My HTPC Build

MooCow

Well-known Member
Thought I would log my build while we go.

The goal is to replace a few items of kit we have under the telly both by consolidation of items into one box and also will be upgrading to 1080p media playback from digital video files - something my ATV2 cannot do.
It will be replacing my EPIA download and server box in my office - runs MP3 jukebox, backups and file storage for my home network. Its a good enough machine but I don't see the need to have two PCs up all the time. I am either going to virtualise it's services into a VMWare machine on the new HTPC host or replicate them in Windows equivalents.

I can safety say, we have long been a "HTPC" house, long before the likes of HDTV (and with it easy pc connections!) we used to run video CDs from my works laptop all hooked up in super quality composite video :D
I had an attempt at building a dedicated media PC a while back, using Windows XP Media Centre edition and a Hauppage PVR card. Was clumsy but worked.

Anyway as I have knocked the Sky HD on the head as I can no longer justify it (the daughter watches Nickelodeon and we watch a bit of Atlantic or new Sky One shows, that's about it for paid for channels. Main loss would be the Plus functionality) , I had to come up with a wife friendly PVR solution, preferably something all in one compactish unit that wont be seen or heard.
Acer "Revo" style boxes were straight away discounted. The lack of expansion slots means I would be restricted in tuner choices, plus I am not that overwhelmed by the Atom chipsets when you get into doing any grunt work - including unzipping or encoding duties which may become required, and also lightweight gaming is out with them. Also adding more storage negates any power savings when you have to put a couple of TB on another powered drive externally.

First the components:
A mixture of new and second hand parts have been sourced, one to keep costs down a bit but also to allow me to get some better parts that I will keep hold of.

Case and Power:
Lian Li V350. £45
By design this became the sort of case I was after. No half height card malarkey, and because of the side mounting to the optical drives means I can fit in the cupboard of our media unit without any depth issues - a lot of standard HTPC cases are above my limit especially once you add a PSU lead or some such. Sourced a second hand one from classifieds
Corsair VX450 PSU £37
Bit of a score IMO. This is a very decent rebranded Seasonic PSU and there is nothing close in this sort of price range new. 120mm quiet fan and meshed rear. Should be quiet enough and also has 80+ efficiency rating which should help keep the power costs down on this always on box.

Storage and Optical:
2 X Samsung HD103SJ 1TB Drives.
I have been running a pair of these in my main PC and one in my low power EPIA downloader/home server for a while with no issues. They are quiet enough with proper isolated mounting of some kind and as I can extract them from the machines above it was a no brainer. Should provide ample storage for my media needs for the time being and enough PVR space too. From my other machines
Samsung SH-B123L - just happens to be what turned up on the classifieds. No idea if it (or any) Blu-ray drives provide much in the way of benefits over their counterparts.

CPU, Memory and Motherboard:
CPU £25 - Core 2 Duo E5400. Should be enough for my needs, I can always upgrade or swap it with my Q6600 in my main PC if it starts to struggle, but should be fine with the graphics card taking most the brunt of decoding.
Memory £30 - 8GB DDR3 - with this so cheap at the moment, it seemed rude not to. 30 quid buys me some decent Corsair RAM and as I am going to be running a few background services on this machine may as well buy now.
Motherboard £32 - Gigabyte GA-G41MT-S2P. Chosen for a couple of reasons. Firstly it has decent cool running caps on it so less heat, is passive on northbridge cooling and also it has two PCI x1 slots meaning I can always add another tuner card later.

Fans and CPU Cooling:
CPU cooler £bundled with Bluray £50 - Scythe Big Shuriken. A quiet CPU cooler is a must IMO when going for something that is likely to be on most it's life and this fits the bill. Nice big 120mm fan, low profile and from 10dbA noise too.
Fans £6 each - Antec TrueQuiet 120mm - bit of a punt these where, having never tried them before but am I glad I did! Have had them hooked up to my main PC upstairs and they are inaudible at low speed (come with a two way switch for high/low speed). Rubber isolation mounts and a keen price made them a winner.

Graphics:
Radeon 6450 £30 - passive and low profile capable if needed. Seemed to be another no-brainer after reading reviews. Cheap, passive, 1080p acceleration, fairly low power and deals with HD audio no problem too. I don't expect it to run a lot of gaming stuff but should be capable with some emulation tasks I have planned for future on this machine as well as 3D support should I go for a new TV in the coming months.

Sat S2 Tuner Card:
TBS 6981 - not actually bought this part yet but seems to be a perfect choice. We have no aerial plumbed in our house so will be using the old Sky dish which is currently feeding our Sky HD box.

Whole lot will be hooked into our 46" Panny plasma fed from a single HDMI via my Yamaha RXV371. Control will be a combination of my Harmony One for day to day usage, IR provided by my old Microsoft receiver which I am hoping will be fine, and there will be a wireless mouse and keyboard for internet usage and finally either Ipad or Iphone control using Hippo Remote.

This should produce me some cost savings though, at least that's how I have sold the few hundred upfront costs LOL. The parts it replaces, Sky HD box, ATV2, Panny blu-ray, EPIA server will all be sold off at some point in time so that should recoup some money. Additionally there will be no £60 a month Sky bill coming in which is replaced with a single £30 odd BT bill and the benefits of Infinity 40 meg broadband ;)
 

MooCow

Well-known Member
First Steps
Frontend!
I know this is normally after the hardware has gone in place, but bare with me.
As I want to try a few different bits of software to get the PVR and media playback all sorted AND I don't want to put anything more on the box than I need (don't like the clutter it leaves behind and the wife is not going to be happy launching multiple programs on the box to get her music or movies without me showing her) I am doing the frontend tests in VMWare on my main PC.

Choices:

MediaPortal - could be good, but the configuration is convoluted in so many ways. Massively flexible but I am not sure if I want to learn it all.

Windows 7 Media Centre - top rate PVR functionality from what I have seen of my brothers, wife friendly navigation. Looks like a day at Lego Land though, really not digging the bright colours. Seems to lack basics like removal of items from the menu I don't want (I really don't want to end up with many links to films and the like - thing already has Films and Movies as separate items, then I would be adding a third one with MediaBrowser. Don't want links to internet TV from MSN either, why is it so difficult to allow me to remove those?). Could be a runner though with support from the Media Browser addon - though this then needs a separate addon for scraper functions too. Could get messy.

Meedios - crashed five or six times within as many minutes. Probably a missing component or incompatibility but doesn't offer much over any of the others and I have concerns on stability, I don't want the wife missing recordings or ringing me at work when she can't watch anything at all through it.

XBMC - would have been my first choice as the wife is "trained" on using it having had a Xbox 1 running it, our old Apple TV and our new second gen one too. I am also a dab hand at the configuration so I can tailor menus and the like BUT no PVR functions. Grrrr

Update 09/12/2011:

Looks like it is going to be W7MC, really is the only one that works like the Sky HD box for PVR stuff and having dug further into themes and plugins looks like I can make it do what I want.
Mediaportal was looking like the front runner, but needs as much work as W7MC to make it actually end up as I would like it (the theme system is especially complex in places - only certain themes work with certain plugins...hmmm)

Think W7MC, plus Media Browser (and scraper) for Tv and Movie metadata and a little bit of theme tweaking should work out fine
 
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MooCow

Well-known Member
Arrival of some new parts :)

Click for larger pics



Additional parts that have come so far:
CPU
Lian Li V350
Corsair VX450
Scythe Cooler
Samsung BD-ROM

And from my cupboard of parts:
2x Samsung 1TB F3/F4 drives (one of each type)
Unfortunately I didn't note the lack of onboard RAID on this motherboard I bought, but will probably just put aside 250 - 500GB for PVR use on one of them and the rest will be for other media types and OS/apps.

Putting it together, the Lian Li was missing it's fan holder (part the reason it was only 45 quid I guess) but no trouble.
A bit of marking out the fan locations:


A quick drill - 4mm drill bit was perfect, just about the right size


And some rubber "screws" to mount the fans.:


Job Done!

Seriously impressed with these fans, literally no noise or vibrations from them at full speed (they have a built in high/low switch), they already have built in silicon dampers which is the yellow bits. A good purchase.

CPU fan was a pain in the rear, the motherboard caps got in the way mounting the heatpipes front to back, just about cleared them when turned through 90 degrees. Literally down to less than a mm clearance phew!


A few hours of messing around. The cable routing in the V350 is stupidly difficult, especially running power connections to the hard disks which is a separate enclosure in it's own right.
Could do with a quick butchering to the optical mounting area to feed through the PSU cables. But not a bad job considering its a fairly small case I think, certainly should be no airflow issues with it all tucked out the way:




Just waiting on the tuner card (TBS 6981 dual S2) to arrive now and finishing up the Windows installation, drivers and the like.

Whole thing is ridiculously quiet for a PC, can just about hear the drives with everything else in the front room off and I haven't enabled AAM on them yet or tucked the HTPC away inside the media unit.
Looking good so far!
 
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spyder viewer

Distinguished Member
Your comments on the appearance of WMC are interesting: and I agree with you but to be honest, using a decent windows remote, I don't even see them. I very seldom need to navigate through the WMC menus. I'd completely forgotten about the link to MSN media (at least they've dumped the link to Skyplayer).
 

MooCow

Well-known Member
Spyder, can you assign hotkeys to jump straight to live tv, movies and the like? I don't have a current MS remote so not sure if that is possible.
Media Centre is still looking like the front runner at the minute, if I can custom it up a little
 

steford

Active Member
There are keys to jump to specific areas yes - LiveTV, RecTV, Pics, Music, Videos and Guide. Getting keys to do other things eg launch other apps is a little more involved and I haven't found a decent solution as yet.

My thinking about front end was exactly the same as yours. Only downside of 7MC is that it can only record 1 program per tuner whereas Mediaportal can record as many as you like from the same tuner/transponder. Apart from that I've found 7MC excellent apart from a few idiosyncrasies which rear their ugly head every few months.

I didn't bother with MediaBrowser - just the icons and description in Recorded TV are enough for me. Also don't use Movies other than for the excellent movie guide.

7MC has happily replaced Sky and Tivo, costs less and gives more functionality with the downside being the loss of a few, rarely watched channels.
 
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MooCow

Well-known Member
More work to do this weekend, my TBS 6981 has turned up just before I was ready to leave work. Nice!

Major updates on the above posts too with pictures and what not.
 

MooCow

Well-known Member
Disappointment with the setup so far. Hooked it all up to the tv last night, popped in the sat feeds and got the screen setup lovely. Even managed to try out a bluray and was looking good. Few quirks to work through, the HD channels it would seem MS planner doesn't seem to know anything about them and BBC1 HD is nowhere to be found.
Started it all up again this morning and now got black bars around the screen and all the video settings appear to have become undone! Worst though now the bluray playback is just stuttering all over the place, CPU activity is locked at nigh on 100%.
It's like the graphics drivers have reset though I didn't update them at all and is Like it's missing the hardware decoding.
 

hessman

Active Member
There does seem to be a few issues with some of the latest blu rays. Causing one CPU core to max out. TMT 3/5 and powerdvd, windvd have all been experiencing problems.
 

MooCow

Well-known Member
Thanks Hessman, it was the new Star Wars (original trilogy) I was using TMT 5 and funnily enough it was a 100% of one core.
May have a try of some of my others
 

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