Build Your Own Silent HTPC – Blu-ray, HD DVD and HDTV Combined

Despite the best marketing efforts of all the companies involved, high definition video and TV somehow don’t seem to be getting off the ground here in Europe. A closer look reveals that this is not a result of a disinterested audience. Instead, it is the content and hardware industries that are creating most of the obstacles for themselves. It’s high time Tom’s Hardware did something about the situation and took matters into our own hands. Our goal is to build the definitive multimedia PC - a functional yet affordable system that will show the hamstrung industry how the wind blows. Anyone should be able to build the all-rounder we are assembling in this article. And maybe, just maybe, the industry will take our design as an example and finally shed its protectionist thinking.

This is what we want our HTPC to do:

  • Play back Blu-ray discs as well as HD DVDs from a single optical drive
  • Play back high definition television (HDTV) in any European country, including pay TV channels
  • Run near silent or at least quietly (fan noise should not be louder than the operating noise of the hard drive or the optical drive)
  • Play back Full-HD content (1920 x 1080) via the HDMI interface with HDCP copy protection and audio
  • Play back video streams over the home network
  • Play back all of the most important media formats such as MPEG-4/H.264, VC-1, MPEG-2/DVD, WMV (Windows Media Player), MP4, MOV (Apple Quicktime), Flash (SWF, FLV), DivX, Matroska, Ogg Vorbis, MP3, AAC, etc
  • Record HDTV to the hard drive with the option of burning to DVD later
  • Offer access to all important functions through the remote control without the need for a keyboard
  • Wake up and go to sleep using the remote control
  • Wake up from sleep mode for pre-programmed recordings
  • Consume less than 4 Watts of power in power save mode
  • Look good in the living room – we want an aesthetically pleasing HTPC enclosure that doesn’t need ugly external modules such as a USB infrared sensor or a USB smartcard reader for Pay TV. Instead: Full integration right on the faceplate

In this first part, we choose the hardware for our project and tally up the bill. Our extensive image gallery also show you how to build your own all-round HTPC following our lead. In the second part, we will cover the installation and configuration of the software.

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  • jumpa777
    A good article but:

    1. While you concentrated on the IR functionality of the case, you didn't mention the noise the supplied fans create. Given you've gone to all that trouble (and expense) of finding a fanless power supply why do you not consider case fan noise. Is it because the case is supplied with low noise fans? Have you measured the noise? What is the noise?
    2. If you are so concerned about noise why not suggest that video data is stored on a server somewhere else and the OS be put on Compact Flash.
    €30 to eliminate "data" noise completely for the life of you system seems positively cheap. Hard drive quietening solutions are not as effective or as cheap.
    3. Is it me or does the case look like it would take up half your lounge(unless your lounge is the size of London)? Not exactly small it is? I can't think of anyone's living room that it wouldn't look intrusive in.
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  • galespurehoney
    1. i would ideally go for something like HFX's mini htpc case. fans are the enemy of a comfortable living room environment. even the hard disk whine of my Sky+ box irritates the heck out of me.
    2.Agreed, i'm definatly going to go the compact flash option, and have a networked media server somewhere where it won't be as obtrusive.
    3.Agreed again, what is it with these so called HTpc boxes that are big enough to hold a swimming pool? we have mATX mainboards, and half height cards, why not use them?

    my inital idea is to get an HP DC7700 small form factor machine, still on the big side for a media centre machine, but a third the size of that offering. still fit a normal size 5.25" optical drive, and 3.5" hard disk. still got pciE x1, pciE x16, and 2x normal pci slots for half height cards. got a pciE NV8500 with HDMI, 4Gb ram (don't want paging on a compact flash drive)...

    anyway, my only question is, how are you able to get dual satallite tuners to work with one CAM smart card module?
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  • fulabeer
    Good article, but a little late in the day!

    I did a similar thread over at avforums.co.uk a long while a go...
    http://www.avforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=348233

    My media machine had to be low profile, and comes with a true low profile HDMI VGA card. (Sapphire 1600 HDMI etc)
    The case has a has a IR port (and display) built in, and comes from standby with a normal MCE remote.
    It is currently only running HD-DVDs, but i do intend to change to a multi HD drive.

    I didn't bother with tuner cards as we don't get HD broadcasts via terrestial TV. (YET!)

    It is near silent when running, and didn't cost the earth!

    Bye Bye...:)
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  • fulabeer
    Good article, but a little late in the day!
    I did a similar thread over at avforums.co.uk a long while a go...
    http://www.avforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=348233

    My media machine had to be low profile, and comes with a true low profile HDMI VGA card. (Sapphire 1600 HDMI etc)
    The case has a has a IR port (and display) built in, and comes from standby with a normal MCE remote.
    It is currently only running HD-DVDs, but i do intend to change to a multi HD drive.

    I didn't bother with tuner cards as we don't get HD broadcasts via terrestial TV. (YET!)

    It is near silent when running, and didn't cost the earth!

    Bye Bye...:)
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  • mras@cdk
    You tell there no Intel alternativ to the AMD which support HDPC and HDMI, then what about G35?
    as use on Asus P5E V(M)HDMI!
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  • robinj5
    Why do this when soon you can do most of this for a fraction of the price and hassle?

    Although I have been using a HTPC with Windows MCE(XP and Vista) for the last 2 and half years, im afraid early next year I will be dropping it. I have come to realise that to run, and keep up to date my Media Center is a constant and expensive hassle, with worries about heat, silence, power consumption, speed, drivers, cpu consumption, codecs, configuration etc.

    I will admit that a well spec'd HTPC is very flexible, should be less hassle and can look good too, but it is still not perfect for something the Mrs can use! Even though she does see its uses and has been sold on the idea I cringe evertime i have to tell her to restart the TV! They are still not perfect as a living room entertainment device for the average user.

    Early next year Sony releases the PlayTV twin tuner for the PS3. This is where my money is going next. It can do Photos, Music, Videos, uPnp network streaming, internet browsing, HD and Blu-Ray and now a full twin tuner PVR but is also quiet, user friendly and hassle free. Thats without even mentioning the gaming, all for £300!

    Yes, i understand the HTPC is more flexible and upgradeable but I hope you all see my point?
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