This exciting installment of my project to build an efficient home theater PC features (arguably) sexy shots of the component assembly process, and then I'll discuss the selection of software I've installed...so far. If you are interested in (re)reading part one of this epic project, then please click this link.
At the heart of every computer is a motherboard, and the Zotac IONITX-F-E Atom N330 wastes little of its 6.7 by 6.7 inch footprint. The F-E's x16 PCIe slot enables a plethora of upgrade options, and I'm thinking 'TV tuner'.
Here is the Winsis Wi-02C case splayed open with its removable drive cage stacked on top. The front-facing slot on the cage is for a slim optical disc drive.
Installing the Zotac board was a pleasant 4-fastener affair, and the 4GB Corsair DDR2 (2x2GB) awaits installation. The exhaust fan on the right (above picture) is connected to an available plug on mobo's facing edge (immediately left of the ATX connector). I'd later disconnect this fan to further quie
The above picture shows everything connected, and the USB-based BIOS updates and OS installs are convenient and fast. The power supply unit included with the case claims 200 Watts maximum output - this collection of hardware should require less than half of that. The chips' passive cooler proved effective in temperature controlled environments, and a small fan (included) can be attached for additional cooling performance.
And...Behold! I was disappointed that the case's openings for the multimedia card slots (top) were slightly undersized making actual use all but impossible. My initial power usage measurements for the HTPC show an average consumption rate of 53 Watts under full load.
A look at the back. I've come to appreciate the Zotac F-E's selection of digital audio outputs in addition to HDMI. Note the USB Cirago Micro Bluetooth Adapter (about $20) in the port at the top.
My initial software load on the HTPC centered around using Windows 7 as the operating system. I selected Win7 for a few specific reasons - one being that I had an extra copy on hand, and I'm fairly familiar with its installation and use. Windows 7 also includes the latest iteration of Windows Media Center (WMC) that supports CableCard adapters such as the Ceton InfiniTV 4 ($400) - I eventually want to take advantage of WMC's free channel guide updates in order to build my own HD cable DVR. WMC also provides a unified interface for enjoying collections of music and pictures as well as various sources of Internet-based multimedia including Netflix video streaming.
My collection of movies on disc include a mixture of physical formats including DVD, HD DVD (remember those?), and Blu-ray. I wanted one application to play them all, and ArcSoft's TotalMedia Theater Platinum ($100) seemed up to the task, and it integrates seamlessly into WMC.
Kaleidescape has set the standard for how a modern movie server should look and perform, and I wanted to create a similar virtual "wall of jewel cases" with my own collection of titles - and do it with a fairly modest budget. My Movies for Windows Media Center provides this functionality for free. For the movie titles I have archived on my network attached storage (NAS) device, My Movies can take advantage of virtual drive applications such as SlySoft's excellent Virtual CloneDrive (free) to automate the mounting of image files.
I'll finish this chapter of my HTPC build with the apps I'm using to make the entire system easier to control and use. My primary criteria for potential control devices is 1)wireless - preferably Bluetooth and 2) the input device must provide fast, consistent responses.
I wanted to use a Sony PS3 Blu-ray Disc Remote (under $20) that I already owned as it's a Bluetooth (BT) device and the remote's keypad layout is essentially identical to a standard Windows Media Center remote. In order to make the PS3 remote's keypad correspond to the same commands as an official Media Center remote, I discovered (via The Green Button forums) and embraced Ben Barron's handy PS3 Remote Application. And after trying a couple of inconsistent RF-based wireless keyboard options, I settled on the Logitech PS3 Cordless MediaBoard Pro for its relatively affordable price (among BT keyboards) and near-perfect wireless performance.
A recent smartphone purchase has enabled me to try out some of the remote control applications that are available. One app I find myself regularly using is HippoRemote Pro ($5). HippoRemote connects to my HTPC via my local network and provides control profiles for a long list of common PC applications including Windows Media Center, TotalMedia Theater, and even Windows 7 itself. The app's response performance with my setup is excellent - equal to or even better than the BT remote I use regularly.
In the follow up to this chapter of Project HTPC, I'll provide more insight into how the system is used in my household. I'll also take a closer look at the Ceton InfiniTV 4 digital cable tuner including its installation and use. A DIY Digital Video Recorder (DVR) that could replace a cable company's DVR or even a TiVo is certainly possible nowadays, and the questions I want to explore include: is the total cost worth it? And, how reliable is a DIY DVR?