closely, increasing gradually in a nice, steady, gentle curve. We found its behavior to be pleasant — there were no sudden, jarring ramp ups in speed.
That is not a setup most of us would usually think of as quiet. Do you run the fans at very low rpm?
yes-- that's why the black zalman speed reducer and splitter are there!
I bought the same motherboard about a month ago to build a media center and have had some "issues" with it. When using the HDMI output the sound has a tendancy to switch off when bring the pc out of sleep mode, requiring you to reboot the PC to get the sound back!
When using the DVI output the screen won't always wake up after coming out of sleep (it's about 50/50). The workround I came up with was to tell the BIOS you're using DVI but plug a HDMI cable in! This now works reliably.
Also, I've noticed that Vista Media Center has a habit of coming out of sleep mode when you don't expect it to and then not going back to sleep. For the last 2 days it's been waking up about 6:30am and not going back to sleep. I suspect this is down to a scheduled task starting the box up (the MS "customer improvement program" task!). The annoying thing is that the event viewer logs the fact that the pc came out of sleep mode but says it was awoken by "unknown source".
I've also found AMD's Cool 'n Quite technology to be a bit of a mixed bag. When unpausing a program it sometime takes a few seconds to throttle back up the CPU causing jumpy video playback whilst the sound is ok!!!
@steve and Kindler
With my cheap digital tv tuner usb stick from pinnacle, I can either connect the antenna for over-the-air or connect my coax for cable.
Hey Jeff, how much power does it draw under load?
I have better numbers with an off the rack $399 Acer desktop:
This is hardly the point of my post-- it's about power per watt. But I agree there's something weird going on with the primary HDD numbers. I suspect it's because the primary HDD (2.5" model) is the only device still connected via old-school IDE. I ordered a SATA laptop hard drive to replace that.
As much as I enjoy the system, it is a P.I.T.A. to set up; definately not ready for the masses IMO.
Personally I feel that there should be a dedicated PC in the living room anyway, where your cable hookup already is. It feels weird to me to have a desktop PC in your office doing cable TV recording tasks and on 24/7.
how much power does it draw under load?
Watching a video, around 70 - 80 watts depending on the format. I haven't measured prime95 or full gaming 3D loads, because I doubt this machine will ever be under that kind of load. In fact it is idle 99% of the time; even doing torrents and other background stuff it's maybe 50 watts, tops.
One other quirk you should know about -- the "Power Options, Edit Plan Settings, Change Advanced Power Settings, Processor power management, Minimum processor state" kept getting reset to 100%, which means the CPU would never throttle down (!).
I searched a few forums and found the ATI drivers (I'm using 8.4) are responsible for this. I disabled the one ATI service in the service manager (I think it's called something like "external notification service") and now the minimum processor state stays at 5%, which is the default for the out of box balanced power plan.
Nice I run something similar but fitted it all into a shuttle case which makes it pretty damn small considering everything apart from a 5.1 amp is in it including dual digital tuner for freeview (uk free digital tv).
Have you considered attaching a really big heatsink and getting rid of the cpu fan I have done this before with a Scythe ninja heatsink on an intel board. The only thing is I can't see how much height space you have in the case to fit something like that.
Have to checked into remote control options? Maybe some kind of USB IR receiver so you can take advantage of a Harmony remote?
Steve Kindler -- thank you.
Now you just need to add a little z-wave home automation equipment which you can control with a new Harmony 890 remote. Opens a whole new world of "tinkering".
I built a HTPC this year as well and really enjoy using it. I bought a Silverstone LC17 (black) which looks like a nice piece of audio equipment. The interior of the case is kind of tight because the power supply has a lot of power leads, but I am very satisfied overall. The only noise is the OS hard drive doing writes, and that is rare or ignorable during movies.
I have a similar setup (though running MythTV on gentoo instead of Windows MCE), and I'll second the Logitech IR remotes.
I originally used the integrated IR receiver in one of my hauppauge PVR 150 tuners, along with a generic universal remote. It worked, but it was disappointing - the receiver would miss keypresses unless you were aiming right at the thing, and the universal remote lacked the core keys you need to control a PVR.
I later picked up the MS USB IR receiver/remote for about $20, and the performance was much better - though I didn't like that remote at all. It couldn't handle controlling the TV/Receiver.
Finally I got the Harmony (and used it with the MS IR receiver), and I haven't looked back. It's configurable from a Windows or OS X machine via (admittedly clunky) software, and you bend the thing to your will so you can control your other devices all logically without doing the device-mode-switching dance. For the price point, I don't think there's anything better (and having a decent remote goes a long way to help the wife acceptance factor, too).
"I've been a fan of Windows Media Center since the first version; it's one of the best products to come out of Redmond in years, and the version of Media Center bundled with Vista (well, Ultimate and Home Premium, anyway) is the best yet. With a hardware setup this compelling"
So how much did the copy of Vista cost? Certainly it didn't come bundled with parts you used to build this machine. I seem to remember a previous post where you urge people to pay for software they really appreciate.
Thanks for the nice post on media PCs. I'm about to retire my old shuttle M1000, which was over-priced and noisy, but it sure looked nice. Any insight into whether the CPU fan will fit into one of these:
I'm also a little concerned about the 120W power supply in the Silverstone.
I have a DVR from Comcast, and what kills me is that I record things that I would like to dump to a DVD. I assume what you have outlined here support this and I could get rid of the DVR?
What about using a Playstation 3 as a media centre? It sits in the same price range as a custom pc with blue-ray, and I'm told that it runs linux, so I should be able to stream media from my file server. Does anybody have experience with this? Are there features I could build into a pc that I might miss with a PS3?
Windows Media Center is great, but it does have a few limitations (I won't go into it here, needless to say that if you're running into them you'll already know what I'm talking about). A great Free and Open Source alternative to Windows Media Center is MediaPortal.
Definitely worth a look even if you're happy with Windows Media Center.
Is the HDMI port HDCP-compatible? If I hook a Blu-Ray drive up to this, will it argue about DRM? I've heard that not every HDMI video card will work with, say, an LG BR drive. If this DOES work, then you 've just shown me what my next build project is.
The nerdie-ness in me is urging me to inform you, that it's not 46 Watts, its 46 Kilowatt/Hours. :P
"I have a DVR from Comcast, and what kills me is that I record things that I would like to dump to a DVD. I assume what you have outlined here support this and I could get rid of the DVR?"
You will need a cable card to replace the Comcast DVR. The TV tuner card Jeff talks about is for Over the Air. Cable cards are not commercially available unless you purchase a pre-configured HTPC from authorized dealers (HP is one of the few who offer the cable card HTPC).
There's a good community dedicated to the Windows Media Center: http://thegreenbutton.com
The advantage of having a Windows Vista Media Center is that you can have a central PC anywhere in the house with all your TV recordings (assuming you have a TV tuner card), music, photos, etc... And then connect any TV/Stereo to the media center with an extender (either wirelssly or hardwired network), aka, Xbox 360.
We've been using a Vista Media Center w/ an Xbox 360 extender for about a year now. As much as I enjoy the system, it is a P.I.T.A. to set up; definately not ready for the masses IMO.
Thanks for sharing this.
How do you avoid the horrible noise of the DVD drive? I mean in most PCs when you put a disc in the drive, you'd think the space shuttle is taking off from your garden when the drives start spinning.
Is it something handled by Media Center? Does it manage to slow down the drive to keep sound low?
I figured out that an HTPC would cost over $1,000 to build...
Where did you get those figures? I plan on having an HTPC, and it's only going to cost me... $501...
Anyway, given the implications in the article, it would be better to include all costs.
OK, I added a complete from-scratch build list to the end of the article. $523, plus $110 if you need a Vista Home Premium license.
Bear in mind there are ZERO recurring monthly costs for a HTPC, whereas Tivo costs $13/month!
The Antec Minuet case is 3.8" x 12.8" x 16.8". For reference, an Xbox 360 is 3.3" x 12.1" x 10.2". See a visual size comparison of the Minuet with a few items: http://is.gd/9rS
I just set up a similar box today, same mainboard + memory different processor (5000+ black edition) + arctic freezer 64 pro as a cooler.
Which is my first non stock cooler, I have to say I'm impressed so far the sound is almost missing and the temperature is silly low but I haven't tried any real tests also haven't tried overclocking the proscessor yet.
If you want you can also up the video clock in the bios, results differ but it's probably an easy overclock from 500 -- 700+ as good as free performance.
To tell the truth, I'm quite curious as to the difference between the Freezer 64 Pro and the stock cooler. In an unrelated build, I'm planning to use the same processor and motherboard as Jeff's build in OP. It's going to be run as a 24/7 server. Should I stick with the stock cooler or buy aftermarket? Notes: no overclocking, noise not that big of an issue.
However, for my HTPC build, I'm definitely going with a Scythe Ninja Mini in an Antec NSK2480. Fanless heatsink, here I come!
The stock cooler is *incredibly* quiet (don't take it from me -- see this confirmed by the guys at silentpcreview in their review as well).
Given the low wattage we're talking about and the excellent built in temperature-based fan control, probably not worth the $30+ an aftermarket cooler would cost you. You could probably remove the fan from the OEM cooler if your case has semi-decent airflow.
There is a nice low-profile cooler here if you're looking to build an ultra-small system:
low profile cooler product page on Newegg:
For those of you concerned with the cost of Windows Vista there is always an open source alternative: Linux MCE.
After multiple DRM issues with Windows Media Center this is the route I took. It has MythTV integrated for PVR and multimedia, as well as Pluto Home for home security and automation. This is a much more powerful and flexible Media Center solution verses Windows Media Center.
I got around the half-height card issues on my media center by going with the ATI TV Wonder HD 650 - connects via USB.
American Jeff's comment on the cost of Vista is a good one. You really should include all the costs in your list at the top of the article, not just your upgrade cost (ignoring the costs of parts you have sitting around the house). So, if you add in the following:
- Case: $50 (I could only find it on ebay)
- Tuner Card: $159.99
- 2 (or 3?) Hard Drives: $200 ($300?)
- Vista: $109.99 (Home Premium x64 OEM)
- PowerStrip: $29.95
That adds at least $549.93 to your original $303 for a total of (at least) $853. If you really have 3 hard drives instead of 2 and are using Vista Ultimate, then your total cost is actually around $1,000.
Thanks for adding in all you other costs. My $1,000 number was (obviously) way off. For what I designed, myself, that was over 6 months ago and the prices have dropped a lot since then. Also, I had chosen much more expensive items. I like your numbers much better than mine.
Regarding the TiVo costs, at the time, I could have bought the TiVo HD and transferred my lifetime subscription for something like $399 + $199 =~ $600. Right now, it looks like the Series3 is going for about $600 and a 3-year subscription for about $300. So, call it $900 until the upgrade urge hits again. At the time, it was much easier and cheaper to stay with TiVo. Today, it's iffy. If the CableCard issue would go away, I'd be leaning back to the HTPC side.
Question: For those that have a set-top box (I have Verizon FiOS myself), how does MCE and the TV Tuner work?
What about using a Playstation 3 as a media centre?
thing that sux bout that is if your gaming on the ps3 it can't be used as a PVR and vice versa.
I just went with the same 780g motherboard and recommend it.
for the person who recommended the asus off the shelf I have a few questions; will the asus hardware accelerate vc1? how quiet is it? can it do bitperfect audio? can it drive a separate touchscreen? how much power does it consume?
I currently have an htpc and I use it as a digital media hub.
I rip all the dvds I own, borrow or rent to it. I also store all my music on it. currently I have 1.5 tb of data and rapidly growing.
all this music and video can be watched anywhere on the network and also synced to my ipod.
as far as wifeproofing, there really Is no need once you've locked down your htpc.
that is chosen reasonable goals and put the tools in place to implement them.
my htpc has a core set of apps that I use and nothing else:
1. vista mce sp1
2. dvd decrypter.
3. mymovies 2.3 (the newer version is bloatware)
4. daemon tools.
5. itunes with auto update disabled.
7. filezilla ftp server for remote file management.
8. ffdshow (i literally don't install any other codecs)
dvd decrypter rips movies to a watched location.
cdex rips to a watched location.
right now my htpc only does sd because HD on htpc is still a minefield of crappy and expensive hardware and software.
so my htpc is just as reliable as any tivo and since my software never changes I have ghost backup that will put me right back up to speed in the case of something going wrong.
where cases are concerned antecs htpc case is almost impossible to beat; build in ir receiver, vfd, hidden drive bay, silent fans, and good looks. all around amazing piece of work.
Care to expand upon this thought?
I'm also glad to have the opportunity to support AMD because I'm desperately afraid of a world where Intel is the only CPU vendor. And you should be too.
While looking at parts I saw something interesting. Gigabyte is shipping motherboards with what it calls Dynamic Energy Saver. The wild marketing claims sound interesting but I am still looking for a solid unbiased review.
Have you hear anything about this?
You really should include all the costs in your list at the top of the article, not just your upgrade cost (ignoring the costs of parts you have sitting around the house).
Why exactly? This post is *clearly* about a upgrade to an existing vista setup not a new build.
Sounds like a very good and reality acknowledging system.
Though with Blu Ray, have you considered/tryed the netflix anydvd . xvid route?
[Please excuse this comment appearing in more than one place. I intended it to be here, in your latest blog entry at the time of the comment, and also in a somewhat related one, i.e. involving system building - but landed on the wrong blog entry when posting initially I guess.]
I know this blog entry has you up to your knees or above in comments. ;-)
I'm hoping though that a link to my recent comment / request for your advice or thoughts, on your now nine day old blog entry re: upgrading your 18 month old main home power PC, will get you to notice it, and hoepfully want to respond!
Your PC building and overclocking posts both on Scott Hanselman's system and your upgrade have I think nudged me over the edge towards rolling my own once again, though I haven't done that for a decade now (and am using a laptop as my main home system at the moment.) Time for a Vista 64 / 8gb ram / foray I think. But I need your mobo and other advice. Hence the link!
I just finished building my own HTPC. I want to share a pain point I had with playing Netflix Watch it now.
My video card had a S-video out and my TV accepted s-video. Netflix watch it now worked fine when I had a TV AND a monitor attached. But when I removed the Monitor, Netflix kept giving me a DRM error message.
I called Netflix support. The deal is: If you want to play netflix on a tv you also need a monitor plugged in. Microsoft DRM required this. No exceptions.
Having a separate monitor in my den wouldn't do. To get around this, I got a AVermedia Key Micro TV Scan Converter. It makes windows think my TV is a monitor and it will plan Netflix on the TV with out a separate monitor. Not just that, but it also got rid of some flickering and the image in general looks much better.
I'm desperately afraid of a world where Intel is the only CPU vendor
There is a very real chance AMD could go out of business, particularly since Intel is almost always the better CPU choice these days. Dual-core ultra-low idle power (while still being powerful enough to easily handle hi-def) is of the very few areas where AMD is still winning.
On an unrelated note, I finally figured out how to get AC3/DTS audio passthrough in ffdshow!
- launch "FFDShow Audio Decoder Configuration"
- select "Codecs" on the left hand tree
- switch "AC3" and "DTS" to decoder type "S/PDIF"
- check "Maximize SPDIF compatibility" at the bottom for each (the - latest FFDShow doesn't seem to have this setting, however)
Now I can play back videos with embedded AC3/DTS audio in their full glory in Windows Media Center. Prior to this, I was stuck with generic stereo output on my receiver.
Hi - i bought the ASUS barebone P2-M2A690G that comes with a very similiar AMD based mobo with ATI. Running Vista MCE.
I use the Hauppauge HVR1300, just fits the box with a little twisting (of the box, not the board).
My real question: "Has anyone gotten MCE hacked to support 2 types of tuners (i.e. an analogue cable tuner and a DVB-T tuner)"? It's a stupid limitation of MCE only to support one type of tuners at a time. MCE recognizes both tuners, but to get all the channels and EPG to work on both is not possible (I haven't yet found a hack to do so).
And a few comments:
Cool n' Quiet - works out of the box.
QFan also but lowest fan speed is too high - i now use SpeedFan instead, only annoying thing is the high speed while booting before speedfan takes over (you have to disable the QFan control in the bios). http://www.almico.com/sfdownload.php
I also have the problems with the box starting up in the middle of the night - it's the RTC but haven't been able to track the app down yet - powercfg (that's part of Vista is a great tool to check your sleep settings and you can see the cause of the last wake up event). To check your sleep'ability a great tool is Sleeper. http://www.passmark.com/products/sleeper.htm
So if anyone has some good tips here please let me know.
Sometimes the system does not wake up correctly, and I have to restart - i still think that this is the BIOS - latest BIOS update fixed a lot of issues - but not all, and ASUS support is poor, very poor.
Jeff - Thanks for the tip on the ATI drivers resetting to 100% - have seen this error as well - does it on reboot.
For most people there isn't really a difference in processors. Most people have their processor idle most of the time. The thing really comes down to marketing. Even here in Brazil I see intel ads in TV. Also Core 2 Duo have a more appealing name than Turion and such. Remember the Pentium 4 era? 3ghz processor with absurd power usage and still, quite a sucess.
And who says that AMD can't come up with a better chip like they did with the 939 socket?
You discuss playback performance, but how does that setup cope for *recording* 2x hi-def digital broadcasts at the same time? That seems to be a real litmus test for HTPC's.
What about sound card and speakers. U've forgotten those!
Those onboard sound solutions SUCK! Need an x-fi from creative or auzentech or ASUS Xonar with good DACs and/or digital out and processing. Logitech z-5500 for a 5.1 solution or AudioEngine A5 as a 2 channel setup.
The reason I suggest including all costs of building an HTPC in the article is because:
- the article is entitled: "Building Your Own Home Theater PC"
- the second sentence of the article is: "It's shocking how cheap and easy it is to build a home theater PC these days."
- and, the last sentence of the article is: "If you haven't considered building your own home theater PC -- why not?"
It's not the end of the world if Jeff doesn't include all the costs. It's just that it would be more complete and provide better service if the article gave some idea of the true costs of building an HTPC.
The reason I mention this is because after the Fall 2007 TiVo software update, I was seriously considering throwing in the towel on TiVo and building my own HTPC. I kept seeing references to how cheap it was to do this. So, I went and priced it out. Surprise! It is NOT cheap. Even throwing in a lifetime TiVo subscription or figuring a 3 year useful life, it's still cheaper and easier to have the TiVo.
The price issue can unfold in a couple of different ways, too. Once I figured out that an HTPC would cost over $1,000 to build, I thought I'd make it MORE than just an HTPC. But, to do that, I wanted (needed?) to upgrade the motherboard, CPU, video card, and cooling (and how about a sound card, keyboard, and mouse (or [drooling] speakers and a receiver?). Even more expensive. So, what about re-using old components I have here in the house (like Jeff)? Well, all my old stuff is OLD. P4-level stuff with horrible power consumption (and, therefore, noisy). As Jeff mentioned in another post, "When Hardware is Free, Power is Expensive:"
Anyway, given the implications in the article, it would be better to include all costs.
Jeff is using optical digital out, so all decoding is done at his receiver. This means no yucky cheap DACs to muck everything up.
Does anyone have any good resources on setting up an xbox 360 as a media center extender? I have looked around on thegreenbutton.com and googled a bit and I can't find any good, well written guides.
So this is just Analog in from the cable out to an EDTV?
how does that setup cope for *recording* 2x hi-def digital broadcasts at the same time?
Generally recording is hardware assisted, so the only thing the PC has to do is write the stream to disk. This is all I/O to disk. Since the high-definition stream is already compressed video at that point, it's not a particularly great I/O load. But I suppose it could be; at that point you'd want a separate fast 3.5" disk for your recording and a nice quiet 2.5" disk operating system, and you should be fine.
What about sound card and speakers. U've forgotten those!
The receiver is doing all the decoding of the digital audio data.. you could certainly use the Logitech Z-5500 series, just plug the optical out from the mobo into the optical in of the Z-5500.
So this is just Analog in from the cable out to an EDTV?
Yep, all recordings created on this box are by definition analog cable. Unfortunately, the world of digital cable (aka CableCard) in Windows is pretty 'DRM' scary: "The computer has to have a special bios and an additional product key [to use a CableCard reader]". See lots of info here:
Still, I find that the selection of downloadable HD content is fairly robust. Wink wink nudge nudge.
I have a HD Home Run and it is an excelent tuner for the HD channels my cable provider has. It is a network attached tuner and is a bit annoying to get running but once it's setup it acts just like a regular tuner. Most of them are QAM so it will pick those up without a problem. It won't tune analog signals so you'll still need a tuner in your box.
Curious what keyboards/pointing devices folks are using for HTPC. I have the Microsoft one and the point stick is terrible. I have another RF one and it drops keys constantly. Looking for a good one...
I remember a while back reading your blog about efficient power supplies. I bought one for myself and loved it so much, I bought one for my wife. My computer room is so much more peaceful and quiet! Just wanted to say thanks!
Meh... Nothing all that special here. I can buy a Mac mini with a smaller hard disk but includes an OS (with Front Row), a remote and warranty and customer support for about $40 more. When I can cobble together a decent media PC that I can leave running 24x7 without worrying about power consumption for under $350 then maybe I'll replace the DVD and Tivo.
It is nice to read the notes about being able to connect to a standard ED Plasma which is what I still have.
I started frequenting this blog a few years ago because there were relevant postings about programming and human factors. In fact, it had me with, and I quote, "if you've written code, you've failed".
Jeff, now it's mainly you talking about your latest toy. You come across as a guy with enough time and deep pockets on your hands to build (another) "HTPC" or acquire the latest racing sim seat or whatever. It's boring, and you're gonna start dropping in the ratings.
That all sounds cool, I definately like using a media center as opposed to normal telivision or opposed to fumbling through all my DVD's to find something I want to watch. I went the route of Xbox 360 though, given that I play games too it just seemed a more logical case. I still store my videos on my PC, but I can use a program called TVersity to more or less play them as a stream to the 360. I initially attempted to use Windows Media Center (given that I acctually bought Windows Vista Ultimate) but I found that when trying to play on the Xbox, it had more support of video codecs (only able to play .wmv files and I wasn't about to spend all kinds of time converting all my avi's and mpegs).
I've got a similar rig that I've been running for a couple of weeks now. The motherboard is definitely sketchy. You need the latest Catalyst drivers, the updated F4 bios, and a couple of patches from Realtek.
Initially, it would constantly "lose" my TV and then forget it had digital video output, requiring me to use a VGA cable to get a desktop back. It would then only display in low colour mode.
Since applying the stuff I mentioned in the first paragraph, it has become infinitely better. It still occasionally forgets that it is outputting sound through the HDMI cable, but it is a lot better. I think a couple of more revisions of drivers will have it sorted.
One issue I ran into was lack of audio using the HDMI connection. For some reason (I suspect more DRM garbage), Vista shuts off the audio portion of the HDMI output whenever I play a DVD. I could just connect the separate audio directly to my receiver, but then it wouldn't be synchronized with the video (one big negative of an LCD HDTV - all that signal processing takes time. Enough time to desynch the audio and video display. The TV has delay circuitry built in, so if you run both the audio and video through the TV, like HDMI is supposed to do, then have the TV feed audio to your receiver, everything works fine. Vista won't allow this for DVD - sigh). I can watch recorded videos and such just fine, just can't watch a DVD.
My main sticking point before I jump in- Since, obviously, there's no way to use your media as a digital-cable box (I'll just call it DCB for short) due to cablecard restrictions- Is there a way to control your DCB FROM the media PC? Make it flip channels, etc? Ideally I would like to have a setup where I could set my media PC to record certain things on certain days, and have it just flip the station of my DCB on the correct day, at the correct time.
I've heard of people achieving this particular level of voodoo with the linux equivalent, MythTV (Flame Retardent: "equivalent" in this context means "Media Center is to Windows as MythTV is to Linux") but the thing that always trips me up when attempting anything complex or new in Linux is trying to get so many different peices of hardware to work together in harmony.
Thanks for speccing out a cheap but powerful setup- I tried a while ago, and I think I overestimated what would be required because my end cost hit around $1200- Though that was a year or two ago- and it just wasn't worth that big an investment to me.
I really, really wish I could go the HTPC route, but HD is the deal breaker. I know there are OTA options, but without the ability to pull HD content from Dish network, my HTPC wouldn't get used (FWIW - Dish's claim that their box is "better than Tivo" had to have been uttered by someone who was a complete retard, or really stoned.)
Hopefully the DirecTV tuner will ship soon. I'd switch for that alone.
I can buy a Mac mini with a smaller hard disk but includes an OS (with Front Row), a remote and warranty and customer support for about $40 more
Not really an Apples-to-Apples (I know, I kill myself) comparison, though, is it?
- *far* more powerful graphically
- slightly more powerful CPU
- has HDMI, eSATA, and optical out
- 2GB vs 1GB RAM
- tiny hard drive (120gb max)
- records television
- a million times easier to upgrade (seriously, have you ever tried opening a Mac Mini?)
a couple of patches from Realtek.
Geoff, which patches are these? And what do they fix?
I'm using optical out and the VGA connection for now, but if I upgrade my television I may use HDMI and/or DVI to connect in the future.
hmm you do not confuse the build quality that you will get with an acer vs the components that Jeff has chosen.
As with most things in life you get what you pay for.
hmm do not confuse the build quality that you will get with an acer vs the components that Jeff has chosen.
It is unlikely that you will get anywhere near the same low power consumption with the acer.
46 watts is amazing
As with most things in life, you get what you pay for.
Yeah I don't get the Front Row/Mini comparison either. Front Row is no MCE but then isn't trying to be as it only puts a dorm-room-perfect interface on existing capabilities. If you've got a DVD player and Tivo already the mini doesn't really add much. In that case an Apple Tv would be a far better - cheaper, rentable movies etc. - choice.
for those of you on the Media Center bandwagon... are you using extenders? I can't find any that will play DivX content out of the box. Any recommendations?
Great post - I'm now jealous of your low standby power consumption since my HTPC build from last year runs at around 80-90W at idle.
One thing, though, is that I would highly recommend using automatic standby. I'm not 100% sure about MCE, but I use BeyondTV and it will automatically wake up the machine for recordings, which can save so much more power. With S3 (STR), I'm using only 1-2W more than if the machine is in S4 (hib) or S5 (soft off).
I just built a system with the very same board... But... I installed Vista. It entered a cycle of doom when it saw one of the devices I installed doesn't have a recent driver (a netgear internal wireless card)(which it did) and eventually it started up with an option to override the cycle... But aside from the vista fluke, it's a nice system.
I was surprise with the Windows rating myself. What's up with that? Least it comes with a PCI x16 2.0 slot just in case.
wow. Media Center. I will have to read up on this, as I have just been staying at my sisters, who was persuaded to move from a mac running osx and eyetv to windows and media center.
I was looking after her house while she was away, and as a windows head, I expected to enjoy the new setup.
I was shocked to my core. Want to record a tv program while watching a dvd? sorry... I get asked 'do you want to cancel the recording and watch a dvd?'. Want to watch 1 channel while recording another... nope. even with my Hauppage dual tv tuner? Nope - which makes no sense.
Living in the UK, can I get the guide downloaded...? Nope. the tech guy told me everyone in the UK is having the problem because of British summertime. I cannot quite believe this (partly because the tech guy has been known to be a waste of space in the past)
Everyday having to spend 5 minutes to reboot the machine because it didn't shut down live tv recording.... which recorded 20 hours of tv! Nowhere I can find to say...'keep only 1 hour in the buffer'
Only 1 success.... causing my sister to faint when informed that her Windows head brother wanted to kill someone at Microsoft (primarily the interface designer, but maybe a couple of bullets for the functional spec guy's legs)
Now I read this entry with the seemingly inoccuous sentence 'I've been a fan of Windows Media Center.....'
I shall join a forum, scour the net for information on what I am obviously missing, revisit my sisters house and do what the tech guy obviously can't (set it up properly) and show my Sister that Blow Jobs is still just an overdressed underachiever.
Hi Geoff, a great write up. I've been meaning to replace the innards on my MCE for ages and finally upgrade to Vista from XP (I've had the disc since launch but whenever I have tried vista I've reverted).
I have a couple of questions. Firstly I assume that this set up will play Bluray fine? Secondly How does turning the volume up and down work for you? At the moment on my set up if there is a digital output the MCE remote has no effect on volume, I have to use the amp remote.
I have 3 MCE's in my house that all record to 1 Windows Home server so I can watch all the recorded TV in any house. It works quite well but I've had to use a non-storage pool drive for the TV as WHS couldn't cope with balancing as stuff was recorded.