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Sunday, 2 January 2011

Building a Home Theatre PC (HTPC)

Whilst the PS3 has done a sterling job of being a front room media centre its not perfect and I'd debated building a true HTPC for while.


A certain error whilst watching something on the PS3 kicked started me into investigating alternative options.


Normal requirements. HDMI, decent sound and enough power to run a full 1080p on my TV. I'd had decent success with ITX in the past so quite fancied that route.


After a day of reading I settled on the Zotac ION ATOM N330 Dual Core D-E with 4GB (overkill) of RAM and a Morex Cubid 3688 Silver case.  Ordered and delivered the following day from ITX Warehouse.  Who run a fantastic service.  I already had HDD and cables, no SSD here.


My first intention was just to make use of VLC, web browser, maybe even look at MS Media centre.  But during the day of reading I stumbled across XBMC, something which everyone I spoke to afterwards had heard of and tried.  I must have been under my rock that day.  But the screen shots looked amazing, open source, ie free, live cd, all major OS' supported.  Interesting Mr Bond.


With the hardware assembled, which was the normal breeze I fired up the USB boot key created using instructions from mini-itx.com.  FAIL.  Maybe the keys, or something else but I couldn't get the PC to boot so ended up creating a XBMC liveboot CD and installed using that.  XBMC installed and started to load but bombed out just at the part the GUI launches.  So I suspect video drivers.  Being LINUX I knew this was a bad road to be walking down, and as this was R&D and I already new wireless mice and keyboards where on the horizon, ie more LINUX driver fun, I opted to fall back on tried and 'trusted' (well, trusted is probably the wrong descriptive) Windows 7. Unconsciously I made a 32bit decision - just habit I think.


Windows installed, drivers updated.  Installed XBMC and fired it up.  Oh I like this, allot. Pretty intuitive, adding the SMB media paths from my NAS all just worked and then I found the Library view which showed all the pretty covers, plot summaries etc .. Movies, TV Shows, Music .. all worked seamlessly.  The 'scrapers' went and matched all the TV shows, music and all but two of the films, which I fixed using NFO files.


The IONITX dealt easily with a local 1080p file.  Not so streaming across the LAN - Homeplugs, nor WLAN, which is expected.  That actually had me delving deeper into my homeplug speed only to discover its crap, seriously so.  I have something in the house which is killing the t/put.  I need to investigate that or hope AV2 resolves it.


I'm still experimenting with the look and feel of XBMC but so far its a hit for video 720p and below and music is fine.


I added a plugin for iPlayer - which works, and TVCatchup, which doesn't.  Although it did once, odd. 


So far so good .. Although I have ordered a new 60mm 'silent' fan.  The one with the case is a little noisy.


EDIT : TVCatchup now working again.  Nothing done.  Also found a great iPhone app which uses the HTML interface to control the server.  XBMC Remote.