Home Theater PCs

Steve

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Anyone put one together? I have been playing around with them for a while. I have a hodge podge network consisting of several flavors of media device. About 3 months ago, or so, I decided that I wanted to start backing up my Blu Ray players to my computer, so that I could access them on my projector (inspired by the Roku/Apple TV style experience).

Anybody else put together a media pc? If so, how'd you set it up?
 
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Steve

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No one? Dang.

Well, for what it's worth, the puzzle I am trying to solve is to integrate my various devices and make my DVD/Blu Ray collection disk free over my local network, and to do it in a way that wasn't very expensive. The real challenge was with the diversity of the various devices we use in my family to consume media. We have two iPads and two laptops that are mobile. We also have a Mac and a Windows 7 PC. Attached to the various TVs, we have a Sony Blu Ray, three Xbox 360s and two HD TiVos, along with two Apple TVs.

First thing I did was pick up a NAS. I was looking for something that would provide some redundancy. So, I ended up getting a Buffalo Linkstation Pro Duo 2 with 2 Seagate Barracuda 3 tb drives. I set the NAS up as a Raid 1, so should one drive fail, I haven't lost my files.

The NAS serves as a DLNA server and also supports uPnP. So far, I have about 90 of my blu-rays backed up and they look great.

The files are accessible by the iPads using a DLNA app that I picked up for under $5. The Sony Blu-Ray and Xbox 360s also pick up the files without a hitch. The only issue was the projector. The blu-ray on the projector is older and doesn't support DLNA or uPnP. And the Apple TV doesn't play with anything. So, I picked up a Raspberry Pi for like $40 ($45 on Amazon) and installed XBMC on it. Works really well and sold me on the XBMC interface, which is very slick and polished. Basically, as I scroll through the movies, the poster comes up along with a plot summary and all of the metadata. I can sort the movie library by director, genre or title, and can also search the library by actor or actress. Only thing about it was that it was a little slow through the menus.

So, I saved my pennies and picked up the parts to put together an actual computer. I have been thinking about getting an HTPC for some time. I have very limited cable, only for network television, and so I pick up a lot of TV shows through Hulu Plus. Many shows are limited to "Web Only." Also, a PC does a lot more stuff than the Rasperry Pi. So, after doing some research, I ended up putting together a nice little Micro-ITX computer for under $500. It's pretty sexy. I can access all of my movies and TV shows, and also play Blu Rays. Also, because it's a Windows machine, it can access anything on the web, including things like the BJJ Mundials and Pan Ams which stream live through a website.

I also found an app that will take the HD files off of my TiVo, decrypt them and remove the commercials for me. I can then archive them for later.
 

crushing

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Sounds cool. I looked in to doing something like this a couple years ago and was flip-flopping between XBMC and MythTV, but then never followed through on it. Did you consider MythTV?
 
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Steve

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Sounds cool. I looked in to doing something like this a couple years ago and was flip-flopping between XBMC and MythTV, but then never followed through on it. Did you consider MythTV?

Not mythTv. The other one I looked at was plex. Went with xbmc because the price was right. But it's a super client. The interface is very nice, and it does quite a bit. Music, pictures, tv shows and movies.

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My cousin was way ahead of the curve on this one. When downloading music was first a thing... He bought a computer just for playing music. Now, he has a Roku box and a media computer, much upgraded over the years. His media computer is not connected to the internet or his home network, he moves files to it with a portable hard drive. From the time CD's first came out, he bought 2 CD's a week, every week, he has a fairly all encompassing music collection. Having invested the time to rip all that music, he is paranoid about losing the computer he has it on being wiped out by a virus.
 
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Just thought I'd update this. The project continues to evolve. After using the Raspberry Pi to run XBMC for several months, I decided a few months ago that this is something I like and is useful, and so is worth putting some money into.

For the projector on the 110" screen where I watch most of the movies, I replaced the Raspberry Pi with a computer I built for about $500 using a mini-itx chassis and an AMD 2.7 GHz dual core processor, I built a windows 8 computer that works great. With 8.1, I set it up to log in automatically to my live account, and created tiles for XBMC, Netflix and Hulu, the three main apps that I use to watch media on the projector.

I also found that the 2 bay NAS wasn't up to snuff. With Raid 1, I was effectively cutting my storage in half in order to keep it redundant. So, I upgraded to a 4 bay NAS running x4 3TB drives in RAID 5. This gives me close to 10 TB of storage space, with a good balance of speed and redundancy.

I also installed plex media server. While I still like XBMC on the projector, with plex, I can watch videos everywhere else in the house pretty much seamlessly. Plex has two parts, the server and then the client software apps. What's really cool about Plex Media Server is that it's very easy to set the library up so that you can watch your movies over the internet. So, if I'm travelling or away from the house, I can watch my stuff on my phone, ipad, laptop or whatever.

So far, I have about 350 movies digitized. I'm done with my blu-rays and am now going through all of my DVDs (we have hundreds of great movies on DVD).

Kind of geeky, I know, but for anyone that likes movies, it's a pretty good experience. I'll take some screen shots of the XBMC interface, if anyone is interested.
 

Dirty Dog

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How many DVD/Blu-ray disks can you store with that setup? I ask, because we have 4 bookcases stuffed full, with more on top and around...
 
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Steve

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How many DVD/Blu-ray disks can you store with that setup? I ask, because we have 4 bookcases stuffed full, with more on top and around...
Yeah, we are in a similar boat, which is what got me started on this. I have a closet full of movies and TV shows, and I thought, "Man, wouldn't it be cool if I could put those in a box and free that closet up for something else?"

The answer isn't cut and dry, because it depends on how you compress the video files. My files are larger than strictly necessary, because I figure if I'm doing this, I don't want to sacrifice any quality.

So, that said, a blu-ray DVD in 1080p will end up being between 4GB and 7GB without any (to my eye) loss of quality. Standard Definition 480p DVDs end up at between 700Mb and 1Gb. Now, remember, I'm projecting onto a 110" screen, which means that if there is pixelation or artifacting, I will notice it more on the big screen than on a 55" tv. If you watch your movies on a smaller screen, you might be able to get away with a higher compression rating, which means smaller files.

For me, on a 3Tb drive, I can expect to store around 400 to 500 high definition feature length movies, or 2500 to 3000 standard definition DVDs. I wouldn't recommend completely filling up the drives, but that's a very rough estimate. After putting 300 blu rays and about 300 HD tv shows on the 3tb NAS, I was over 2/3rds full, and so I upgraded to give myself plenty of room to grow.
 

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Steve, how about an update on this project?
I ask mostly because I am moving in this direction myself, and I'm hoping to be lazy and avoid duplicating your research. :D

I've got a 3-4 year old HP desktop running Windows 7 that I'm about to replace. I'm guessing that would provide the DVD drive, plus be the controller? The NAS plugs into a USB port, the TV into the HDMI port, and the wireless adapter lets other devices access the NAS over my network? What software is used to get the DVDs onto the NAS? What about playback? Is all of that done by the Plex software you mentioned?
 
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Steve

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Steve, how about an update on this project?
I ask mostly because I am moving in this direction myself, and I'm hoping to be lazy and avoid duplicating your research. :D

I've got a 3-4 year old HP desktop running Windows 7 that I'm about to replace. I'm guessing that would provide the DVD drive, plus be the controller? The NAS plugs into a USB port, the TV into the HDMI port, and the wireless adapter lets other devices access the NAS over my network? What software is used to get the DVDs onto the NAS? What about playback? Is all of that done by the Plex software you mentioned?
Things have pretty much stabilized at this point, and everything is working pretty darned well. Your desktop PC would be more than adequate for managing the media.

The NAS is its own network device, independent of any computer. This was really important to me, as I wanted the option of accessing the media without having any computers running. I have the NAS attached to the network. I should also mention that I have a gigabit router, and wherever possible, I run cable. Wireless isn't as fast, but if you have wireless N and not a ton of competing programs, a stream should work just fine. You can also compress the DVDs more or less to find your sweet spot as far as quality and size of the file.

Regarding the software, it was really a matter of trial and error to find the right combination of applications. My decoding/compression software for blu-rays is a program called DVDFab. I purchased the license for it and it works really well. I only purchased the license for Blu-Ray decoding. I use a free program called MakeMKV to decode DVDs. And for any general compression needs, I use another free program called Handbrake.

On my dedicated media PC, plugged into the projector, I have a program installed called XBMC, which is also free. You reminded me that I need to capture some video of the interface. It's pretty slick.

I have the Plex Media Server running on the NAS, but honestly, I've found that it's not all that necessary. The only thing it really gives me is the ability to watch the media over the internet. But, frankly, how often are you out and about and think, "Man, I wish I could watch that movie that's only on my server at home." For me, never. :)

So, for the most part, the NAS supports SMB and DLNA, so everything's available to all of my devices anyway. The only place I really wanted the slick interface was on the cinema machine.

I'll post some vids maybe tonight, if I don't forget. ;)
 

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I a, very interested in this, I started downloading things to a port hard drive, and now I have almost 2T worth of media saved. I love the idea of a whole house type of media library
 
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Steve

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The build for the actual Home Theater PC that feeds the signal to the big screen. It doesn't take a super computer. A lot of folks install Linux (whether ubuntu or some other variant) which is free. For the sake of familiarity, I opted for Windows 8.1, which was another $80 or so. All told, the entire computer was less than $500 and works great for what it does. I set up tiles for Netflix, Hulu Plus and XBMC, and if there is PC only content, common for Hulu in particular, I can open up a browser on the desktop and run it from there in full screen. Another added benefit is that I can do some light gaming with the kids by adding a wired Xbox controller, and can stream events that are PPV on the web, such as the BJJ World Championships and the Pan Ams.

XBMC is available here. It's open source and the current version is 12.3 although it looks like 13 will be coming out soon. http://xbmc.org/download/



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New Edition HP OEM Window Media Center MCE PC Remote Control and Infrared Receiver for Windows7 Vista XP Home Premium and Ultimate Edition - $39
 
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Steve

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For Network Storage, I picked up a Synology Diskstation DS413j. It's not top of the line, but it serves my purpose. It has plenty of juice to move large files, such as HD video, over my network without a hiccup. It will slow down if more than one person tries to use it at the same time, which isn't an issue for me. Synology offers some kind of proprietary RAID system, but I opted to just buy matching drives and go with a standard RAID 5. Overall, I have just over 8Tb of storage space. On that, I have about 500 movies, maybe half are from my Blu-Ray collection, and still have about 6Tb available:

4x Seagate Barracuda 3 TB HDD SATA 6 Gb/s NCQ 64MB Cache 7200 RPM 3.5-Inch Internal Bare Drive ST3000DM001
$114 x 4

Synology DiskStation 4-Bay (Diskless) Network Attached Storage DS413j
$379

Edit: I should also add that a few years back, I upgraded my home network to Gigabit/Dual band wireless N. I have most of my devices, including the HTPC, connected via Cat6.
 
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Steve

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For dvds there is a free program called makemkv. For blu ray, I use dvdfab

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Steve

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Quick update for anyone interested. I am sufficiently happy with the system I put together that I began looking for a second media center PC and found something pretty darned close to perfect. It's called a NUC, which stands for "Next Unit of Computing." It's an Intel product, essentially the size of a Roku box or Apple TV. Very small footprint and completely quiet.

The NUC is ideal for running media, as it has built in HDMI, a built in infrared sensor on the front, and runs on a 4th generation I3 (or I5) processor. I'm using a logitech Harmony 650 smart remote and it works great.

More specific information about the unit is below, but I can tell you that, so far, it is an ideal home theater PC.

The unit I purchased was $279.99. The entire order (minus a remote and the OS) was under $500.00. Details are below. I chose to run Windows 8.1 because I like the tiles, but as with any PC, many accessible Linux builds, like Ubuntu, can run XBMC easily, as well.






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What about storage? I'm assuming you're using the storage in your other PC. Is this unit capable of being a standalone?
 
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Steve

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What about storage? I'm assuming you're using the storage in your other PC. Is this unit capable of being a standalone?
The SSD on the NUC is really strictly for the operating system and working program files. Storage for me is on the network attached storage device, but the NUC has four USB 3.0 ports (2 front/2 back). So, plugging in a USB 3.0 external HD, thumb drive or whatever else is simple.
 

Transk53

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@Steve. Just a quicky fella. How are you finding the APU with Gfx rendering and such like. Or even is the on board graphics even used intensively? I am in the market for a budget build Rig that I will mod slightly, but thinking that the A6 would be better as a budget. I have read though at stock, the A4 is a nice little processor for non GPU tied games.
 

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