PCs

Screenshots of a successful weekend project -- a fully functional Media PC

39 comments
gil_gosseyn
gil_gosseyn

If this is a Media Center PC, why don't the pictures show any of te Media Center hardware?

boxerjockey
boxerjockey

Thanks for very informative comments. We use free over-the-air digital tv at our house. It is great. Doubled the program choices and cleared the picture here in the mountains. A couple of things I do miss. Without more digital tuners (only one and it's in the TV) we can't tape one and watch another. This project looks like one solution. I've also been looking at one for open source, in case anyone's interested: http://www.eff.org/IP/broadcastflag/cookbook/ One more thing... during my selection process for the TV upgrade, I found a lot of confusion in the stores about signals, et al. One was cleared up earlier: we are using the same old rabbit ears for digital tv that we've used for years. The antenna doesn't know the difference. Next, there is DTV (digital television, requiring a digital tuner) and there is HDTV (High Definition TV). Lots of the programming on free to air DTV is not in high definition. Finally, the next step is a C-band satellite dish where you can negotiate with licensing companies much easier than the cableco. Three grand up-front and maintenance depending upon number of lightening strikes. That's instead of $800+ annually to cableco. Break even in 5 years and gain after that... maybe, but more control for sure. Thought: have more than one digital tuner available to record programming of interest that's broadcast simultaneously. It's how to avoid '57 channels and nothing on...' Thanks everyone, for hardware insites.

e-paladin
e-paladin

In building a HTPC, hardware considerations are important, you want the machine to be powerful enough for now with upgrade paths as newer technology comes into play (HD-DVD etc.?). Your basically integrating a pc into home theater so noise, heat, asthetics and connectivity come into play... But that was not the title of the article, he set out to build a media pc and succeeded. No muss, no fuss. It shows people how to get thier hands wet. Gratz.

jyoun3
jyoun3

Case - A horizontal, aluminum or anodized black HTPC case that blends into a living room would be a much better choice than that monster Antec Processor - An inexpensive Core 2 Duo like the E4300 would be much better for multimedia where you may be recording a show, watching a show, and downloading content all at the same time. It would also draw less power and could be passively cooled. (passive cooling = less noise) Video card - A passively cooled PCI Express card with HDCP support would be a much better choice. The nVidia 8600GT comes to mind. Having a card that could use it's hardware to display HD and mp4 content would be highly desirable as well. Motherboard - I would HIGHLY suggest a passively cooled board that has HD audio with Optical and SPDIF in/out. Firewire would be nice too. Hard Drive - 80 gigs for a media PC? I'd HIGHLY suggest at least 250 gigs unless you don't plan on recording very much video.... Cooling - I'd suggest buying some large 120mm, low speed fans that are nearly silent for this project. Those stock Antec fans are going to sound like a hurricane. Power Supply - Again, passively cooled. Sorry for being so picky, but I thought these would be good items to consider. They may add substantially to the cost of the project, but some items here may be of huge benefit to people.

ExcitingMike
ExcitingMike

About 2yrs ago I rebuilt an old homemade AMD based tower I had laying around based on the Athlon 64 3500+ chip(not a speedster). I cranked the RAM up to 768MB, plopped in fireware card from TigerDirect. Installed a watered down version of Camedia that came bundled with a Canon video camera I use, and a generic 128MB AGP video card. Every week I stream about 4hrs of live video from the Canon via firewire using Windows Media Encoder simultaneously streaming out to a web site (sermonaudio.com). I also do video editing, MP3/WMV/WAV conversions, and photo editing on the machine. I installed a SB-Gold LIVE! 4620 sound card a 3pc spkr system. This is all accomplished on an XP Pro platform and a shoestring budget. What are the advantages to using Media Edt.?

Wirelesspro
Wirelesspro

I thought it was only avaialable (to be customized) by OEMs?

TexasJetter
TexasJetter

When watching or recording TV it very quickly fragments your hard disk. Also recording can quickly fill it up (a 1 hour HD recording is 5-7Gb). My solution was to add a second hard disk dedicated to TV recording. The 80Gb listed in the article would be totally inadequate for much recording.

marcpen
marcpen

Basically all this is is a bunch of screenshots of somebody building a PC - something most TechRepublic readers could do in their sleep. A detailed article examining the issues and options would have been good. For instance, there's no clue as to how the TV signal is received into the box - is it off the Web, from a digital receiver, or what?

support
support

At least they didn't make you join Tech Republic Pro to view this "article".

sstrang
sstrang

I've had many different HTPC platforms, and MCE was the easiest to setup, but lacked a lot of tweakability for me. I've run MythTV, Beyond TV, Chris TV, GBPVR, and I'm totally the happiest with SageTV. I must admit I tried Ver 2.0 a couple of years ago, and thought it totally sucked. I came back to try again.. and WOW. Things have improved very much. I've been operating a smooth running SageTV for two years now. I just love it. and... the Wife can run it, the mother in law... it's really worth checking it out. One Caveat. It has it's own open source gui, they call an STV, and you can do what ever you want with the human interface portion, which is nice.... but... you can get things pretty messed up too. I recommend trying out some of the user group plug-ins. The software has a free 15day trial. Don't knock it til ya try it. ..I did. Now I'm sold on it. Peace, Wirenut

wgiles
wgiles

I liked seeing the screenshots to clue me as to what hardware and software components in my setup I needed to be familiar with before setting up my Windows Media Center that came with XP Pro.

azone
azone

If someone out theer knows of an affordable PC TV tuner that will decode HDTV from Cable and or Satelite please let me know. With mose new TV's now equiped with HDMI inputs it only seems logical to me that any newly built Home Theater-type PC ought to use a video card with HDMI output and HDCP digital rights management compatibility. If you have not experienced HDTV on a 40 inch or larger 1920X1080 res screen at 1080P or even 1080i youare missing something.

harddrivecafe
harddrivecafe

While going through the screen shots I did notice a small problem with this build. The person did not install a tuner card. Media Center is bested used with a tuner card card and a broadband connection. If you do not use the internet and do not connect a TV/Video signal then the Media Center 2005 is pretty much worthless. A person would be better off to have a Plain version of Windows XP or Home. The article is not bad cause it shows an average joe can do this but I feel it benfit everyone if the article had more detail and instructions. I have built Dozens of Media Center computers and other OS's and from my experience it would be better with more instructions.(Upon review of the article again I did miss about the Tuner Card but I still believe this article could have gone more in depth about the build)

Ron McNew
Ron McNew

I've looked at a couple dozen of these screenshot articles now, and think that they're a fine idea - quick and easy to make, so there should end up being a lot of them. Google will usually help fill in any missing details in any associated text. One thing I find very irritating, though: needing to scroll down to see the whole picture on every single page. Please put a bookmark at the top previous|next anchors and use it in the URLs. You can easily space down the ads on the right to match. If the picture/text is too tall and I have to scroll anyway, OK, but it should be the exception and not the rule. Thanks.

gary.alexander
gary.alexander

Can you give us some more information? What hardware did you use - what software - tips, etc.

i.dunno
i.dunno

I've been wondering if Media Center Extenders (if they still make them) like the HP x5400 Media Center Extender or the Linksys WMCE54AG are any good. They sound like a good idea. (see http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1895,1706763,00.asp). The HP x5400 even has component video / optical digital audio outputs (sorry, no HDMI). My first attempt at setting up 'TV through a PC' was thwarted by my wife who couldn't stand the NOISE of the computer near the TV. It was also a problem when I wanted to use the PC for surfing the Net, but she wanted to watch TV. A media extender would allow you share the media PC, and you can hide the noisy/big-tower 'brains' (which is what a Do-It-Yourselfer would probably have available to them). The Media Center Extender (MCX) has some digital rights management (DRM) issues but I think you can 'work arouhd' them ... Thoughts anyone?

DougUnit12
DougUnit12

The article delivers what it says. Someone set out to build a box and did it. But the fun only just begins ... I have an MCE system. It was a "gift" box. It took a while to discover what hardware would and would not work with it, whether or not it was on the supported hardware list. I retooled it about three times before it "behaved". Lower end ATI capture cards were a bother, if they worked, though I understand the newer, more powerful ATI cards are much easier to deal with and do not have tuners that totally suck. Then there are the Little Things, like the auto-update of Windows nuking your video drivers and tweaking your settings. Over the course of the last 18 months, I have had to totally reload the OS once and restore legacy (i.e. WORKING) drivers at least three times. Yeah, I know now to turn off the damned auto-update. And to back up my purchased codecs. But dang, it can be frustrating. Bottom line, though, is once your hardware is playing nicely, the thing works, and in a way that is friendly to geeks and non-geeks alike. I also have a MythTV system I put together from scratch. This was a major nightmare to get working (if you try it, the Hacking MythTV book is a livesaver). But it was a labor of love. There are some things that MythTV does very well, like DVD ripping and playing just about any video file format you can imagine. And there are some things, especially fundamental packaging / screen presentation, that MCE does well, though storing files in the proprietary dvr-ms format is not one of them. If no one mentioned it here, you should check out thegreenbutton.com ... great resources for MCE fans. As many other have mentioned, though, hardware selection is a key success factor in MCE. MythTV is more flexible, but if you don't have an eye for Linux innards, you will spend a lot of late nights developing one. Thanks again for the article.

Mr,Dougie
Mr,Dougie

Well said that man! Never build a PC on the cheap you'll end up paying for it in the long run. Who in their right mind goes even *near* a celery processor. They're rubbish!

nappy_d
nappy_d

IMO, I installed and built XP MCE juwt to have a PVR/Multimeida computer in my home theatre system. If you are not looking to do this, it is not worth the hassle. Not to mention I was more curious about the intricacies of the system more that the specs would have done it justice. I guess after I read the specs I wanted to see how well it works and it still does. I can remotely set shows to record via a website if I am not at home.

nappy_d
nappy_d

This product is not available any longer and was primamry sold thru OEM system builders - You have to purchase Vista Ultra(I think its called) - if you know someone that has an "original" copy of XP MCE 2005, then can you downgrade to XP MCE 2005 "legally"

lowtimeppl
lowtimeppl

I built myself a media pc using an AOpen shuttle, 1GB RAM, 300GB SATA HD, WinTV 150 MCE, has 5.1 surround for DVD, no HDMI because my plasma isn't and neither is my projector. Thing is, one of the biggest issues is controlling your SKY or NTL cable box. After a bit of research I came across a RedEye, which is an infra-red sender connected to the COM port. SKY box signal comes into the WinTV via the S-Video port and stereo outputs. I use DigiGuide (subscription, cheap) as my EPG which has plugins to the WinTV software, and has available plugins to control the RedEye and thus manipulate the SKY box. Using DigiGuide, I can series-link, search for programs by actor, title, genre etc and hit 'Record with PVR' to record. OK the limitations: a) At present, using a single tuner I can only record and watch the same channel - but the point of this exercise was to record stuff whilst I'm out or doing other stuff. Schedule conflicts can be handled by DigiGuide b) Only one input at present. That's my choice, I only record SKY at present but if I add a FreeView box I can open up the world of free-to-view. The question above asked 'how does the signal get into the box' - via the WinTV card S-Video and stereo audio. The 150 can compress video to MPG2 in hardware on the fly, so you can get DVD quality recording for not much HD space - an hour per GB is realistic at DVD quality. I haven't played with MCE yet, I wanted the mechanism in place before letting Microsoft hack it all to pieces. And it works ok so well anyway. I may look at some other 'console' software. It's on 24/7. All my MP3's, recorded & downloaded videos are on this machine (and shared to my NetGear MP101 in the bedroom using TwonkyMedia). It handles my dynamic DNS, Skype (plasma, sofa, webcam, luxury), answer-machine for my landline (a modem?! old technology..) and running WinAMP with laser-show plugins or playing Combat Flight Simulator on a 42in plasma is a visual treat... Happy to post pics and/or a diagram of my setup. And, just to note, my first attempt at this was 5 1/2 years ago...I saw this coming..

TexasJetter
TexasJetter

I have an ATI HDTV tuner card that gets great HDTV reception over the air. I can watch/record HD with 5.1 sound from local broadcasts. I'm not sure how that would work with a Cable or Satelite feed . . .

jc@dshs
jc@dshs

isn't that what the hauppage card is? i use a twinhan dvb-t myself and it picks up SD and HD broadcasts here in Oz just fine. I also use a Leadfast Winfast TV 2000XP analogue card to capture tv programs from my cable service - i know it's analogue but it was really cheap and it does a great job

cshupe
cshupe

Did he not list the tuner card and the wireless card under the hardware specs? From the body of the story: "For this project I reused these parts: Antec Mini ATX case Generic DVD-ROM Western Digital 80 GB HD Linksys wireless G adapter And I purchased these parts: ASUS P5VD2-X Motherboard ATI Radeon X1300 Intel Celeron D (2.66 GHz, 533 MHz FSB, 256KB L2 Cache) Corsair 1 GB DDR2 RAM Hauppauge WinTV 150 MCE Kit with remote" I see the Hauppauge kit and the Linksys adapter card...??

nappy_d
nappy_d

I have built an HTPC myself. This is a great starter for someone looking to get into it. I used an smallform factor(SFF) case, SFF motherboard along with low profile pci cards, a dual tv tuner, WiFi NIC and soundcard with Dolby 5.1 optical output. Works great in my Home Theathre system and big screen. Bottom line, if you're gonna do this, do some research for your needs because there are MANY third party plugins that are needed from http://www.thegreenbutton.com before this system will truly function better that the base windows install affords you.

ken
ken

Holy Mackerel, yes, yes, yes!

blarman
blarman

It seems like almost any article on TechRepublic suffers from "must-scroll-down"-itis. I would strongly suggest consolidating your top banner/navigation bar: it takes up almost 1/3 of the screen's most limited aspect - height. Just combining the logo and the login/logout with the rest of the navigation bar would bring everything up at least an inch on my 1440x900 screen.

Duggeek
Duggeek

If you want to learn more about the rich MCE experience, go here There's just as much detail about the easy-breezy installation process, but also details on the "rich" content. How do we know it's "rich"? It has to be, because so much of it is restricted. (...must be for our "best interest", wouldn't you agree?)

ExcitingMike
ExcitingMike

So you've got like a TIVO thing going with your setup, that sounds pretty cool. I purchased a copy from TigerDirect to build a new machine around, I want to connect it to my stereo/tv/multimedia equipment at home and play with it, see what I can do with it. Thanks for the feedback.

nappy_d
nappy_d

BTW, the MCE system builders 3 CD pack is the one you really want to try and find. M$ throws in WAY more "stuff" that you do not get with the OEM retail version such as being able to burn your recorded show to optical media. the are "ways around" it if you buy the retail pack and know how to scour the internet.

Fil0403
Fil0403

I haven't eaten pizza but it tastes horribly. That's basically what you say here: "I haven't played with MCE yet, I wanted the mechanism in place before letting Microsoft hack it all to pieces."

aelroy
aelroy

Obviously bulding an Home Theatre Personal Computer (HTPC) today without accomodating HD is a significant oversight. You could spend a bunch of bucks to get an HD capable video capture card, but then you would be confined to over-the air broadcasted HD programming (for which you would need a specialized antena as well). If you have HD enabled digital cable, you could use the Firewire port on some of the common cable boxes, install some drivers, and then stream everything from your box to your media center, including the HD content. This should also allow you to record HD. There is more info on this at the AVSforum site, for those who are interested.

nappy_d
nappy_d

I stand corrected on the components. However, not knocking the article, I got lost in all the screenshots of the install. Most of us are seasoned IT pros, the screenshots of the install process we probablly have all seen too many times to count. I guess I am not a visual person rather one who prefers, as many have commented, a more detailed review of the system's inner workings etc. types of add-ons/enhancements such as http://thegreenbutton.com/files/default.aspx has to offer.

nappy_d
nappy_d

- The HDD gets hit pretty hard with all the read/writes. When things start to act up check and defrag your drive. I have a batch script that runs and defrags my drive every other week at like 4am. - If you plan to record and store alot of multimeda GET at least a 250GB drive. - Poke around the site http://www.thegreenbutton.com (great info on MCE HTPC's) - Make sure that you get a sound card with Digital Optical out for Dolby Surround 5.1 or higher. In my situation, my motherboard supports digital COAXIAL cable out. - Lots of fans, I put 4 in my system(and get the good ones if you want to leave your system running 24x7 like I do). Have fun!!!

lowtimeppl
lowtimeppl

I didn't mention pizza, so no that wasn't what I was saying. That's how you've interpreted what I was saying. I was merely pointing out that I wanted to prove all the component parts would work together to deliver what I wanted, before adding the MCE add-on to for functionality I may not need. Other people reading the thread didn't see the need for sarcasm in a thread which is about taking time out from the technology 'job' and applying your skills for pleasure. I get your point though. Perhaps for the pedants I should re-phrase - 'I haven't played with MCE in any great depth yet but I have seen what it can do, how it's set up and in my view MCE could compromise the hard work I have so far put it, jeopardise the functionality I want to achieve at the end and possibly mean starting over again'.

TexasJetter
TexasJetter

Here is an excerpt from Antenna Labs: "There is nothing specific about a TV antenna that is used to receive HD signals. Your antenna doesn't really care whether the signal is high definition or not. It has absolutely no idea what the signal resolution is, or whether the signal is analog or digital. The antenna doesn't care that you are receiving HDTV as it doesn't care whether you are watching Fox News or NBC channel." see http://www.hdtvantennalabs.com/index.php

cshupe
cshupe

Both of those components were mentioned in a photo caption that might have been hard to find due to the scrolling. Alot of people, especially newbies, like to see the photos. I'll be honest, I like to see the disection photos and the unique or unusual hardware, and it's worth it to scroll thru the photos. Perhaps the formatting could be improved, but the reason these articles get looked at is for the pix! If some rookies actually can see how simple these machines are from the inside, it will encourage more DIY mods and upgrades, which can't be bad.