Home Theatre PC Project

After years of wanting to integrate a HTPC into the home theatre I finally got around to it. I decided since Vista SP1 was now available that I would take the chance on it and Media Center. The basic specs for the system were quiet, with lots of storage and in a case that matched the look of the rest of the gear in our stereo cabinet.

The new Core 2's run very cool in comparison to the first generation of dual core processors so a passive cooling system was the easy answer. A passively cooled video card was not difficult to find either. I wanted a lot of storage 1TB is pretty cheap accept that I learned my lesson about using non-raid quality drives on my desktop so this time I went for the extra security drives designed for RAID environment offer. I figured that because the PVR portion of the HTPC is constantly reading and writing to the hard drive that these would see a lot more activity than your average desktop raid scenario. It also need to have dual tuner capability so that we could watch one thing and record another (or record two things). We also wanted the tuners to be capable of grabbing the High-Def (ATSC) over-the-air broadcasts. Living near Buffalo, NY there are about 8 or so channels that are broadcasting in HD that we can receive.

Component List

What I Learned

Choosing the components for the system was based on a lot of research into what others had done. I read forums to see what people had used and what worked and didn't work. I shop at NCIX.com they ship cheaper and faster than some of the more local on-line retailers.

The largest setback I have had is that as far as Vista and Microsoft are concerned Canadians don't have access to digital HD OTA tuners or broadcasts because when you setup Vista MCE for Canada your digital tuners do not appear in the list of inputs. Not to worry, a few minutes on Google.ca and the solution presented itself nicely. This is the link (http://thegreenbutton.com/blogs/pnear/archive/2006/11/22/202706.aspx) to the full process I will describe briefly here. It basically involves setting up your system as though you lived in the area you wanted to receive the digital broadcasts from, then copying the registry settings for allowing the digital tuners out of the registry, then resetting the system to the area you live in so the rest of the functions for your cable guide work, then re-importing the registry with the settings that allow the HD tuner to work. Effectively you are enabling the digital tuners in Canada with a little registry hack.

The other problem we had is that Vista MCE will not allow your sound card to output audio on the digital (Toslink/SPDIF) and analog (Stereo Mini) simultaniously. The reason that it caused a problem for us is that our Denon AVR-3803 A/V receiver does not pass any audio from the digital inputs to the Zone 2 outputs which we use to send audio to the Nuvo whole home audio distribution system. The Nuvo system provides music for all the rooms upstairs and our back porch. To get around this little problem I put a Toslink Digital Audio Splitter between the HTPC and the receiver and added a Gefen digital to analog audio converter to the splitter output. The only thing to note here is that if the signal coming from your PC is anything but a PCM 2 Channel the converter can't deal with it. All that means is when a DVD or other 5.1 audio source has control of the sound card nothing will come out fo the converter, since all we need the converter to do is playback stereo audio this setup works perfectly.