Building an HTPC Part 2: A Mid Range Blu-ray System

By Mike on 11:42 am

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In part one, we looked at a possible build for a compact DVD/Media Server home theatre computer. A system like that is ideal for bedrooms and small dens but sometimes you need a little more power without blowing the bank. For this second build, we're going to put together a mid-range/low profile Blu-ray system for $1000. It's possible to build a stand alone BD system even with a home theatre audio receiver for a lot less than $1000, but keep in mind an HTPC can do so much more, including recording your TV programs, encoding & storing media for on demand plackback, playing games, and surfing the web and other typical PC tasks. From a value perspective, an HTPC makes a lot of sense even if the initial hardware costs are higher. This particular build is intended to be used for general home theater setups and will be capable of full HD 1080p output.

Mid Range Blu-Ray System

Motherboard: Zotac GF9300-A-E Geforce 9300 LGA775 Micro-ATX ($136.49)
Processor: Intel Pentium E5200 Dual Core 2.5ghz ($90.99)
Memory: Kingston 4gb (2 x 2gb) DDR2 800mhz Dual Channel Kit ($48.49)
Graphics: Geforce 9300 (Included with Motherboard)
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar WD1001FALS 1TB/7200rpm/SATAII/3.5'' ($161.49)
Disc Drive: Lite-On iHES206-08 6x Blu-ray/22x DVD+/-RW SATAII/5.25'' ($148.49)
Case: Thermaltake LANBOX Lite VF6000BNS Black ($87.09)
Power Supply: PC Power & Cooling Silencer PPCS370X 370w ($62.09)
TV Tuner: Happauge WinTV-HVR 1800 MCE Kit PCIe 1x with Remote ($124.19)
Keyboard: Logitech Wireless RF EX100 with Mouse ($30.99)
Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 OEM 64-bit ($149.99)

Total: $1040.30

For this build, I went with the Zotac motherboard and Intel Pentium E5200 combo. The motherboard has a lot of good features for its price. It features the powerful Geforce 9300 integrated graphics chip, which eliminates the need for having a discrete graphics card to run HD content. It should also handle light gaming too for older titles. The E5200 is cheap dual core processor yet it is known for being very powerful and cool running. Unlike the Atom in the last build, this processor is intended for high power desktop applications. It's ideal for media centre use including encoding video. The Zotac board features full 7.1 surround sound through an HDMI port, so it can be connected right to an HD AV receiver in your living room. It also features analogue surround sound outputs for using PC speaker based surround sound setups. This gives you a full featured PC right in your living room. Since the integrated graphics chip shares system memory, I went with 4gb of DDR2 800 for this system. This provides plenty of memory but you can always add more as needed, up to 16gb. This is a dual channel kit which doubles memory bandwidth using two stick. The board has four RAM slots for DDR2 800. Since we're using 4gb or more of memory, you'll want to use a 64-bit operating system. I went with Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 OEM for this build due to its built in media centre software.

This system also doubles as a DVR, unlike our last build, with the inclusion of a Happague TV tuner. This tuner supports HD over-the-air ATSC broadcasts, analogue cable, and unencrypted ClearQAM broadcasts from digital cable and satellite sources. I went with the more expensive retail boxed version since it comes with a remote compatible with Windows Media Centre used in Vista. You only save $10 without it. Like any off the shelf DVR system, it allows you to pause, rewind, and record live TV broadcasts. The 1TB hard drive provides ample storage for both SD and HD quality recording. This being an HD media box, I also included a Lite-On Blu-ray ROM/DVD Writer combo drive. This will allow you to play BD movies at full 1080p resolution as well as watch and record DVDs.

For the case, I selected Thermaltake's stylish LANBOX Lite. Purpose built HTPC cases tend to be on the expensive side and contain a lot of unnecessary features. It has a foot print of about 11'' x 17''. Bigger than the Apex of the last build but within reasonable size to fit in with a home theatre. It fits both micro-ATX and mini-ITX boards. The piano black finish goes nicely with most HDTVs. The case is also well ventilated so it should be quite quite as well. For a power supply, I went with the venerable PC Power & Cooling Silencer. This particular one has 370w of power, which should be plenty. I suggest upgrading to a 450w supply though if you intend to add a faster CPU or a high end discrete graphics card.

Of course addons are aplenty. You can cut costs by using a 500gb hard drive if you're just going to store SD video and music on it. This system will also work well with Mythbuntu though I do recommend going with Vista for ideal compatibility. For upgrades, a faster CPU or graphics card is always an option. Wireless N networking is also a good idea. Don't be afraid of upgrading the sound system also. If you're an audiophile, you'll benefit from discrete sound solutions. For home theatre applications, cards using a C-Media chipset are best, such as the CMI8788 or CMI 8770. These will offer optical and coaxial sound outputs for older AV receivers that don't support HDMI. The HT Omega Striker 7.1 is a good choice at $112.

In Part 3, we'll build a high end gaming HTPC.

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