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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello all.

I'm sure some folks here are tired of seeing the same "Help me build a HTPC" threads. I'm sorry to start another one
But I've read through the sticky guides and a number of threads and I'm still unsure of exactly which parts I should buy for my build. I have some careful considerations for what I want in my HTPC, so I'm going to lay out what I have, what I want and what I do not want. I hope that some kind folks here will be able to help me

To start, I'd like to describe what I already have. I've got things kinda working, but it's not what I really want and I feel as though I've just stumbled into a semi-working solution without really knowing what the heck I'm doing!

I am NOT looking to use my HTPC as a television or DVR solution. I am in Canada, living in a concrete, north-facing apartment. Cable is my only viable solution to get all the HD channels that I want and I am quite happy with the Shaw Gateway Experience for my multi-room television DVR solution. So no tuners or DVR needed!

My HTPC is all about playback of my Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray, HD-DVD, DVD, CD, AAC, downloaded videos and photo collection. I would also like to have the option of surfing the web, playing back flash videos and using streaming services. In regards to streaming services, again, I am in Canada and our selection up here is not very good. I honestly do not use any streaming services on a regular basis, but I would like to have the option to do so in the future through my HTPC.

My displays are in 3 rooms. I have a Panasonic VT30 in the theatre and I DO want the option to use 3D movies on it on occassion. I have a Pioneer Kuro KRP Monitor in the living room. And I have an LG LH90 in the bedroom.

All I have right now PC-wise is my Sony laptop with HDMI out.

My phone is an iPhone4 and I do use iTunes to handle my music collection. I know some people hate iTunes, but I am fine with it and I don't really want to have to setup and learn a whole new music management software solution. I've got my CDs ripped at 320kbps AAC and I am perfectly satisfied with that level of quality. Of course, any music I've bought through iTuens is at 256kbps AAC.

So when I first setup Windows Media Center 7, it found all of my music and photos without a problem. That part seems to work just fine for me. I can just take my laptop to any room, plug it into my receiver for that room via HDMI, launch WMC, and have a nice interface to play any music in my collection or look at photos. I'm good with that part as it is, although I'm not against hearing about any better solutions that do NOT involve changing out of iTunes for the music management part.

For my movie disc collection, here's what I've done:

I got two Synology DS411j NAS units with four 3TB drives in each, giving me 24TB plus I've got four 2TB USB drives attached to the NASes, so 32TB of Network storage altogether. I've got the NASes connected to a dual-band (5GHz & 2.4GHz) wireless-N router, and ALL of my files reside on the NASes. My laptop hard drive has nothing on it but the OS and installed programs.

I've used AnyDVD HD to make 1:1 ISO image backups of all of my movie and TV season discs. I've used Virtual CloneDrive to mount those ISO image files for playback.

I've used TotalMedia Theatre 5 for playback software. And I've used My Movies to keep track of my movie collection with it's automatic downloads of cover art and metadata. Inside the My Movies Collection Management software, I've "pointed" the "disc location" to the files on my NASes.

So when I go into WMC on my laptop, I see my "Movie Libraray" and "TV Series Library" with all of the cover art and metadata that My Movies downloaded. I like the way it looks and it all seems to work - at least I'm satisfied with it. Selecting play for any movie title seems to work just fine and seemlessly. Virtual CloneDrive automatically mounts the ISO image file that I've "pointed" to for that movie in My Movies. WMC launches TMT5 automatically and the movie starts to play exactly as though I had inserted a physical disc. This is the experience that I want. I personally prefer to have all the menus and special features (yes, even BD-Live
So I'm not looking for a different backup solution. I like the experience being identical to putting in a physical disc

Now, that combination of software seems to work well for me. But, like I said, I sort of feel as though I just stumbled into it. I don't know if I'm really doing things "right" or if I should be using some other software. So I'm certainly open to any suggestions on the software and I do NOT mind paying.

So that is how things are going for me right now. But the hardware solution is far from ideal and I do not have all the functionality that I want!

My laptop does NOT output any HD-Audio (TrueHD, DTS-HD or multi-channel PCM). No matter what Blu-ray or HD-DVD movie I am playing, my laptop just downconverts the audio to regular DD or DTS via HDMI. So that is a BIG concern. I want HD-Audio output via HDMI. I don't really care if its bitstream output or if the HTPC does the decoding and outputs multi-channel PCM

My laptop does NOT output 24p! This is a HUGE concern. I want 1080p/24 output via HDMI.

My laptop does not output 3D. I'm not a huge fan of 3D most of the time. But I would like to be able to playback 3D Blu-ray movies via my HTPC. backing up 3D Blu-rays with AnyDVD HD doesn't seem to be a problem. And TMT5 seems to support 3D Blu-rays just fine. I have a VT30. So the only issue seems to be having the right HTPC hardware to output a compatible 3D signal. I would like to have that!

So those are the BIG concerns. I basically just want to keep the nice interface for my movie and TV series collections that WMC, My Movies and TMT5 has given me already. But I would like playback to be exactly like its coming from a very good stand-alone Blu-ray/HD-DVD player. I want 1080p/24 output, 3D-capable output, HD-Audio output and I want good DVD playback also - whether that means good upscaling inside the PC or just straight 480 output from the PC so that my televisions can handle the upscaling themselves.

The final considerations are that I want the HTPC to be small and QUIET. Quiet is a really big one. And I'd love something as small as a mini-ITX case with a micro-ATX case being about as large as I'd ever want to go.

I also want to be able to control WMC with just an IR remote. I use Harmony remotes and I would like to be able to control WMC with that.

I also intend to continue using my wireless-N network to connect the HTPC to my NASes where the files are stored. I haven't had any problems using the wireless to playback full Blu-ray quality on my laptop, so the bandwidth does not SEEM to be any problem in my setup. I would like to be able to use the 5GHz band, keeping the 2.4GHz band clear for things like my Xbox360 or PS3 for gaming in another room while I'm watching a Blu-ray in a second room

Ideally, since WMC Extenders don't seem to be able to handle playing back of full Blu-ray ISO backups, I would like to put a small, quiet, IR controlled HTPC in each room. So 3 HTPC in total. And my budget would be about $1000 max EACH. So I could go as high as $3000 to get three of them. But a lower price would be GREAT! So don't feel like you have to max out that budget or anything

I hope that will be enough information for folks to recommend to me exactly what I need to buy in order to get the experience that I want. But please feel free to ask me any questions! I want to do this right

Thank you all very much!
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