HTPC project – cinema in my living room – part 2

HTPC project – cinema in my living roomWelcome to part 2 of the “HTPC project – cinema in my living room”. Part 1 was a brief introduction to HTPC world, focusing mainly on hardware side of building a HTPC. This part will cover the software side of setting up a home entertainment unit . It should give you a good understanding of what a basic HTPC setup should have in order to run smoothly.

In order for our HTPC to do that we need it to do you will need to find a right combination of software. Luckily, there’s plenty of applications out there that will help us with that. It will probably take a while before you discover what’s the perfect bunch of programs for you, but once everything is set up you can just sit down and enjoy your home theatre experience. The list here mentions just a few programs that I tried while working on my HTPC setup, but there’s plenty more to explore.

Software

Operating system: Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2

No computer will run without an operating system. There’s few options available here, both commercial and open source. I went for one of the most popular operating systems at the moment – good old XP. It runs quick (as it has no all the visual effects that Vista has to offer), stable and there is a vast amount of software available on this platform. And that is why I decided to start my tests with Windows system. Original XP was slightly biggish for my needs so I decided to make a custom install using nlite (very useful application for creation of customized XP installations). It takes a moment to set up properly but once it’s done it makes installing a new XP almost effortless. I quickly picked options that I needed for my HTPC and got rid of all the rubbish that Windows installs by default. I was also happy to notice that thanks to nlite my new XP was taking a lot less space on the hard drive than a default XP install would.

Drivers:

One thing that needs to be mentioned here is probably the fact that graphic card might work quite funny if you don’t use the latest drivers. I had plenty of trouble with setting it up correctly (especially that my Asus HD 2400Pro wasn’t perfectly willing to cooperate). I spent hours at avsforum trying to find a solution to my HD video problems. Luckily the latest release of Catalyst drivers (8.4 at the time) + reg tweaks seemed to do the trick and both SD & HD started to work as expected.

Codecs:

In order for video to be displayed you need a right set of codecs. I won’t be getting into details here, I’ll just mention the stuff I use on my HTPC. So here it goes:

Video:

ffdshow, haali media splitter & coreavc (unfortunately not free)

Audio:

ac3filter

This combination of codecs/filters works a treat. I won’t go into configuration of those as there’s plenty of tutorials online.

Media Player:

There might be a number of applications out there, but for me for a long time now there’s only one choice – MediaPortal. It truly a wonderful application. It looks really good and provides a huge number of features expandable by big number of plugins available. Constantly developed works with a wide choice of hardware what makes is just perfect. It was MediaPortal’s forum that first inspired me to build my own HTPC. You can find there plenty of information on lots of aspects of HTPCs. Really worth a visit. And as for the application itself….just go and download it (it’s free) – I’m sure you are going to love it!

Additional software:

There’s few programs worth mentioning as they should make your HTPC even better.

Speedfan – will help to tune fans inside your HTPC, making it even more silent. Also helps monitor its temperature.

Cyberlink PowerDVD – one of just a few applications available at the moment capable of playing HD contents (both HD-DVD & Blu-Ray)

DVD Decrypter – an application that will help you to make backups of all DVDs you own, so you don’t have to look for them everytime you want to watch one of them.

You might also want to check out the Slysoft AnyDVD HD.

Now that we have both hardware & software sides covered it’s time to start enjoying home cinema in our living rooms. But wait a minute….we still need a display to watch it on – and that’s exactly what part 3 will be about (now that the 32″ Samsung LCD is on its way).