Saturday, April 23, 2011

Learning a new thing in every build.

Currently working on a dual build for a friend. Here are the requirements.

1. Have similar interface in both the family room and basement media room.
2. Ability to rip legally owned Bluray's and DVD in full quality to hard drive and have the ability to play with full menu, subtitle etc
3. Have cover art, back drop images and meta data for all media
4. System should be scalable
5. Ability to route HD audio from HTPC to two Onkyo HD audio capable receivers
6. Ability to play 3D Bluray
7. Ability to play music with least hassle using a combination of itunes running on the server and other apps and finally
8. Ability to record programs in HD from Dish network and share the recorded video in multiple rooms.

Considering all these requirements, I decided on doing a Windows Media Center based build for both the rooms. After consultation with Damian ( - an amazing HTPC enthusiast and knowledgeable person, I decided on the following parts. I would also like to thank Assasin over at the website for his list of good parts for a bluray/3d bluray capable system based on the new Intel processors. The new I3/I5/I7 Sandybridge processors can do HD Audio, Bluray and 3d Bluray with ease and thus avoid the need for an internal Video card.

Just finished the second build for the basement with the following parts. This will just act as a client and play all the media stored in the main machine at the ground level and also from a HP EX495 10TB server.

1.Core i3 2100 -
2.4GB DDR3 1066 RAM -"
3.2TB HItachi 6GBPS hard drive
4.Silverstone LC10B case
5.Antec 400watch 80plus certified power supply
6.Samsung dual layer DVD burner
7.Windows 7 home premium 64 bit.

Here are some pictures from the build. Will be doing the main build this week and the installation is scheduled for this saturday (April 30th). Will post installation pictures over the weekend.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The build..

All the parts were in place and the actual build putting everything together took less than one hour. To my surprise, I got the power and restart LED connections right the first time. Hooked up to my 23inch Dell 1080 P monitor using the onboard DVI connection, started the machine and popped in the Windows 7 Home premium 32bit disk. Windows started loading and everything got loaded in an hour's time. I activated the 4 cores from the initial start up menu and the machine was humming. I was pretty happy about the whole thing.

Here are the parts list I used for the build.
1. Silverstone LC 17B black case
2. 1 TB Hitachi 7200 RPM drive, partitioned for O/S and TV recordings
3. 2 2TB hard drives for media (one Hitachi and one Samsung 5400RPM green drive)
4. 4GB Gskill DDR3 1066 RAM
5. OCG 500W modular power supply
6. AMD Athlon quad core 3.1 ghz 65w processor
7. Asus AMD3 Motherboard with onboard video, DVI port, 8 USB ports, SPDIF output (very important for me), one PCI express, two PCI, 4RAM slots, 6 SATA slots and Gigabit LAN.
8. LG 4MB cache Bluray drive
9. Hauppage 2250 dual tuner
10. Galaxy 1GB 256 bit GT430 (ferni) video card with HDMI output

Other software that I used
1. Microsoft Essentials anti virus (free)
2. Media Center master - free metadata and poster grabber only for English movies. The metadata grabbing for Indian movies was way off. I like this tool because it puts a folder.jpg and background.jpg in each of the respective movie folders, unlike mediabrowser
3. Makemkv for converting from bluray to mkv
4. DVDfab for ripping DVD and bluray to ISO (only trial version)
5. Ultra VNC viewer and server

Here are some pics from the build.

Monday, February 14, 2011

First Sage TV experience

Got a request from a friend to setup a media server for his home and wanted to try out something different other then windows media center. I love Windows media center, but its inability to give live tv to client machines is a big negative....I am not really sure why Microsoft is not able to extend the windows media center experience to other PC's in the house which can act as a client.

Here are the requirements I came up with.
1.Build a server to host all movies and play DVD/MKV/AVI and Bluray seamlessly
2.Dual tuner to record OTA and also stuff from Direct TV STB
3.Enough storage to host movies, pictures, music and home video
4.Same user interface experience in the basement with ability to watch live TV. Also pause and resume in the second room or vice versa was a functionality that I desired to give.

With this in mind, I experimented on a few solutions.
1. Tried the Patriot Box Office (PBO). Even though it played most of the videos, bluray playback was very bad with lot of hiccups even on my 1GB home network. Added to that the User interface was terrible.
2. Tried Western Digital....experience was much better.

But both these solutions coupled with the server PC does not give me live TV. So finally arrived at experimenting Sage TV V7.

Installed Sage V7 on my server and things went pretty well. Sage was able to play pretty much every video including dvr-ms. It cannot however play WTV files. Also it could not play bluray menus, but played blurays without any issues. As a second step, installed Sage client on my laptop and then used the client to watch live tv and other videos and the experience was just amazing.

So finally decided on the solution for my new setup for Karthik.
1.Server running windows 7 with 5 Tb storage. 1 Tb partitioned to hold O/S and Tv recordings. The rest 4TB to hold all the other media.
2.Sage V7 will run on this box and will record TV shows from a Hauppage 2250 dual tuner.
3. For the other room, ordered the Sage HD300 which will act as an extender, giving the same experience in the other room.

Details and photos on the build to follow in the next few days.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


All software is installed and everything is working great. Need to order a new bluray drive and then install it. Here are some pics.

Mediacenter in action with Mediabrowser Plugin.

Mediabrowser Media Folders.

The only complete actor in India Cinema.

Music collection.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Last Free HTPC build continued....

Got windows 7 on thursday and put it in the drive and started the machine...showed the devices correctly, asked me to select AHCI mode and was jumping that it was booting up correctly.....turned out I celebrated too early...within a second....boom.."DISK BOOT ERROR. PLEASE INSERT SYSTEM DISK" and I was like WTF. Rebooted the machine a few more times after changing BIOS and BOOT settings and same result.

Started googling and there were so many possibilities...motherboard could be bad, RAM could be bad, power supply could be bad...hard drive could be bad...but no where was it mentioned or it did strike me that this one part could be bad...more on that a little later.

After wasting more than 2 hours, I decided to get one of my HTPC and open it up and did the following
1.Swapped the RAM from my machine...same result
2.Hooked up the new 1TB HD to my machine and it was recognized and good
3.Hooked up the new 2TB HD to my machine and it was good too
3.Pulled out the new video card and connected directly to DVI on the MB
4.Pulled out the wireless N card from the new machine

AT this point it was past 10p.m in the night and i was really frustrated. After dinner...i thought maybe this was the issue and pulled the new BD Drive out of the machine and hooked up my dvd writer. To get it out of my machine took a while...adding to the frustration. Who knew.......I hooked up my DVD drive, put in windows 7 and you guessed it started loading.

After windows finished loading, I put together back all the pieces i pulled, put everything in place and finished installing all the drivers. Here is some of the software I typically use in my builds. The only software I pay for is Windows 7 in the list.

1.Windows 7 O/s - 32 bit home premium typically.
2.Microsoft Security Essentials - Virus and Spam protection.
3.LM Remote Kepmap. I have profiles created for PowerDVD.
4.Virtual clone drive to load ISO's.
5.PowerDVD for bluray playback. Have not used total media theater till day.
6.Shark 7 codecs.
7.MPC home cinema latest build which uses DXVA.
8.Registry mod for MKV,MP$ playback.
9.DVD Fab Platinum hd Decrypter.
10.ultra Vnc server and viewer for remote connection.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

My last free HTPC Build

This is my sixth HTPC build in the last 2 years and my last free build for a friend. I am planning to start a home business building HTPC's and also do home theater installs for friends and anyone who is interested in my work. I will be revamping this blog shortly giving more detailed information on my builds till now and also on what we can offer our future customers.

The following components are used in this build.

Case - nMediapc 500B

An excellent case with lot of space to operate. The bottom front panel has inputs for I394 (Firewire), couple of usb 2.0 ports, an eSata port and a Card reader (CF,SD,microSD and all other types of cards). It also has a HD audio out in the front and a microphone jack.

Motherboard - Gigabyte MA785GM-US2H Micro ATX

The motherboard is called so for a reason. For the last four builds, I have chosen this board primarily for all the options that the board offers. It has a HD Radeon 4200 on board video with DVI and HDMI output. The audio and video on the HDMI work flawlessly. It also as Optical audio output and plenty of onboard connectors for extra usb 2.0 ports, I394 and everything else. It comes with 4 SATA ports.

RAM - 4GB Patriot Viper DDR2 1066 Mhz

Had lot of good reviews in newegg.

CPU - AMD Athlon X2 3.0Ghz Regor
This cpu is a 65w CPU. Pretty powerful, very inexpensive and does all the chores of a HTPC without any issues. AMD is the way to go for HTPC builds.

Powersupply - OCZ 550W Modular Power supply
This PS had 5 star reviews on newegg and also came at a good price. This is the first modular power supply that I have used in my builds and I should say I am very impressed. This one has a clear fan and looks like it might emit a red light when powered on. Have to check on that.

Hard Drive - Westerdigital 1TB Black and 2TB Green
Choose the 1TB black for O/s and also for DVR purposes. The 2TB Green drive will be used for media storage - DVD's, Photos, home videos and Photos.

LG Bluray Drive

Primarily to Play bluray movies using PowerDVD integrated with Windows media center. This is also a dual layer DVD burner.

The above picture was taken after all the parts were put in place. The video and wireless cards are on their way by USPS. I am yet to get hold of Windows 7 and will be updating the blog after the O/S install with more pictures.

To Be Continued.....

Monday, November 16, 2009

Windows 7 Installs

What a weekend......great foot ball. Finally got Windows 7 installed and humming on all three of my machines. Let's go to the details straight away.

Basement PC
Upgraded to Win 7 Professional. Was real easy....took little less than one hour and 30 minutes. this i the one that is connected to my projector and the images are stunning. Watched two movies over the weekend....and WAF was very very high. I am using the Nvidia video settings on both my media PC's and it is very rich in colors and pictures look stunning.

Wife's old Laptop - Dell D600
Upgraded to Win 7 Professional again from XP. Upgrade went real easy. The laptop has 1Gb or Ram. Win 7 is definitely faster even on this old laptop. Had an issue with the ATI Radean 9000 driver. Was able to load the driver in XP mode and all is well.. I am only having occasional sound issues with the Sigmatel audio driver. But it has improved after couple of different installs with 2-3 different drivers.

Main Media Pc in the living room
Upgraded from Vista Home Premium to Win 7 Ultimate. This update was the most painful. It took more than 7 hours for me to figure out. Here are the issues I faced.

1.SATA drives are showing up as IDE during boot. I had to look at the internet and install a ton of things to get AHCI mode. I am stil not sure if everything is accomplised...but the drives show up as SCSI in device manager and I guess it is okay. But the sad part is there is lot of noise during shutdown and reboot compared to vista and I am not happy about it. Planning to open the machine and follow the sound during a reboot...maybe sometime this week.

2.Second issue was with the install itself. It will hang everytime on "Completing Installation". It took a long time for me to figure out. I was trying to do the install with USB keyboard and mouse. that was the first issue. Secondly PC was connected to LCD tv. that was the main the hell am I supposed to know that? I connected a CRT monitor and regular keyboard/mouse and install went well after that....this is after 7 hours of breaking my back and mind to figure out what the hell was the issue. What If I did not have a CRT monitor? that really sucks.

3.Got all software installed. Media center was alright...but OTA HD had lot of stutter and even the TV programs recorded in vista had occasional stutters. I was googling all day saturday to fix this and nothing worked. I updated all drivers - Hauppage, nvidia etc etc. nothing worked.

4.Mediabrowser was also giving issues. It would not either show some of my folders or would not show all the DVD's inside the folders and was driving me crazy...

finally on sunday evening ...fixed both the issues. Unchecked the "Movie Playlist" in mediabrowser and fixed all my issues....WTF....could not make sense of this one. Secondly...changed the resolution from 1920*1080 50hz to 1920*1080 60hz and the stutter was gone. Double checked my vizio TV manual to make sure this wont fry my TV.

Win 7 is just awesome from a HTPC media center stand point. All the easy shorts cuts and tricks you can do to move and resize windows and stuff...they are all great.

Here is what I use from software stand point.
Win 7 ultimate - main media PC to do Tv recordings.
Media browser to manage mymovies
Heatwave plugin for weather info
donated 3$ and got the channellogo plugin. Worth the money. It looks real nice in the guide.
Shark codecs for mkv, xvid etc etc.
DVDFAB and DVD Shrink
Coretemp to monitor my CPU temperatures
VCD clone drive for loading ISO images
Power DVD 7.2 for my bluray

Will post pictures soon.