Some time ago I decided to build myself a HTPC with satellite receiver. I ended up with this hardware:
Gigabyte Motherboard GA-MA785GT-UD3H , AMD PHENOM II X2 (processor), Cinergy S2 PCI HD (dvb card), Corsair DDR 1600Mhz 8-8-8-24 memory. I’m quite happy with it, but I like to share a few insights that I gained since then.
1. Don’t buy an AMD chipset.
I’m not saying AMD is bad. AMD actually is great. But the motherboard comes with an integrated AMD chipset including an integrated ATI video card ( 4600 ). This motherboard has all features to watch TV and Video, don’t get me wrong, but you won’t get any acceleration. Not in Windows that is. ATI is less open to the open source community and as I’m using XBMC to watch video, which uses FFMPEG to decode the video, all decoding will be done by the processor. The X2 ADM can cope only just. ( 55% CPU ). I ended up buying an NVIDIA ( GeForce GTX 260 ) which is affordable and gives me hardware acceleration in ( the latest beta ) of XBMC. As an added bonus I can play GTA with all settings at highest, 40+ fps.
2. Don’t buy Cinergy S2 PCI HD.
This card is stable as a rock and gives average to good picture quality. It’s compatible with DVBviewer Pro. But the remote control doesn’t work for me ( can’t figure out how to configure it ), but more troublesome: the card generates a high pitched sound ( like an old CRT television set ) when tuning to HD channels. It gives me a headache. I’m going to try and find myself a Hauppauge WinTV HVR-4000 00 DVB-S/-S2/-T/analog on of these days.
3. Software: DVBViever Pro
I learned there is a lot of DVB software, but it’s expensive, can’t handle plugins or is just crap. I stayed with DVBViewer Pro which is just perfect.
Some features I find very exiting are:
- Can handle plugins, needed to access the subscription card of you got no conditional access module.
- I can run as a service in the background, recording following a schedule
- It can wake-up the computer to record a tv show
- It can share the DVB card over the network so you can watch satellite tv on your laptop. It’s very easy and stable too!
4. Software: XBMC
For watching movies and MPEG4 or DIVX mkv or avi files, I got hooked on XBMC. It is by far the sleekest home theater software out there and it’s FREE. It supports many skins and can play almost everything. One of the coolest features is the ability to change synchronization of audio and video while playing a movie!! They are in the process of incorporating DVB receivers too. XBMC will also lookup your movie files and tv-shows in a few online databases, returning fan art and titles. The library is very comprehensive.
PS: Windows 7 is working great on this system, but try to keep it clean. Do not install to many things, as it will inevitably make your computer slow.
Media centers I tried but abandoned.
- Mediaportal: I didn’t like the design, but It’s the second best FREE mediacenter out there.
- Windows Media Center: Nice design, but it doesn’t show all files. Hard to get the library organised. Much like media player…
A comparison of many many media centers (wikipedia)