[arch-general] The ultimate Home Theater / media center computer

RedShift redshift at pandora.be
Sun May 3 15:33:14 EDT 2009

Hi list

Somehow I got it into my head that I want a home theater PC. I'm growing tired of having to watch television and movies on my computer's 17" LCD screen. At the shop I used to work at, once in a while we'd build a media center computer, but the concept never really took off here (Belgium). There are many reasons for that, such as:

* Television is major suckage here (thanks to That Big Company and Government-Not-Governing). The entire country is split into very small regions where broadcast frequencies differ,  there's no unified TV guide system, not all regions can receive all channels. Digital television is even worse: That Big Company forces you to buy one of their proprietary decoders. The only way to receive digital television without restrictions is DVB-T with a very limited number of channels (basically nothing).
* At that time, the hardware sucked (noisy, too big, not stylish enough to put it along your other hi-fi components, not powerful enough, limited digital outputs, etc...). The software wasn't much better (too complicated, took a long time to start, etc...).

Anyway, my goal is to build the *ULTIMATE* HTPC. As such, strong demands must be met:

The hardware:

* It should be stylish, a timeless look which fits with your other hi-fi components.
* It must be entirely silent. Zero moving components. No exceptions.
* Unrestricted fully digital outputs.
* Must be able to play at least 720p MKV's using x264 encoded video.
* Easy remote control. No remote controls with more buttons than there are stars in the sky and certainly no "dual function" buttons (those functions in a different color which you need to flick a switch or are context dependent).
* Able to receive DVB-C.

The software:

* There is no room for "Digital Rights Management" fascism. All content must play flawless and in the highest quality possible. In some cases this will mean circumventing protections. That'll probably make the device illegal in some countries, but I don't care.
* Easy user interface (also see hardware remote control point).
* Can connect to NAS or other storage devices such as USB sticks.

In total:

* Must be a complete replacement for your DVD player and other media devices. The goal here is keeping the number of remote controls down. Ideally you should only have two: one for controlling your HTPC and one for your hi-fi set.
* It is geared towards modern television, that means stuff like HDTV and no legacy connector stuff (like composite).

With those goals set, I started looking for hardware. Here's what I've come up with:

* Case: Silverstone LC19

+ Fanless PSU.
+ Casefans can be removed
+ Comes with PCI-e and PCI risercards
+ Integrated cardreader and slimline optical slot
+ Available in black and silver
+ Accommodates standard ATX I/O shield
+ Room for a 3.5" storage device (SSD?)
+ Vents right above the CPU
+ Slim

- Fits only small motherboard sizes
- Only 120 watt PSU
- No infrared receiver, no remote control

* Motherboard: Asus P5N7A-VM

+ Powerful on-board graphics (nVidia 9300)
+ Supports 16 GB of RAM
+ eSATA port
+ Optical audio output
+ HDMI, DVI and VGA video output
+ Gigabit ethernet
+ Solid caps

- nVidia on-board graphics (requiring proprietary driver)
- On-board graphics use system memory
- Crappy realtek audio codec

* DVB-C receiver: ?

I have zero experience with DVB-C receivers for computers. I've come across the "DVBWorldDTV Cable" (http://www.worlddvb.com/product/htm/pcic.htm) which seems to provide what I'm looking for. Anyone know how good this hardware actually is and how well it's supported by linux?

I have an old hauppauge PVR-350 card which works well, unfortunately hauppauge doesn't seem to have DVB-C products.

* Remote control: ?

I want to have something simple here. Maybe a small USB infrared receiver and a simple remote control with buttons up, down, left, right, enter? Anyone know if such hardware exists?

* Processor: Intel Celeron?

No idea how much processing power would be required for a decent HTPC. Preferably as low powered as possible, as the CPU will have to be passively cooled.

* Processor cooling: ?

I was thinking of a big block with small fins which you see a lot in 1U rackservers. Copper would be the logical choice but from what I've read, aluminum allows for better heat transfer to the environment. So a copper base with alu fins would be ideal.

* Storage: ?

For storing the operating system I was thinking of those IDE compact flash cards. Downside is that they are very slow. An SSD can be considered but I want to leave the option open to use the 3.5" bay for a hard drive for people that don't have the luxury of a NAS or don't want to leave a NAS running all times.

Moving along. The most annoying aspect: software. Obviously we want all our software to be open source. A shortlist of open source media center software:

* MythTV (http://www.mythtv.org/)
* XBMC (http://xbmc.org/)
* Elisa (http://elisa.fluendo.com/)

The point I really want to focus on is ease of use. Take this as a benchmark: you only have to explain your parents once how it works.

Any suggestions, comments, thoughts, etc... are appreciated.


Best regards,


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