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

Marq Schneider queueram at gmail.com
Wed May 6 23:00:58 EDT 2009

On Sun, May 3, 2009 at 14:33, RedShift <redshift at pandora.be> wrote:
> With those goals set, I started looking for hardware. Here's what I've come
> up with:
> * Case: Silverstone LC19
> http://www.silverstonetek.com/products/p_spec.php?pno=lc19&area=usa
> + 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

120W might be a little low.  I have the P5N7A-VM motherboard listed
below in my HTPC and it draws ~80W (as computed from the measured
current through an ammeter from the wall socket).  I have a Core2Duo,
2 case fans, HDD, and a PCI TV tuner card in mine though.

> * Motherboard: Asus P5N7A-VM
> http://www.asus.com/product.aspx?P_ID=8YiUFvK51IergAqY&templete=2
> + 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

As i mentioned, i use this motherboard in my HTPC.  Works nice, but
i'm afraid the heat dissipation from the nvidia chipset is a bit much
for a fanless solution.  If you are still considering this motherboard
and want some numbers, i can turn off the fans and measure the case
temperature to give you a ballpark figure.

Other problems i've had with this motherboard:
 - HDMI doesn't seem to work if the TV is not powered on when the
computer is booted.  I haven't had time to debug this, so i'm just
using a DVI-HDMI cable which doesn't have this problem.
 - I could never figure out how to get audio working through the HDMI
cable.  It worked fine in Windows, but under Linux the digital audio
only worked through the optical output, regardless of BIOS settings.
 - The audio is victim of the latest changes in the 2.6.29 kernel (see
FS #14246 [0])

> * 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.

I don't have much experience with European DVB receivers, but one word
of warning: make sure the card you decide on fits in your case of
choice.  For example, some cases only accept half-height cards.

> * 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.

This depends what you want it to be capable of doing.  If you just
want TV viewing, recording, and playback, a low-power celeron is all
you need.  I'm pretty sure an Intel Atom is all you need, assuming the
graphics chipset is adequate.  If you want to re-encode the media
(e.g. in the H.264 format), that takes a little more power.  As a
point of reference, I used to run an HD media PC on an Athlon 1100.

> * 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.

Arch boots fine from a CF card through an IDE-CF adapter, but as you
mentioned, they are slow.

> 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/)

I have used MythTV and XBMC for a little while now.  I hadn't heard of
Elisa until i read your email.  Here is my take on the three:
MythTV - highly configurable.  Probably more options than you could
ever want.  Need to use plugins for video playback (non-recorded) and
XBMC - My opinion is that it is easier to use than MythTV, however, it
does not have TV tuner/PVR support, and i've had some playback issues
with the built-in codecs it uses on files that mplayer/MythTV didn't.
Elisa - since i have only tried this for a little while, my concerns
here might not be valid.  Out-of-box, the user interface seemed to be
the best of the three.  However, the controls were awkward (compared
to MythTV), but they might be customizable.  Also, i had trouble
adding media directories because my media is under /mnt/media but it
would only allow access to my home directory.  It also could not play
Quicktime media out of box.

[0] http://bugs.archlinux.org/task/14246


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