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

RedShift redshift at pandora.be
Fri Nov 20 03:12:41 EST 2009

So I finally got around to spending some time again on this project. I ordered the Silverstone LC-19 case discussed below but for the motherboard, I went with a Zotac IONITX-D-E [1].

Though I'm still having some small issues and the system is not complete (it doesn't meet all the requirements yet I set below), I can already tell it's an awesome hardware combination.

As the mediacenter software, I chose XBMC (because I think it works the best and has built-in support for VDPAU).

I'm writing a full review and intend on writing a wiki page to achieve the perfect setup in combination with ArchLinux.

[1] http://pden.zotac.com/index.php?page=shop.product_details&flypage=flypage_images.tpl&product_id=175&category_id=15&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=1

Best regards,


RedShift wrote:
> 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
> 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
> * 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
> * 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.
> Thanks,
> Best regards,
> Glenn

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