About to build a custom HTPC, I will possibly gather some information, reading, learning and listening to your precious help and suggestions
The idea behind the project is to build an HTPC that ideally should be:
- Quiet & Power saving
: silent when running (to an acceptable noise level equal to a game console noise level) and power saving, either when running in an idle state and when in standby, retaining enough power, when needed, enough to deal with HD content playback.
- Good looking
; functional, possibly without spending loads of money
: core components such as audio (& video, in the future) adapters should be replaceable, storage should be removable for easy porting (let’s go to the seaside, and bring part/all of our video library!)
- Quality grade
: good ratio between quality and money, particularly for music [output 1] and video [HDMI]
: possibly the user interface (underlying OS and software) should support a remote control for *ALL* operations (including recording from SAT/TV), support multiple audio outs, *possibly* supporting commands/operations from enabled Android or Apple’ Idevice (remote administration).
The device will be used mostly for:
- playing music (FLACs, MP3s, CDs), through an existing high quality output diverted to a HIFI system (with two stereo speakers) - [Audio Output 1]
- playing videos (TV/SAT, BlueRay, DVD, Movies, through an existing 5.1 Home Theather System & a plasma panel - [Audio Output 2] & [HDMI]
- watching images
- recording TV/SAT (DVB-S/S2) & DTT (DVB-T)
►► The case
At the beginning, I thought that a small footprint would help carrying the HTPC, however further thoughts helped me to realize that what could be useful to carry, is storage. This makes acceptable a microATX (if not full ATX) form factor. Assuming that the HTPC will need external soundcard, TV/SAT card and (depending on your advice) video card, at least 3 slots should be available on the mobo. USB 3 (and Thunderbolt?) plugs should be taken in account. As for the remote control, a plus could be given to a case that will offer IR receiver and remote (although I have read that some of them are pretty slow - In this case a Bluetooth remote could help)
An internal smartcard reader could add appeal to the HTPC, as at the moment the satellite smartcard is used by an external Omnikey USB reader.[Questions - 1]
- Is microATX a good form factor choice, thinking about expandability?
- What brands would you suggest with a stylish, good quality (vibrations/fan noise) & affordable price?
- Are there cases with smartcard slot/capabilities? In this case any reccomended internal smartcard reader?
►► The motherboard
At the beginning, I thought that a small footprint would help carrying the HTPC, however further thoughts helped me to realize that what could be useful to carry, is storage. This makes acceptable a microATX (if not full ATX) form factor. Assuming that the HTPC will need external soundcard, TV/SAT card and (depending on your advice) video card, at least 3 slots should be available on the mobo. Thunderbolt, 1394 and USB 3 should be taken in account. As for the remote control, a plus could be given to a case that will offer IR receiver and remote (although I have read that some of them are pretty slow - In this case a Bluetooth remote could help).
As I’m aiming for a quality sound output to the HIFI system, unless a very good quality DAC is present onboard (with 2 audio outputs), I can simply ignore onboard audio.
For the video side, at the moment an onboard solution could be acceptable, assuming the HTPC will be used for HD playback ** and ** a good quality HDMI output is provided onboard. Further on, I could think about installing a heavy-weight graphics adapter for gaming[Questions - 2]
- Does Thunderbolt makes any sense? Maybe no!
- Ivy bridge as a bare minimum?
- Some good models?
- What CPU? Intel preferred
- How much RAM? 8GB is enough?
►► Storage devices
The main internal unit should be silent, with enough room for weekly/monthly recordings (not so many however). An SSD would be a perfect choice, except for the cost: at 300$/€, it looks there may be more affordable solutions, to start with. The internal unit will be used to store the OS and the TV recordings. Will spin down when not used (power saving and noise reduction).
One or more external device will be used for archiving; possibly the devices should be easily unmountable, and ready to carry away, without compromising the HTPC stability. Videos, images and music, will reside here.[Questions - 3]
- Any good choice for the internal storage?
- What approach to use for external storage? NAS? USB units?
The main purpose of the audio subsystem is to deliver “high” quality to the HIFI system. While my set currently sports lots of (quality) Watts, there are no digital inputs (namely RCA inputs), so at the moment, the “quality” soundcard should allow for a proper DAC, with noise/interference free. Possibly with alternative audio outputs for future connections. HDMI?
As for the videos/tv playback, a secondary output will be paired to the Home Theater.
The underlying OS/Media Center, should allow audio out selection[Questions - 4]
- Any suggestion for the soundcard?
As I wrote, at the moment the request is HD playback capability. Quality grade. HDMI out will be used to deliver video signal to the plasma TV. Possibly it will be used to calibrate the plasma panel, although this will require a lot of efforts to avoid device driver/applets color management, to ensure the signal will stay unchanged, once calibration is performed. In the future, possible choice for a gaming workhorse. Not now[Questions - 5]
- What video capabilities should I aim for?
Basically the HTPC will run to deliver/manage contents. No other task will be performed, except for gaming in the future. The OS should manage:
- Standby/Wake on LAN
- Wake on event (recording)
- Green features, enabling very low power consumption when on & idle
As I own licenses both of Windows 7 & Windows 8, I could stick with one of those to begin with. Media Center could be used as the front end, it looks like it supports plugins (which is one of the reasons I could go for it as DVBLogic ships some products suitable for my needs)
BTW, Remote Desktop, would allow remote operations on the HTPC through other PCs/tablets/smartphones, without requiring the TV to be turned on.[Questions - 6]
- Your thoughts on the OS / Media Center?
►► The Remote Control
Any suggestion appreciated: technology (IR, bluetooth, WIFI) brands and models
►► Did I forget something?
You name it
Hopefully this post, with your precious suggestions, will be used for a while as a primer for starters as me!