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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hey, everyone. I'm very new to HTPC's, but an old soul when it comes to building, speccing, and pricing computers, as well as general DIY tech issues. First of all, let me just say that I've been dreaming about the concept of a HTPC for years, and am shocked to find how much the market has changed since the oh-so-revolutionary days of the early AIW models from ATI. It just blows my mind to see what these HTPC puppies are doing today! And, might I add, how sleek, luxurious, quiet, and (temperature) cool they seem!


Anyways, I'm graduating in the next semester and am just beginning research on a HTPC setup I want to build several months out. As such, I'm planning for the long term and would like to design a HTPC that can interface with my eventual setup of:
  1. My laptop
  2. My girlfriend's laptop
  3. Gaming/general use desktop
  4. Living room entertainment system (46-55 1080p LCD w/ 5.1 surround sound)
  5. Bedroom entertainment system (32-42 1080p LCD w/ 2.1maybe 5.1 surround sound)
  6. Possible Xbox 360? PS3? Wii?
  7. My iPhone/Girlfriend's iPhone?
    • I've read about quite a few programs that can interface with the iPhone in rather interesting and unique ways. This would be a definite plus if implemented properly.
  8. If relevant, as I know there's been some discussions raving against this cable provider and that cable provider, I'll be under Comcast or Time Warner (not sure yet)

I would like to place my HTPC in my living room and use my HTPC for (in no particular order):
  • BluRay Playback
  • Playing ripped BluRay content
    • Favorite movies
  • Playing ripped DVD content
    • Seasons of our favorite shows
  • DVR/PVR at least 2 shows at once in living room
    • WAF is important here - I want her to be able to easily use the basics of the system without having to understand the underlying complexities of the setup
    • I want to be able to DVR/PVR anything I'm able to watch on cable, if possible, including high-def content and even channels like HBO
  • Seamlessly move between DVR content and playing music
    • Prefer to open one underlying program with access to my movies, music, etc.
      • This fact strongly points me in the direction of WMC.
  • Interface with Netflix
  • Stream DVR'ed content to Bedroom, laptops, desktop
    • Minimum of living room +1 other screen at same time
  • Share music/photos/files between computers
    • i.e. share music/files/photos between all three computers
  • I would like to be able to lay in my bed and play any of my music via my surround sound in my bedroom. Bonus would be setting up bedroom surround sound as an alarm clock.
  • Moderate Gaming
    • I don't need a screaming fast HTPC, but I'm not concerned about the budget
  • Live TV playback
    • Although this seems basic, I just want to make it clear
  • Comprehensive universal remote
    • Logitech Harmony? - WAF important here
    • I don't need the girlfriend to be able to rip BluRays on the fly, but I do need her to be able to play movies, record her own shows, and play them on whatever screen she likes, while feeling comfortable about switching to CNN.com and playing The Beatles before switching back to an episode of The Bachelor.
  • I like subtitles, so the ability to retain close captioning/subtitles is a bonus.

As I've always been held back by my budget, thanks to tuition and college life, I'd like to cut loose a little bit and am looking to design a full home network from the ground up. The rest of the network will consist of the aforementioned laptops and desktop, along with Ethernet in the walls and, probably, an 802.11n wifi router. In the long term, I'm looking to add some Home Automation features, but that's neither here nor there.


Some stuff/brands I would like to include and/or keep in mind:
  • I would like to utilize Windows 7, as everything I've heard about it has been positive in nearly every respect.
  • I'm an Intel/NVIDIA fanboy, but I don't mind going AMD/ATI if they're clearly better in terms of performance/reliability.
  • I want a machine that has room to grow/expand
  • I want a reliable machine that won't heat up like a nuke with a high WAF
    • sleek look, and user friendly controls once the system is setup, etc.
  • Quiet, but relatively powerful
  • No firm budget, but I don't see why I couldn't keep it well under ~$3,000, based upon my preliminary research. This, however, is by no means a hard-cap on my budget.

So, to get to the point, I'm looking to build my first HTPC that will do the above. From what I've read, Windows 7 using WMC would be a good option, although it sounds like I would have to do some tweaking to get full BluRay sound/picture going on the native WMC GUI. Furthermore, I've been looking heavily into the Logitech Harmony remotes and some nice ThermalTake cases, and the Ceton quad tuner TV card.


A few questions/concerns of mine...
  • Would WMC be able to accomplish everything I want to do here? Is there another interface that would better suit my needs?
  • Would the best method of sharing/streaming music and files (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, bookmarks?) between computers be a standard networking shared folder?
  • Could the HTPC w/ a Ceton tuner stream DVR'ed content to another screen while playing on the main screen as I suspect it will, or do I need a WHS setup? When do you need a WHS setup?
  • Would the Logitech Harmony remote be able to control the TV, HTPC, and surround sound in such a way that it could perform all major features (i.e. change channel, DVR stuff, swap to music, swap to PC so that I can snag my wireless keyboard and type up an email)? Would I need another Harmony remote in my bedroom to control that TV?
  • I don't yet have a Xbox 360 or a PS3, but I will likely get one in the future. Would it behoove me to get one as an extender' for my bedroom? Is the best way to aesthetically connect the extender to my network via Ethernet from the wall (i.e. have the extender connected to the network via hardwire Ethernet jack in the wall)? Would this type of connection reduce quality of content or cause delays?

So far I've found this forum to have the largest body of readily available information, so I figured I'd throw out my current plans into the waters of more experienced DIY HTPC'ers and flesh out my Swiss cheese plans with some more concrete ideas about what to do and where to look for info.


My current thoughts on a build are as follows:
Please note that I'm not highly concerned with nailing down the exact CPU, Mobo, HDD, RAM configuration right now. I want to nail down the best Case, remote, GPU, and Tuner configuration for my needs/wants first. From there, I'm capable of fitting the appropriate CPU/mobo/RAM config.
CPU - Intel i7 920

Mobo - I want to be able to add SLI/Crossfire later if I don't initially. I want to be able to take advantage of USB 3.0 in the future.

GPU - Open to several options. As fast as I can get without generating too much heat, taking up too much space, or sacrificing reliability. To me, reliability is pretty important for a HTPC

TV Tuner - Ceton Digital Cable Quad-Tuner Card

Case - Touch screen seems irrelevant. Memory card inputs (for cameras etc) on front is a bonus. WAF is important. Size doesn't matter as long as it can reasonably fit on a shelf and keeps everything cool (temperature/reliability/sleekness matter more than size).

Storage - (1x) SSD for OS/important files/games and (1x) 1.5-2 TB HDD for storage. I don't see myself outgrowing 2 TB for quite some time, and I don't care if my case can't hold a second 1.5-2 TB HDD.

RAM - 4-6 Gb of quality DDR3 w/ heatspreaders etc.

Remote - Logitech Harmony (Count 1, possibly 2 if needed for bedroom)

Sound Card - None (I've read that you don't need a sound card and just need to setup some type of bitstreaming to get your high-def sound to work with your 5.1 speakers)

OS - Windows 7 Home Professional

GUI of choice for DVRing etc - WMC?

Necessary Codecs/programs - Help?

Router - Although I plan to connect my desktop, HTPC, and extender, if I have one, via hardwire from the Ethernet wall jacks, I will have an 802.11n router for streaming/sharing w/ my laptops.
Thanks for any feedback, information, or for direction in terms of where to do further research!


P.S. Forgive me for being long-winded, but I merely wanted to be thorough and answer any basic questions about what my intentions and constraints were.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
As a point of interest, if it will streamline the way I'm able to share/stream data across my network, in any reasonable way, I'm open to the idea of having a HTPC and a WHS-based server of sorts. Intuitively, however, it just seems like that's overkill for what I'm trying to do.


EDIT: I will go back through and edit this post after my classes, as I'm sure I need to clean it up for the sake of clarity.
 
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