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mrHTN

MrHTN Buys a New HDTV

By mrHTN – HTN Guru from Orlando, FL
Aug 04 2012 11:06 pm

MrHTN New HDTV

One would think I would be a videophile since I help run websites based on home theaters. The truth is that I’m probably like most people out there …but maybe slightly more picky. HDTVs today have many different features and some of these feature are going to be more important to people than others. For myself, the TV features in order of importance are:

  1. Cost
  2. Size
  3. Manufacturer (reliability)
  4. Glare reduction
  5. Refresh rate (how well does it handle motion)
  6. Shadow details (how good are the blacks)
  7. Brightness
  8. Color accuracy
  9. Internet access built-in
  10. App capable
  11. Display type (plasma or LCD)
  12. Asthetics (How does it look)
  13. 3D capable
  14. THX modes
  15. Video calibration settings and capabilities
  16. Thickness (My TV won’t be on a wall)

I was looking for new TV around 60” and for around $1,700. I’m willing to bet size and cost are going to be the top “features” of a TV most people look at first.

My previous TV was a Toshiba 52″ 720p DLP. It had great picture quality for the price when I bought it back in 2005. However, there were down sides such as the black levels, 720p instead of 1080p, and the bulb replacement. An upgrade was irresistible with TV prices dropping and the increasing picture quality.

DLPs have mostly dropped out of the picture so it was a choice between plasmas and LCDs. After researching some and shopping around, the two display types seemed similar with a slight edge to plasma on black levels and cost.

When Amazon dropped the price of the Panasonic VIERA TC-P65ST30 to under $1,700, I was sold. It had everything I was looking for on top of my list with a 65″ screen size, low cost, great black levels, top picture quality, a reputable manufacturer, low glare, and app capable. It was even 3D capable which is a feature I wasn’t willing to pay extra for.

It’s now been over 3 months since I purchased the TV and I couldn’t be happier. The picture quality is amazing and I received many compliments. TVs now have tons of features so making a list like the one above helped me in prioritizing what is important. Hope it helps others out too.

Time For My Annual HTPC Upgrade

By mrHTN – HTN Guru from Orlando, FL
Jan 25 2010 04:14 am

galaxy_gts_250I’ve always had trouble saying “no” to the crazy discounts on HTPC parts during the Christmas holidays. This past Christmas was no different, but I did try to resist buying high end products. Instead I went for year old hardware, which there was some real good deals at Newegg and Tiger Direct.

Here are the parts I used to update my HTPC:
• Intel Core 2 Quad Q8300processor
• GIGABYTE GA-X48-DQ6 LGA 775 Intel X48 ATX Intel Motherboard
• OCZ 4GB (2 x 2GB) SDRAM DDR2 1066
• Seagate Barracuda 1.5 TB hard drives (x2)
• Logitech MK700 keyboard and mouse
• SeaSonic S12D 850 Silver 850W power supply
• Galaxy GTS 250 video card
• Windows 7

The only parts I kept from the previous HTPC are the case and blu-ray ROM. I didn’t have any problems installing the hardware. The SeaSonic fan is super quite and the quad core processor makes the computer noticeably faster.

On the software side, I did have problems trying to install Window’s 7 64 bit. After a day and a half, I gave up and went to the professional 32 bit version of Windows 7. The 64 bit version kept getting stuck in the beginning with an unspecified driver issue.

Windows 7 so far has worked out great as an HTPC operating System. I’ve had no HDMI sync issues, blu-rays play great, and streaming media is easier. So far, so good.

Windows 7 After Three Months of Use

By mrHTN – HTN Guru from Orlando, FL
Jan 02 2010 01:34 pm

I started upgrading my HTPC over the holidays and was unsure if I should change the operating system from XP to Windows 7. I was worried about HDMI sync issues or any other driver issues Microsoft didn’t resolve. However, I’ve been using Windows 7 on my laptop now for the past 3 months and grown to like it. It’s not as revolutionary as some of the reviewers made it out to be when it came out in October, but it’s a solid operating system.

Every time I use an XP machine, I can’t help missing the Windows 7 taskbar at the bottom and how much easier it’s to use. Networking is also easier with the new Homegroup feature. Just add the Homegroup password to any new Windows 7 computer you want to have access, and you’re good to go. Although, I found it annoying that non Windows 7 computers need to have a user account with a non-blank password to share data with Windows 7 PCs. On my HTPC, the blank password was an issue as I don’t want to enter a password to start up my HTPC.

Another new feature I like in Windows 7 is the use of “libraries.” I keep most of my data on the HTPC, so it’s useful to go to the documents library and see my HTPC documents and my local computer’s documents all in one place. The same goes for movies, pictures, and especially music.

In the end, I decided to add Windows 7 to my HTPC. The new taskbar, homegroup feature, and libraries convinced me along with the fact that Windows 7 is better protected against viruses/malware. After a week of use, my HTPC has no issues. Blu-rays still play great with TMT movie player and streaming music is easier with the new version of media player.

So, would I recommend Windows 7 over XP or Vista on a HTPC or a regular PC? I think the fact that I now have Windows 7 on my HTPC, office computer and two laptops answers that question.

New 1TB hard drive took my DVR from 96% full to 12%!

By mrHTN – HTN Guru from Orlando, FL
Oct 03 2009 04:26 pm

Fall season is here, so my DVR is filling up quickly. It stood at 96% with all the PBS National Park episodes and new shows such as Glee and Flash Forward taking up space. Been busy so I haven’t had time to watch any of the episodes so the DVR keeps filling up. On top of that is all the football on the weekend which I’m not able to record. I finally was fed up and looked for a solution which led me to Western Digital’s My DVR Expander. I bought the 1TB version which works with Tivo DVRs and my Scientific Atlantic 8300HD cable box. Setup was easy as I just plugged in the included SATA cable into the eSATA port on my DVR while it was powered off. When powered back on, it asked if I wanted to format the hard drive which  I selected “yes.” After that, my DVR space went from 96% full to 12%!

I haven’t tried it, but external hard drives designed for computers probably won’t work. Most of them automatically turn off when not in use which a DVR would not be happy about. The WD My DVR Expander doesn’t even have an on/off switch in the back.

wd_dvr_expander1

New Xonar sound card for my HTPC gives me 7.1 surround sound

By mrHTN – HTN Guru from Orlando, FL
May 25 2009 09:33 pm

xonarThere aren’t many options for HTPC owners if they want lossless 7.1 surround sound from DTS-HD MA or Dolby HD.  The problem is the lossless audio codecs like DTS-HD and Dolby HD require HDMI connections, and most video cards having DVI connections. Even video cards with HDMI need drivers capable of PAP decryption.  There are some motherboards with HDMI, but the reviews weren’t that good so I decided to go with Asus’s Xonar HDAV1.3. The card is pricey, but it comes with Total Media Theater Blu-ray software which is around $70 anyway.

The TMT software sold me and I purchased the card. Install was simple with a PCIe slot needed. HDMI signals need video to work so there is a cable that comes with the card to bring the DVI signal from my video card into the Xonar HDMI input. I then connected the HDMI out of the Xonar to my Denon receiver.

I didn’t get any sound at first and my desktop size was all messed up when I first started the computer (I was using component signal before). After resizing the desktop to 720p I went and installed Xonar’s latest driver off their website. Still no sound after a restart, but I now was able to use the Xonar configuration program to update the settings. After a little while, I figures out I needed the settings set to HDMI and 7.1 surround sound speakers. I also set the PCM to 192 kHz. The important setting I forgot in the beginning was going to the control panel and changing Window’s speaker setting to 7.1 surround sound. I did manage to get sound after that.

I installed the TMT blu-ray player software and changed the audio setting to ‘HDMI’ which allows HDMI pass-through. This is important because I wanted bit streaming from my HTPC to the receiver so the Denon receiver could do the audio decoding. Sure enough, I got the “DTS-HD MA” display on my receiver when I played a blu-ray movie. At last, 7.1 surround sound from my HTPC.

However, there are a couple issues I’m still trying to figure out. One is I can’t play any regular DVDs with the TMT software. My TV immediately turns to snow if I play one and I have to restart the computer. The second problem is more significant as I’m getting HDMI sync issues. If I switch from my HTPC to my PS3 and back to my HTPC …then I get a black screen. There was a period where I couldn’t get the black screen to go away even with multiple reboots. I finally switched DVI inputs on my card and I got video. The HDMI sync issues could be a deal breaker if it keeps continuing. I’ll see as time goes on.

How I connected my HDTV, receiver, speakers, Wii, PS3, and more together

By mrHTN – HTN Guru from Orlando, FL
Dec 19 2008 10:49 pm

img_0328.jpg

So how many cables do you need to connect a HDTV, PS3, receiver, speakers, HTPC, Wii, and a cable box together? The answer is huge amount! Here is a list of all the cables I bought:

  • HDMI 1.3a (15 feet) x3
  • HDMI 1.3a (6 feet) x2
  • Toslink optical (6 feet) x 2
  • Toslink optical (25 feet) x 1
  • Component (25 feet) x1
  • Component (6 feet) x2
  • Coaxial (25 feet) x2
  • Coaxial (6 feet) x2
  • Red/white RCA analog (25 feet) x3
  • Red/white RCA analog (6 feet) x2
  • S-video (25 feet) x2
  • S-video (6 feet) x2

My Denon 3808 receiver has a ton of inputs so I went a little overboard and connected everything together. For example, I ran a HDMI, component, composite, optical, and red/white analog audio cables from my cable box to the receiver. I only really needed the single HDMI cable, but I sometimes get HDMI sync issues due to the cable box’s new DVR software so I have component as a backup. I have a standard def composite cables connected because my receiver won’t down sample video to a second zone. The no down-sampling is also why I ran red/white cables from every component to my receiver.

By the way, I saw a Best Buy ad that had a 10 foot Monster HDMI cable for sale for only $109! If you can’t sense my sarcasm, just know that I bought all the cables listed above for under the price of 2 Monster HDMI cables. I got all my cables from Monoprice.com. They have high quality cables for great prices.

My New Definitive Technology and Axiom Speakers

By mrHTN – HTN Guru from Orlando, FL
Dec 13 2008 12:05 pm

mrHTNs Home Theater

Now that I have a receiver, my next purchase was to get some decent speakers. I’ve been using hand-me down speakers for the past few years and they were in a plain 2.1 setup. My family room (aka. my home theater room) is setup perfectly for a 7.1 surround sound system. My couch is about eight feet from the back wall which is around the distance Dolby recommends for the back speakers. I also had walls on the side which let me install the other two surround sound speakers.

I had my eye on Definitive Technology’s bipolar speakers for years now so when I saw a set of BP7006 speakers on sale as an open box item, I went for it. I’m not a fan of hearing sound come from a specific speaker so that’s why bipolar speakers have always interested me. The Def Techs also have built-in subwoofers so that was one less speaker I had to purchase and find a place for. I convinced the store manager to sell me the ProCenter 1000 center speaker as an open box item to so I was able to complete my front speaker set.

It is ideal to have all seven speakers come from one company. However, the Wife-Acceptance-Factor came into play here and aesthetics was real important. I had to make sure the surround speaker weren’t noticeable which means the colors had to blend in with the wall. Unfortunately, Def Tech’s surround speakers are big and brown so they were not an option.

Instead, I went with the Axiom QS4 v2 for my side speakers. Axiom allows custom colors to match your paint. Continuing my anti-directional theme, the QS4 speakers are dipole, which means they output sound to the side of the speakers. This is supposed to simulate a real movie theater in how multiple side speakers are along the theater walls.

I was running out of money so I went with Polk OWM3 for the rear speakers. Nothing fancy here, the OWM3 speakers are simple directional speakers which is what is recommended by Dolby.

After having all these speakers for over a month, I have to say I couldn’t be happier. Going from a cheap 2.1 setup to a midrange 7.1 setup made a huge difference when watching movies and TV. I feel like sound is everywhere when I’m watching movies. The speakers have proven to me that everyone should look at sound quality as much as they look at video quality.

Surround Sound

My New Receiver

By mrHTN – HTN Guru from Orlando, FL
Oct 16 2008 04:12 pm

Looking for a new receiver? So was I until I finally purchased one last month. I’ve been saving for a long time so I can afford a mid-high level receiver. There are a large amount of features to look for in a receiver as they are an important piece of a home theater network. Here is list of the features that were important to me:

  • 7.1 surround sound output with a minimum of 100W/channel. I’m going to have a 7.1 speaker setup so this is a must.
  • Minimum of 3 HDMI inputs. One for a cable box, PS3, and a HTPC. I would like an extra one for my HD DVD player too but I could live without it.
  • HDMI 1.3a capable so the receiver can accept 7.1 signals.
  • Dolby TruHD and DTS HD MA decoding support. No point in having a 7.1 surround sound speaker system if I can’t decode a true 7.1 source.
  • Network controllable. I need this so I can run my AutoHTN program.
  • An independent second zone with audio and video output. This is so I can finish watching a DVD or a DVRed show in my bedroom or office.
  • A third zone output used for my porch speakers.
  • 1080p HDMI upconversion output so I only need a single HDMI input on my TV.
  • Multi-channel pre-out used for an amplifier (one day).
  • Dynamic volume control. I can’t stand how loud commercials get and this feature keeps everything at the same volume.
  • A built-in Audyssey speaker calibration program.

The network controllable feature limited my choices to Denon. I asked around, but no other manufacturer had the options to send commands through a home network. I decided on the Denon 3808 and have been more than happy with it. The ’09 models were coming out so I was able to find the 3808 for a discounted price, and it was able to do everything I listed above.

I’ll post back with a detailed review of the 3808 soon. In the mean time, here are some pics of the all the cables going to the receiver.

img_0336.jpg

avr3808ci_front_large_rdax_1200×494.jpg

Home remodeling? Might be a good time to run some cables

By mrHTN – HTN Guru from Orlando, FL
Sep 23 2008 09:51 pm

I’m in the middle of a big home remodeling project where we’re changing the floors for most of the house. We also decided to paint the whole house and remove the baseboards. The missing baseboards worked out perfectly because it gave me a chance to hide some speaker wires. I just shoved them underneath the drywall, and when we were done painting and tiling, we installed the previous baseboards back with the speaker cables behind them. So for those of you planning on redoing your floors, you might want to think about removing the baseboards. It’s a perfect time to run some hidden Ethernet, speaker, or any other type of cable.

Cables behind Baseboards

Cables behind Baseboards 2

My New i760 PDA Phone vs My Old xv6700 Phone

By mrHTN – HTN Guru from Orlando, FL
May 19 2008 10:39 pm

xv6700 vs i760

A couple of months ago, my xv6700 PDA phone crashed for the final time. Not that I’m complaining because it gave me a great excuse to buy a new phone. I went with Samsung’s i760, and it’s been a significant improvement. The simple feature of having number buttons on the front of the phone is a something I’ve missed since I bought the xv6700 more than 2 years ago. To dial a phone number on the xv6700, I would have to use the touch screen which my fingers were too big for, or use the slideout QWERTY keyboard which was a pain. As the picture shows below, the i760 has number buttons on the front of the phone so now entering phone numbers is as easy as entering numbers on a regular phone.

The xv6700 was one of the first PDA phones Verizon offered with Wi-Fi capabilities. I refused to pay the $50/month for a data package so Wi-Fi was important. The xv6700 wasn’t too bad of a phone as it was able to do all the PDA phone functions I could ask for. Where the i760 excels is in reliability. I had the i760 for 2 months now and it has crashed on me once. The xv6700 with Windows Mobile 5 would crash weekly. Windows Mobile 6 on the i760 seems to be more stable, at least so far.

The i760 seems to be faster and more responsive than the xv6700. The i760 also has a significantly louder speaker, is thinner, and has built-in Microsoft Voice command features. It’s pretty cool speaking out “What are my appointments” and hearing a response. I didn’t have to teach the phone my voice which is a big time saver.

In the end, the i760 may delay my future Android phone purchase. Arguably, the i760 is one of the best phones out there today.

My Second HTPC (2007), Lessons Learned

By mrHTN – HTN Guru from Orlando, FL
Dec 07 2007 06:38 pm

It’s been almost three years since I built my first HTPC. Seems so long ago, but back then, dual-core processors were just coming out. Here are the components I bought for my second HTPC:

  1. Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 2.66GHz Dual-Core Processor
  2. GIGABYTE GA-P35-DS3P Intel P35 Intel Motherboard
  3. XFX GeForce 8800GTS 320MB Video Card
  4. Western Digital 250GB 7200 RPM 16MB (x2 for RAID-0)
  5. Western Digital 500GB 7200 RPM 8MB
  6. Crucial Ballistix 2GB (2 x 1GB) SDRAM DDR2 800
  7. SeaSonic S12 Energy Plus 650W Power Supply
  8. LITE-ON Black 12X DVD-ROM 32X CD-ROM SATA Blu-ray DVD-ROM
drawing1.jpg

I kept my case, DVD writer, and HDTV capture card from my original HTPC, and used them for my second HTPC. The two 250GB drives are for my RAID-O configuration with Window’s XP, while the 500GB drive is used to play around with Ubuntu and LinuxMCE. My last power supply was louder than I would have liked which is why I went with SeaSonic’s power supply. After two month of testing the system, SeaSonic’s power supply is as quiet as all the reviewers say. Last, but not least, is the addition of a Blu-ray drive. So far, the Blu-ray movies I tried with it work, but I am worried about the BS BD+ encryption starting to show up on some movies.

Performance wise, this HTPC screams. I run games such as BioShock and Call of Duty 4 at maximum settings and get no glitches or noticeable frame drops. DVD upscaling with ffdshow is around 40% CPU usage using only one processor. Also, my family and I have found ourselves using the HTPC more with the additional online video content. NBC and ABC have started streaming their shows online, and ABC’s quality is impressive as it looks near HD. Even Netflix started streaming select movies online with high quality video and basically no wait to start. Netflix will also send out Blu-ray movies at no additional charge, which is where the Blu-ray ROM has come in handy.

So far, so good. Hopefully this HTPC will last us another three years.

My First HTPC (early 2005)

By mrHTN – HTN Guru from Orlando, FL
Aug 27 2007 10:16 pm

Cooler Master’s TAC-T01-E1C Wave Master

My first HTPC started out as a plain old office PC. I was still in the TV on the box days so I didn’t have a home theater. Hence, the “HT” from HTPC had to be dropped. However, I did build the PC with the intentions of connecting it to a HDTV one day. I also built my HTPC-to-be with the intention of placing it in my home theater room so I made sure the case was worthy of displaying. I settled on Cooler Masters TAC-T01-E1C “Wave Master” which is pictured to the right. HTPC style cases were tempting, but slightly out of my price range. The Wave Master was cheaper, and didn’t look like a standard PC case with its hidden blue LEDs and its curvy shape.

After I picked my case, I started looking for video cards. I didn’t know if my HDTV would have DVI inputs so I made sure I picked a video card with a component output. I picked ATI’s Radeon X800 Pro, which was a pretty fast card three years ago. In fact, it’s still pretty fast today as it plays Half Life 2, F.E.A.R. and Command and Conquer 3 at high graphic levels.

Half Life 2 was also why I went with AMD’s Athlon 64 3500+ processor. All the tests back then showed Half Life 2 performed the best with AMD processors and ATI cards. Can you tell I’m a diehard Half Life fan?

It’s been three years so I don’t remember why I picked Asus A8V Deluxe motherboard, but it does have built-in 5.1 surround sound. Too bad I never got to put them to good use.

Macro Image Technology’s MyHD MDP-130 capture card

I decided to buy a HDTV capture card so I wouldn’t have to look for a HDTV with a built-in tuner. I picked Macro Image Technology’s MyHD MDP-130 capture card because it had built-in hardware encoding. Therefore, I wouldn’t have to slow down my processor speed whenever I was recording a TV show. This is important if you’re recording a HD show and upscaling a DVD at the same time.

I knew DVD viewing would be a primary function of my HTPC so I looked for a quiet DVD-ROM drive. Sony’s 16x DDU1613 did the trick as I have never noticed any sound coming from the DVD drive. To burn DVDs, I bought Sony’s DVD+/-RW 16x DRU710A dual burner.

To speed things up, I went with a RAID 0 configuration. RAID 0 will almost double your hard drives read/write speeds, but the chance of hard drive failure is increased two-fold. I didn’t see this as a problem since I back up my data all the time. To get the RAID 0 configuration, I purchased two of Maxtor’s 200GB SATA hard drives.

For keyboard and mouse, I used Logitech’s Cordless Elite Duo. It’s Bluetooth so I knew I could easily get the 15 feet range I would need.

In summary, here are the computer parts for my first HTPC:

  • Cooler Master’s TAC-T01-E1C Wave Master case
  • ATI’s Radeon X800 Pro video card
  • Macro Image Technology’s MyHD MDP-130 capture card
  • AMD’s Athlon 64 3500+ CPU
  • Asus A8V Deluxe motherboard
  • Sony’s 16x DDU1613 DVD-ROM
  • Sony’s DVD+/-RW 16x DRU710A dual burner
  • Maxtor’s 200GB SATA hard drive (x2)
  • Logitech’s Corless Elite Duo
  • Window’s XP
  • APEVIA Chameleon ATX-AS550W power supply
  • 512MB DDR400 RAM (x2)

A picture of my HTPC with the HDTV I eventually purchased is shown in my Home Theater Room Connections post.

Home Theater Room Connection Details

By mrHTN – HTN Guru from Orlando, FL
Apr 29 2007 09:53 pm

Home Theater Connection Setup

With the new HDTV, I could finally call my family room a home theater room. The Toshiba 52HM84 I bought has 1 HDMI input, 2 component inputs, and 3 composite/S-Video inputs. I use the HDMI port for my 8300HD cable box. I’ve been real impressed with the 20 hours of HD storage and the ability to record two shows at once. It’s also nice having one box that does it all instead of having a TiVo and a cable box. The 8300HD’s user interface wasn’t as nice as the TiVos, but the $7/month for the box is a lot better than the $600 plus $15/month it costs for a TiVo Series 3. Sorry TiVo, your user interface is just not worth the cash. I went ahead and cancelled my TiVo subscription.

One of the TV’s component inputs was used for my HTPC while the other component input was used for the PS2’s 480p output. Honestly though, I don’t think I turned on the PS2 once on this TV. The HTPC allowed me to play games like Half Life 2 and F.E.A.R. in HD, and I was quickly spoiled by the unbelievable graphics. I just couldn’t go back to low res gaming. The same goes for the GameCube, which I haven’t turned on either.

I have to say I’m lacking on the audio side of things. The Toshiba 52HM84 has stereo output which I used to connect to my Philips stereo. I’m still using the Philips stereo as mentioned in my previous posts, but now only in a 2.1 configuration. The speakers I have are probably 20 years old and are hand me downs from my parents. My next home theater upgrade will have to be a receiver with surround sound speakers.

The Home Theater Room and Finally Getting a HDTV (2006)

By mrHTN – HTN Guru from Orlando, FL
Apr 28 2007 12:15 am

Toshiba 52HM84

As you can see from the connection diagram at HomeTheaterNetwork.com, I firmly believe that the home theater room should be the center of any home network. The staple of any home theater is the HDTV, and in early 2006, HDTV prices finally dropped enough where I thought it was worth purchasing one. Picking a HDTV technology wasn’t easy, but I was able to narrow it down. Plasma wasn’t an option because I planned on connecting my HTPC to the HDTV, and I didn’t want any burn-in issues. SXRD had the best picture quality in my opinion, but its high price caused me to scratch it off the list. I trusted DLP technology more than D-ILA or HD-ILA so that left LCD and DLP. It was the screen door effect vs. rainbows. I decided to go with DLP since I didn’t need a flat screen, and I always thought the picture quality of DLPs matched Plasmas. Also, the price was a few hundred dollars cheaper, which is always a convincing argument.

New 1080p DLPs were just coming out, which meant all the 720p models were on sale. I spent a large amount of time at the AVSforum.com reading everyone’s inputs on different brands, and I also went to many stores looking at different models. I decided to go with a Mitsubishi 720p model, but I couldn’t find the discontinued TV anywhere. My next choice was the Toshiba 46HM84. The reason I picked the HM84 series is because it had the HD2+ chipset. The HD2+ doesn’t use wobulation to double its pixels, and I thought it gave a sharper picture than the HD3 chipsets.

I was planning on getting the 46” version of the TV, but Onecall gave me a great price, and it wound up being $100 more for the 52” version. Naturally, I went with the 52” size, and I wasn’t disappointed. The picture quality was stunning. I think I spent the whole first week just watching DiscoveryHD. What a world of difference from the 12″TV-on-the-box.

More information:

My First HTPC (early 2005)

By mrHTN – HTN Guru from Orlando, FL
Apr 27 2007 11:07 pm

mrhtn_htpc.jpg

Half Life 2 just came out and my 4 year old Gateway computer wasn’t going to cut it. I’m a huge Half Life fan so I decided to build a HTPC for it … even though I was still in the TV-on-a-box days. Technically speaking, I guess the new HTPC was more of a regular PC since it was in my office, but I made sure I could use it as an HTPC in the future when I upgraded my home theater.

Here are some of the components of my first HTPC:

  1. AMD 64 3500+ Athlon processor
  2. Asus A8V Delux motherboard
  3. Cooler Master Wave Master TAC-T01-E1C Silver Mini Tower
  4. ATI Radeon X800 Pro with 256MB of RAM
  5. 200 GB hard drives (x2)
  6. 512 MB Ram (x2)
  7. MyHD MDP-130 capture card
  8. Logitech Bluetooth keyboard and mouse

It’s been a couple years so I don’t remember all the details on why I purchased certain components. I know price was certainly an issue, and I also remember reading lots of reviews. Most of the reviews said that an AMD Athlon processor with an ATI video card worked best with Half Life, so I was sold.

Aesthetics is important in a home theater room so I couldn’t just use a regular computer case. I absolutely loved the horizontal HTPC cases with touch screen LCDs on the front. However, they were way too expensive so I went with the Cooler Master case. It’s a tower-based case so it may not look right in everyone’s home theater, but I knew I would have enough floor space. I also liked the way the front of the case looked with the blue LED glow.

Building the HTPC went without a hitch. I had the hard drives setup in a RAID 0 configuration to help speed things up, and I had no problems installing the motherboard and processor. I was a little worried about installing Windows XP onto RAID 0 drives since I never done it before, but the install went without a hitch too.

I picked the MyHD MDP-130 capture card over other HD capture cards because it had built-in hardware encoding capabilities. Some of the other HD capture cards use the processor to compress video, which would be a problem if I was recording something and upscaling a DVD at the same time.

In the end, the HTPC without a home theater played great. I was able to see the resolution, details, and textures without any frame jitter.

I’ll go through connecting my HTPC to my HDTV in another post in another day.

More information:

The TV-on-the-box days (early 2005)

By mrHTN – HTN Guru from Orlando, FL
Apr 26 2007 10:24 pm

TV on a box

We’ve all been there, right? …the TV-on-the-box days. The old hand-me-down Panasonic I had before finally broke. It would randomly crunch the whole picture into one horizontal line. All I would have to do was tap the side of the TV, and the picture would come back to full screen. Until one day, I “tapped” a little too hard. I was in the middle of a football game when the TV decided to conveniently crunch down my picture. I “tapped” it on the side, but this time I heard some glass break. This oh-shit moment led to the death of the 24″ Panasonic CRT.

The TV dying happened a few months before the big move into my first house. Other expenses like lawn equipment and washing machines were higher on the priority list, which made me stuck with putting my high school 12″ TV on a box. Not exactly the ideal home theater, but it had to do back then. I did hook up my Philips FW-P78 mini HIFI stereo so at least I got Dolby Pro Logic stereo sound.

The connection setup was pretty similar to my previous apartment. I had an audio/video switch box which select composite/stereo inputs from a PS2, GameCube, or TiVo. All the inputs were composite since the TV didn’t have any better inputs. I don’t think better video signals would of mattered anyway on a 12″ screen.

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Data Network (2005)

By mrHTN – HTN Guru from Orlando, FL
Apr 26 2007 10:17 pm

I did setup a wireless router near the TV-on-the-box so I could have a direct Ethernet connection for the TiVo. I also ran Ethernet cables from the router, through the walls, up into the attic, and down to both guest bedrooms which my Wife and I were using as offices. This allowed a direct Ethernet connection to my Wife’s laptop and my PC.

The previous D-Link 614+ router I had died during a power surge. I was pretty happy with the D-Link router so I decided to buy the updated version of it. The DI-624+ used the 802.11g protocol and said it could go up to 108 Mbps. However, I found the wireless network to be unstable at the 108Mbps setting so I went back to plain Wireless-G mode.

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First Apartments Home Theater Network Living Room (2003-2004)

By mrHTN – HTN Guru from Orlando, FL
Apr 26 2007 10:01 pm

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Once I graduated college, I got my first apartment and immediately started setting up my home theater network. My home theater was very similar to my college setup with the same 24″ Panasonic TV and the same Philips stereo. One big difference is that I bought a Series 1 TiVo. The TiVo was one of the best purchases I ever made as it was a huge time saver. It let me watch shows when I wanted to, and I could forward through all those annoying commercials. For example, a one hour episode of 24 took me less than 40 minutes to watch. The series 1 TiVo was also great because it was hackable. I added an extra 120 GB hard drive to it to give me over 200 hours of recording space, was able to pull video off of it, and was able to control it using my computer. If you’re interested, the details on how to do all these hacks (except video extraction) are in the TiVo community forum.

Video signal quality was something I also tried to improve on. I wanted to use S-Video cables instead of composite, but the Panasonic TV only had one S-Video input. To fix this problem, I purchased an audio/video switch box, which allowed me to switch between 5 composite/S-Video inputs. Thus, I was able use S-Video cables with my TiVo, PS2, and GameCube.

The last improvement I made was adding surround sound speakers. The way the walls were laid out in my apartment let me easily run speaker wires to the speakers behind the sofa. It wasn’t true surround sound since it was Dolby Pro Logic, but at least it was better than nothing.

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First Apartments Home Theater Network Data Network (2003-2004)

By mrHTN – HTN Guru from Orlando, FL
Apr 26 2007 09:48 pm

The data network of my first apartment was centered by a D-Link 802.11b wireless router. The reviews said the DI-614+ model had good range and stability so I went for it. I put the router on top of my TV so I could easily connect my hacked TiVo’s add-on Ethernet port. There was a cable outlet right behind the TV so I used a splitter to have part of the signal go to the cable modem and the other part of the signal go to the cable box.

My desktop computer was located in a side room so I couldn’t run Ethernet cables to it. The only way I could get internet access was through a wireless connection. I bought a D-Link DWL-810+ wireless extender, and it worked most of the time. The connection would sporadically die which drove me nuts.

Wireless security was important to me since I was in an apartment complex with lots of people within range of my signal. WEP encryption, turning off the SSID signal, and changing the username/password made my wireless signal secure.

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My First Home Theater Network – Living Room (2002-2003)

By mrHTN – HTN Guru from Orlando, FL
Apr 26 2007 07:59 pm

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The good old college years, I finally moved out of the dorm rooms and into a nice townhouse. The townhouse had two bedrooms upstairs with the kitchen, dining, and living room downstairs.

My first home theater network wasn’t really a home theater network. It was missing key components like – a home theater. I did manage to talk my parents into handing me down their old 24″ Panasonic CRT so all wasn’t lost. The TV did have 2 composite video inputs, one S-Video input, one coaxial input, and two analog stereo inputs. The S-Video input was shared with one of the composite inputs so I connected my cable box and my PS2 to the two composite inputs and the two stereo inputs. The VCR (yes, it wasn’t that long ago when we were all still using them!) took my coaxial input. All of this left my GameCube out in the cold. I would have to manually unplug my PS2 cables and plug in the GameCube cables whenever I wanted to play Zelda, Metroid, or Eternal Darkness.

One of the nice things about the Panasonic TV was that it had stereo output which I was able to connect to an old Sony stereo. This let me use my stereo speakers instead of the weak built-in TV speakers.

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My First Home Theater Network Data Network (2002-2003)

By mrHTN – HTN Guru from Orlando, FL
Apr 26 2007 07:52 pm

Luckily for us, the townhouse was pre-wired with Ethernet cables. Well, kind of pre-wired. There were Ethernet outlets in both bedrooms with both cables running downstairs through the walls into a utility closet. The utility room had a cover plate on the wall instead of an Ethernet outlet so I had to take the cover plate off and fish around in the wall to find the two Ethernet cables.

I connected the two Ethernet cables into the LAN ports of a D-Link 704P router we owned. The cable modem was connected to the WAN port, which gave us the final result of being able to share two computers with one internet connection. Since the 704p router is not wireless, setup was real easy. All I had to do is type in the router’s IP address into a browser, and I was able to control all of the router’s settings. I updated the firmware, changed the password, and set it up for a dynamic connection.

With the network setup, I had both computers upstairs networked and communicating with each other. It was just a regular XP network setup where all you have to do is make sure your in the same workgroup and that sharing option is turned on at both computers. The computer I had back then wasn’t that bad for yesterday’s standards. It was Gateway PC with a 1.3GHz AMD Athlon processor, 256 MB RAM, and a GeForce 3 video card.

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