htpc recomendations needed
November 17, 2008 6:58 AM   Subscribe

im looking to build a htpc that will be able to play 1080p content and output HD Audio over HDMI. my main requirements are that i would like it quiet and energy efficient. Im also hoping to put a couple of HD satalite cards in there im not sure if this would make a difference to what hardware i should select. could someone point me in the direction of either some recomended componenets or a pre built machine
posted by toocan to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Almost any hardware these days should do this. I recently built a machine with an Intel dg35ec board and a $40 celeron and it plays 1080i just fine via a DVI to HDMI cable and coaxial digital audio to my receiver. Never tried 1080p because I don't have any 1080p media, and my TV can't accept it.

The bigger issue(s) you'll have is driver support. I had a heck of a time getting the drivers to output the formats I was looking for. Still can't get the damned Netflix Watch Now working right.
posted by gjc at 7:16 AM on November 17, 2008

Here's a tutorial. I dont know of any satellite cards that work with the major services. Most homebrew htpc's use analog tuners that use IR (like your remote)to control your satellite or cable box. There's no integration, like say, buying a DVR from your provider and having it all 'just work.'

I think if youre asking such basic questions then the homebrew htpc scene might not be best for you. I find the world of htpc to be unnecessarily complex and cable/satellite providers are downright hostile towards it. My setup at home is to use a tivo for sat and use a little htpc just for downloads and bluray. It still isnt as quiet as I like. I'll probably have to spend more money on an expensive silent fan for the CPU. These things become little money traps quickly.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:25 AM on November 17, 2008

Antec makes some good HTPC cases that are designed for low noise by way of compartment isolation and two big 120mm cooling fans on the side (which are quiet because they move sufficient air at much lower rotation speeds than a single, smaller fan would). I have this plainer, less expensive model and I'm very happy with it. The noise level is barely noticeable even in a quiet room--any sound at all from your speakers and you wouldn't know it was turned on if not for the power light.

I'm happily using this fanless video card, but it won't meet your requirements since it doesn't have an HDMI connection and you can't get audio with a DVI-HDMI cable. I know nothing about computers with true HDMI support, but here's a mainboard with onboard HDMI that at least one reviewer says works well in a 1080p setup.

Other things I use are the receiver half of a Streamzap and a Harmony remote to replace the Streamzap remote (it already has a configuration for the Streamzap IR codes, so you don't have to program it yourself).

Totally agree with damn dirty ape that cablecards are a recipe for frustration. If you really hate the idea of driving a set-top box with IR Blasters, I won't discourage you from trying, but be prepared to spend some time on it, including asking for help in places like AVS Forum if/when you get stuck.

My biggest tip from experience is this: make sure you have enough space (depth-wise) where you want to put the box, including at least a couple inches of clearance in the back for cord connectors. The Antec cases (and any others that accomodate a typical ATX mainboard) are deeper than most cable boxes, receivers, etc. I have a better setup now, but when I first built the thing I put it on a shelf that wasn't deep enough, and it looked pretty silly sticking out 2-3 inches in front. (Disregard this if you're planning something more exotic with a smaller form-factor.)
posted by [user was fined for this post] at 8:39 AM on November 17, 2008

Read up at Silent PC Review for tips on quiet, energy-efficient systems. In recent years, benchmarking H.264 decoding performance has been a standard feature of their CPU/motherboard reviews. Also search their forum, where this quesion comes up a lot. After reading their reference articles and recent reviews, and searching their forum, you could post any further questions to their forum -- it's the friendliest technical web forum I've ever met.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 9:54 AM on November 17, 2008

I asked a very similar question back in may.

I eventually went with the Gigabyte MA78GM-S2H AMD 780G chipset on the mobo paired with an AMD 4850e processor. I've not ran it at 1080p yet, but it was built with this in mind. I'm running 2 TV cards (one DVB-T and one DVB-S2) off a Seasonic 380w 80+ PSU.

Its virtualy silent, and combined with s3 sleep it uses next to no power.
posted by gergtreble at 12:55 PM on November 17, 2008

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