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My Home Theater PC v2.0

Updated July 3rd, 2015

It's been about three years since I replaced a cable television DVR (digital video recorder) that I was renting with a custom-built PC (original article archive: part one and part two). It was the introduction of multi-tuner CableCARD host adapters that made it easy to turn a Windows PC into a powerful home theater centerpiece that convinced me to craft my own super-DVR. That initial build using the unlikely union of an Intel Atom processor and Nvidia ION graphics technology resulted in excellent energy efficiency and solid 1080p video playback, but the system's ability to smoothly multitask was constantly challenged.

For version 2.0 of my home theater PC (HTPC), I vowed to maintain excellent energy efficiency while significantly improving its performance.

TV Picture Setup Guide

Cord Cutting Guide

Parts list
The complete parts list for my current HTPC build:

Case: Thermaltake Luxa2 LM100 Mini - discontinued but some refurbished units remain
CPU: Intel Core i3-2100T - an i3 is plenty powerful for HTPC duties
Mobo: Intel DH67CF Mini-ITX - this mobo had consumer IR built-in
Memory: 4GB (2x2GB)
Storage: SSD (boot) + HDD (DVR)
Bluetooth Adaper

I've come to appreciate the design of the Thermaltake Luxa2 LM100 Mini case - it's brushed aluminum exterior ages gracefully, masks fingerprints and dust, and provides a perfect home for a Mini-ITX mobo and related components. With the LM100 now discontinued, I'm on the hunt for a successor.

With two years of near-continuous operation to its credit, HTPC v2.0's performance gains over its predecessor are a credit to its Intel Core i3 2100T (Sandy Bridge w/35W Max TDP) processor and solid state drive (SSD) - SSDs make any computer feel twice as fast!

Robert's Favorite Home Theater Gear


Cooling upgrade
A hot-running tuner card prompted a case cooling upgrade: additional (2) 50x50mm fans to fill the remaining exhaust ports at the rear of the chassis (also preventing backflow). The Thermaltake LM100's air inlets are located on the bottom of the case in the motherboard mount area, and the new fan setup reduced the tuner's operating temperatures from 65-70C to a far cooler 40-45C without an obvious increase in fan noise. 

Hardware and software
My tuner hardware includes the following:

Ceton InfiniTV 6 PCIe - 6-tuner CableCARD host adapter
SiliconDust HDHomeRun EXTEND - 2-tuner over-the-air (OTA)
SiliconDust HDHomeRun PRIME - 3-tuner CableCARD host adapter

All of this hardware needs good software to make it work:

Windows 7 64-bit - Windows 8 with the Media Center Pack option works too
My Movies - how I manage my movie collection
ArcSoft TotalMedia Theater - No longer updated (see note below)
Ceton Companion - my favorite smartphone remote control app
SoundGraph iMON Manager - VFD and IR remote signal management
SlySoft Virtual CloneDrive - a great virtual drive program

Note: ArcSoft has abandoned TotalMedia Theater leaving CyberLink PowerDVD Pro, Ultra, and Live as the remaining recommended options for PC Blu-ray disc playback.

Add to this several terabytes of network attached storage (NAS) for my music, photos, and movies and I'm one happy (couch) camper.

Blu-ray Movies for Less Than $10!

2015 Vizio E-Series TVs

Control-wise, I'm using the aforementioned Ceton Companion application as well as a Logitech Harmony 650 universal remote control. The Bluetooth adapter also allows me to easily connect a wireless keyboard when the need arises. Also, I've recently added the Logitech Harmony Smart Keyboard that provides Bluetooth and RF control options as well as an updated smartphone control app - it's proven to be a terrific HTPC control option.

Costs and options
The cost of this system at the time including software easily exceeded $1000 - not a trivial expense even if amortized over several years of use. For HTPC v3.0 (hint, hint), I'd consider reducing costs by eliminating the slim optical drive altogether as I find I seldom (never) use it. Use of NAS storage for TV recordings could eliminate an extra HDD from the system further reducing costs and space requirements. At that point, I'd consider an optimized micro-PC like the new Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) as it features similar computing power as my current HTPC in a package that is but a fraction of its size.

For more information about my HTPC setup, please read this follow up article exploring a brief experiment with Windows 8.

Reader Comments (12)

For the curious, my old Intel Atom/Nvidia ION HTPC lives on and runs 24/7 as a low-power video monitoring station for a PC-based surveillance system. Other than removal of its CableCARD tuner and optical drive, the old HTPC system is equipped as listed in the archived articles.

November 27, 2012 | Registered Commenterheronfidelity

Would be great to add the new Ceton Echo Media Center Extender to your set-up now that it's available. Also super energy efficient so should fit perfectly.

November 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSam Steinwinder

Robert you weren't kidding about MS jacking with Windows 8 Media Center. I just spent 2 days working on a "Build your own HTPC Guide" with Win 8 Media Center only to figure out that they've removed the option to boot directly into media center. You have to boot into Metro, then go pick the Media Center tile. Really?

I'm scrapping the article and rewriting around Windows 7...just stupid.

November 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChris B

Robert - I have always been curious - how is the quality of watching a good blu-ray iso/mkv/etc from a NAS device? I've always kept my movies on the Media Center out of concern for lower image quality coming from a NAS.

November 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElgordo

How do you program the Logitech Harmony 650, as in, which device are you adding the software to control HTPC functions, and how is the HTPC receiving the IR commands?
Details on the screen in there...very nice just wondering how it manages to that the file name or metadata....bundled software to control the display? Thanks.

December 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBill

Excellent info sir. Quick question. Is the ceton Infinitv 4 pcie-4-channel cable card applicable and functioning in canada?

For a long time cable cards in tvs were useless for tv's here because of set top boxes.



December 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBal

Hiya! Awesome blog! I happen to be a daily visitor to your site (somewhat more like addict ) of this website. Just wanted to say I appreciate your blogs and am looking forward for more to come!

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDan Bright

Hi Robert,

You have a very nice looking HTPC! Please tell me what the "Futurama" digital display is and what it does for your machine.

December 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTodd Sauve

The specs looks like a Mini ITX setup I've been trying to complete. I hope that the reliability of this mobo works out - reviews on Newegg have Not been complimentary. The remaiining Intel Mini ITX mobos left there have VGA out only - wth?

April 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMikeF

There is also Nero 2014 Blu Ray player. I would recommend it too.

January 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMitch

Robert, there have been hints that MS would abandon WMC and now that appears to no longer be a rumor. Ed Bot of ZDNet reported that a MS executive confirmed that WMC would not work in Windows 10. My question is will my Hauppauge cablecard tuner work with MediaPortal?

How do we continue to use our cable cards to record our favorite shows? I understand that MediaPortal works for only for programming marked “copy freely”: I assume that excludes many cable channels. Is there an alternative for the HTPC user other than not upgrading to Windows 10?

Hi William! The MediaPortal page has a list of supported hardware, and it looks like you are in luck. Also, keep in mind that WMC with Win7/Win8 will continue to be supported for another 5-8 years...plenty of time to figure out an upgrade path.

May 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Burlingame

So can the Home Theater PC V2.0 be modified with a couple of Hauppauge OTA cards and made to work with Media Center? If yes, what are the possible "gottchas"? OR would it work just as well with the two SiliconDust HDHomeRun EXTEND cards that you suggest. Also, I'm concerned about the OS/Media Center support at this point (about to be 2016). Any thoughts on any of these items?

Hi Howard! As long as there is OS support for the tuners, they should work just fine with a Media Center PC like mine. Support for Windows 7/8 versions of WMC are scheduled to continue through ~2020. After that, I'm looking at NAS-based tuner support like that offered by the SiliconDust Kickstarter project.

December 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHoward H.

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