This guest post is by Rob de Maat.
With the growing number of computers in my household, as well the growing digitization of media there came a point where I decided to invest in hardware and software to make things go easier. My first attempt was a Linksys Media Extender. This was a diskless box, connecting directly to my TV, but always needed to connect to a PC running Microsoft’s Media Center.
Do Not Get Lesser-Known Media Streamers
The dependency on the PC, and some network instabilities, made this system rather cumbersome to use, so I ditched it after a year, to replace it by an ACRyan Playon!HD2.
To my surprise the device came without a manual, it was not even available online.
The firmware proved to be unstable, even after firmware updates, and the user interface was too complicated for easy use. I managed to have it taken back by the web shop I purchased it at, and they refunded a considerable amount of the original purchase price.
The HTPC Component Selection Process Is the Hardest
The verdict then was simple: build an HTPC, and grab control of specs and configuration. In my search for information I stumbled across many sites, but the www.mymediaexperience.com website proved to be the most valuable. It was fairly unbiased, non-commercial and up-to-date.
To cut a long story short: the selection process was the hardest, and I based it on this website as well as that from some HTPC vendors (if the combination of components works for them, it will work for me). I finally settled for the following configuration:
- Case: Silverstone Grandia GD02-MT in Silver
- Power Supply: Be quiet! Pure Power BQT L7-350W
- Card-reader: Silverstone FP35
- DVD-Writer: Sony AD-7710H
- Motherboard: ASUS P8H67-M EVO B3 Revision
- Processor: Intel Core i5 2500K
- Memory: Kingston Value Ram 8 GB 1333 MHz
- System Disk: OCZ Vertex 2 60 GB
- Media Disk: WD Caviar Green WD20EARX 2 TB
- TV/Radio receiver: ASUS My Cinema P7131
- OS: Windows 7 Home Premium, 64-bits
The challenges started during the ordering and delivery process. The Silverstone housing proved to be quite varying in price, and my favourite webshop (the one that I could return the ACRyan Playon disaster to) proved to be the cheapest.
Buy from Well Known Large Retailers Only
However, they experienced delivery difficulties as Silverstone did not deliver to them and kept changing the delivery dates. Strangely enough the more expensive stores could deliver without problems, suggesting Silverstone is trying to keep its price up by not really servicing the price-breakers well. I finally decided to order the housing from a more expensive supplier and got it delivered within two days.
Spare Part Delivery Can Take a Really Long Time
Construction had a few challenges as well:
The Touch Display of the Silverstone stopped working after a while. I tracked it down to a faulty VGA cable connecting the display to the VGA port in the back of the HTPC. After contacting the supplier, they offered me to order a new cable, but warned it would take long as Silverstone did not have these in stock.
I therefore decided to try and repair it myself, and after some careful diddling found a short at one of the splicing points. Basically a bad production job as they cut the insulation where it should not have been. A bit of tape and a new shrink sleeve fixed the job. A replacement cable arrived two months later!
Research Any Known Driver Issues Before Buying Components
The embedded HDMI port on the back of the motherboard can not be activated without crashing the system. VGA and DVI worked perfectly. Research revealed it was an Intel driver problem. I tried several different drivers, but none proved to be working reliably.
Final opt out was to buy a separate graphics card. The Asus ATI EAH5450 Silent/DI/1GD2 did the job perfectly.
Ensure the Package Will Include All the Necessary Connectors
Connecting the Sony OptiArc Slimline DVD-writer required a 7+6 Pin Micro Serial ATA connector, which was not part of the kit and needed to be ordered separately
Wiring the inside of the Silverstone casing was fighting for space.
After an initial straight wiring to make everything work I had to strip all wires out and rewire specifically to make sure it would all fit and the airflow is not be constrained. Took some time, but worked out very well.
Use USB Extension Cable to Improve the Wireless Range
I added a Bluetooth USB Micro-Adapter to support my Apple Bluetooth keyboard and a Micro-USB adapter for my Logitech Darkfield Laser mouse. Both devices showed very limited range, with specific dead spots in the wireless communication.
Moving the receivers to a front side slot did not really improve much, but extending the receivers with a USB-Extension cable and glue them to the underside of the cabinet where the HTPC was standing in fixed the problem completely. I now have reception to a distance of over 5 meters.
Prepare for Unpleasant Surprises
The supplied Imon/iMedia Software for the Touch Display was not fault free. I discovered that once a piece of media software was running on the PC, such as MS Media Center, the Touch Display would not allow selecting media to be played without interaction with the TV screen.
I specifically purchased the case with the Touch Screen in order to be able to play ripped CDs, without having to turn the TV on. Found no solution for this yet.
The Silverstone Card Reader can only be used partially as there was only one Fireware connection on-board.
The Asus TV card was of lesser quality than I expected. You can really see the difference between a direct broadcast and one viewed through this card or recorded.
Summary of the Key Take Away Points
So, the whole project did not go as smoothly as I had expected, some challenges were nice, but there were a few lessons I learned:
- Silverstone makes great cabinets, but their service is not good.
- The iMon software driving the display is not being developed/supported by Soundgraph and is seriously lacking in functionality. I would NOT build an HTPC with a Touch Display with this software anymore. Probably would not build an HTPC with a Touch Display anyway, it is not worth the price difference.
- The Silverstone Card Reader was not a good investment (although not very expensive) as half of it can not be used due to the fact that the Sound and Firewire connections on the motherboard were already taken by the standard connections of the case. A plain Card reader card would have been better.
- The Intel Sandy Bridge technology is not a reliable partner when it comes to the quality of the drivers.
- Slimline DVD-drives look nice, but there is limited choice on the market, therefore relatively high prices and the connectors require extra attention.
- Microsoft Media Center worked much better than expected and we seem to be preferring that over any other media control program.
Overall I am very pleased with my HTPC. It is stable, fast and extremely quiet.
Do you have similar experiences as Rob or would like to share some of your learnings? Join the discussion at our Facebook page and let me know your comments.
About Guest Blogger
This post was written by a guest writer. You can find the details at the beginning of this post. If you’d like to guest post for My Media Experience, please do not hesitate to contact me.