What type of computer or components do I need for a home theater setup?

Amber February 2, 2011
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What do I look for in a computer, if I want to use it as an home theater PC to a 54 inch 1080i HDTV via HDMI?

  1. Amber
    February 4, 2011 at 1:07 am

    Thanks for all your help!!!!

  2. Oron Joffe
    February 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    As a broad outline, what you want in an HTPC is the *least* powerful computer that will do the job. The *form* is important (since it's likely to sit under the TV and be seen by all, and the audio & video quality should be first class.

    It should also be quiet. This in fact is the reason why you don't want a powerful computer, since the more powerful the PC, the more electrical power it needs, the hotter it gets, and it will therefore require more cooling, which will make the system noisier and potentially less reliable. So, with that said, here are some specifics.

    CPU: Any reasonable, current processor (dual core or higher) should do. I recomment the Intel "i" series processors with built-in graphics as they offer the best performance to energy ratio (they are not the cheapest option though).

    Memory: 3GB RAM will suffice in most cases, but this does depend on what software you are using.

    Graphics. Make sure the PC has an HDMI port. The above-mentioned Intel "i" will supply easily enough graphics performance, but if you go for a different processor, get a motherboard with decent graphics, or a 'silent' graphics card (that is, without a fan). There is no point in getting a high-powered graphics card. The power is not needed and it will only cause problems in terms of cooling and noise.

    Motherboard. Choose it carefully!. It does not need to be expensive, but should be small, have good quality sound and low energy requirements. For example, the ECS H55H-M makes an excellent HTPC motherboard despite being one of the cheapest boards for "Intel i-" processors.

    Storage: You may as well get a high capacity hard disc (e.g. 2TB), seeing as the premium on storage is now very small. Again, look for an 'eco' model which uses less power. Don't worry about the lower spinning speed, it will be fast enough! If you can afford it, also get a small SSD (Solid State disc) for the software operating system. This will allow the system to use even less power when not actively recording or playing, albeit at a price.

    Case. You can get special HTPC cases which look like 'Hi Fi Separates', or you may prefer a Small Form Factor PC (SFF), which will be sold with a suitable motherboard. If you prefer, you may use an ordinary "slimline" case, it really is up to your requirements. Bear in mind though that a good special case (e.g. an HTPC case) can cost up to a few hundred dollars!

    I'll not go into the software here as I think it was all covered by other contributors.

    • Aibek
      February 3, 2011 at 3:26 pm

      thanks for the detailed input Oron

  3. Anonymous
    February 3, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    hooke up the mini to the TV using a Mini Displayport to an HDMI adapter

    A good graphical card like HDHD5850. You can achieved HDMI direct passthrough with HD5850, so all blu-rays DTS-HD Master, and DolbyTrue HD can directly passthrough to the receiver. otherwise you have to use two stage process (LPCM), at the Software player (PDVD, or TMT3) decoding level, and then soundcard decoding level, then to the receiver LPCM. Now with the success of HDMI passthrough, you can by-pass the software player's decoding, AND without going through soundcard, and goes directly to the Onkyo (http://www.onkyousa.com/model.cfm?class=Receiver&m=TX-SR606) and does one stage decoding with the receiver. you will see that "DTS-HD Master" and "Dolby TrueHD" showing up on receiver.

    A good processor like a quad or intel E8700, at least 2GO of RAM

    Illustrated guide
    http://www.geektonic.com/2009/03/media-gadget-showcase-home-theater-pc.html
    http://www.engadget.com/2006/01/24/how-to-build-a-practical-htpc/

    1. If your PC has multi-channel outputs for a powered PC surround sound speaker system you can enjoy a basic home theater sound experience.

    2. If your PC also has an optical digital audio output, you can connect it to a digital optical input on an AV receiver and enjoy a fuller home theater experience available in your PC via a standard home theater system.

    video tutorial
    http://www.ehow.com/video_4458923_computer-connection-home-theater.html

    Silverstone GD01MX
    http://www.ocmodshop.com/ocmodshop.aspx?a=772

    Silverstone LC16 better
    http://www.ocmodshop.com/ocmodshop.aspx?a=744

    A high-quality Wi-Fi 802.11n router will deliver more than enough bandwidth for HD video—provided there isn’t too much distance or too many physical obstacles between the router and the client. Just don’t expect to be able to stream Blu-ray 3D over a Wi-Fi network—those bit streams average about 40Mb/s.

    Key Tips:

    ?Wired gigabit Ethernet is the best solution.
    ?CAT5e Ethernet cable is more than adequate.
    ?HomePlug and MoCA are good no-new-wires solutions.
    ?60GHz streamers are best for wireless Blu-ray video/audio

  4. FIDELIS
    February 3, 2011 at 9:07 am

    Hello, any recent computer with the right components would make a good HTPC. An HTPC is a regular computer used mostly to replace other entertainment components in the living room. Depending on its configuration it can be used to play games, music, movies, pictures, etc. Most commercial HTPCs that you see on the stores use a small form factor instead of ATX. The reason for this is that ATX cases use a lot of space on the TV Stands or furniture and small form factor cases do not.

    Another thing to look for when building or buying an entertainment pc is the noise factor. One of the noisiest components in a computer are the fans. For entertainment purposes you want to get fans that run as quiet as possible so that it does not interfered with the content being played. Make sure that you have setup a decent ventilation system in your computer so that the fans do not make too much noise.

    Also you need an operating system that lends itself for multimedia playing. Windows 7 includes windows media center with some of its editions. There are a few media center replacements like the ones in this link for windows:
    http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/cool-windows-media-center-alternatives/

    There also media center replacements that are linux based:
    http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/using-your-linux-computer-as-a-media-center-part-1/

    One important factor for HTPC is the storage space. In this case the more storage you have the better it is. Make sure that your case has room to install extra storage space specially if you are planning to record tv shows, or if you are planning to back up DVDs, music, and Blue-ray on your hard drives. Also the best drives are the low power ones like the caviar green because they produce less noise.

    When selecting or building an HTPC make sure that you have a processor with enough juice to play a movie for example and at the same time do some transcoding in the background if needed. It is very important for the processor to stay cool because if it overheats you will hear the fans trying to keep the processor cool by running with a lot of noise.

    A very important factor with HTPCs is that it is necessary to have the right hardware components for it to be fully enjoyed in your living room. To make your HTPC the all around media player in the house, it should include a TV tuner card so that it can be used to receive TV signals and if needed to record them. Also you would get a better experience if the tuner has the ability to decode high-definition. In your case make sure that you have a really good graphics card that has an HDMI output. If you are interested in playing blue-ray movies, make sure you install a a Blu-ray drive, If not just make sure that you have a multiformat drive that can play and record dvd, cds, etc. Computers come with on-board sound cards but if you want to get the best sound possible make sure you install a sound card that can play at least in a 5.1 channel surround sound environment. Also, when you use HDMI, the cable transfers sound and video so you can use the speakers from your tv for sound.

    If you are planning to do a lot of heavy video transcoding, make sure that you install at least 4 Gb of RAM so that your computer does not stall. Hope it helps.