In this practical guide, I will give you 10 actions that you can do today to improve your media center experience. I hope you’ll enjoy them.
The contents of this article is as follows:
- Install a Solid State Drive (SSD)
- Get a Network Attached Storage (NAS)
- Rip Your CD Collection in Loss Less Format
- Customize Background Images and Colors
- Put a Back-light Behind Your TV
- Use Infrared Extenders
- Calibrate Your TV
- Place Your Speakers Properly
- Automatically Start Media Center Software
- Clean Your HTPC from the Dust
So, let’s get started to improve your media center today.
Action #1: Install a Solid State Drive (SSD)
Time needed: 2 hours
Solid state drives (SSD) are still relatively expensive compared to the traditional hard drives.
However, an SSD drive will significantly improve your media center PC’s booting time and application loading time. It’ll also make your computer more power efficient as SSDs consume less power and thus generate less heat.
Many people are saying that installing a solid state drive is not worthwhile with HTPC as you would not see any difference while playing back movies. While I agree that you will not see any difference during the playback of movie, you will get much more responsive user interface when changing folders or loading thumbnails. Furthermore, applications will launch instantly.
Installing an SSD is easy as you can use a Carbon Copier software to make an identical bootable copy of your existing HDD. Read here the complete instructions to clone and replace your existing hard drive.
To sum up, these are the pros and cons of a solid state drive.
Action #2: Get a Network Attached Storage (NAS)
Time needed: 2 hours
If you decide to upgrade your computer with an SSD drive, you’ll definitely need an external hard disk. It is also a good idea to invest in a network attached storage so that all your media files are available over your home network.
The added benefit of NAS servers is that they will keep backups of your precious media collection on multiple hard drives. For example, some time ago one of my Seagate hard drives failed on the backup device, but fortunately I did not lose any files as I had RAID 1 mirroring on my Synology NAS server.
If you are interested in getting and installing a network attached storage, read the complete guide to setup your own NAS here.
Action #3: Rip Your CD Collection in Loss Less Format
Time needed: 10 minutes per CD
If you have a good quality audio receiver and speakers, it makes sense to use better quality loss less audio codecs such as the FLAC.
Keep in mind that as FLAC media files are larger size, you will need more hard drive space, too.
Probably the best software for importing and playing loss less audio files is the JRiver Media Center. It is very popular among the audiophiles, so check it out if you are interested in getting better sound quality out of your CD collection.
If you are using iTunes, you can simply use the Apple Loss Less Encoder to get better sound quality. You can change the import settings here: Preferences – General – Import Settings – Import Using Apple Loss Less Encoder.
Action #4: Customize Background Images and Colors
Time needed: 15 min
While most media centers look stunning with the default background images, it is a good idea to make your user interface more personalized by customizing the background images.
XBMC Media Center: You can change the background image for each activity in the menu, so I have for example my family photo as a background image for the pictures menu.
I’d recommend to install the Aeon Nox skin for XBMC to make your user interface even prettier.
Windows Media Center: Change the color scheme to either high contrast black or white instead the default blue. On the General settings screen select Visual and Sound Effects and choose the high contrast black color scheme, which looks quite nice in my opinion.
Boxee: Go to Settings – General – Background Image to set the custom background image.
You can also set a background image folder so that Boxee can randomly change the background image.
Action #5: Put a Back-light Behind Your TV
Time needed: 30 min
Watching TV in a completely dark room can easily tire your eyes. So, it might be a good idea to put e.g. a LED light behind your TV as a background light. It will look stunning, too.
You can get a LED Back-light Kits for TV flat screens from several manufacturers, including even Ikea.
Action #6: Use Infrared Extenders
Time needed: 30 min
I often struggle controlling all my home theater devices as I need to point them separately to get a good response on the infrared signal. Another issue is with the devices hidden to the TV cabinet.
An easy way to improve the infrared range is to get an IR extender. This way you can control all your devices by pointing towards TV even if the actual device is hidden inside the TV cabinet.
Action #7: Calibrate Your TV
Time needed: 60 minutes
Your TV definitely does not produce the best possible image quality out-of-the box. Did you know that you can improve your media experience significantly simply by adjusting the contrast, brightness and color settings properly?
You can download a free AVS HD 709 Calibration Disc here. You can either burn the calibration disc to a Blu-ray disc or simply play the video file with your media center software.
Last but not least, remember to calibrate each input (HTPC, TiVo, Blu-ray player, etc.) separately.
Action #8: Place Your Speakers Properly
Time needed: 30 minutes
Did you know that you can improve the sound quality with a better speaker placement. To avoid any room resonances, place the speakers sot that the distance between the speakers and the front wall is 1/5 of the length of the room.
If you have small speakers, placing them next to a wall will increase their bass input. However, larger speakers will sound muddy if they are placed too close to a wall.
Another tip is to add more carpets or thicker curtains, which will make the music to sound more natural.
Action #9: Automatically Start Media Center Software
Time needed: 10 minutes
To make your home theater computer more user friendly, add your favorite HTPC application to the start up menu so that it will automatically start when computer boots up.
Furthermore, make sure you have the auto user log-in on without any password prompt, so that your operating system can automatically launch the 10-foot user interface.
This may sound obvious to many, but it will definitely make it easier for your spouse or your children to start watching their favorite TV shows on their own.
Action #10: Clean Your HTPC from the Dust
Time needed: 30 min
It’s always a good idea to clean your computer from dust at least every 6 months.
For example, accumulated dust in the fans can easily create more noise. The dust can also cause overheating which leads to unexpected freezing. Note: do not use a vacuum cleaner, but a compressed air can to clean your computer.
In this practical guide you have learned how to improve the speed of your home theater PC and also some tips to make your user interface more personalized.
Keep in mind that one word that describes a home theater PC well is “tweekable”. There are endless ways to customize and optimize it, so take your time to gradually learn all the details with this hobby.