A while ago, I went over to my friends place and noticed that he had a PC hooked
up to his home theatre system. Full 5.1 surround JBL setup with all the
bells and whistles. He showed me a few things that it could do and I got
pretty hooked. Aside from playing DVD movies through his HT setup, he
played VCDs, DivX, MP3s, CDs and whatever you could throw at it. What
other set top player on the market can do that right now? None.
So after about two weeks of planning, I gathered up the parts
needed to build a home theatre PC. I am by no means an expert nor can be
even considered an audiophile. I have a slight grasp on what is needed to
get video and audio out to my HT. I will try to explain what I went
through which will hopefully guide you on the right track to setting up your
What I basically wanted for this setup was to play DVDs, VCDs,
DivX and MP3s through my HT setup and hopefully have room to grow. There
are other things like running a TV tuner, digitally recording television and
HDTV types of uses. Since I do not have a HD ready television nor need any
types of TV recording (have a digital recorder from the cable company already),
we'll basically be aiming at playing the above mentioned media types.
It is a good idea to get at least a television with a good
number of video/audio inputs and outputs before diving into this project.
A decent receiver and a set of 5.1 speakers will work wonders for you. To
start off, here is my original setup for my home theatre. I have a 27"
Sony VEGA and a 5.1 set of Sony speakers with a Sony receiver. For a quick
explanation of what these are, the Vega is a flat screen television. Has a
ton of inputs and outputs on the back, which is great for hooking up numerous
devices if need be. The 5.1 one that is commonly referred to in HT setups,
is the 2 front left and right speakers, 1 center speaker, 2 rear left and right
speakers and the .1 which is your sub-woofer. When choosing a receiver,
make sure to try and get one that allows for digital inputs. Since we're
building a HTPC, we're going to go with digital coax for the audio input. More
on that later...
For our HTPC, here is what it is comprised of:
- P4 1.6a
- MSI 845 Ultra Motherboard
- Crucial 256MB PC2700 DDR
- Matrox G450 Dualhead Video card
- M-Audio Revolution 7.1 Sound Card
- Samsung 120GB HD
- Samsung DVD/CDRW 48/24/48/16X
- VoyeurMods RaidMax Case
- ThermalTake Aquarius II Water Cooling kit
That's right, we're building a water cooled HTPC. The
number one annoyance in a home theatre setup is extra noise. There will be
no room for whining fans and loud drives. What we need are quiet
components that will get the job done. What better way to keep the CPU
cool with the least amount of noise than using water? The P4 1.6a does not put
out very much heat, and with the price tag that it carries now, it is a perfect
CPU to use. The hard drive and cdrw drive all have sound dampening
technology built in. The video card uses passive cooling, so there is no
noise coming from that either.
Before we get to the good part of this guide, I just want to
thank the sponsors that made this project possible. Thanks to Matrox, Crucial, Samsung, VoyeurMods and Xoxide for providing some of
these components. We searched for the best in value and quality and these
companies came through. Very much appreciated!
Here are some shots of the components we are using:
The VoyeurMods RaidMax Case is a high glossy black
case. I chose it pretty much because it was available and black, which
matches somewhat to my HT setup.
MSI 845 Ultra and P4 1.6a along with the memory
Since we are going for VCDs and DivX encoded media
playing, we need a large drive to hold all of them. The 120GB monster from
Samsung does the job nicely without breaking the bank. With the added
sound dampening technology, it is whisper quiet.
The G450 has been out for a while, while more higher
performing video cards are available, this is what it came down to. It is
relatively cheap and provides S-Video output. This HTPC is not aimed to
play 3D games, so having a more expensive card would make no sense in this
situation. You may however get a different card for your setup, but the 2D
quality of the G450 will suit us just fine.
The sound card is probably the most important
component in a HTPC setup. Picking a sound card can be a complicated
situation. If you want to output all your audio signals digitally, then
you need a sound card that has s/pdif. S/pdif is the digital output
developed by Sony and Philips, which is what it is named after, Sony/Philips
digital interface (S/PDIF). Not all digital outputs are created equal,
even though some may think so. For our HTPC, we decided to go with
M-audio's newest consumer based sound card, the Revolution 7.1. HTPC
builders in the past have relied on M-audio's Audiophile 2496 or Delta Dios to
do the job for digital output. The mentioned models are not cheap since
they were meant for studio recording, running about 200 dollars USD. Since
so many people were using these pro-sumer sound cards, M-audio decided to build
a new one for the everyday consumer, which is what the Revolution 7.1 is.
Aside from offering 7.1 support, which is just 2
extra rear speakers, it also supports 24 bit / 192Khz sampling. This is
one of the only cards on the market that can support this, previously, many
people were using the Audigy line of cards from Creative, which boasts a 24/96
support. It was later discovered that it wasn't true, the Audigy
re-sampled! Instead of passing through 44.1 KHz streams, it re-sampled to
48Khz, which is not perfect in regards to bit for bit output. Even the
Santa Cruz does it too. We do not want that, we want a card that can
provide the signal digitally and cleanly, which is why we went for the M-audio
solution, which has no need to re-sample.
The Samsung DVD/CDRW combo drive is easy to use and
quick. It is quiet during operation which serves our purposes
perfectly. By the way, a combo drive cuts down on the components seen on
the front of your case, if you are looking to install a DVD drive and a
The ThermalTake Aquarius II was chosen for its 29dB
noise rating. This HTPC needs to be quiet, which the TT WC Kit can
A wireless USB Nic is used to provide connectivity to
the internet. Web surfing will probably come into play later down in the
road so we went for this wireless solution.
The last piece of the puzzle is the wireless keyboard
and mouse combo. This Airboard from Silitek does the trick, it provides
everything you need without wires. These only run about 20 dollars, we
bought ours on Ebay.