My HTPC

I’ve been hankering after an HTPC ever since I played around with Media Portal. Now you may ask why on earth do you need an HTPC when you already have a DVD player. Well my answer to this is firstly that while my Pioneer DVR600AV DVD player is capable of playing Mpeg’s, Windows Media Files and is Divx certified, it does suffer from a few problems namely the ability to play videos encoded in Xvid (which is NOT the same and doesn’t play properly), not to mention the ability of playing any other file types that are out there such as Quicktime, Real Player, Flash Video and most importantly Mastroska (mkv) format HD content.

the HTPC is the one device to rule them all…

Now while I could go out and *buy* another standalone Blu Ray player which would give me some backwards compatability it’s still yet another box I have to contend with and after experimenting with Media Portal I’ve become firmly convinced that the HTPC is the one device to rule them all…

Here’s a great sample clip of MediaPortal in action

Component Choices

After spending a considerable time on both Media Portal’s forums and AVS Forums looking at the possible component options I decided to veer away from the popular Gigabyte GA-MA78-S2H/AMD 4850e combo for a simpler motherboard with an addon graphics card that was HDCP compliant. After much careful deliberation I settled on the following components…

Gigabyte GA-MA74GM-S2H (AMD 740 Chipset)
AMD Athlon x2 5200 (2.7GHz)
OCZ 4Gb DDR2 PC6400 (800MHz) Vista Upgrade
Gigabyte Radeon HD4550 PCI-E Graphics Card
Sony BD-U-X10S Blu-Ray Drive
X-Pro 17 in 1 Card Reader
Seagate Barracuda 500Gb SATA drive

I obtained a small desktop case with a 250W Micro-ATX PSU from a friend who was getting rid of a case so I though I’d give it a home and put it to good use! The problem with cases these days is as soon as you see “HTPC” you can easily expect the price to be from £100 upwards. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some gorgeous cases out there but at the prices some of the manufacturers are charging plus the supply difficulties it’s hardly worth it. I wanted to try and get away from the “standard” Antec HTPC cases that seem to dominate the forums.
Assembly

Assembling the PC was for the most part fairly straightforward, though I took many photographs during the different stages of the build so you can see how everything went together.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “HTPC“, posted with vodpod

Pre-build testing

Before installing any software I subjected the PC to a barrage of tests to ensure that everything was working properly and eliminate any possibility of fault RAM or hard drive. Once I was satisfied that the PC had passed all the tests with flying colours I set about installing the software…
Software Installation

Now this was where the fun began, I tried installing Windows Vista Ultimate Edition and immediatlely ran into problems. After trying everything I could think of (including a BartPE disc) there was no way that I could get Vista to install, I kept getting “Invalid System Drive” errors. In a last ditch attempt I substituted a Pioneer slot loading DVD Rom and was successful. It appears as though the Sony Blu-Ray drive will happily boot CD’s but not DVD’s!

With Vista installed and Automatic Updates, Firewall and User Access Control disabled I was now ready to continue building the PC.
Software Choices

At the moment I was going to commence installing MediaPortal they had just released Version 1.0.1.0 which fixed most of the issues in the weekly builds.

Core Software

MediaPortal 1.0.1.0
Backup Settings Plugin
StreamedMP Skin 0.8448 Stable (Includes Moving Pictures and My TV Series plugins)
MyAnime 2 plugin
HD Starter Plugin

Codecs

CoreAVC Codec
RealPlayer Alternative Lite
QuickTime Alternative Lite
ffdshow tryout

Media Players

KMPlayer (Build 1424)
PowerDVD 7.3 Ultra

Utilities

AutoUnpack 4.5.2
Bulk Rename Utility
Graphedit
Filmerit
IMG Burn
IZarc (Decompression Utility)
Natburs TV Renamer
Slysoft AnyDVD/HD
Configuration

As with all things of this level of complexity and flexibility there were going to be a few headaches along the way. Most of them are relatively simple to resolve as they relate to the filter merits being changed when PowerDVD is installed.
Usage

Once Mediaportal was setup and running I let the family loose on it and see how they coped. So far it has gained wife approval (TM) which is essential if a HTPC is to survive in the home. As the HTPC functions as a Bluray/DVD player it has become the focal point in our household for all our digital media which can’t be a bad thing!
Updates

Since building the HTPC I’ve started collecting a lot of Anime and have until recently been using the My TV Series plugin to handle organising the series’. But with anime being different in terms of series/episode naming conventions (where they even have series!) I’ve found that the My TV Series plugin doesn’t handle all of them as I would have expected (Naruto being one example). So in search of a better way of handling Anime I decided to try out the new My Anime 2 plugin which is in development.

My Anime 2 does address some of the issues, but not without spending a lot of time reading forum posts trying to figure out how the plugin is meant to be used. This is a common problem in open source software development, in that the actual documentation either is incomplete or in some cases non existant! This should not be considered a rant against the developers, I know from experience that when working on a project it is possible to get swept up in the mechanics of what the software is meant to do and not actually think about how the user will interact with the software.
Issues

The only issues I still appear to have are primarily some “tearing” of the image when panning and deinterlacing in KMPlayer/ffdshow. Other than that I’m relatively happy with the overall results and can now sit back an enjoy watching my favourite shows and movies.

Update 30th August 2009

I’ve been having some problems with MyAnime not picking up some series’ via AniDB, so I tried downloading the latest MyAnime2 plugin 2.0.13. I’ve noticed that there are a few new options.

But at present I’m still having some problems adding series’ like Code Geass which the plugin couldn’t retreive any details for. I added the series manually in the Manager screen and put in the AniDB series reference, however it isn’t pulling in any of the series details/episode synopsis at the moment. It is also having some trouble recognising certain files e.g. Bleach and Code Geass.

Since the initial build I’ve updated the storage space by the addition of a Samsung SpinPoint 1Tb hard drive, which proves that you can never have too much space! I have also updated MediaPortal to version 1.0.2 and MyAnime to version 2.0.15.

Update 22/9/2011

Since the last build my HTPC has gone through a complete rebuild with the release of MediaPortal 1.2. I’m currently documenting the setup and will be updating this page with the new build.

References

This project would have taken considerably longer without the following resources:

AVS Forums

Team Media Portal

and special thanks to TheydonBois whose work provided the basis of this build.

And also a special mention to Gavin Wray for his useful article on embedding vodpod

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