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Home - HTPC (Home Theatre PC)

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Last update: 19/11/11

I've had SKY Tv since the analogue days, and a SKY subscription just about all that time. Some may say "what a waste of money", and to some extent I have to agree as some of the channels are a load of rubbish. Besides I probably only watch a select few these days. In addition, there seems to be just too many boxes below my TV, so I decided to do something about it.

I set about trying to find an alternative and came to the conclusion that it is a HTPC (Home Theatre PC) that I need, and with the following requisite:

  • Dual Satellite feed.
  • HD (1080p).
  • SKY+ functionality, i.e. record one programme whilst watching another etc.
  • Blu-Ray DVD player.
  • Media Centre functionality, i.e. photo viewer, juke box & video playback.
  • 1-box does all.
  • Wife friendly (must be easy to use).

So, there are a few boxes out there that can do the job, notably the Panasonic DMR-BS880 set top box. However, as this technology is only just emerging I didn't really want to purchase just yet because of this as it's bound to get better/cheaper very quickly. So, I decided to build my own. It will be a Windows PC and centred around a couple of Sat. Tv cards and some suitable software.

The plan was to replace my existing SKY HD box, DVD Player and TviX6500A Digital Jukebox with this new system, and one which is reliable/robust enough to remain powered up 24/7.

HARDWARE:

  • TBS TBS6981 PCI-E DVB-S2 Dual Tuner Satellite TV card
  • Antec Fusion case (black) c/w remote control.
  • 750w PSU (CIC high efficiency, whisper quiet).
  • 128gb 3.5" Sata SSD - for the OS.
  • 1tb 3.5" Sata HD - for the data.
  • Asus Socket 1156 P7F-M WS Micro ATX Server Motherboard c/w Intel Core i7 860 Skt 1156 Cpu & 4gb PC3-10666 ram.
  • ATI Radeon HD5570 1gb PCI-E (overkill, but what the hell !)
  • Blu-Ray LG BH10LS30 Sata DVD writer.
  • Windows 7 Ultimate.
  • HDMI interface to my 55" Samsung LED TV.

USEFUL LINKS:

Antec Fusion Case (here also)
Asus Socket 1156 P7F-M WS Micro ATX Server Motherboard

SOFTWARE:

Was it straight forward?.........Not a chance! Days and days of testing, crying, changing software, moaning........but eventual jubilation.

My troubles began when I loaded up SAGETV, my original choice of HTPC apps. I spent 2 days juggling 2 different releases before conciding to defeat. There were just too many issues which stemmed from having the two Freesat feeds and slight issues with video card/drivers.

So, I tried GBPVR and although it was much better and actually a nicer, cleaner interface, there were still a few issues in regard to it crashing out, EPG issues (again!). I then found out GBPVR was no longer supported. However, luck was on my side as the GBPVR development team had actually switched over to a new product called NPVR. It's in beta but I have managed via a lot of configuration and 2 days solid tweaking to get it working........but umm, I still wasn't happy.

So next it was on to Mediaportal, a feature rich system and so far so good it's working fine and does seem very robust, but there's still lots of configuration and testing to do.
See http://www.team-mediaportal.com/

So whats the quality like? Well, it's pretty good. The SD stuff isn't any worse or better than SKY's feed, it's just different. The HD is just superb, the colours being a touch more vibrant than SKY's feed.

So, now my HTPC is ready to tell SKY to shove their £60pm subscription up their backsides......woohoo!

MEDIAPORTAL EPG RE-VISITED / HARDWARE ISSUES:

1 year on and final I have a much better EPG solution. A user (DJBlu) over at the MediaPortal forums has developed a custom data grabber (plugin) that is able to duplicate the SKY channel grouping and the all important EPG in full.................Job done!
I also had a cpu failure, yes, the Intel i7 became very intermittent, so I took the opportunity to update the motherboard to something more stable also. I also update MediaPortal to the latest stable release.

REMOTE CONTROL:

I had original tried a Hauppauge Nova-HD-S2 Sat card but there were a few issues and later switched to the TBS card. However, the Hauppauge remote control is far better than the TBS card, so what I ended up doing is fitting the Hauppauge card also and disabling it in MediaPortal but which would still allow me to use the Hauppauge remote control.

GPU:

I've been tweaking the ATI GPU and playing with Vector Adaptive De-Interlacing for the best video results. More info here:-
http://www.uydudoktoru.com/test-bolumu/6689-hd-1080i-test-pattern-detect-vector-adaptive-deinterlacing-others.html

EDID:

I leave my HTPC on 24/7, but I switch off the Tv at night. This causes problems with Win7 whereby it would lose the desktop (behind the scenes) and thus on power up of the Tv I would be presented with Mediaportal in a smaller window due to Windows having lost 1920x1080 for a much smaller resolution whilst it was off. This is due to EDID being lost.
There are a couple of ways of fixing this, and after trying some ATI driver fixes I found that a software fix just wasn't reliable enough, so I bought a Gefen HDMI Detective (pictured down below) which is an external device to learn &  emulate the EDID from the Tv so that Win7 thinks it's always powered up.

MUSIC & VIDEO COLLECTION:

I had originally stored my MP3, Video & Digital Photos collection on the D: drive of this PC, however eventually moved the lot to my QNAP Raid Server so that the content is centrally located for my whole home network. The QNAP has some great Media capabilities so it made complete sense and works great.

 


PHOTOS (LATEST AT TOP)

Re-built in Nov. 2011 here's the PC undergoing testing in the workshop.

 

Re-built Nov. 2011 with a new ASUS motherboard & PSU.

 


 

The SKY disk LNB (Astra 28.2e).
For FreeSat it has to be a universal LNB. My quad LNB has 4 connectors with 2off them feeding the HTPC.
Settings: LOF1=9750, LOF2=10600, LOFSW=11700.

 

Here's the Hotbird 13e LNB (on the right) alongside the Astra 28.2e one. The bar is long enough to hook up additional LNB's for other satellite's.

 

Gefen HDMI Detective.......beats EDID into the ground.

 

Some Mediaportal screenshots using the MAYA skin. These are some of the menu's & EPG.

 

VFD on the front of the case. It can display anything from the time, Cpu resources, web headlines etc. I have it setup to display the graphic EQ normally, then switch to time automatically when there is no audio.

 

And here's the PC installed below the TV. The SKYHD box is gone!

 


PRE-BUILD PHOTOS

The case has arrived and what quality it is! Here are some pics prior to the build. Nice touch on the HD install as it comes with a rubber mounting kit in order to reduce vibration/noise.

 

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