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Project HTPC: The Build 

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 far.  If you are interested in (re)reading part one of this epic project, then please click this link.

Zotac IONITX-F-E Atom N330

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'.


The Winsis Wi-02C opened up.

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.


A slim-style BD drive

A closeup of the drive cage with the LG CT10N Slim SATA Blu-ray Drive installed. The SATA port barely visible in the lower section of the cage is attached to the 500GB 2.5-inch WD Scorpio Blue.


Fill it up and be done with it.

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 HTPC's "first boot" went smoothly.

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.


The finished system posing all sexy-like.

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.


Note the USB Bluetooth adapter at the top.

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.

Software Selection
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.

What's Next?
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?

Stay tuned!


Reader Comments (11)

Nice setup personally I went for the apple tv setup. I have the i7 system upstairs with 4 tv tuners (3 digital and 1 analog). Remote potato for scheduling from my iPhone. Dvrmstoolbox to convert to mp4 grab meta then tell iTunes where the files are. Then I can just watch it all on the appletv g2.

November 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJD

After seeing your initial talk about your HDTV on HDNation way back you motivated me to give HTPC's a whirl and I haven't looked back. I replaced 3 Tivo's and Cable Service and moved to OTA/Online with two HTPC's (soon to be 3) and a media server for storage. Cost a bit up front, but I've made that back and then some when I consider I was paying close to $150/month Cable/Tivo Subs.

I went with a bit beefier CPU/mobo combo since I remember you complaining about some lagginess originally and love what we're getting. Definitely took a while of experimenting and testing to get everything just right, but once it's done, it's more than worth it.

November 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMeatball

what were the components and apps you decided to use for your HTPC?

November 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMike Jonas

Why is no one talking about Myth TV? I built my first KnoppMyth box five years ago, liked it so much I added a Mythbuntu box a year later. I am running a pair of HDHR 2 channel tuners (they go on sale for just a bit over 100 bucks every now and then) on the Mythbuntu box, so I can record up to four shows at the same time. The Knoppmyth was difficult to get set up and running, but the Mythbuntu took me only part of an afternoon to go from blank hard drive to finished running HTPC. It has a full web server, so I can access my Mythbuntu box from any web browser anywhere, video accessible across my home wired network, so viewing in HD on different PCs is a breeze. Its also a breeze to push downloaded shows up to my Myth box for my HD viewing pleasure. Myth has great and helpful forums support. I have less than a grand into my box and HDHR tuners. I just don't know why anyone would brag about a Windows 7 home theater PC, when the open source people have made free Myth TV such an easy to set up home theater PC (and I never have to battle the broadcast flag either!).

December 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKent

I think the main reason most of us go with Windows 7, instead of MythTV are cablecards. It gives us access to HD channels that you simply can't get with MythTV. Also, Microsoft is finally waking up to the fact that HTPC's are a major selling point and are now adding more and more features and opening up the software for 3rd party add-ins. As much as I love linux for its openness and configurability, it just cant compete in a HTPC market without cablecard support.

December 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterlilricky

Hi Robert,

You mentioned in one of the episodes about opting for a faster processor. Any recommendations?

December 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIshan

Cool setup you've chosen. I only have one doubt: is the Atom processor powerful enough for a media center? Is is capable of handling something like Flight Simulator?

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThiago Reis

I have been following the show and thinking of building my own HTPC. Is this system beefy enough? I would thought you would need a better graphics card to pump out HD video. Are most on-board graphics that have HDMI out enough?

Can the system be used regularly without keyboard and mouse? I have a popcorn hour c-200 now and it is good most of the time. Still having some issues and thinking of just replacing the system. The perks of keeping it though:
1. I watches RSS feeds and downloads tv shows for me.
2. It will play any avi, mkv or iso file I throw at it.

Have been ripping my blurays to .iso and putting on my NAS. Keeps the discs from getting scratched and when having young kids. The PCH-c200 though seems to have issues streaming and refuses to work if connected to a gigabit switch. Unless I knock it down to 10/100Mb. My house is all Gb. So that is a problem.

Any suggestions on a good build?


January 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeo

Thiago Reis: The Atom CPU I used was not enough CPU for a completely smooth Media Center experience (let alone gaming). I'm now working with an i3 SandyBridge CPU that gives me a much smoother experience while keeping power consumption to a minimum.

February 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

Leo: Integrated graphics are getting better with every new generation. The latest Intel HD graphics (w/SandyBridge) are OK (the 24Hz output bug remains), and the new AMD and Nvidia value cards get you even better performance for about $50 or less.

Keyboard/mouse: I have several control options with my latest HTPC. I have a Bluetooth module that I use with the PS3 BD Remote (!) and the Logitech PS3-branded BT keyboard (w/trackpad). My HTPC's case included a solid IR remote too. The controller I use the most continues to be my iPhone running HippoRemote Pro (communicating via my WiFi network).

I am late in posting the details about my new HTPC, but I'm loving it: i3 SandyBridge CPU, integrated graphics, SDD + HDD, Ceton InfiniTV 4, Win 7 x64...

February 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

Hey Robert - glad to see you're enjoying your system. Would love to see a recent writeup on the specifics of daily use and any obstacles you've had to overcome. Thanks, keep up the good work!

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian E

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