HTPC: Part 2 – The software

Let me show you what I’ve done to get my HTPC up and running, through some blogposts.
The drilldown
Part 1: The hardware
Part 2: The software
Part 3: The overall conclusion and some pictures

This part will be about the software that is used on my HTPC to get everything working.

* OS: Windows 7 Home edition 64bit

Because of the fact that I got 4gb of memory, there was only one option and that was installing Windows 7 Home edition 64bit!
It’s a good OS and will serve all my needs.

* Media software: Windows 7 Media Center

With the Win7 Home edition, you’ll get Windows Media Center 7 for free! it’s a great HTPC software tool that already contains many features, but you’ll also be able to install extra plugins.

* Music playback: Windows 7 Media Center & iTunes

I manage all my music in iTunes ( playlists and metadata tagging ), this because I use my iPod Nano during my sport activities! On my HTPC I have a backup running of all my available music, so Media Center will pick this up in the Music hub.

* Picture viewing: Windows 7 Media Center & FastPictureViewer

I own a Nikon D40x and love the quality it produces! To be able to do fine manipulation on my photo’s I tend to save them in RAW format ( Adobe DNG to be precise ). But the Pictures hub of Media Center doesn’t support any RAW format… to accomplish this, you can get the 64bit codec from FastPictureViewer! It works like a charm, now all my RAW pictures are viewable inside the Pictures hub.

* Blu-Ray playback: ArcSoft TotalMedia Theatre 3

TotalMedia from ArcSoft is a solid product when it comes to Blu-Ray playback on Windows… and thanks to the Media Center integrated interface you can now watch your Blu-Rays from inside Media Center itself!

* DvD playback: Media Browser

All my Dvd’s are ripped unto the HTPC. To get a nice interface for different catalogues, I opted for Media Browser… it’s just a great tool with also plugin capability! It can also auto fetch movie information ( metadata, posters and backdrops ) from the internet.
I made a seperate catalogue for general movies and one for my kids 🙂 .

* Weather information: mceWeather

Great plugin that will show you a nice forecast of the weather of any location!
Another one worth mentioning is HeatWave, but I don’t like the info switching on the main screen.

* CPU temperature: CoreTempMC

A nice little plugin that allows you to keep track of the temperature of your CPU from within Media Center.

HTPC: Part 1 – The hardware

Well I finally got around buying a HTPC for my home entertainment needs 🙂
It took me a while, but now that it’s here I’m very content!!

Let me show you what I’ve done to get my HTPC up and running, through some blogposts.
The drilldown

  • Part 1: The hardware
  • Part 2: The software
  • Part 3: The overall conclusion and some pictures

This first part will be about the hardware that makes the HTPC work.

* Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-MA785GMT-UD2H

I went for this motherboard for 2 main reasons! One it would work perfectly with my intended CPU ( more later ) and secondly it has all the hardware on board for all the needed Home Theater features!
It has Full HD 1080p Blu-Ray playback capability, a S/PDIF In/Out with support for HD 7.1 channel audio and last but not least it supports DDR3 memory.

* CPU: AMD Athlon II X4 605e

AMD is a good option for building a HTPC, because they have some nice cpu’s that try to keep your power consumption low. Meaning your machine also won’t heat up that much and because of this you don’t need to have high speed ( noisy ) fans! Also with the chosen motherboard I’m able to upgrade to a 6 core AMD if I want. For now I’ve chosen the 4 core 605e, because these e models only have a thermal design power of 45w!!

* Case: Antec NSK2480

I just love the design of this case! It just looks stunning and has enough space to serve my purpose… I wanted to add one normal HD and one SSD ( more on this later ). This case incorporates a 380Watt EarthWatts power supply, so the total consumption of power is regulated!
The only drawback of this case is the absence of a IR receiver… but I didn’t want to buy the Antec Fusion Remote because, this case, has a LCD screen that is not needed in my setup and I also dislike the volume button ( because the sound is regulated through my receiver ).
For some people the silver front could also be a drawback, but I’m not that difficult 🙂

* IR Receiver: Antec Veris Multimedia Station Basic

This was the most difficult thing to choose! Because I always thought to use this IR, but I read many ‘problems’ with it on different forums in combination with Logitech universal remotes!! And I own a Logitech Harmony One that I wanted to use in cooperation with the HTPC…
After much reading I decided to still have a go with it and now that the HTPC is in use, I have to say, I can’t complain 🙂
I have to admit it takes some setting and tweaking to get it working, but at the end I’m content! ( cfr my second post on software for more settings details )

* Blu-Ray: Lite-On iHOS104

One of the main features my HTPC needed to get was Blu-Ray playback! So to get this working, I needed to install a Blu-Ray drive. I just opted for one of the cheapest Blu-Ray roms because, writing Blu-Ray’s is not something I foresee to be doing on the HTPC.

* Hard disks: Intel SSD 80Gb X-25M and Western Digital Caviar Green 1Tb

For me a HTPC should be available fast and should be reasonable quiet, but also needs to be able to contain a lot of media data! To get best of both worlds I opted for a SSD as primary HD to boot from and a normal HD to store the media on! In time I could get an extra NAS if more storage is needed…
I have to say that a SDD drive to boot from is just fantastic! The speed is enormous, when you see it in action, you just keep wondering why not all pc’s are equipped with a SSD!!! Nothing but positive reactions when running the HTPC on a SSD.

* Memory: 4Gb of DDR3 memory

The motherboard supports DDR3, so went for that. I added 4Gb because the Windows 7 operating system is 64bits so all memory is used and 4Gb is more then enough for a good HTPC.

Well that’s it for the hardware, stay tuned for the software list in the second blog post.

HTPC list

Well my never ending story is here again 😉
I still need a good backup system for my pictures and iTunes collection ! But if possible I would also love to be able to use this system as a HTPC, maybe even one that could generate HD output !

Because of this need, I’m currently keeping track of a small wish list that could be used to build this HTPC. So for all people who are interested or would like to help me in my quest, here is the current state of that list.

  • Case : Antec NSK2480

  • The main issue everyone will have with building a HTPC is the choice of the correct case. This because it has to look nice enough that it could sit around in the living room, but still has to be functional enough to actually be a pc.

  • Motherboard : GIGABYTE GA-MA78GM-S2H
  • There are 2 reasons why I would go for this mobo… one is actually very obvious, it’s cheap ! Compared with the features you get, it really is. The second reason is the HD playback functionality and the added HDMI port.

  • CPU : AMD 4850E X2 64BIT Dual-core
  • This AMD cpu would seem like something not quite top notch, but it has some HTPC advantages. First of al it’s wattage is only 45W, one great feature for a pc that could be running a long time. Second one, related to the first, is the fact that the cpu will not get that hot so we can have some liberty on choosing a cpu cooler.

  • CPU Cooler : Scythe Shuriken

  • This Scythe Shuriken cooler is small, seems to be very quiet and would be enough for the cpu at hand. A small note though, a Scythe Ninja mini would also be a good option ( could be used without fan ), but is a bit more expensive.

  • HD : Western Digital Caviar Green
  • Western digital has come up with a green series of their Caviar products ! Meaning the HD will also be less power consuming… again a big plus for any HTPC.

  • RAM : Total of 4gb
  • Nothing fancy here… just 2 simms of 2gb memory to get to 4gb.

Well there you have it ! My current HTPC wishlist… and to give you a good estimate, it’s possible to build this for € 400 or less.

[tags]HTPC, Antec, Gigabyte, AMD[/tags]

File server – music server – HTPC

Now that I have my Lightroom workflow set up nicely and my iTunes library organised centrally… I’m getting aware of a new problem with my current hardware setup !!
Because of the use of DNG photo files and MP3 files that have a low compression, I’m using up disk space fast !! And due to the fact that I don’t want to loose these files, I’m also duplicating them onto another drive, so that drive is getting full also.
So it seems that I need some new hardware to accommodate this.

First of, let me give you a small overview of what I have available right now:

  • Laptop with 80gb ( 2 years old )
  • Desktop with 80gb ( many years old )
  • USB/FireWire external HD with 250gb
  • USB external HD with 500gb

What are my needs for the new system:

  • Less external devices ! ( those external HD’s are great but take up space )
  • Central networked system so I can get to my files from my laptop or other devices if needed

But given these features, there are several possible solutions. Let me sum up a few:

  • A networked external HD
  • A NAS, that will act as networked storage center
  • A low level server system ( linux kind ) with enough HD’s
  • A high level server system, guessing more like the Windows Home Server kind
  • A HTPC

So you see, to much options. Thus I have to define my needs in much more detail…
This brings me to following extra needs:

  • RAID would be a suburb option
  • Music streaming/serving

And that sums it up, so looking at these specs, I think a nice HTPC would do the trick. Because that way I can hook it up in the network and place it at my TV and Hifi set, making movie and music playback possible !
But I’m a n00b when it comes to building pc systems myself, so I’m a bit stuck on what hardware to choose.
Still, the first selection any HTPC buyer has to make is picking a case to put all the hardware in.

So I did some searching and let me present you the current choices:

Origen AE H6

htpc_shot5.jpg htpc_shot4.jpg

Zalman HD160

hd160_01_b0.jpg hd160_03_b0.jpg

Antec Fusion 430

fusion.jpg fusion-v2-b.jpg

Here again to much choice ;), but I have to start somewhere !
So any thoughts on what to pick and why, just leave a comment… now I’m of to my friend Google again to read some reviews 😀

[tags]HTPC, NAS, File Server, iTunes[/tags]

Home Cinema Setup

I’m a sucker for movies… so during the past years, I’ve been investing in a Home Cinema Setup ! Now that we live in a new house, the final pieces are coming together.

I have a good dvd player, a nice surround receiver, part upgraded 6.1 speaker setup and an universal remote control, so I don’t have to use 5 controls to watch one movie 🙂 .

Naturally I still have some issues about the setup, like the television should be replaced and the receiver actually lacks some new features that have come available during the past years. But that’s all future stuff, the one thing I would love to add right now is some home cinema decoration !!

Yep, I’m proud of my setup and I would love to show of some of the features available ! My current receiver has following 2 main sound processing decoders…

Logo_Dolby_Digital_EX_II Logo_DTS_ES

And during the search for my hardware I’ve found several sites where they sell this kind of Logo’s as shields for display !! One of these examples can be found here at Movie Decor Shop.

But there is one HUGE problem… I live in Belgium ( Europe ) and it seems that we are out of luck to get these props ! So my first question would be, does anybody have a trip to the USA planned this year ??

Getting a dead end is no fun, so I searched further and found out that some other guys also had the same problem… and they had a great solution ( even though I consider this a temporary solution I’m still sharing it, because it’s cool 🙂 ). They made some high res versions of the logos and just had them printed out like real pictures !! I have to say the result is pleasing. Here are the ones they’ve used :

DOLBY dts2

Not bad at all, but it’s not the final result I’m hoping for ! So if there is anyone out there that can help me get these shields, please help me out !!

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Anime nostalgia

Well when I was young during  the 80ies, we didn’t have so much TV programs for kids. Not all those fancy TV stations with almost 24/7 airing cartoons, no we only had some BRT sponsored series that were only there to educate us and teach us some morals :).

But on the off chance, we could watch the French television and get some new cartoon culture ! I was hooked from the very beginning. One of the cartoon series I like very much, was the Japanese anime called Saint Seiya or like the French used to call it Les Chevaliers du Zodiac. Ofcorse the French version was dubbed and had received some form of censorship, but it was plain fun ! Also it happened to be my first encounter with anime.

So no better time then the present to recapture that feeling of the past.. so I got myself the very first season of this fine anime on DVD, ready to start watching it all over again.

  

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Sci-Fi lists

Mr. Michel has commented on the Sci-Fi top 10 created by the readers of SFX ! Most of his comments are very true, but like anything else regarding taste, everyone has his own special list. So here is mine 🙂

By the way… I left out all the Anime/Manga movies, because otherwise I should create a top 100 list.

  1. Alien
  2. The Thing
  3. Star Wars : V – The empire strikes back
  4. Blade Runner
  5. The Terminator
  6. The Abyss
  7. Dark City
  8. Equilibrium
  9. Dune
  10. Tron

Some comments, Star Wars IV just missed the lists and this because I didn’t want to put movies from the same ‘trilogy’ in here.
Alien and The Thing are both on the first spot actually, I couldn’t decide, so those 2 are sorted alphabetically !

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Currently listening to: Bollock BrothersThe 4 Horsemen Of Apocalypse ( The 4 Horsemen Of Apocalypse )

HiFi madness

Let me start by stating that I’m a bit of a techie !!
All kind of new toys make me drool… ranging from computers, cellphones till photo camera stuff.

Now one of the mean things that keeps me interested is hifi equipment, more precise home cinema equipment.
Currently I’m involved in the construction of our new home and with that, comes the outline planning of the audio structure !

So here is my story on how I set up my system from scratch ! I hope I can help other people with these tips and tricks :)…

‘In the beginning’ when I was first introduced to surround sound, I was hooked ! This was something I had to have at home… a must have need that needed to be fulfilled. But like so many things I rushed in to fast, to furious. ( But looking at this now, I guess that was a good thing after all )
Time frame was the first introduction of Dolby Digital, so Dolby Prologic was the most available audio signal processing on offer at the time. I didn’t do any research and was sweet talked into buying a Home Theatre In a Box of Celestion by a salesman at a local Hifi shop !

It consists out of a subwoofer and 5 speakers ( 1 front central and 4 surrounds ), with a build in dolby prologic amplifier in the subwoofer. It was sold at a very good price and it had everything I could wish for ( I thought at the time ) !
So one or two years pass and I was happy :), but then the I bought my first dvd player and with this came the knowledge that, allthough Dolby Prologic was very good, Dolby Digital would be the ‘standard’ for dvd movies to come !!

SonyDVP-S525D

So there I was, not so very happy anymore, watching Dolby Digital movies through my Dolby Prologic sound processor…
But the good thing about this was, that I learned my first lesson !

Tip #1 : Do a thorough research !

If I had learned a bit more about the Dolby Digital process, I would have waited a bit more with the purchase of my HTiB !! A Dolby Digital processor would have been the obvious choice.
On the other hand, the good thing is that I learned a lot in 4 years, following the Hifi scene ! So my second purchase and actual first upgrade, of my surround sound setup was a new AV Receiver packed with all the goodies I think I need.
Behold my 6.1 AV Surround sound receiver – the Denon avr 2802.

Denon avr 2802

When I bought my receiver, I’ve had read several reviews, followed several Hifi magazines and calculated my budget… and with this last item, also came the second lesson !

Tip #2 : Shop around !

Yep, just look further than your local Hifi shop. Surf the net, get several different price listings and I assure you can get your item a lot cheaper then first expected.
So with this second purchase I was able to overcome the Dolby Prologic burden. I bypassed the build in processor of the HTiB, this through direct linking the speakers to the new receiver ! So the first system wasn’t lost at all… it just got a bit upgraded 🙂

But the drawback of lesson 1 & 2 is, that after doing some research you’ll soon notice that the system you own is or ‘out dated’, or ‘underpowered’, or even worse ‘badly combined’ !
Mine is underpowered, I think I can get more ‘sound’ out of my receiver, than I’m currently possible… So I started dreaming and with this I drafted up the next possible upgrades my system could have. Tadaaaa lesson 3.

Tip #3 : Stop dreaming !

Yep, because even though I now know what my dream system would look like, I can’t ever be able to afford it !!
I checked several speaker sets, looked at different speaker cables and even had a glance at the new receivers made by Denon. And let me assure you, you will want to have more than your budget will allow 🙂

So, out goes the new receiver : Denon avr 2807

Denon avr 2807

So, out goes the speaker cable set : QED Silver Anniversary
But I’m keeping my dream speakers !! : B&W Speakers 600 series 3

bw_600_series_3_DM603_S3

So no new receiver and I downgraded my new cables to a set made by Ixos and I’m happy all over again.

Or… is 7.1 ever going to get a boost ? Or is SACD or DvD Audio ever going to get big ? Damn those Blu-Ray and HD-DVD discs…