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Help me build my perfect home media machine.
May 12, 2010 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Help me build my perfect home media machine. It must play blu-ray discs, browse the web, and stream HD video from internet sources. I have no interest in video games, and little interest in cable TV. Is this something I can buy? If this is something I must build myself, what kind of computing muscle will I need?

I know that a lot of devices will hook up directly to Netflix and other services -- however, this feature alone will not satisfy me. This machine must host an actual web browser capable of viewing all of the popular websites -- so yes, the latest version of Flash is a must. It must stream HD video from internet sources flawlessly and without a hiccup. Additionally, I must be able to plug in a wireless keyboard and mouse.

It would be nice if I could play music and video files that live on another networked computer, but this is by no means necessary.

If this is something that I must build, what kind of hardware would I need? It's been several years since I've built a PC, and I can't even tell if one chip is faster than another anymore! Will any old HD video card work, or is there a memory requirement? How much RAM should the system have? What is the processor requirement? I don't want to spend any more money than I have to, but the hardware must be adequate for the purpose -- I don't want any slowdowns or noticeable delays.
posted by Afroblanco to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Have you looked into using mythtv? I just built myself a box which I use as a HTPC as a graduation present, and it's rockin' pretty hard right now. (Although, I am having problems controlling the brightness/contrast within mythtv, and it's driving me batty.)

Linux does not have the capability to stream from Netflix right now, so maybe that's a dealbreaker for you.

I currently have the following setup, and there is no problem with playing 1080p rips of blu-ray discs:

- GIGABYTE GA-G41M-ES2H LGA 775 Intel G41 HDMI Micro ATX Intel Motherboard
- PQI POWER Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800
- Intel Pentium E6600 Wolfdale 3.06GHz LGA 775 65W Dual-Core Desktop Processor

I already have a Blu-Ray player, so I didn't spring for a Blu-Ray drive on the PC. Those look to run at around $100.
posted by King Bee at 8:52 AM on May 12, 2010


Also, this case that I'm using is plenty sexy and low profile.
posted by King Bee at 8:58 AM on May 12, 2010


I'd add Deal News to your RSS feeds.

We set up our home media computer with a ~$400 HP with a Blu Ray drive, HDMI out and ~4GB of RAM and whatever the midline processor was at the time.
posted by k8t at 9:13 AM on May 12, 2010


Lifehacker has a lot of articles on building home media boxes. See for example, here, here and here. Also, you might want to look into just purchasing a PS3, I think it does most everything you are looking for, though the browser is a little dicey.
posted by rtimmel at 9:26 AM on May 12, 2010


PS -- if you do go the PS3 route, PlayOn gives you a lot of media connectivity
posted by rtimmel at 9:50 AM on May 12, 2010


Since you are not planning on using it as a DVR for your cable, there's no point in something like MythTV or GBPVR.
Instead try something like Boxee or XMBC. Lifehacker has lots of posts on how to do this.

As for hardware something like ASUS Eee Box should be enough for your requirements. Only problem is it doesn't have space for a blu-ray drive so you might need an external drive.
posted by WizKid at 2:12 PM on May 12, 2010


I have an Acer Revo with an external Blu-Ray player and it does everything you mentioned, running WMC on Windows 7. It even comes with a wireless mouse and keyboard.
posted by pollex at 4:59 PM on May 12, 2010


Forgot the link:

Acer Revo, $330 from Newegg
posted by pollex at 5:00 PM on May 12, 2010


Holy crap, I think we may have a winner!

pollex -- just out of curiosity, which blu-ray drive did you get? As a whole, how does the system perform? Any weird delays or troubles w/ the blu-ray?
posted by Afroblanco at 12:07 AM on May 13, 2010


Also, very interested in the Eee Box. Question -- are there any weird problems with latency when dealing with an external blu-ray drive? For some reason, I assumed that a USB connection would be too slow.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:22 AM on May 13, 2010


I forget the model of the Blu-Ray player (off-brand) and won't be near the system soon. The player works fine. The system is great for playing media--it handles HD feeds without a problem and fullscreen flash without a hiccup (Adobe adding hardware acceleration to Flash recently was a big help there). For web browsing, it's fine too (I run Chrome). I haven't used it for anything else.
posted by pollex at 7:56 AM on May 13, 2010


Also, I would read the reviews of the Revo on the Newegg site to get the full range of opinions.
posted by pollex at 7:57 AM on May 13, 2010


For your needs the best one seems to be build a computer with blue ray drive and connect to your TV. Run a windows 7 OS and set it up as a server for all the other computers.

Pros:
Acts as a central repository for all your Music, Movies, Pictures
Install software as they come and go ( Netflix, Miro etc)
Upgrade components as technology updates

Cons:
Need enough hands on experience to build a computer (better yet buy a dell/Lenovo/hp Core i3 with discrete graphics card and decent sound card)

If you are looking for other options , There is XBox 360 which can stream video, act as a central server or PS3 which is the cheapest blue ray player on the market along with streaming video capability.
These consoles do not have to be used to play games but the media capability and processing power is enough to power your home theater needs.
posted by radsqd at 8:46 AM on May 13, 2010


This is a link to Acer Aspire for $190. Deal may expire soon.
posted by WizKid at 11:57 AM on May 13, 2010


Note that the Acer deal WizKid linked to is not the same Revo I have--it has less power and is refurbished.
posted by pollex at 4:34 PM on May 13, 2010


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