Home Theatre PC

I’ve had the idea of making a home theater pc for a while now. I usually end up pluggin in my laptop to watch movies or listen to music and I was getting tired of not having my computer to use at the same time. Well, I finally broke down and bought a dedicated HTPC. This post will be the first of a few about this subject.

I started off a while back with a 3TB USB hard drive. Unfortunately my blu-ray player could not recognized this drive due to it’s size. Not being willing to let a piece site unused, I jumped into the HTPC world. This ocmputer now sits along side the blu-ray player and serves up movies, music, tv, Netflix, and more.

I made a trip to Best Buy to look at some slim towers. It’s been nearly 10 years since I’ve had a desktop computer so I enlisted the help of the computer-guy in training. Mostly to see if they had any clue about what they are selling. I settled on the cheapest slim tower with HDMI output. It just so happened they had a stack of Gateway SX2855s. I grabbed one for about $180. Not too bad for a super-DVD drive, HDMI, 250GB, and Windows 7 Home Premium. I opted to pick up a 3D blu-ray drive as well since this will be a HTPC. Like I said, it’s been a while since I’ve done this stuff. I was surprised at how easy it was to swap the drives. Two case screws, two more holding the bay in place, two more holding the drive in, and finally pulling the sATA cable. Reverse the procedure and done. Might have been a five minute job.

I using Windows Media Center for my player. The only issues I am having with the setup is the time required to move all of my content from one drive to another. This will only be a one time issue though. I moved about 18GB of music and about 625GB of movies from my old external USB drive to my new media drive, the 3TB drive connected to the HTPC. I am sure the setup will evolve a bit as I use it more, but right now things seem to be running smoothly.

Controlling the HTPC is a slight issue right now. I have to either use a mouse and keyboard connected to it, use my phone or Kindle as a remote, or use keyboard and mouse sharing software on my laptop. This setup will work for a while, at least for a week until my wireless keyboard/mouse combo gets delivered. I settled on a Logitech K400 as it has a small keyboard (laptop size) as well as a 3.5 inch multi-touch trackpad on it. This device should replace any other systems I am using right now. I also picked up a WMC IR remote for those times I don’t want to mess with a keyboard and mouse. The remote should allow me full control over Windows Media Center and basic mouse functions as well. Ultimately, I will go with one of the Logitech Harmony series universal remotes to control the TV, blu-ray player, HTPC, and anything else needed controlled, but right now, a $200 remote is not high on my priority list.

The phone/Kindle remote solution is pretty slick. I have played with MediaRemote for the blu-ray player. This is a Sony app and only supports certain devices but it is nice to have the option if I need it for some reason. The other solution I use is Unified Remote. It is a system of a PC remote server, running on all PCs you wish to control with the device, and an associated app. I have it on my Kindle and phone so I have complete flexability. This system works but a dedicated wireless keyboard and IR remote should be much better.

The HTPC is set up with media sharing (DLNA) for those times I want to run the content through another device. My Sony BDP-S580 supports DLNA so this is perfect if I have a need to quickly pull up content while using the player. I also have the system set up to be able to pull content (music, pictures, video) from my laptop and phone.

Also on the way for later this week is a USB TV tuner. I should be able to connect this device to the computer and the cable and watch cable TV on the HTPC. Having this ability may seem like a ‘big deal’ item but it will give me the ability to set up the HTPC as a DVR. Pretty hard to pass up this option for only $50. If it works out and I like using it, I may pick up another one to have dual DVR or watch and record capability.

My next post will follow when I get all of the other supplies towards the end of the week. I really wish I could write some great how-to guide, but it just isn’t required anymore. It really is a simple as buy a computer, plug everything in, and enjoy. Very different from last time I looked into this world and found everything requiring hours of work to get things functioning properly and still not quite refined. If you have a collection of digial media, I highly suggest you look into the HTPC possibilities and see how easily and cheaply it can be done.

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