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Discussion Starter #1
I want to build an HTPC and have been trying to do a lot of research and am less certain now than I was before I started. I want to build something that can do the following:

- Play 1080p 2D and 3D movies ripped from Bluray without issue
- 5.1 Surround
- Internet streaming (Amazon Prime, Youtube, Google Play, Netflix, Hulu, etc...)
- Light console emulation (nothing higher than PS1, maybe PS2)
- Stream 1080p video to one remote source (phone, tablet, Xbox 360, another PC, etc...) while playing 1080p video on main TV through HDMI
- Data storage for documents, web/graphic design work, photographs, camcorder videos, etc... to be accessed by other local computers (currently between 3-4TB but growing)
- Be quiet (I tried to use a hand-me-down tower PC as an HTPC a couple years ago, but the fan was so loud, I gave it back.)
- Be power efficient as I want to have access to the data files and movie streaming 24/7.
- I am not interested in any modern gaming. I have too much of a backlog to play on my consoles. If I decide to get back into PC gaming and want to do it on my big screen, I'll end up building a much more powerful Steambox.
- I am not interested in live TV or DVR
- Preferably have a simple "appliance" like interface for my wife and 5 yr old daughter (Doesn't matter if it takes me a lot of tweaking in the back end to get to this as I am comfortable with it, but they aren't)

Which of these options would be best? And, what hardware would be best? Any advice, pro/cons, tips you have would be appreciated.

(1) - A media server with plex server to hold all of the movies and data files that runs 24/7 with a simple HTPC that I turn on only when I want to use it.
(2) - A simple NAS with the movies and data files on it and an HTPC running plex server; both running 24/7.
(3) - A single HTPC running plex server with the additional storage for the data files running 24/7.

(A note about placement: my modem and router are located near my TV. Also due to the layout of my house, most likely anything I would build, even if split into a separate HTPC & server, would also be placed near my TV so that it could be hardwired into the network.)

A few questions about these options: Which would be the cheapest to build? Which would use the least amount of power? Which would be the easiest to use & maintain over time?

About my situation:
I originally decided to build an HTPC so that I could rip all of my daughter's movies and have them in one organized, easy to use place. Then move on to my movie collection. Then I thought about my current computer usage and thought it might also be a good idea to have a NAS or server. I have a power hungry desktop, an older laptop, a Surface Pro, two android phones, and a Nexus 7 tablet. I do a lot of photography (enthusiast not pro). The desktop has an extra 4TB hard drive that is about 75% full (and continually filling) with mostly photos and some videos (and web/graphic design work). The data is backed up to a local external hard drive as well as to the cloud with crashplan. I do all of my photo/video editing on the desktop, but my wife likes to digital scrapbook with the laptop using the photos stored on the 4TB desktop hard drive. So, she has to turn on the desktop every time she wants to use the laptop for her scrapbooking. I thought it would be nice to offload the data storage to a NAS or server that would run 24/7.

So, my first thought before researching was that I could build an HTPC that included the storage for my photography & web/graphic design. But then I read a lot of places that recommended having the storage separate from the HTPC. One main reason for this had to do with sound issues; having multiple hard drives in the HTPC would create additional noise. However, my router is in my entertainment center and so a separate NAS or server would still have to be placed close to the HTPC. So sound out of one or the other would make no difference. And, if I did split them, should I run the PLEX server on the HTPC or the NAS/server? I will be running the HTPC through a yamaha rx-v477 receiver to a Sharp 60" 3D TV. I am thinking either Kodi or Mediabrowser as the front end for the HTPC.

Thanks.
 

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No live TV or PVR:

One box running all the time with a few hard drives (two or three 5TB drives will hold a lot of media), PMS and Emby servers. Then for the client part of that PC, I'd probably do something like Emby Theater or Plex Theater; or you could do Kodi front end with Emby applied so that you can stop and resume from different devices. Once this is done, you can use something like Roku devices for streaming to other rooms.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thanks. Had to do a quick Google search for Emby. Didn't realize Mediabrowser had changed its name.

With a potential use case where I could be streaming a movie remotely, watching a movie on the big tv through hdmi, and accessing the data files from two other computers, would an i3 haswell be enough, or should I go to an i5?
 

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Watching a movie locally uses almost zero resources, as does sharing files. It's when you have a movie playing remotely to a device or connection that requires transcoding that causes the CPU usage to spike. Even on my server (Xeon E3-1246v3) it will spike to 100% on all cores. But I've done transcoding off as low as an AMD 610e here at home, and I have my dad set up to send Roku from his Celeron NUC, and it's working. One at a time, but it works.
 

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Cheap, easy, powerful enough and flexibility don't really go together. :)

Use cases:
- Watching a movie locally on the TV - Trivial horsepower required. Most modern video cards and onboard video can handle hardware acceleration with very little CPU usage required. However, don't get hung up on that. The "responsiveness" of the HTPC is as important as the actual playback. If the UI runs slow/stutters etc etc, it'll ruin the experience. An ITX type system will work but not a Pi.
- File/NAS server - Trivial horsepower required. Component quality and longevity is more of a concern.
- Streaming and transcoding media for remote playback - Major horsepower required. Here, raw CPU power is key. More, the better. In addition, your internet upload speeds play a major role here as well.

Now:
- The HTPC does not have to be on 24x7.
- The File server/NAS and the streaming services do need to be on 24x7.

I'd split it into two machines to begin with. For the HTPC, a Baytrail level mini-ITX type system is perfectly adequate. For the NAS/Streaming machine, that needs to be more powerful, more efficient (24x7), and preferably a server grade motherboard (component quality, built for 24x7 operation). That's where you'll spend your most money. The ITX can be had for a $100.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
I tested my internet at speedtest.net a few times and I was getting just over 12 Mbps upload every time. Will that be sufficient?

kapone, say I build the file server/NAS and set it running 24/7. What's wrong with plugging that in to my TV and using it as an htpc as well? What makes the second mini-ITX system necessary? Is it just so that the UI doesn't slow down while a remote stream transcoding is happening? Not saying you're wrong. I am just trying to understand the reasoning so that I can learn. Thanks.
 

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IF you have a home ethernet network and a place to put a server where mild fan noise doesn't bother you, I'd go with the two box solutions (or 3 or 4, as explained below).

I have a server with all my storage in the basement, running Windows 7. It runs a variety of applications like Plex and Squeezebox LMS. All hard drives are local. Just get a motherboard with enough SATA ports. I use SnapRAID for redundancy. To me, a NAS is pointless since everything can run natively in Windows 7 as-is, and almost any backend HTPC software you want to run works on Windows. In your case, I heartily recommend Plex Media Server.

On the client side, you have a variety of choices. Do note that you may contradict yourself wanting something easy and appliance-like coupled with the fact you want to play games. If an Intel NUC running Windows is okay and a wireless keyboard is alright, you can run whatever you want. Or you can develop your own front-end. This will be the device attached to your TV for all the "client" needs. It can run Plex Home Theater (PHT) for the client-side of watching movies.

A third alternative is running PHT on something like a Raspberry Pi (Rasplex) or a Chromebox. Cheaper and appliance like for the secondary TV's. A Roku, Xbox and other devices could also be used. This of course is just for media consumption, not playing games. It also has built-in Netflix, Hulu, etc. Most of the options to run it within Kodi and the like are not very good. You may just need to use a three box solution, assuming you already have a Smart DVD player or TV with Netflix already.

This is what I do.

kapone, say I build the file server/NAS and set it running 24/7. What's wrong with plugging that in to my TV and using it as an htpc as well?
It is unlikely that you will be able to have one box with a bunch of hard drives, near your TV, be quiet.
 

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I was confronted with this very same issue last year and settled on abandoning the magic box solution to a suite of solutions that acknowledge the wife factor. I purchased a Popcorn Hour A-410U from Cloudmedia to stream my Blu-ray and DVD rips over my CAT-5 network from my PC. The PC has 30TB of HDD's attached to it and serves to the PCH via NFS Share. The user interface is easy enough for my 3 and 5 year old to fight over what to watch because they can select it from their Nexus tablets via the NMJ Navigator app.

For the streaming solution I just utilize a Roku 3 which gets me Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Netflix, Pandora, etc. etc. I also use it to cast my android media files.

For gaming, I would only use a dedicated machine or console. I'm planning on a Steambox with dual boot Steam OS / Windows 10 (X-mas gift to self!)
 

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Discussion Starter #10
IF you have a home ethernet network and a place to put a server where mild fan noise doesn't bother you, I'd go with the two box solutions...

It is unlikely that you will be able to have one box with a bunch of hard drives, near your TV, be quiet.
Unfortunately, my house is not wired for ethernet. And the location of my cable modem & router near my TV is also not easy to wire to another room. We don't have basements down here in Florida and the only room I could get to by punching into the wall and running cable would be my bedroom. I don't really want a 24/7 server with fan noise running in there either. :) So, my only options are to use Wifi, powerline ethernet adapters, or have the server near my TV (maybe with the speaker volume turned up.)

If I am stuck with having the server near the TV is there anything I can do to try to reduce the noise? My sitting position on the couch is about 12 ft away from the TV (and server). I have plenty of space, so I was thinking about using a larger case with 120mm fans, Silverstone GD08B and potentially a quieter aftermarket CPU cooler, maybe a Noctua NH-L9i or a Scythe Big Shuriken 2.
 

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Unfortunately, my house is not wired for ethernet. And the location of my cable modem & router near my TV is also not easy to wire to another room. We don't have basements down here in Florida and the only room I could get to by punching into the wall and running cable would be my bedroom. I don't really want a 24/7 server with fan noise running in there either. :) So, my only options are to use Wifi, powerline ethernet adapters, or have the server near my TV (maybe with the speaker volume turned up.)

If I am stuck with having the server near the TV is there anything I can do to try to reduce the noise? My sitting position on the couch is about 12 ft away from the TV (and server). I have plenty of space, so I was thinking about using a larger case with 120mm fans, Silverstone GD08B and potentially a quieter aftermarket CPU cooler, maybe a Noctua NH-L9i or a Scythe Big Shuriken 2.
You are pretty much screwed with the more hard drives you need. I think in the old days (5 years ago Lol) an HTPC with a single hard drive was common, but now with servers or NASs needing multiple hard drives to store data, you'll have noise....and you need to put it somewhere. Only you can answer that question....or simply live with the fan noise.
 

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I moved from having an over powered HTPC acting as server and client to a dedicated headless media server/NAS and several thin front-ends. I much prefer my current setup.

Server placement is obviously a major issue for you. Have you investigated PowerLine adapters? Even my 5/6 year old 200Mbit adapters can easily push the 40+Mbit required for raw Blu-ray streams. Assuming these adapters give you additional placement flexibility then something like the Dell PowerEdge T110 II can be had for as low as $300 and would comfortably transcode, stream and act as a file server simultaneously. You can make the server act as an appliance by installing something like FreeNAS or OpenMediaVault, with simple click to install Plex plugins.

For a front-end I agree that a cheap Bay-Trail machine is hard to beat. Although the Haswell based HP Stream Mini Desktop is even better (CPU&GPU) and can be found for less than $200 with Windows included.

However, you mentioned your consoles, why not use the native Plex/Netflix/Amazon apps on one of them?

If the PowerLine adapters won't work for you, you could take a look at actual media server/NAS appliances from QNAP and Synology. The QNAP TS-x51 units have Bay-Trail processors and while no where near as powerful as the T110 II mentioned above, should be able to transcode/stream a BD and stream a raw 1080p BD at the same time. They support Plex Server through a simple plugin based user interface. The QNAP TS-x51 have HDMI out so I suppose you could use it as your media server and front-end, but I have no idea how well they work. My friend has a different 4-bay QNAP (populated with 4*4TB WD Reds) under his TV and it does not produce a noticeable amount of noise.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Server placement is obviously a major issue for you. Have you investigated PowerLine adapters? Even my 5/6 year old 200Mbit adapters can easily push the 40+Mbit required for raw Blu-ray streams. Assuming these adapters give you additional placement flexibility then something like the Dell PowerEdge T110 II can be had for as low as $300 and would comfortably transcode, stream and act as a file server simultaneously. You can make the server act as an appliance by installing something like FreeNAS or OpenMediaVault, with simple click to install Plex plugins.

For a front-end I agree that a cheap Bay-Trail machine is hard to beat. Although the Haswell based HP Stream Mini Desktop is even better (CPU&GPU) and can be found for less than $200 with Windows included.
I did a little digging about powerline adapters. They have come a lot farther than I had thought. The new 1200 models released earlier this year should increase the speed even more to the point that it might make it a viable option. I guess I could always buy one of those and test the speeds with my laptop before deciding.

I like the look of that little HP Stream Mini, but would the celeron processor in it still provide a snappy interface with Kodi, Plex Home Theater or Emby Theater as a front end? Or should I step up to a NUC?
 

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I did a little digging about powerline adapters. They have come a lot farther than I had thought. The new 1200 models released earlier this year should increase the speed even more to the point that it might make it a viable option. I guess I could always buy one of those and test the speeds with my laptop before deciding.

I like the look of that little HP Stream Mini, but would the celeron processor in it still provide a snappy interface with Kodi, Plex Home Theater or Emby Theater as a front end? Or should I step up to a NUC?
I think you would be very surprised at the performance of the HP Stream Mini. Good single threaded performance combined with Intel HD 40000 series graphics means that it can comfortably run Plex/Kodi/Emby front-ends (and even light gaming like Team Fortress 2). The only constraint is the RAM, I'm unsure if you can upgrade it. Of course the NUCs are great too if you don't mind spending the extra money.

EDIT: Somehow I missed the fact that you want to play 3D movies, that makes life a little more complicated. 3D on HTPCs is a bit like the Wild West right now. (I'm going to assume you haven't had any experience ripping/playing 3D Blu-rays). The reason 3D Blu-rays aren't twice the size of 2D Blu-rays is because the movie is encoded in the form of a 2D video plus a 3D delta. Similarly the optimum MKV encapsulation of a 3D Blu-ray is in the form of a 2D video in the AVC track, plus 3D information in the MVC track. This nicely maintains backwards compatibility with existing MKV decoders/players as they decode the AVC track and ignore the MVC information (so you end up with a 2D movie).

The first problem you have is the built-in Plex/Kodi/Emby players are unable to decode 3D/MVC MKVs and so will only show a 2D video when you play a 3D MKV. With Kodi and Emby you can solve this by launching external players for certain media types (*.mkv3d for example), however your options for 3rd party players are very limited (and Windows only), right now I believe Stereoscopic Player and PowerDVD are the best options. So let's say you bought Stereoscopic Player and you have it setup to decode your 3D MVC MKVs; what format does Stereoscopic Player output?

This brings us to our second problem. What your computer provides to your TV via the HDMI cable is the fully decoded pixel information (which is why HDMI cables have such insane bandwidths). The correct way to provide 3D information to your TV is "framepacked" where effectively the left and right eye frames are fully decoded, packed together and encapsulated in a container with header information that tells your TV that it is receiving a framepacked 3D image. This header information is the reason your TV can automatically switch to 3D mode and correctly render the image once you start playing back a 3D Blu-ray on a compatible player. While I believe that Stereoscopic Player and PowerDVD support framepacked output, the encapsulation and header information has to be provided at a hardware level. This means the graphics hardware has to support output in framepacked 3D mode. Historically Intel has considered this a premium feature and therefore disabled hardware support in everything below the i3 line and as such I would expect that the HP Stream Mini would be unable to output framepacked 3D (this may have changed as historically
 

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Discussion Starter #15
EDIT: Somehow I missed the fact that you want to play 3D movies, that makes life a little more complicated. 3D on HTPCs is a bit like the Wild West right now.
EDIT:Shortened the quote

nxsfan, thanks for the 3D playback primer. I was just reading about some of that today when I came back here and noticed that you had edited your comment.

I think I am going to go the route of building a server box first that is power efficient and as quiet as I can make it. At first, I'll hook it up near my TV and see if I can live with whatever level of noise I can keep it down to. If it is too loud then I will go the powerline route and move it into another room. If the powerline adapters turn out to be too slow, then I'll probably try to run some ethernet cable around my baseboards and drill a hole or two through walls. :)

I know I could get a used server cheaper on ebay, but I have decided to build it due to a few factors, not least of which is WAF of the case and the fact that I haven't built anything in a while and would like to have the opportunity again... as well as to let my daughter learn a few things watching me do it. The parts I have picked out so far are here: http://pcpartpicker.com/p/mFYwXL

Any advice on if I should change anything would be appreciated. I tried to pick things to balance between power efficiency, noise, and room for expansion (i.e many SATA ports on motherboard and many hard drive spaces in the case) so that it could hopefully last me a long while.

I know I said earlier that I wasn't interested in live TV or DVR, but I just found out today that I can get a cablecard from my cable company for free. So, it made me think about playing around with it just to see what it is like. What would that do to the requirements for the server and/or client other than necessitate a tv tuner? It's definitely not a must as I am pretty happy with my cable box's capabilities, just curious.
 

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I know I said earlier that I wasn't interested in live TV or DVR, but I just found out today that I can get a cablecard from my cable company for free. So, it made me think about playing around with it just to see what it is like. What would that do to the requirements for the server and/or client other than necessitate a tv tuner? It's definitely not a must as I am pretty happy with my cable box's capabilities, just curious.
What you've spec'd will do live tv fine. You'll need a cablecard tuner, as you noted. I like the HDHomeRun Prime. Windows Media Center on Windows 7 is easy to set up and use for live tv.
 

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followup

EDIT:Shortened the quote
The parts I have picked out so far are here:

Any advice on if I should change anything would be appreciated. I tried to pick things to balance between power efficiency, noise, and room for expansion (i.e many SATA ports on motherboard and many hard drive spaces in the case) so that it could hopefully last me a long while.

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Hi GatorArchitect,

I am right now in the EXACTLY the same boat and after reading for days on internet, I came to the same conclusion that I build my own windows server hooked to my TV using ATX case and MB to allow future expandability. If it turns out noisy, then i will think of moving to somewhere else to serve as a dedicated server and create a client.

Then I found your thread and that gave me an additional validation for my plan. What I am interested to know is how your setup is working, if it is noisy or if you discovered some unexpected issues. Btw, note that the setup you have chosen is powerful, however, there are now two devices NAS-HTPC combos, two-in-one, that are similar in spec and similarly priced BUT are already configured and with very solid streaming/transcoding software to go. Check out ASUSTOR 7004T and QNAP TVS-471.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Then I found your thread and that gave me an additional validation for my plan. What I am interested to know is how your setup is working, if it is noisy or if you discovered some unexpected issues.
So far, I am very happy with my build. It is very quiet to me, but my previous pc is very loud. I sit about 12 feet away from the new server. My fridge is about 15 feet away and I notice the noise from the fridge before I notice any noise from the server. The fractal design Define R5 case is great. I installed an additional 140mm case fan on the front to allow the fans to spin slower. I got some deals on different parts and ended up building something a little more than I originally intended. I actually ended up putting in 16gb ram, an i7 4790k, a Scythe Kotetsu CPU Cooler, Samsung 850 Pro 256gb, four WD Red 4TB drives and an old 3TB Seagate 7200 rpm drive. At this point, if/when I decide to, I could find a quietish graphics card and have a pretty good steam box as well. (http://www.silentpcreview.com/section22.html) I have been busy ripping discs and the blu ray disc drive spin is the loudest part of the pc. But, when I close the front door of the case, it cuts the noise dramatically.

The only issue I have run into has to do with the networking and I just haven't had time yet to actually sit down and try to troubleshoot it. Seems like every weekend has been taken up with one thing or another. For some reason, remote access (rdp, emby streaming, etc...) only works when the server is connected to my network via the motherboard's (ASRock Z97 Extreme6 ac) built in wifi. If I disable the wifi and connect it via either the intel or realtek ethernet ports, the remote access no longer works. It connects to the internet, but is not visible to other computers on my network or accessible via remote desktop or visible via emby streaming access. I am sure there is some setting I have incorrect somewhere, but I haven't had the time to research and find it yet.
 

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IMO PC's as thin clients aren't the best option. I've moved on to Android TV boxes, specifically the Shield TV and Nexus player. I know they don't support HD audio ATM, but for me even with my pretty outstanding audio equipment, using plex it sounds great. Nice all in one solution with plex/emby/kodi, youtube, netfilx, google music, quello concerts, live tv, along with voice search it's pretty awesome. Lacking is the DVR function, but coming soon. I currently use nextpvr as my tv recorder on my server, plex to watch the recordings, and the live tv app. Little convoluted atm, but it works.
 

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It seems to me you have changed your mind since your last post. I am saying this because your initial part selection was more modest so to speak. Now you have i7, 16gb ram and a top cooler. Are you trying to future proof your build or you do really need all those specs. From what you wrote it seems you are mostly using your build for local playing which i think i3 with 4gb would be able to do as well.

Which part of your setup produces more noise : hard drive spins or fan noise? Or may be it is something else. . . I ask this because silence is probably one of the top criteria for me because my build will be in the living room. The other important consideration is on the software side which is to play video remotely on phone. I know plex can do it, how about Emby, can it stream your files to your phone without issues. Any other software that you are aware of?

What i learned reading tons of sites is that i need to build something that satisfies my needs today. I am not gaming at all and neither do some video editing. These two seem to require dedicated gpu and a top cpu. Both result in noise. So i will probably go with an Silverstone ATX case, top of the line MB, i3 with low TDP, 4gb and no cooler since that case has 3 120mm fans. technology changes a lot and fast, so in the future i can replace i3 with top of the line cpu to meet encoding transcoding requirements of that time. As you can see the only part which i choose with future in mind is full size case. If the build becomes too noisy i can move it to another room and use it as NAS. Any thoughts?
 
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