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Thread: Home Theater...The Next Generation.

  1. #1
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    Home Theater...The Next Generation.

    Since I'm upgrading our home network and media center, I thought I would put out the information I have found for others to use.

    First off media centers are changing. Take a look at DVR's, they already have hard drives and digital inputs, outputs and a scaled down version of Microsoft Media Center OS. Even the non-DVR boxes are the same without the hard drive. The only problem with these boxes is they do not have a control input to change channels, resolutions etc. However some have IEEE 1394 ports which may be used for custom control via programming. I will have to research this. It would be nice to make a program that sets the time and channel to record from the media center much like the boxes do now, however there would be no need to swap over to the cable/sat box to do it. Also kill the DVR and save money.

    So why not build something that performs better, is scalable and upgradable. My specs were:
    -large storage
    -fast sub-system
    -fast processing
    -good graphics processing
    -nice case that fits in with everything else
    -quiet and clean
    -integrates with existing components (DVD, Carver stack, TV's, etc)

    I started with the bus and motherboard. Most cases want uATX boards so that limits the choices. I went with a ASUS P5Q LGA 775 Intel P45 ATX Intel Motherboard. I shopped around and got it from Amazon for $130.
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001A834C2
    It supports Intel Core 2 LGA 775 chips, has a 1600Mhz front side bus (the side RAM uses - Read important), supports 16GB RAM (Note XP users are limited to 4), Server users are limited to GOBS. 6 SATA-2 ports for drives (3Gb/sec THAT'S 37.5 Megabytes per second)), 1394's, USB's, etc. It has the Intel G45 Express chipset which has dual outputs. One is HDMI the other is DVI/VGA. This is one of the few boards I've seen with HDMI outputs. The board is easily over clocked if base speeds are not fast enough. NOTE: requires special chip coolers. I'm starting with the base speeds and determine from there.

    The CPU is an Intel E8400 wolfdale 3.0 Ghz 64 bit chip about $180 from just about everywhere. I got DDR2 SDRAM 1033Mhz configured 2-2 Gb chips that can be clocked up to 1600Mhz. About $40 after rebate.
    CPU - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16819115037
    RAM - I think I got it from zipzoomfly.com

    The drives are Seagate ST3500320AS (500GB SATA-2) about $80 at Best Buy. I'm using 3 since movie storage is space expensive. I'm thinking of adding a RAM SATA-2 drive as the boot drive to speed life along. I'm waiting for the prices to come down before testing them out. I do have a 4 GB thumb drive with XP Pro on it and the puter boots in a heart beat. And this is at USB 2.0 specs (480 Mb/sec). Imagine 3Gb/sec boot speeds. Yep Gigs/sec vs Megs/sec.

    So far we have the guts, now we need a case. I'm thinking about the Bach or Mozart series which looks nice. They have others which are more expensive.
    http://www.thermaltakeusa.com/Category.aspx?C=1147

    I also upgraded our network to a Gigabit LAN so I can use the workstation and transfer data to the media center faster as well as manage the media center remotely. Farbeit for me to get out of my chair and walk into the living room. I can also watch movies, TV or any other input on the work station from the media center.

    In general all equipment is 2nd to 3rd generation old which means the technology may be a year or more old and the prices are very reasonable. All meet or exceed general A/V specs and multimedia PC specs. I'm not sure if a PC SATA DVD will compete with something like a Sony upscaling DVD player which makes input switchablity important so long as the PC's HDMI and DVI outouts does not degrade the signal. I will know after testing. It is also possible that a higher grade dedicate PCIe graphice card may be needed.

    Since everything is basically digital these days, having a digital center only makes sense. Otherwise we have to rely on others to provide functionality and service. AND think of the BLING factor.

    I will give reviews when the parts get in and it is built and tested. Also, if anyone is interested in how to build something like this, it's not hard and I will be willing to help anyone out.

    Da Taz<---Can you program your house alarm system or surf Donzi dot net while watching a slideshow from the office or living room.? Soon I will be able to.
    Da Taz
    "Speed has never killed anyone. Suddenly becoming stationary will get you every time."
    Wes

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    Quote Originally Posted by txtaz View Post
    Da Taz<---Can you program your house alarm system or surf Donzi dot net while watching a slideshow from the office or living room.? Soon I will be able to.
    Cool, are you using that open source home device control stuff that's been around for a few years and runs through the electrical wiring, or some other stuff with dedicated copper to devices?
    "I don't have time to get into it, but he went through a lot." -Pulp Fiction

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ghost View Post
    Cool, are you using that open source home device control stuff that's been around for a few years and runs through the electrical wiring, or some other stuff with dedicated copper to devices?
    Everything is hardwired CAT-5. Digital signals do not like noise that would be generated on a carrier signal such as using power line stuff.

    I need to make a correction...

    After looking into cases more, I have noticed a lot of cases take ATX motherboards while others only take uATX and mini ATX.
    Do a google search for htpc cases to find the one you like.

    Da Taz
    Da Taz
    "Speed has never killed anyone. Suddenly becoming stationary will get you every time."
    Wes

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    Update?

    Any update yet? I am interested in building one. I already have 4 500gig Seagate SATA drives. I bought them to mirror and strip my desktop but would use 2 for this and just mirror my machine and use 2 for this. I already have about 170gig of music and 80plus gig of pictures on it to use for the media center.

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    Updates to come...

    I have been out of town for a week. Many of the parts came in and I'm doing a burn in on the motherboard, RAM and CPU at 3% over clocking. So far the guts look impressive and FAST!!! (ROCKET FAST). Azus sends a monitoring utility with their boards to check the system temps and control the fan speeds. With this you can dial down the fan speed and keep an eye on temps. It also has an auto mode that varies speed based on temps and load. I put it in auto to test and I could not hear the thing running. Great for an HTPC (Home Theater PC).

    I found the case I want and guess what, not yet available. Check out Glacialtechs Altair A381 IMON.

    This case has all needed fucntionality such as On/Off/Volume button, Media hot key AND a button for DVD eject (yes many cases do not have this), internal IR receiver and a nice display. It will look nice in any Home Theater system. For the time being I'm looking for a decent case to test with.

    The jury is still out on the tuner card...more to come.

    I did find some MS Media Center type software for XP. It looks good so far but I do not have all the hardware yet to do a full test on it.

    And finally, I have yet to decide on the OS. A scaled down slipped streamed XP Pro boots fast from a thumb drive and the first HD could be used for pagefile and programs. However I want to test out Server 2008 Home edition and Vista Ulimate. Maybe even Vista Media Center edition or the full blown MS Media center. I have a feeling a scaled down XP or Vista will be the way to go.

    That's all for now.

    Da Taz<---Signing off from a rocket fast Azus P5Q/I45e, E-8400.
    Da Taz
    "Speed has never killed anyone. Suddenly becoming stationary will get you every time."
    Wes

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    Boards, Chips and Cases.....

    Does the system have to use that motherboard for a reason or can you use uATX and mini ATX boards. Say you wanted a different case but still has all the proper fuctions need and matches your existing system components. Would the system be faster or fuction better if a different board and/or fast chip was used? I have black Onkyo equipment and want a case that goes well with those pieces.

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    You can use any motherboard size you like as long as it fits the case you choose. Edited, see post #9

    My specs were to fit the rack system so the case should be around 17" wide. Most cases that size handle ATX PSU's and MOBO's. The Azus P5Q-EM is another board I am going to try. It is a uATX form factor and has dual video outs + HDMI. I expect this board to go in the new Glacialtech case with a half height tuner card or PCI riser and full size card. I picked the Azus P5Q series for its I45e chip and front side bus speed. They handle Intel E-8400 Wolfdale Dual core series of CPU's which were made for multimedia and the I45e chip does 8 channel audio.

    Hope this helps.

    Da Taz
    Last edited by txtaz; 02-01-2009 at 08:29 AM.
    Da Taz
    "Speed has never killed anyone. Suddenly becoming stationary will get you every time."
    Wes

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    Update...

    Here's a little update...

    I'm still trying to import Glacialtechs Altair A381 IMON from India.

    I finally found a case that works for the living room. It's a Zalman HD160. Some company in Dallas bought one to take pictures and then sold it on ebay for half price. Patience is a virtue.
    Attachment 42734

    This case is nice BUT HUGE which is OK since I've decided to go with MS Home Server OS and have tons of drive space. BTW Best Buy has a sale on Seagate 1TB Sata 2 drives right now for $100. I picked up a few for the case so total storage is 2.5 TB. Home Server does media management and (most important) does backup imaging for local connected computers. I might even make it an Exchange email server for the fun of it. The next step will be to get Home Server to boot main OS files from a 32G USB flash drive. This could be tricky since the OS wants a 65G partition to install. I'm installing it on virtual machine as I type and think I can get the bootloader and OS files on the flash and disable HD stuff like indexing and place the swap file on a physical disk. Editing the boot cfg to point to the flash should finish it.

    NOW, in this case (literally) when they said fits ATX boards they meant it. The standoff are welded to the back plane. That's nice to ensure low noise but you must have the board to fit the case and not the other way around which is usual.
    Attachment 42735

    The airflow on this case is designed to be cross flow with vents on the sides and one 130mm adjustable vent above the cpu. I ordered a mCubed T-Balancer bigNG to monitor temps and control fans since the air flow may be a problem. Notice that the side vent where the PSU mounts was designed for a PSU with a horizontal mount fan and I'm installing a vertical mount fan PSU. So I'll wire the two PSU fans together and run/monitor from the T-Balancer. I'll also put the digital sensors on the CPU and hard drive bay.

    Another important note: This case has all the sound dampening devices included. The hard drive bay has foam pads for the drives and rubber grommets for the screws.
    Attachment 42736
    Funny though the PSU mount did not have anything or the DVD drive mounts. I got some cork from a hobby shop and made a gasket for the PSU mount. Should work fine. I'll figure out the DVD when it gets here.

    Also make sure your motherboard has lots of internal USB headers. I ran out already and have to make a custom cable from an external USB.

    Some more pics.
    Attachment 42735Attachment 42736Attachment 42737Attachment 42738Attachment 42739Attachment 42740
    Last edited by txtaz; 01-31-2009 at 07:59 AM.
    Da Taz
    "Speed has never killed anyone. Suddenly becoming stationary will get you every time."
    Wes

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    AND finally the new beast gets a name and a home. Since it's a server, I kept with my Warner Bros. scheme and named it Bugs Bunny. The cable DVR (silver box) will go away after testing.

    Also so far MS Home Server is pretty cool. I'll know more when I install it on the HTPC.

    Here's some pics.

    Attachment 42771Attachment 42772

    Da Taz
    Da Taz
    "Speed has never killed anyone. Suddenly becoming stationary will get you every time."
    Wes

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    Wes, have you seen the artigo mini system? They are very freaking cool! I was thinking about getting one to fool around with for a small tv system OR a carpc for the hummer. They would be the cats ass for a small mobile system.

    There is an open source frontend for a Car media system that rocks. Youcould control all your video, music, gps etc. This could be used on a media center.

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    Scot, I'll have to check that out.

    Right now I'm testing Power Cinema by Cyberlink. So far it looks great and the picture is better than what comes out of the cable box. It also does DVD management/burning/playing (same with CD's), tv tuner and recording scheduler, MP3's, photo manager and live streaming of all media throughout the house. (WAY COOL). It's running on MS Home Server which is a media server. It's the first time I've seen a processor run 80-100% consistently and stay cool. Fans are auto variable with a controller.

    I'll check out the open source media frontend and let you know how it adds up.

    Da Taz<---Streaming is way COOL. Maybe I'll open up the firewall and let others use the streams.
    Da Taz
    "Speed has never killed anyone. Suddenly becoming stationary will get you every time."
    Wes

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    Thumbs up

    Cool project Taz. Looking forward to updates. I've never seen a case that looks like a piece of audio equipment. After it's up and running, I'm hoping you can give us an idea of the advantages\disadvantages of running a computer based system compared to a traditional AV receiver based system.

    Nice system BTW, I use a Carver pre amp to power my good system that's going in my bonus room when I get some $$$ for a pool table.
    Got Criterion?


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    Quote Originally Posted by McGary911 View Post

    Nice system BTW, I use a Carver pre amp to power my good system that's going in my bonus room when I get some $$$ for a pool table.
    Interesting...I never messed with Carver's pre amps much. One of the better amps I had (back in collage) was an old Carver M500 we picked up cheap with a blowed-up power supply. We tossed Bob's fancy switching PS and just stuck in our own home-brew 'Big-A$$ power supply'. Worked great - I needed a lot of power to drive a pair of planers that were waaay inefficient.

    (that said, it never sounded as good as an old modified Harmon Kardon tube amp running KT-88 mains)

    Of course, that was a long time ago. I don't even have a stereo hooked up at the house now.
    Don
    '01 22 Classic, 502/B1
    And a bunch of other stuff

    "If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough" - Mario Andretti

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    Conclusions

    Conclusions and Pro's/Con's

    After playing with this for a week it has turned out pretty good. Some things to note in the hardware area is to use a motherboard with on board video and a good chip set ie G45. I installed a gaming card to test with and the video output was not as good as a matched motherboard and video. So get an on board video controller or a motherboard and separate video card from the same manufacturer. They just play better. Also use a DVI to composite converter or HDMI for the best picture. S-Video and composite just didn't cut it.

    USE A GOOD UPS. You can get one from ebay but get new batteries. I got a
    2u rack mount 750W APC for $100. New batteries should be here today.

    It is also important to note that using media center hardware is advisable for better cooling and quietness. I ended up putting a axial fan power supply by Thermaltake (an HTPC case and mods manufacturer) in the case vice the horizontal. I also routed the power supply fan to run off the fan controller card. It runs at 25% speed up to 100 degrees and then increases on a curve from there. You can define these curves for the T-Balancer and I will probably be tweaking it for awhile until it's just right. Don't freak out when you see the graphics temperatures. I did until I researched them. A normal temp is around 130-140F. They are generally rated at 5,000hrs at 120c and 50,000 at 86c. I ran mine for days and never got above 140f.

    And if you like the display on the front of the case, make sure you get Soundgraph's IMON in the case or add it late. Otherwise you will need to custom program the LCD to do what you want.

    In the software area I've decided to stay with Windows Home Server and Power Cinema as my media software. Power Cinema uses less resources and performs better. Windows Home Server is based on Server 2003 which is stable and will be updated soon to be based on Server 2008. The only other choices are XP Media Center or Vista Media Center. I don't think I need to comment on Vista. XP Media Center has run it's course and support is no longer available. When Windows 7 Media Edition comes out it may be good. Who knows. I've heard they are releasing Windows 7 early. Is it that good or as good as Vista and ready for market? You decide. I'll stay with stable.

    For plug ins and additional programs I installed Power DVD to play ripped DVD's, SmartMail for email, IIS for website hosting, Windows Media encoder for streaming DVD's/TV/Recording etc., Webguide for web based media browsing, Girder5 and Mcontrol for home automation, SQL 2008 for everything databased, DVD Manager and MyMovies just to play with. I also installed AnyDVD on the workatations so I can rip 4 DVD's at the same time.

    After installing and uninstalling tons of software I am rebuilding the server and installing what I want to use and make that my final build. NOTE: re-installing Home Server will wipe your primary and extended partition on the main drive so back up your files.

    Pro's:
    -It a computer so it will do anything you want it to do even make bread with an IO interface to the bread maker (yes it's possible). It won't do dishes.
    -The video quality is better than the cable box
    -Media can be streamed any where
    -Since it's a server you can centrally locate resources and files on your home network. Fax, printers, media, yada yada yada.
    -It replaces the cable boxes saving me $30/month.
    -It is expandable where cable boxes are not.
    -Installed and configured correctly it will run for years without problems. I've built servers than ran 4-5 years and only changed it because the owner wanted to upgrade.

    Con's:
    -It's a computer and susceptible to all the problems that come with computers. Know your stuff before beginning.
    -More expensive than a cable box and you have to fix them when they break.
    -Hardware compatibility when building your own. You must research the parts or pay thousands for a pre-built. An equivalent to Bugs Bunny is around $2500. I think I paid about a grand for parts and pieces.
    -You will need to wire your house for CAT6 to handle the bandwidth. Yep I pulled wire through the attic (what fun feeding wire down the walls). HONEY CAN YOU SEE IT NOW?

    Overall I think the pro's outweigh the cons. In the long run I will have all my DVD concerts, CD's, MP's photos etc all on the server and can get to them anywhere.

    For a sample of the quick web sites I've set up try these links.

    http://bugsbunny.homedns.org

    Click secure remote web site to login.

    The remote uri does not work for the SSL layer yet so click "continue to this web site (not recommended)" link. It's safe I just need to install a security certificate and I'm currently pricing them out.

    Login with
    username Donzibud
    password Donzibud1

    Note: the site will be up and down for the next week as I rebuild the server but it will give you an idea.

    That's it. If you have any questions send me a note.

    Da Taz<---Logging off from Bugs Bunny. Yosimittee SAm says "That's cwazy"
    Last edited by txtaz; 02-12-2009 at 02:19 PM.
    Da Taz
    "Speed has never killed anyone. Suddenly becoming stationary will get you every time."
    Wes

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