HTPC project – cinema in my living room – part 3 – HD Edition

HTPC project – cinema in my living roomWelcome to part 3 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. Part 2 focused mainly on the software side of the htpc setup.

It took me over 2 years to update you on progress of this project and a lot changed since the first time I started writing about HTPCs back in 2008. Below are details of my current setup (and let me add that I am extremely happy with it):

Hardware

Case: Antec NSK2480

No change necessary. This case is still a great choice when it comes to building a home entertainment PC. Added benefit was the fact that it goes nicely with my Onkyo sound system which also happens to be silver!
Antec NSK2480

CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 4850e Energy Efficient Processor

When it comes to HTPC CPU is not of paramount importance as most of the decoding is done by the GPU. I went with a dual core, energy-efficient CPU from AMD – it is more than enough to run this setup.

CPU cooler: Stock AMD cooler

There was no need to upgrade the stock cooler as I am happy with both noise & temp. levels.

Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H 780G Socket AM2+ mATX

This is a really good HTPC motherboard. The fact that it has integrated optical audio output, HDMI out and decent ATI graphic card (HD3200 series, however it not being utilised in my setup due to initial problems with hardware acceleration & ATI chipset on Linux) also made the choice much easier!

RAM: 2×512 MB Crucial RAM

No need for more so far. The system is fast enough with this rather small amount of RAM memory.

Graphics Card: ZOTAC GeForce 8400 GS 256MB

As I am running Ubuntu as my operating system, I had to add a separate graphic card to my setup. Unfortunately the onboard ATI card did have problems with hardware acceleration. Ebay once more came to the rescue where I’ve managed to find a decent gfx card at even more decent price. Win!

HDD: 80GB Seagate

I stopped keeping my files on the htpc and decided to move my storage to separate NAS (another post perhaps). 80GB of hard drive space is more than enough to install Ubuntu operating system and keep some local music/video files if necessary.

Optical Drive: Blu-Ray Drive

At the moment the drive is being mostly used as a DVD player as Blu-Ray playback on Linux is not quite there yet, but I am hopeful that this will be resolved quickly and shall be able to watch blu-ray discs on my HTPC.

Keyboard / mouse: None

No change there – VNC is still a winner, especially that it can be used from iPod Touch or a netbook/laptop (whichever is closer at the time).

TV: Samsung 32 inch LCD TV

Nothing too extravagant. Just a decent LCD screen connected to the HTPC using HDMI cable.

Sound System: Onkyo sound system, receiver & 5.1 speaker setup

As our living room is fairly small there was no need to buy huge speakers. This nice combo delivers very decent sound.

Remote: Logitech Harmony

This was a no-brainer! Once you have more than 3 separate remotes to control stuff it really gets frustrating when you have to start juggle them. And this is where Harmony’s brilliance comes in. It can be programmed to replace a combination of several separate remotes – it definitely makes our life easier – one remote to control them all!

Software

Operating system: Ubuntu Linux 10.04

This time I went with an open source operating system, mainly the Ubuntu Linux. Over the last few years the support coming from the open source community helped Ubuntu to become a great platform to run HTPC on. After initial problems with making ATI gpu chipset work with HD content I got a nvidia card and had no problems since – it just works!

Media Player: Boxee & XBMC

Two great media players – Boxee & XBMC. Both a bit different but recently I tend to use XBMC more. If you are after online video sources you should definitely check out Boxee – it comes with a wide range of video sources available.

What can it do?

Pretty much anything (with Blu-Ray being more tricky, but not impossible). This system works great. It can feed HD signal to our LCD TV, stream digital audio signal over optical link to the sound system. Video, music, photos, weather, news – you name it, it can do it all.

What’s Next?

Recently I came into possession of two TV cards (one dbv-s & one dvb-t). I am planning to stick them in the HTPC and use to stream TV content around the house. I am already looking forward to that but due to lack of time won’t be able to complete this project until early 2011 (hopefully). The DVB-S card should give me access to HD channels available on Freesat and the DVB-T tuner will be used as backup when we want to record a couple of different channels at the same time. Can’t wait!