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Build a Homemade Media Center PC 286

DigitalDame2 writes "PC Magazine's Loyd Case explains how to build a Media Center PC of your own, how to choose the parts for a custom project, and tips for the Motherboard." I imagine you guys might have some other opinions on what parts and tools to use for the task...
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Build a Homemade Media Center PC

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  • do it yourself... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by whizzard ( 177251 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @06:13PM (#14737261) Homepage
    ...for over $2200? I realize it needs to have a lot of bells and whistles, but that seems excessive somehow.
    • I built our media center PC for much less than that. It uses an old athlon XP 1200+ which is more than adequate for the job. The system runs freevo on a free linux distribution, has only 256Mb of RAM, and a cheap video card that does TV-out (cost about £15) which looks fine on my non-HD TV. The whole thing was put together for about £150. Although, admittedly that doesn't include the storage -- that went in the server in the attic. But, 6 300Gb drives left me with 1.4Tb of usable RAID5 space and
  • Must be said! (Score:5, Informative)

    by patrickclay ( 898576 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @06:15PM (#14737284) Homepage
    I've had a lot of luck running MythTV [mythtv.org] on inexpensive hardware I had lying around the house. There's no reason to spend buckets of cash like the one mentioned in the article if all you need is a simple PVR.
    • Not to mention that MythTV doesn't deal with all that DRM bull. It just encodes it so you can use it as you like.
    • Hell, I love it. It downloads the showtimes and listings, records your shows, has priority and quality settings, lets you play MAME ROMs, lets you play other video files you have, will play DVDs, MP3s, has an image browser -- it is rediculously full-featured. There's a VOIP module, DVD-burning support, and much much more. I'm using the KnoppMyth [mysettopbox.tv] version, which only needed me to tell it about my remote control, and setup the buttons.
    • Re:Must be said! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jdunn14 ( 455930 )
      Agreed. I'm currently playing with a media box I put together for a lot less than 2200. Of course, my demand for bells and whistles is fairly low. I personally prefer a small, quiet, media box, so I use the Antec Aria case. It doesnt have a lot of room, but it can hold a reasonable motherboard (MSI something... cant remember right now), TV card, and a DVD drive. I also have to disagree with the article where it talks about using a keyboard instead of the remote. Personally, when I'm using my media box
    • My ex-roommate, who is very familiar with Linux spent over 20 hours trying to get MythTV to work with his hardware. I don't know if he's even managed to get it working completely yet.

      MythTV looks like it'd be great--**if** you can get it working.
    • Re:Must be said! (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Bourbonium ( 454366 )
      Absolutely. I did the same thing with less than $300 worth of hardware, a Knoppmyth CD and a little bit of time. I did a practice install first with a standard IDE disk to make all my mistakes on a scratch system, then built the final box with a 200Gb SATA drive. All I wanted was a DIY PVR, and this worked great.
  • by gasmonso ( 929871 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @06:16PM (#14737292) Homepage

    Depending on your needs, you can spend alot less than $2246. I have my pvr running on a Shuttle SS40g with a 1GHz Athlon/512MB RAM/200GB drive. Its been running for 3 years now without problems (knock on wood). If people need a pvr on the cheap, I would recommend buying a used lowend Shuttle PC or similar and save yourself the cash. You could probably get one on eBay for half the cost than this one.

    http://religiousfreaks.com/ [religiousfreaks.com]
  • I note the article talks about Windows XP Media Center.

    My question to Slashdot is: How good is MythPC? Since I don't have the ability right now to build a media box, I haven't really looked into it. I've heard some people say it's good, some say it's bad. Which is it?

    What alternatives are there to MythPC (free or not)? Are they any good?
    • by PitaBred ( 632671 ) <slashdot AT pitabred DOT dyndns DOT org> on Thursday February 16, 2006 @06:24PM (#14737382) Homepage
      You're talking about MythTV [mythtv.org], and it's quite good. It's difficult to get working in many cases, but most people who like it put up with that because of the flexibility it allows. One backend, multiple frontends, so your TV upstairs can watch shows recorded on the main machine in the living room, for example. It also has great IMDB lookups for existing video files, no DRM (media center edition definitely doesn't have either of those). Best thing I can recommend is to try it. You can always install Media Center edition too, if you think it's bad. Not like it'll take anything but a bit of time, and it's free, so the price is much better than Media Center.
      • You're talking about MythTV, and it's quite good. It's difficult to get working in many cases, but most people who like it put up with that because of the flexibility it allows.

        Pardon my ignorance, but does MythTV support DivX and any other codecs other than MPeg2? I've been thinking about building a MediaPC and was interested in using MythTV.
      • MythTV can be installed and setup very easily using the KnoppMyth [mysettopbox.tv] distribution, and then customised after that (all I've done is install libdvdcss). Otherwise there is Jarod's [wilsonet.com] detailed setup guide, and the mythtv-users mailing list [mythtv.org] is very busy, and people on there are very helpful.

        If you're in New Zealand, we have a localt mythtvnz list [ourshack.com].

        Rob :)

      • Okay, your info on MCE's use of DRM is a bit incorrect. As an MCE user, I know this to be true..

        MCE puts mpeg2 content in a container format called dvr-ms. This container does allow for DRM, but MCE 2005 does not actually encrypt or restrict the content. I use my laptop (XP SP2) to play back content all the time.

        MPlayer-OSX doesn't (quite) understand the format, but it does try to play it. I'm sure MPlayer/Linux would do fine, but I don't have a way to test it.

        I am looking into switching to Myth, but it
        • MCE puts mpeg2 content in a container format called dvr-ms. This container does allow for DRM, but MCE 2005 does not actually encrypt or restrict the content. I use my laptop (XP SP2) to play back content all the time.

          Have you played that "unrestricted" content in the dvr-ms format on anything but a Windows box?

          While .dvr-ms may, in theory, not be restricted, the lack of portability sure is a restriction in practice. Beyond being the default storage format for MCE, does .dvr-ms have any benefits over mpeg2
    • My question to Slashdot is: How good is MythPC?

      Your asking this to Slashdot? We can't decide if Apple, MS, and Google are good or bad.. We flip flop on this daily!
    • You must mean MythTV [mythtv.org].
    • How good is MythPC?

      You mean MythTV. It's very good, and it keeps getting better.

      The people who complain either expect commercial-like support for a turnkey product, try to use poorly supported hardware without the technical ability to make it work, or they are not comfortable with Linux or debugging their own install and setup.
      • MythTV is great, but it still lacks some of the Wife Acceptance Factor that Media Center Edition has.

        It is certainly more configurable and tweakable, but like the parent said, OUT OF THE BOX, MCE is highly polished and ready for the family. Adding four tuners to an MCE box is easy enough for mom and pop.
        • MythTV is great, but it still lacks some of the Wife Acceptance Factor that Media Center Edition has.

          I'm not sure what makes you think that. My wife is about as non-technical as they come and she loves MythTV. This isn't just some recent development either, she basically took it over a year or two ago. Now if I had asked her to buy the parts and set it up then I could see your point (once I finished stringing ethernet cable out to the dog house) but once it's set up Myth is as friendly and easy to use a
          • Well, that is the point, unfortunately.

            Lacking 100 wives and a nice set of out-of-the-box MCE and out-of-the-box Myth setups, we may never have anything conclusive -- but for the time being, I'm going to give the edge to MCE in total WAF.
    • I can help with alternatives in the Windows world. I've never used MythTV. In Windows there is:

      GB-PVR - FREE, easy to install, includes media functions like photos/music/other vides/etc.., works well with current tuners, easy to install plug-ings but not open-source, not very pretty (if the wife-acceptance factor matters), the PVR software I currently use
      SageTV - kind of expensive, the included media functions kind of suck, can easily install plugins (but I totally fucked up my trial install while installi
    • Go grab KnoppMyth (http://www.mysettopbox.tv/knoppmyth.html [mysettopbox.tv]) and burn it to a CD. Try it out yourself and see!
  • You can buy it... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rwven ( 663186 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @06:18PM (#14737321)
    From the MS site:

    http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/mediacenter/how tobuy/default.mspx [microsoft.com]

    Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 is only available pre-installed on computers sold by PC manufacturers. You can purchase a PC with Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 pre-installed at retail consumer electronic stores, direct from PC manufacturers, or through online consumer electronics Web sites.
  • by ChrisGilliard ( 913445 ) <christopher.gilliard@gmail. c o m> on Thursday February 16, 2006 @06:18PM (#14737329) Homepage
    but $2,276 seems like a lot for a computer these days. If money is not an issue, sure go for it and get this system, but you can save on a lot of these areas. Like case for $120. That's a lot. $300+ for the cpu also seems too much. You can get a very nice CPU for $150 and under. I think you can even get a lowend dual core for that price if that's your thing. I'd stick with the 2 gB of RAM, because RAM is the most useful thing these days in my opinion. You don't need that hardrive though. You can get one for about $150 that has a similar capacity that you will probably NEVER fill. The sound card for over $100 is outragous. I use the one that came with my mother board and it sounds great. A $75 microsoft keyboard is redicoulas. You can get a wireless mouse/keyboard combo for less than that price. I want even get into the $125 for the OS. Just my $0.02.
    • $2276 is for a dual HDTV tuner setup. The case is so that it looks pretty and doesn't sound like a jet engine. The $300+ cpu gets them a dual core cpu (see below).

      I'll agree on the RAM, although if the computer is used solely for a media center PC, 2GB of memory isn't that helpful. And I'll also agree on the hard drive, having just purchased a $200 400GB hard drive myself for my media box.

      Honestly, given the proper motherboard, onboard sound with digital outputs going to the DAC in my stereo, and I see n
      • The case is so that it looks pretty and doesn't sound like a jet engine.

        I thought I was splurging at $75 for my case, but $120 must be really cool I guess.

        The $300+ cpu gets them a dual core cpu (see below).

        I think the dual core 2.66 gHz chip is coming out in March for around $200 - $250 range.
  • I'd use Linux! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Nahooda ( 906991 )
    If I was building a HTPC, I'd use Linux, 'cause it's highly customizable since you can strip it down the way you need it. I think Windows is totally inappropriate for HTPCs especially 'cause of all that DRM shit.

    • Re:I'd use Linux! (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Scorpion265 ( 650012 )
      My problem with using a linux box for a PVR is that it's VERY hard to get working with an HDTV. I still can't get it working at 720p or 1080i. Where as the MCE with the nvidia based drivers makes it easy to setup for a high def tv.
    • Re:I'd use Linux! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by grungebox ( 578982 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @06:33PM (#14737467) Homepage
      If I was building a HTPC, I'd use Linux, 'cause it's highly customizable since you can strip it down the way you need it. I think Windows is totally inappropriate for HTPCs especially 'cause of all that DRM shit.

      From the last point in your post it seems you have little to no experience in Windows-based HTPCs, given that your statement is based on exactly one piece of software: MCE. I can't think of one non-MCE piece of Windows PVR software that uses "all that DRM shit" on their files. Not one, and I've used most everything for Windows at one point or another except MCE. MediaPortal, GB-PVR, MeedioTV, BeyondTV, SageTV...none have DRM on their files. None. And they're all Windows-based.
  • Pricey (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Mijion ( 890763 )
    This setup is very over priced, personally I would of not done the 400gb drive, and just raid like 2 250gbs together would be cheaper, also sounds like they just went to a random site and picked out stuff not on sale, if you go to www.slickdeals.net you can find alot of cheap stuff.
  • by mythosaz ( 572040 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @06:35PM (#14737492)
    Ok, you'll all turn this into a "Install MythTV" thread, but...

    I've built several MCE machines. Here's what you need to know.

    An Athlon 1700+ is overkill for a three-tuner (dual analog + OTA HD) setup. Encoding is done on the card. They suggest a $500 CPU/motherboard combination. A Sempron 2600+ on a motherboard is at Fry's for $69, and is boxed with a fairly quiet fan on a cool-and-quiet supported motherboard.

    1g of memory is overkill. 512M of Corsair Value RAM costs $38 at NewEgg. That's about $150 cheaper than their suggestion of 2G of CVR.

    A "fancy" sound card is useless if you simply intend to go out to your stereo. Optical out is available for a couple of bucks, and the stereo out on any newer piece-of-junk AC97 audio sounds just fine through my stereo.

    Their tuners are "fine", but the standard configuration for MCE is almost always a single MCE500 from Hauppauge and a combo of an ATI HD Wonder (no broadcast flag support) and an AverMedia A180. About $400 for this - and it'll be your biggest purchase.

    You do not need a keyboard except in the closet; and yes the remote is $35 from NewEgg.

    250gig drives run $75 or cheaper after rebates and other "scams." I bought a pair of Hitachi "Deathstar" 250's at $49 each at Fry's. We'll pretend though that you'll have to spend $100 for a solid 300 gigger.

    Cost for a four-tuner setup including dual-HTDV dual-analog tuners and plenty of storage? http://www.powercompress.com/product.htm

    It's also available by Graphedit add-ons and an AT job if you can live without a fancy front-end.
    • Odd, part of my reply was eaten by a couple of stray greater-than's that got assumed to be tags.

      Less than $800 for a four-tuner machine, and you can start with $500 and one tuner and work your way up.

      Add the case of your choice for under $150. Several nMedia cases at NewEgg (and elsewhere) that work for you. Make that case be $0 if you're hacking it together and it's NOT going to need to be a centerpiece in the room. Mine is, and it cost me $114 more to look GREAT.


      The power compress link is the only th
  • A Media Center PC with fans, like those on the Zalman heatsink, the Antec power supply or the case? Not for me!
  • Ugliest... PC... ever.

    And pop-under ads.

    And > $2000 price tag.

    Tastes like spam to me.

    (Plus DigitalDame2's asp.net data storage is down.)
  • by SilicaiMan ( 856076 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @06:43PM (#14737564)
    Paying $2200 for a PVR is just crazy. You certainly don't need a 64bit Athlon CPU or 2GB RAM, since everything is done by the graphics card anyway. And how many TV tuners do you need? Do you really need to watch/record 4 programs at once? And $75 for a keyboard and mouse that you will never use (remote desktop or VNC work just fine). This is crazy.

    Last month, I built my own PVR. Here's my cost:
    • ECS motherboard + Pentium 4CPU combo from Fry's: $110
    • 512MB (2 x 256MB) of Kingston RAM: $50
    • Zalman CPU fan (stock is just too noisy): $45
    • Antec TruePower 2.0 380W power supply: $60
    • GeforceFX 5200 (no fan == so silent): $40
    • MS media center remote: $35 (yes, you really need this)
    Items reused: OS, mouse & keyboard (for initial setup, then don't need them anymore), dual-tuner Tv tuner card, and PC case. Total cost for me was $340. If I had to buy the items I reused, then I could have very easily stayed under $500.

    The machine is hidden behind my TV stand (I have a CRT 30" HDTV Sony Tv, 16:9 aspect ratio), is almost completely silent, and delivers a nice, crisp, HD signal to my TV (DVI port of my graphics card plugs in to the HDMI port of my TV). I keep it on all the time, and manage it via VNC. It has been running for almost a month with no hiccups, and I saved $1700 in the process.
    • You certainly don't need a 64bit Athlon CPU or 2GB RAM, since everything is done by the graphics card anyway.

      Anyone who plans on recording and watching actual HDTV will need a substantial CPU. The graphics card will not be enough. Especially if you intend to record and watch HDTV at the same time.
    • You certainly don't need a 64bit Athlon CPU

      I beg to differ, I recently built a 'media center' pc around an AMD Athlon 64 Socket 754 3000+ E6 model cpu.

      this cpu only costs $126 and puts out WAY less heat than anything in the althonXP line. less heat, less noise, a decent sized copper base heatsink and you won't even need to plug in a fan to keep this chip cool. for a 'media' PC the noise factor is crucial!
    • "You certainly don't need a 64bit Athlon CPU"

      Well, it depends. If you plan on watching HD WMV you'd better have some serious CPU power in your HTPC since the current batch of video cards seems to offer only MPEG2 decoding. And how much power you need? My 1400 MHz Pentium M could not decode 1080p in realtime, so a VIA Eden unfortunately does not cut it.
      P4s are a rather unfortunate choice for this task, since they are the most power hungry and heat generating CPUs that you can but today.
    • You certainly don't need a 64bit Athlon CPU or 2GB RAM, since everything is done by the graphics card anyway.

      How does your graphics card decode WMV9 and H.264 video? Many videocards have MPEG-2 decoding, but that won't handle anything but OTA HDTV streams. Blu-ray, HD-DVD, HD DirecTV broadcasts (presumably ripped from a DVR), anything downloaded from the Internet, will likely almost never be MPEG-2, cutting you off from most HD videos.

  • by chmilar ( 211243 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @06:44PM (#14737567)
    You can save a lot of money by downgrading from the specs in the article.

    Any equivalent of a 3GHz P4 single-core is plenty of CPU for HDTV. A nvidia fx5200 is enough graphics card. For sound, you just need an spdif port if you already have a receiver.

    And, of course, Linux and MythTV are free, and superior to MCE.
    • Totally. I have to post about MythTV, I am a big fan.

      I chose the KnoppMyth [mysettopbox.tv] distro, which installs quite easily, but blows away your hard disk, and sets itself up neatly. I did try the RedHat RPM version (dag?), but I found it much easier to use the knoppix than the RPM version, due to things like remote control setups, and the like -- they're all there for you with KnoppMyth.

      I'm using an old 850Mhz Pentium 3 I think. I've had the Intel mainboard for a while, and it kept (incorrectly) reporting disk er
  • Same Article? (Score:2, Informative)

    by ggalt ( 46206 )
    Same author, same system, slightly rewritten for PC Mag (original article date was 11/29/05). http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,1697,1893732 ,00.asp [extremetech.com]
    I wonder if the guys at ExtremeTech know that their author resold the story he sold them.
    • I wonder how much the author received in royalties for using those specific (and as others pointed out, non-optimal) components. Of all the DIY options, they don't seem to be very thougth out.
    • I think ExtremeTech and PC Mag have the exact same publisher.
    • Wow! I thought I was having deja-vu, but I almost never read PC Mag online. But I remembered that DRM workaround so clearly as I was reading it. I just figured this day was harder than I thought. Or that /. had published another dupe. Or maybe both are true.
  • Is a software or flashable hardware based Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS/Whatever the digital audio format of the day is decoder card with 9-13 preamp outputs that I can throw into my PC. Then I want a switching video input card, with say 4 - HDMI inputs, 4 - BNC component inputs, a DVI input or 2, a couple of s-video inputs for good measure. Now that would make a wicked Media PC. No need for a DVD player, a Receiver/Decoder or a DVR. While I'm thinking about it a FTA decoder card would be nice too, you could ev
  • Has anyone seen an attempt to do a H.264 capable version with the lowest reasonable power consumption?

    Not just the CPU either... I'm talking about the whole kit.
  • Here is a complete MCE machine that is more than capable. And it does not cost anywhere near two grand. (prices off Newegg.com)

    BIOSTAR NF4 4X-A7-COMBO31 AMD Athlon64 3000+ Socket 754 NVIDIA nForce4 4X ATX Motherboard/CPU Set - $179

    CORSAIR ValueSelect 1GB (2 x 512MB) 184-Pin DDR SDRAM Dual Channel Kit System Memory - $74.99

    DVD Drive:
    NEC Beige IDE DVD Burner Model ND-3550A - 37.99

    Hard Drive:
    2 SAMSUNG SpinPoint P Series 250GB 3.5" IDE Ultra ATA133 Hard Drive - $95/each, $190 for 2

  • I have built two media center PC's and spent countless hours tweaking and setting them up properly. I recently moved and got DISH Network TV, and a free new 100 hour DVR for free... it is by far better and easier to use than both media PC's combined.. Total cost to me $9.99 a month.

    Sure it may not do everything a media PC can, but for the cost and functionality it is a much better deal.

    Just my 2 pence, I know the geek factor is always there... but this is not one area where geek factor pays off IMO.
  • by Ours ( 596171 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @07:21PM (#14737844)
    Is not to get a real PC.
    I've been planing for almost a year to build myself a media pc. Compared different possibilities, looked around for the software I could use.
    And in the end I've settled of a modded XBOX. Best choice for the price!
    It does everything I want with the fantastic XBOX Media Center software plus some other homebrew software (XMAME and stuff) and a couple of nice Python scripts.
    The only technical requirement it to know how to user FTP.
    On the downside, it's doesnt do PVR at all :-(. If someone figured out how to stick a TV card on this thing I'm pretty sure they'll make to software for it but it's not the case.
    So if you can live without the PVR facilities, this baby should do all you music listening, movie playing, picture browsing and classic gaming on your TV.
    You can put the money saved of a PC to buy a dedicated PVR which can be programmed form the XBOX. There are scripts the show the TV program and can control some PVRs.
    • XBox can't act as a tuner, but It can run as a Set-top interface for a MythTV server. You can do it through Linux (which sucks compared to XBMC for this sort of purpose), but I've see python (I think) bindings and stuff for XBMC to allow it to act as a direct terminal for MythTV. Haven't tried them though, so not sure how well they work (if at all).
  • Here's all it takes to make a good Media Centre, running Windows MCE nicely. Please note, prices and spelling are canadian. (Hence Centre)

    AMD Athalon64 3000 (or so) ~$400
    nVidia nForce 4 Motheboard ~80-150
    nVidia nvTV (can't remember the price)
    nVidia GeForce 6200 ~$90
    512MB RAM (1GB Recommended) $70/512
    80GB SATA Hard drive. $80 - DO NOT RAID! MCE don't seem like it.

    After recording send stuff accross the network to backup the videos or store on a USB drive. Failing that Burn to DVD using nero 7. It can convert
  • Does anyone know of softare that works with any windows media extenders? I need something like MythTV, SageTV, or BeyondTV that interfaces with a windows media extender to supply HD video and digital surround sound audio. Also want the PVR stuff, (pause, ff, live TV type stuff). Unfortunately it doesn't seem like anyone has done this yet. (Someone on the SageTV forums started work on something for a roku photobridge but I don't think it really was moving fast.) I want a simple, quiet piece of hardware

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