Karl’s Blog

25 Nov 08 Home Theatre PC – Part 1 The Hardware


This article was written to document my attempt at creating a home theatre PC (HTPC).  I’ll be reviewing the equipment, software and alternative configurations I considered while designing the system.  I’ve decided to break up this article into a series of three articles: Part One describes the hardware I selected, Part 2 describes the software, Part 3 Alternative Systems.

To drive the selection process for my system I used the following list of requirements:

  1. Aesthetically pleasing and have the appearance of standard audio video equipment
  2. Stream  DVD quality videos from a UPnP media server
  3. Watch, pause and rewind rewind live television
  4. PVR functions, schedule recordings
  5. Cost that was similar to a PVR set top box

The Case

The case selection was primarily driven by the appearance of the system and I wanted a case that included an infrared reciever and remote.  The THERMALTAKE Mozart SX (VC7001SNS) had all of the things I was looking and was reasonably priced, unfortunatly there were a few issues with this case I wasn’t expecting.  The placement of the PCI ports on the included riser card were too close to the motherboard and the IR reciever is not reliable and causes erroneous behaviour in Microsoft WIndows Media Center Edition.

The riser card provides little space between the motherboard and the first slot, I was barely able to insert the D-Link DWA-542 Rangebooster N Desktop Adapter.  The network adapter is compact and there is still only enough space for a ribbon cable to pass between the card and PCI slots on the motherboard.  I’m hoping that heat doesn’t become an issue.

The case has an integrated digital display that include hot keys, infrared receiver and remote control.  I found the performance of the remote control and infrared receiver to be abysmal.  The computer would only respond to commands from the remote sporadically and causing undesirable behaviour with other applications.  The computer would start beeping as though the internal key buffer had filled up and would not stop beeping until the IMON service was shut down.  At one point I was in a dialog and the computer was writing the letter ‘B’ repeatedly into a prompt where I was to enter configuration information.  Additionally, the IR system caused Microsoft media center to flicker and degraded its response to mouse movements and clicks; again stopping the IMON service was the solution.

I strongly recommend not installing the supplied software.  Removing the software had the consequence that all the feature associated with the media labs kit will be unavailable.  Upgrading the supplied software to the latest available version had no benifit.  I still like the case but if I were making the choice over again I would save my 70 dollars and buy the version without the Media Labs kit, THERMALTAKE Media Labs SX (VC7000SNS).

TV Tuner

The next component of the system I selected was the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR 150 Media Center Kit, this kit came with a TV tuner card, IR receiver, IR blaster and a Microsoft Media Center certified remote control.  The TV tuner card will be used in combination with a set top box, used to decode the encrypted signal from my cable provider.  The standard cable portion of the signal could be decoded by the TV tuner card directly but the digital signal requires the use of a set top box.  I was able to use the provided IR card to allow the HTPC to control the set top box to enable the system to watch live TV, pause, rewind and record both the standard cable and digital channels.  Installation and setup was a breeze.


The motherboard Gigabyte GA-73PVM-S2H was selected because of its large number of features.  The HDMI video, optical sound, nvidia video card, and Gigabit Ethernet port are the components that interested me while designing this system.

Everything Else

The remainder of the system was selected on the basis of cost, I wanted to build a system with a cost around 800 dollars.

  • SPI 400 watt power supply with 120 mm fan
  • Corsair XMS2 2GB DDR2-800 CL5
  • Intel Pentium Dual Core E2160 1MB
  • Samsung SH-S223F 22x DVD-RW OEM

I didn’t require a large hard drive because I didn’t intend to house a lot of media on the system.  Any media that I was going to keep for any length of time would be housed on a server and made available through a UPnP  media server.

Overall I’m happy with the setup I’ve selected, even with dissappointing performance of the Media Labs VFD the system is working as expected.  In the next article I describe the software I’ve selected.

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