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My HTPC is about 4 years old or so, so I figure it's time to udpate it. I incrementally updated the hardware the first couple of years, but haven't in about two. Nonetheless, I think I've got enough horse power processor, memory, and graphics-wise to run blu-ray or anything else that I want.

My question is more about software solutions. I've been running Cinemar (MainLobby Server 3, Mainlobby 3, DVDLobby, and Music Lobby) for about 3 years now with TheaterTek for movies, and JRiver MC12 for music, all content streamed from another server in another room on a 5TB Raid 5 platform. I tried to rig this up to be controlled with my logitech 880, but never could get Girder to work quite right 100% of the time on my system. My satisfaction with this software interface has been, well, mediocre. I've taken the good with the bad.

I just ordered the Thermaltake DH102 case (w. built in 7" touchscreen). I'm looking to start from scratch software wise and redesign how I interface and stream from the server in the other room. I want a solution that makes good use of the LCD, easy graphical browsing of my music and video collection (movies are pretty much standard ripped DVDs in folders, not ISOs, and music is almost all APE lossless, with a little bit of MP3), and easy control with my 880 remote. I'm willing to upgrade hardware if need be. I don't mind putting in alot of time getting it to work right, but once I've got it figured out, I don't want to mess with it. I've got over 600 titles in my movie collection, and about 1700 CDs worth of music. I want to start doing blu ray, which will be archived on the server (which I'm going to upgrade and add another 6TB to soon). DVDs and music will probably be kept in their current formats.

Any recommendations on what the latest and greatest software applications I should be looking at for a new install on an HTPC, from the OS on up?

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Anyone, anyone?


I'm in a very similar boat. I've been in the HTPC game for about 8 years now, & have steadily upgraded the current HTPC over the years both with new hard & software as needed. I'm sure that you, like me, have been reading endlessly about blu-ray & its challenges. Frankly, the blu-ray discussions make me seriously consider saving the money on all of the upgrades & just buying an STB player.

What have you learned so far? Here's what I'm seeing:

1. I found an article on Missing Remote (can't find it at the moment) that did a comparison of Blu Ray on different low-to-mid level HTPCs. They tested TMT & PowerDVD on both XP & VMC. TMT seemed to be the winner & XP seemed to do it with fewer system resources, & possibly with more stability. Of course that's just one test & if you had true Vista-worthy hardware (which IMO they did not), then it might be a different story as far as the OS.

2. I'm struggling with the SD dvd question. I've been using TheaterTek with Meedio on WinXP pulling .ts movie files from my server for several years now, & the system just works. I haven't found mention of a solution that will play both HD & SD well. I guess that leaves me with 2 applications. Have you discovered anything on that? I guess VMC plays SD dvd natively, although I'm not sure if it has to be in an .iso. If that's an option, then you could learn the commands for the Windows Media Center remote across to your Harmony, as long as it has the ability to learn. I would think that this would be an option in both Windows MCE as well as VMC.

3. My big question. How are people typically doing blu-ray playback? Is it a given that the disc needs to be ripped? So if you do a rental, is it still better to rip it first?

4. I've owned the standard version of AnyDVD for a few years now. Apparently they're changing their pricing model, & because of that & the fact that I'm considering blu-ray, I went ahead & purchased the upgrade to the HD version. If you do it before the 1st of the year, you still get the lifetime support. Anytime after that, you'll be locked into a yearly subscription. Even if you're only considering blu-ray, you need that piece of software so go buy it before Jan. 1.

Right now I'm looking at the following possibilities:

~ Stay with XP/Meedio/TheaterTek & add whatever program(s) that I need for blu-ray. This would by far & away be the simplest, since all of it is a known quantity with the exception of blu-ray. Meedio works so well for me since all it does with TheaterTek is to launch it as an external program. I don't have a latest & greatest tv, so I still need Powerstrip to define custom resolutions & TheaterTek knows how to switch between the 2 with regard to desktop vs. movie resolutions.

~ Try XP MCE. I've got a license for it, all I need to do is track down an installation disk.

~ Vista. The only way that I'll even touch Vista is with a 64 bit installation, & to do this I will definitely need to replace almost all of the hardware in my pc to run it (which I might need to do anyway for blu-ray). I've been running x64 on my laptop for almost a full year, & so far I'm liking it much better than the 32 bit version. But Powerstrip is a question for me, so I'm not sure that I'll do more than think about this option.

~ Or....buy an STB. You can buy good ones with analog audio outs in both 5.1 & 7.1 (I need those) for just north of $200 if you look. I'm seriously tempted.

FWIW, I tried the Cinemar products several years ago & I wasn't impressed. It just seemed too bloated & convoluted for what I needed. I was with Xlobby for probably 3 years before going to Meedio (can't remember now why I switched), & I haven't looked back.

So I'm not sure how much that helped, but I hope that it starts a dialog even if it's just between you & I. That could be helpful to both of us.

EDIT: Found the article: Link . I had it backward, TMT is slightly more resource intensive.
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