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Goodbye old boy - Retiring our HTPC

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by , 29th December 2012 at 11:41 AM (14786 Views)
It’s a sad day today. Ever since Christmas morning and the kids began to play with their new (well, second hand but new to them) Wii, it has become obvious that it was now redundant.
The media PC, the stalwart of living room entertainment for well over 4 years has to go. To be honest, it’s been on the cards since we got a Tivo box earlier in the year.
We’ve had a media PC in the house since about 2004 when I used an old Athlon powered Shuttle PC to run Media Portal (MEDIAPORTAL - a HTPC Media Center for free! - MEDIAPORTAL) through a large Sony CRT TV. From there I got my hands on a cheap second hand Elonex Artisan media PC based on a P4 running XP MCE. It was awesome and, most importantly, silent. After a year or so of running this I made the decision to make something that will last. So I sourced the following components:

  • Core 2 Duo E8400 3Ghz
  • 4GB DDRII 800 RAM
  • 1TB Samsung HD (later replaced with a 2 TB)
  • Radeon 4670 (passively cooled)
  • BlackGold BGT3540 six–in-one tuner
  • LG HD-DVD/Blu-Ray/DVD combo drive (you could/can pick up HD-DVD movies for pennies on eBay!)
  • Vista Home Premium (later upgraded to W7)
  • Zalman HD160XT Ultimate HTPC case with touch screen
  • Fanless PSU
  • Asus Silent cooler

I have to admit, that at the time, it was amazing, and to be honest, it still is very capable. We used if for everything from watching movies, recording TV, browsing the internet, streaming music from and, of course, playing games.
However, over the past 12 months it has been seeing less and less use. With the house getting a Tivo box, smart phones, another laptop and a dedicated Blu-Ray player it has increasingly fallen into disuse and now is only really used for storing photos on. Oh! And did I mention that it was HUGE?! Imagine a large AV amp and double its weight. It is a very un-portable computer. It also doesn't help that I haven’t wiped W7 since I put it on there in 2009. It is now very, very slow to boot and now takes 2-3 mins before it becomes usable.
So we are to retire it. It will be going into the office with me next week and used for ‘something else’ the Wii will now live in its space in the AV cabinet.
But, that is not the end of it. I still see the point of media/HTPC’s, I really do, it’s just that this one no longer suits our specific needs. We still need to browse the internet on a large screen, and whilst the Tivo provides many TV station ‘players’ it is not as extensive as we’d like. More importantly, we need centralised storage in the house. We need somewhere to put photos, music and documents. This type of household facility is getting a must in the modern world as more and more things get digitised in our day-to-day world.
So here is my plan, and given the cost of my original media PC it should come in at a fraction of the price of the original.

  • Buy a duel drive NAS box and fit 2x1TB drives
  • Use a Raspberry Pi for use on the flat-screen TV

I have to be honest here the Pi is going to be a godsend. A (very) cheap and (very) low powered device that will fulfill a major role in allowing us to browse the web, look at our pictures and play music/movies from the NAS box. Here is a device that perfectly fits the bill for the task in hand.
It’s going to be quite exciting. A new year’s project that won’t break the bank and will provide an important role in the home for very little money. Now there’s a business opportunity that someone can take up!

Goodbye old boy. We're replacing you with something smaller and more friendly!


  1. SYNACK's Avatar
    Poor MediaPC, I agree that they were great and that their time has passed. The advent of smartTVs with DLNA and little android media sticks / RasberryPis has moved the requirement from by the tv to a back cupboard somewhere. I have been using a media server with DLNA and a decent home network for a while now. Its just decentralising it meaning you get your media on any TV rather than just the one.

    Personally I just moved the media centre to the back room and using WMP's DLNA sharing but W7's DLNA does not cope with mkv. I had a low power Atom board so banging a few drives in was basically the equivalent of a NAS anyway.

    This is one place where Samsung TVs way better, or LG ones as Sony only really supports one video format now, Sony DRM evil++.
    Updated 30th December 2012 at 04:19 PM by SYNACK
  2. Dos_Box's Avatar
    @SYNACK: I agree with what you say, and given the entertainment devices in a modern home I think this new approach is suitable for many households now instead of going down the media PC route.
    I still think that a decent media PC is viable, especially if you are starting out with no satellite, internet capable tv/device/Blu-Ray then then it can be a very cost effective and cheap way of rolling all of these into one. Mine, for example, needed a lot of work to bring it up to speed as it had no HD freeview or sat tuners and the graphics card was getting creaky.
    It also suddenly occurs to me that I should have included some advice for anyone making a media PC as some new 'gotchas' have sprung to mind.

    1. Don't buy an expensive case with displays/screens. You will never use or look at them and your box will live too far away for you to keep going close up to see what is going on anyway. Do try and get a nice low profile HTPC case though as it does look good
    2. Make sure your case is fitted for IR. Small wireless keyboards are all well and good but involve a lot of messing around when trying to pause a movie!
    3. When you buy a tuner card, whether it be terrestrial or satellite, ensure it is Windows Media Center compatible, and not just Windows. I brought a card which claimed to be HD for satellite but turned out you had to use their own media center (bundled) which was awful.
    4. Buy an all-in-one (sat and terrestrial) tuner card if you can. It will save you cash later on.
    5. Make sure you fit the best passively cooled graphics card you can afford as well. Not just for video playback, but you may just want to do do 'some' gaming later.

    These are all garnered from my own personal experience but I'm sure there will be more to add later, but at the moment, that's it
    Updated 31st December 2012 at 02:33 PM by Dos_Box


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