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I want to build a HTPC

king awesomeking awesome Registered User regular
So I want to build a HTPC. I don't need to do video capture but I need to output the video and audio over HDMI out to the tv. I'm not really sure where to start or what is good for HTPCs. I just recently built a gaming rig for myself but obviously this is a completely different focus as I want something that is quiet and small.

Just looking for people who have maybe built one recently or know of some good parts that would be good. Also, what OS would be the best to run for something like this?

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Posts

  • Dark ShroudDark Shroud Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    All you'll need for audio/video output is a video card with Native HDMI. ATI has a lot of decoders built into the card. If you want quit then you'll want something with a passive cooler.

    First & formost is do you want this build to play Blu-ray? This is an important question for the CPU you'll need.

    Here's a starting place:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811144231

    Dark Shroud on
  • honkymcgoohonkymcgoo Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    I built one not too long ago. My card is a radeon HD4850 and it does HDMI and handles blu ray and anything else perfectly. My case is a thermaltake bach media lab case, it fits really well since its black and matches up nicely with everything else in the home entertainment area. Also, its an aluminum case so its a little nicer for heat dissipation. Lots of vents too, and fairly quiet. The other nice thing is the front USB ports let me plug in my wired 360 controllers for playing emulators with. Im running an athlon 64X2 3600+ with 3 gigs of ram. As far as OS goes Im just running XP. I use VLC to play everything but blu rays which play with powerdvd just fine. I dont do any DVR functions or anything so I cant speak to how well those work on XP.

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  • mcdermottmcdermott Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    Might want to look at this thread (different forum), which details some HTPC builds (jump to page 85 or so). It was recommended in another HTPC thread here a while back.

    Looks like the smart money is on a passively cooled discrete video card that does HDMI out and will do most/all of your video decoding for you, such as the Radeon 4550 (you don't need anything more powerful than that, really...and there are some passively-cooled 4550s). That way you can pair it with a nice low-power and low-heat processor, which won't necessarily spend all that much time clocked up anyway. Match with a nice quiet PSU which provides no more power than necessary (make sure you consider any drives you'll have, and then add a little for good measure), again keeping heat to a minimum, and a decent case with some nice quiet fans.

    If you're going to be doing optical/RCA SPDIF out to your receiver separately (rather than using the HDMI SPDIF out) then you'll want to make sure you get a motherboard that has/does what you need.

    As for OS, what do you plan to do with it? Window Media Center? Go with Vista, or wait for 7 (and use 7RC for now). Just playing Hulu/Netflix/etc., some downloaded/ripped video, and the like? Might be fine with XP, or possibly even Linux (not sure about Hulu/etc. on Linux).

    Get a remote. It's worth it. Either a simple standalone remote, or hell maybe pair it with some kind of tuner capture card.

    For hard drives, quiet and cool is better than large and/or fast. You can always use network storage for the bulk of your video. Especially if you go wired. But I've had little problem streaming low-bitrate (10Mbps or so) HD video wirelessly.

    This is mostly just my observations, mind you...when in doubt, I'd listen to the dudes in that other forum.

    Don't forget to budget for a wireless keyboard and mouse. With the on-screen keyboard from the accessibility menu, you can generally get by with just the mouse (once you've got everything set up).


    EDIT: Also, those sample builds on page 85 have supposedly been updated just this month. So definitely a good place to start. Provided are various sample builds at different price points, using different combination of AMD/INTEL/ATI/NVIDIA hardware, and in different form factors (MicroATX, MiniATX, and ATX).

    EDIT: Also, in a pinch if you get a mobo with bluetooth or a bluetooth dongle/card, the Wii Remote works quite nicely as a remote control, and paired with a wireless sensor bar (so the Wii doesn't need to be on) it makes a nice pointer/mouse. If you have a Wii. Personally I'd still prefer an IR remote, though, just so I could program my Harmony to go with it.

    mcdermott on
  • king awesomeking awesome Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    Thanks for all the great replies! :^:

    I'll be spending the day making a shopping list.

    My initial thoughts were hulu/netflix + downloaded shows and music. Basically a general purpose media center. I hadn't even thought about blu-ray until you guys mentioned it :o But it would probably be a good idea to throw in there as sort of future proofing the build a bit.

    king awesome on
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  • 1ddqd1ddqd Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    What's the budget?

    1ddqd on
  • MarvellousMMarvellousM Registered User
    edited May 2009
    A word of warning, I built an HTPC and put XP MCE on it. I thought I'd try Windows 7 with it and installed to a partition. It installed fine but it simply refused to output over HDMI. I couldn't find a solution but I don't know if its an isolated problem relating to my particular hardware setup.

    My HTPC has the Apevia X-Master case that was recommended earlier and I love it. I have this mobo which has HDMI on-board if you want to save a little money, I can run HD content off my hard drive perfectly in XBMC. I have the 640GB WD Green hard drive linked above and everything has been working great so far. I also recommend a remote, I got this one which Newegg was doing a bunch of combo deals with, its not made to function with XP but one of the user reviews has a guide to make it work and its a great remote.

    Have fun I had a blast making my HTPC.

    MarvellousM on
  • Dark ShroudDark Shroud Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    It installed fine but it simply refused to output over HDMI. I couldn't find a solution but I don't know if its an isolated problem relating to my particular hardware setup.

    This is why it's best to let the video card handle it. Plus the ATI cards have h.264 hardware decoding native in the card. ATI is pretty good with their drivers so the cards are already working fine in Win7. Also, that remote is a great find, thanks! :)

    Dark Shroud on
  • fshavlakfshavlak Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    It installed fine but it simply refused to output over HDMI. I couldn't find a solution but I don't know if its an isolated problem relating to my particular hardware setup.

    This is why it's best to let the video card handle it. Plus the ATI cards have h.264 hardware decoding native in the card. ATI is pretty good with their drivers so the cards are already working fine in Win7. Also, that remote is a great find, thanks! :)

    Do you know if this is supported in their linux drivers? They've been pretty good about keeping them current recently, so maybe.

    I ask because I have a MythTV box running Gentoo that's going to be replaced/upgraded to handle HD content, and I'd like to just throw Mythbuntu on it because I like MythTV. I know it won't do blu-ray but I'm OK with that.

    fshavlak on
  • king awesomeking awesome Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    1ddqd wrote: »
    What's the budget?

    None really, I obviously don't want to spend a couple grand on this thing, but it's not like I'm restricted to any price point.

    king awesome on
    Bigsushi.fm
    Listen to our podcast, read our articles, tell us how much you hate it and how to make it better ;)
  • risumonrisumon Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    Anandtech looks at the Ion platform

    I read this article and think I would like something similar while building and HTPC. Small, low power, HDMI output, and cheap.

    risumon on
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  • MarvellousMMarvellousM Registered User
    edited May 2009
    It installed fine but it simply refused to output over HDMI. I couldn't find a solution but I don't know if its an isolated problem relating to my particular hardware setup.

    This is why it's best to let the video card handle it. Plus the ATI cards have h.264 hardware decoding native in the card. ATI is pretty good with their drivers so the cards are already working fine in Win7. Also, that remote is a great find, thanks! :)
    Yep, I'm picking up one of these in a week or two :)

    MarvellousM on
  • RandomEngyRandomEngy Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    If you plan on playing HD video files from your computer, I suggest getting a good enough processor to do it all in software: which means for 1080p something that's a Core 2 or better (shouldn't be too hard these days). You can try and do video card decoding but it will fail on certain files and you'll be sad.

    RandomEngy on
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  • SandersSanders Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    Here's a really interesting article I read a few days ago from tomshardware on building an HTPC using Windows 7.

    Might not want to use their exact parts, but there's a few good points I did not previously consider in an HTPC and it includes both pros and cons of using Windows 7 (as of current RC build).

    Sanders on
  • RohanRohan Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    RandomEngy wrote: »
    If you plan on playing HD video files from your computer, I suggest getting a good enough processor to do it all in software: which means for 1080p something that's a Core 2 or better (shouldn't be too hard these days). You can try and do video card decoding but it will fail on certain files and you'll be sad.

    Not necessarily... for our media pc last year we went with a cheap Acer desktop. It has a Pentium Dual-Core E2160 (1.8GHz), 2GB PC6400 RAM and we added a Radeon HD3450, two 1TB hard drives and the LG GGC-H20L Blu-Ray/HD-DVD drive. I mean, that's not even a Core Duo or Core 2 Duo, it's the cheapest multicore chip that Intel offers (usually retailing for around €50, or $70) and altogether it plays Blu-Ray and other HD films at both 720P and 1080P with no problems whatsoever.

    Now, if you have the money, then obviously it's better to get the best processor you can. But I see people all the time building HTPC's and stuffing them with fast, quad-core processors and thinking that such power is essential.

    Rohan on
    ...and I thought of how all those people died, and what a good death that is. That nobody can blame you for it, because everyone else died along with you, and it is the fault of none, save those who did the killing.

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  • solsovlysolsovly Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    I recently built a HTPC that is running great. I had an initial problem with the motherboard that turned out to be some wonky DVI-D cable issue with a small set of monitors (seriously).

    Anyways onboard 780G graphics card and Kuma X2 dual core runs blu-ray completely fine. I also output audio/video fine over HDMI with Windows 7.

    solsovly on
  • king awesomeking awesome Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    I think I might just go with one of the low end mini atx builds from the link mcdermott posted (thanks again). Those seem to be simple with enough power to do what I need it to do. And according to that thread even the low end ones can handle software decoding if necessary and Blu-Ray playback no problem.

    king awesome on
    Bigsushi.fm
    Listen to our podcast, read our articles, tell us how much you hate it and how to make it better ;)
  • tachyontachyon Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    Alot of windows suggestions. If Blu-Ray is not needed, go with a mac mini and Plex Plex is a really slick home theater front end that will play most any format, and has plugins for all of the major online sources.

    Of course it's OSX only, not sure if that's a deal breaker, but the mini is a decent home theater box, small and quiet. May need to think about doing you're own upgrades (HDD and ram) if you get the low end box, and network storage if you have alot of files.

    tachyon on
  • king awesomeking awesome Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    Well I have a MBP so I'm not averse to OSX or mac products. But for this particular machine I want either windows or linux. Just easier to do what I want, and open to swapping in and out whatever upgrades I might want/need.

    king awesome on
    Bigsushi.fm
    Listen to our podcast, read our articles, tell us how much you hate it and how to make it better ;)
  • tachyontachyon Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    Well I have a MBP so I'm not averse to OSX or mac products. But for this particular machine I want either windows or linux. Just easier to do what I want, and open to swapping in and out whatever upgrades I might want/need.

    True, I've been messing around with the idea of doing my 2nd hackintosh, but not sure I want to go through the trouble.

    You should download plex anyway for the mbp, my wife uses it on her hack to keep the kids entertained (my 4 year old can navigate the menus to watch sesame street and thumb through 'I can has cheezburgers'...not sure if I should be proud or terrfied)

    tachyon on
  • Nakatomi2010Nakatomi2010 Registered User
    edited June 2009
    There's a link in my sig that should take you to the site for my HTPC builds... The processor and ram is a little overkill, but the system also acts as a media server throughout, plus once I move into my house I plan on really using it to it's fullest potential...

    I do love it though... The case itself is worth it :D

    Nakatomi2010 on
    Check out me building my HTPC (NSF56K) (Updated 1-10-08)
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  • EgoEgo Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    risumon wrote: »
    Anandtech looks at the Ion platform

    I read this article and think I would like something similar while building and HTPC. Small, low power, HDMI output, and cheap.

    Pretty slick and, great price point for an HTPC build. I'll have to look into these some more, hopefully we see some other makers put similar things out on the market soon. I'd love to see one with some overclocking options ;). As it is though, that's 200$ plus some spare memory and anold HD to have a little media machine

    Ego on
    Erik
  • Nakatomi2010Nakatomi2010 Registered User
    edited June 2009
    That is pretty slick, in fact it's given me ideas for when I move into my house on alternative solutions for HTPCs in other rooms (master bedroom)...

    Nakatomi2010 on
    Check out me building my HTPC (NSF56K) (Updated 1-10-08)
    Movie Collection
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  • king awesomeking awesome Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    king awesome on
    Bigsushi.fm
    Listen to our podcast, read our articles, tell us how much you hate it and how to make it better ;)
  • Nakatomi2010Nakatomi2010 Registered User
    edited June 2009
    I would go with http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16827136137 or http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16827136155 for the BluRay drive, only because both of these have Bluray burning ability, which honestly once you start filling up that drive you'll wish you'd gotten...

    However, also consider the amount of HDDVD watching you'll do. HDDVD lost the format war, so if you have HDDVDs then yeah, grab one of the ones I suggested, if you don't, then don't bother...

    I have the drive you have in your shopping card. I love it, but the main reason I bought it was because I am a huge movie buff and knew that which ever format lost the other one would become dirt cheap. Now hoowever I find myself freaking out a little about what'll happen when the drive craps out, I'll have about 20 movies I can't watch without repurchasing...

    Hell, my gaming rig has a BluRay burner in it that can never go into my HTPC because of the HDDVDs...


    Something to think about...

    Nakatomi2010 on
    Check out me building my HTPC (NSF56K) (Updated 1-10-08)
    Movie Collection
    Foody Things
    Holy shit! Sony's new techno toy!
    Wii Friend code: 1445 3205 3057 5295
  • EgoEgo Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    I'd always much prefer adding additional fixed storage (even accessed over a network) as compared to burning movies (or anything else) onto optical media.

    If I had 20 HD-DVD movies I think I'd just rip them to a hard drive and not worry about it.

    Ego on
    Erik
  • Nakatomi2010Nakatomi2010 Registered User
    edited June 2009
    My hard drives are full... Not to mention ripping HDDVDs is not high on my list of "Looking forward to doing".... Hell, ripping DVDs is a pain in the ass enough...

    Nakatomi2010 on
    Check out me building my HTPC (NSF56K) (Updated 1-10-08)
    Movie Collection
    Foody Things
    Holy shit! Sony's new techno toy!
    Wii Friend code: 1445 3205 3057 5295
  • SandersSanders Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    The extra $60-80 can get at least another 640 gig HDD, if not 1TB for a few bucks more, and by the looks of it the cheapest BD-Rs I found on newegg were 10 for $40 at 25GB each, or a total of 250GB. Four of those for 1TB you are looking at $160 compared to $100 for a 1TB hard drive, and of course extra hassles like being unable to delete the content and rewrite and having to fill the disc completely. Correct me if I am wrong, but it doesn't seem worth it financially wise to get a blu-ray burner yet.

    Sanders on
  • EgoEgo Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    My hard drives are full... Not to mention ripping HDDVDs is not high on my list of "Looking forward to doing".... Hell, ripping DVDs is a pain in the ass enough...

    But as said, HD storage is cheap. Plus you get a lot more out of networking HD storage, though I admit not many people seem to be jumping on the 'HTPCs for every room!' bandwagon yet like I have (if you were wondering, the bandwagon is awesome.)

    Ripping is always annoying the first time, but once you've got things set up it goes pretty smoothly (and with a minimal amount of involvement on your part.) Perhaps best though, once you've got it done, you don't have to go around switching discs anymore just to watch something.

    I always thought of that as the best thing about HTPCs anyhow --that all your content was there waiting for you just a few clicks away.

    Ego on
    Erik
  • Nakatomi2010Nakatomi2010 Registered User
    edited June 2009
    Yeah, it's there till the first hard drive crash. My HTPC has been operational since 2004, and I've had a hard drive crash causing me to lose a large portion of my data...

    Yes we can store data accross on networks, but then you can run into network lag and display issues when going disc to data, even worse accross networks...

    The primary reason behind my BluRay burner purchase is because I've bought a 720p camcorder and would love to send my family copies of family videos without relying on my internet connection, so I can buy mini-BluRays or full size ones, and ship em' that way...

    Plus for every drive you have you really wanna look into a proper backup solution, hard drives fail, and then you lose the stored data... This is why my HTPC has 1.5TB while my server has 2TB, everything on the HTPC gets cloned on the server, but I still run out of space...

    The build behind my HTPC is that I have an 80GB drive for my OS and everything else is spread out on 500GB drives. I will admit that I will most likely get on the network storage bandwagon, (My Dad showed me these guys here which I'll be using to add more storage to my server), unfortuantely getting money together can be a bit problematic at times...

    Hoenstly I suspect my home network will reach more data stored than most businesses in the area...

    I actually allow it to be streamed online via webguide, though I believe that broke recently...

    I'm one of those people who must have a back up though, otherwise I'm not comfortable. I lost about 80GB of data awhile back and it hurt, since then I've kept good back ups thanks to my Home Server.

    Nakatomi2010 on
    Check out me building my HTPC (NSF56K) (Updated 1-10-08)
    Movie Collection
    Foody Things
    Holy shit! Sony's new techno toy!
    Wii Friend code: 1445 3205 3057 5295
  • EgoEgo Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    Backups are definitely a pre-req to keeping data that you don't want to lose. I guess that's why I'd look at ripping those HDDVDs as a good thing, at that point you've at least got a copy of them compared to right now where if one gets broke, it's gone.

    For what it's worth I've been very impressed with networking my media. Wireless N and wired gigabit (somewhat obviously in the case of the latter) handle encoded 1080p just fine, and it's really slick being able to watch something in my livingroom, or bedroom, OR kitchen (without having to mirror to all of them.)

    Networked storage is certainly awesome ;).

    Ego on
    Erik
  • Dark ShroudDark Shroud Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    Since this seems like a good thread. I'd like to know if any of you guys have used something like this http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817990003 or http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817990004?

    I have an older Media Center PC that I use to serve up HD video files over a gigabyte network to my PS3 and sometimes 360. Windows Media Center is awesome compared to set top box offerings from my local cable companies. I'm planning to build an Media Server raid box for my videos & music. And I'd like to know if these things are worth the money.

    EDIT: Some other brand offerings:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817998036
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817998043

    Dark Shroud on
  • RohanRohan Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    Ego wrote: »
    Backups are definitely a pre-req to keeping data that you don't want to lose. I guess that's why I'd look at ripping those HDDVDs as a good thing, at that point you've at least got a copy of them compared to right now where if one gets broke, it's gone.

    For what it's worth I've been very impressed with networking my media. Wireless N and wired gigabit (somewhat obviously in the case of the latter) handle encoded 1080p just fine, and it's really slick being able to watch something in my livingroom, or bedroom, OR kitchen (without having to mirror to all of them.)

    Networked storage is certainly awesome ;).

    It certainly is... and we only have a 100MB router with Wireless G. And I can watch any HD media we have perfectly fine across those two network options. Gigabit Ethernet and Wireless N aren't needed, though obviously preferable.

    Rohan on
    ...and I thought of how all those people died, and what a good death that is. That nobody can blame you for it, because everyone else died along with you, and it is the fault of none, save those who did the killing.

    Nothing's forgotten, nothing is ever forgotten
  • Nakatomi2010Nakatomi2010 Registered User
    edited June 2009
    Meh, my network backbone is gigabit and N already, plus my new house is going to be pre-wired for ethernet, in fact the ethernet jacks are going to out number the phone jacks, 2:1...

    I just realized I have a 400GB HDD on my desk I'm not using... I should look into fixing that...

    Honestly I'm also contemplating building a second server... With Windows 7 coming out I'm going to have a few extra copies of Vista Ultimate kicking around, I could easily pop it onto a machine and have it be a server...


    But, then again... What sane person has two servers in his own damned household? Seriously, I'm actually looking at the dynamics behind building a second server, this one purely for storage with the other for backups... Sure my current setup is essentially that, but I'm finding the extra hard drives complicates things...

    My friends, my new home is going to be a kingdom for geeks, yes sirs, it shall be a Geekdom....

    Centrally located Wireless-N access point, with a gigabit backbone, a network jack in everyroom, and within two years an fanless HTPCs in everyroom.... With automated lights, all controlled by an existing bad ass Harmony 890...

    My new home's gettin' geeked out my friends...

    Nakatomi2010 on
    Check out me building my HTPC (NSF56K) (Updated 1-10-08)
    Movie Collection
    Foody Things
    Holy shit! Sony's new techno toy!
    Wii Friend code: 1445 3205 3057 5295
  • EgoEgo Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    Haha I have more than two, but I also do an off-site backup service.

    Embrace geeking out.

    Ego on
    Erik
  • DiannaoChongDiannaoChong Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    Question, does windows 7 support offloading hd video to the video card? because my processor is shit on my current HTPC and is crapping out slightly, making linux playing really troublesome, and vdpau in linux is fucking bullshit for trying to get working.

    DiannaoChong on
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  • EgoEgo Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    Yep, it has built in support for hardware h.264 decoding on both ATI and nVidia cards (I can personally confirm.)

    Ego on
    Erik
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