Before starting a HTPC build and posting questions, please take the time to read this thread and look at the following posts. These are complete start to finish HTPC build threads (and some still on-going). They all serve slightly different purposes and use different hardware/software and video/audio setups. There should be at least one that you can use a basis for your own build. All of them include build pictures and answer all the recurring questions that pop-up. (cases, hardware, software, cooling, noise, codecs, operating system etc etc) So please use the "search" feature before posting! mickwall HTPC MK1 - E4400 Core2Duo 2 x 2.0ghz CPU based on seperate motherboard and ATI 2600 Pro Graphics solution (No HD-DVD or Blu-ray, mainly used for file based playback using Zoom Player on XP sending audio to amp via spdif) http://www.avforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=586977 mickwall HTPC MK2 - AMD 4050a 2 x 2.1ghz CPU based on all-in-one Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H 780G motherboard with Nova-S2 satellite card for ITV-HD! http://www.avforums.com/forums/showpost.php?p=7089148&postcount=353 tinners (Blu-Ray and HD-DVD included with Media Centre front running Vista) http://www.avforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=596169 TeresaTT (another Blu-Ray and HD-DVD build) http://www.avforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=647458 Azzin (one of the original threads that inspired most of us with HD-DVD and Blu-Ray) http://www.avforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=527682 aerobic247 (dual drive with touchscreen case!) http://www.avforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=615029 hickmeister (a simple core 2 duo blu-ray build with a ATI 3450 graphics card! with good build pics!) http://www.avforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=713771 Theydon Bois (another great Blu-Ray build around a Q6600 and ATI 3470 card with an amazing use of MediaPortal front-end) http://www.avforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=718709 Missing Remote Website (This article builds budget systems using new "all-in-one" motherboards) - Thanks Tinners! http://www.missingremote.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2672&Itemid=1 Software Once you've got you hardware built you need to think about installing the correct software. For Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, the easiest option is to use Power DVD. (which may or may not come bundled with your Blu-Ray drive). This can also be used for standard DVD's. For File-Based files (mkv, wmv as well as standard DVD's). Then theres plenty of "free" software out there. It comes in two parts 1. The Player. Think of this as your front end. Examples being Vista Media Centre (VMC), Zoom Player, Media Portal and even basic Windows Media Player And 2. The Codecs. Before any of the above players will play your file you need underlying "codecs" to recognise the file type you are trying to play, make sense of the content, decode the file and pass the output to the player. And for each filetype(ie mkv, wmv) you will need a seperate "codec" installed. Now for each filetype there can be different codecs you could use, so with that in mind i created the "Codec and Software Help Thread". (see below) Common codecs are ffdshow, coreavc etc Codec Help Thread (and other playback software help) http://www.avforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=652538 Performance Thread(shows mkv playback is cpu only) Another useful thread that I created shows that for file based playback, you don't need a stunning graphics card, its all CPU power. This thread also shows the hardware acceleration you get from HD capable graphics card when playing HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. http://www.avforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=666171 The thread also serves the purpose of answering the popular question.... "Why can't i get hardware acceleration on my MKV files?" In 99% of cases ANY graphics card, no matter what make or model WILL NOT HELP at all with mkv files. A HD accelerated graphics card only becomes useful when playing original blu-ray and hd-dvd media. See the performance thread to find out about the other 1% HD Audio Below is a very useful reply by Wo0zy to a question about HD Audio on HTPC's The full thread is here for info: http://www.avforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=758861 After reading a post on a different forum I am under the impression that PCs may be somewhat limited in the audio that they can decode. From what I understand a PC can only output DD or DTS (and in some cases LPCM) over HDMI. Obviously SPDIF does not have the bandwidth to output high definition sound so the only solution for outputting DTS-MA or DD True HD is via the analogue of (certain?) soundcards. Is this right? Any thoughts? Mostly yes. Whether you go down the analog route or go for a motherboard with support for multi-channel LPCM over HDMI, the software player still needs to decode the HD audio first as we have no HD audio bitstream solution for the PC ATM. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly only HDMI 1.3 has the protocol support for sending HD audio as bitstream (and this is a option not a requirement hence the reason that NVIDIA's 8200 chipset claims to be 1.3 but doesn't support it). All other PC-based HDMI solutions are 1.2 or less. Secondly, the AACS demands "Protect Audio Path" drivers in order to allow untouched HD audio to be sent and currently there aren't any. This is why all of the HD playback applications are "forced" to downsample HD audio during the decode. Cyberlink are apparently working with a number of hardware vendors to develop a secure audio solution but this isn't expected for a while. Having said that, even downsampled HD audio sent via multi-channel LPCM to a good AVR sounds very good indeed. I'm sure there are also plenty of people that will claim to be happy with the results they get sending analog via "high end" soundcards as well. Personally I would always trust a good AVR to process my audio if possible. Hope this helps. Wo0zy People always ask what the minimum spec is for a HTPC, here's what I believe. For Seperate motherboard/graphic card solutions: 2.0ghz dual core processor 1gb ram (2gb preferable for Vista) A graphics card capable of decoding HD (ATI 2400XT, (not 2400pro), or any 2600 ,2900 or 3x00 series, plus Nvidia 8x00 series to name but a few). It also has to be HDCP compliant.(For Blu-Ray and HD-DVD playback) *Note* The ATI 3650 has replaced the 2600 series and as such is now the recommended bottom line card for HTPC use. Whilst it is possible to play lower HD files(720) on lesser hardware than above, this is the recommended spec is for 1080p file based playback and Blu-Ray/HD-DVD use. For integrated all in one solutions then its got to be: Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H 780G Socket AM2+ onboard VGA 8 channel audio mATX Corsair 2GB Kit (2x1GB) DDR2 800MHz/PC2-6400 XMS2 Memory Non-ECC Unbuffered CL4(5-5-5-12) AMD Athlon 64 X2 4050e 2.1GHz Socket AM2 Energy Efficient 1MB L2 Cache Retail As you can see from these performance graphs, both the above solutions will play ALL HD MATERIAL: Operating is down to personal choice. As shown in the above builds either XP or Vista can be used. Other software to factor into the cost of your build is the price of PowerDVD Deluxe(required for HD-DVD or Blu-Ray playback) Other recommended places for HTPC info are: http://www.projecthtpc.co.uk/ http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/forumdisplay.php?f=26/ (the US equivalent of this very forum) Useful post regarding ATI & nVidia DVI>HDMI dongle/adapter (a well asked question, thanks tinners) http://www.avforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=711277 Great Thread about getting a XBOX 360 Wireless Pad working on your HTPC. http://www.avforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=762354 Missing Remote Website's "Top 10 things to do with a Media PC" http://www.missingremote.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2294&Itemid=1 Obviously this sticky is by no means complete, so please get involved. I'd love to add guides and links for the following. Capture Cards Any other topics or links that need adding? Please PM me. [Theydon Bois Comment] - Removed all the moderator notes as this post is now included as a Sticky rather than being one.