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-- Build your own HTPC
-- Category: Guide
-- Posted by: GideonX
-- Posted on: 2002-02-02
-- Price: ~ $NA USD
-- Pages: [ 1 ] 2 3
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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 own.

   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  from Crucial.

   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 CD-RW.

   The ThermalTake Aquarius II was chosen for its 29dB noise rating.  This HTPC needs to be quiet, which the TT WC Kit can provide.

   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.




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