Weekend Open Forum: HTPC In Your Living Room, Anyone?

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Matthew DeCarlo

Posts: 5,271   +103
Cable and satellite TV providers are scrambling to smother or otherwise capitalize on the rise of Internet-based video. From free user-driven sites like YouTube, to paid services like Netflix, video streaming is here to stay.

Read the whole story


Posts: 996   +93
I've been cable free for four years now as I use my 360 to stream content from my computer. It hasn't been without some issues as living in Canada as we don't have Netflix and Hulu is restricted content (I have to resort to downloading the tv shows manually via torrents and then stream them). On top of that the Media Center does not support mkv files or subtitles together (tried the mkv solution from divx but it is very fussy to when it will or won't work).

I originally used my xbox with XBMC as my HTPC but had to eventually retire it as it was unable to handle h.264 or HD content (I tried converting the files for a while but it proved to be more of a pain than it was worth as my computer was on all the time converting the files).

I purchased a Zotac Ion in order to use that with XBMC but the atom processor is rather lacking and video hardware acceleration requires Linux and/or some additional software configuration (Which almost made my head explode trying to figure it out).

Hopefully more manufactures will release mini-itx motherboards (The new DFI-MI looks really nice) so I can build a HTPC with a decent processor, decent onboard graphics in a nice slim case that will playback anything I want with XBMC.

Oh yes my home theatre setup consists of a Denon 2310CI receiver, B&W DM603 Fronts, B&W DM600 rears and LCR600 centre channel. Connected to it I have a Toshiba A30 HD-DVD player, 360 Elite and a 32" Prima television.


Posts: 1,703   +172
As you can probably (not) see from the picture above, my computer is on a desk on the opposite side of the living room to the TV (I put the monitor on the floor so I could get them in one shot for the contest), and so I have one computer which outputs to the monitor and the TV. I have everything going through the computer, even the TV channels - the TV isn't even connected to an aerial!


Posts: 118   +0
I have a HTPC, and I LOVEEE ITTT. I have this 48" HDTV from like 2001, so it's not really an HDTV, but it works great. I hooked it up with my old Dell Dimension 8400. It has the 6800 256MB using s-video( which works just fine! Wouldn't recommend it if reading lots of text is what you do) which plays video perfectly. It has 2GB memory, 250GB hdd, and the P4 3.4GHz. I got an audio cable from radio shack that lets me plug my sound card into the TV with the red and white component cables i think. I got the logitech e110 wireless keyboard and mouse i think, and it's about 15ft away and works great. If you're interested in trying this, it doesn't take a super computer to do.


Posts: 1,577   +628
When we moved recently, the wife and I decided that rather than finding a desk space for her PC, we'd convert it into and HTPC and hook it up to our 42" living room HDTV. About $200 later, with a new slimmer case and motherboard with HDMI output on the board (nVidia chipset), we haven't looked back. It fits right into the entertainment center, we grabbed a cheap HD antenna (for local stations and news) and hooked it up to a USB digital TV tuner with BeyondTV, which I've had for years, and we have our DVR. We also tried Boxee for an interface, but it didn't have Netflix and was taking forever to get it for the Windows version, so we switched to ZeeVee's Zinc interface, which is super easy to use with our Snapstream Firefly remote (that I got with BeyondTV originally). Since BeyondTV has a cool DivX "smart squeeze" feature that encodes our recorded video down to very manageable sizes, I didn't even have to think about upgrading my 250Gb hard drive in the unit. Oh, and I'm running Windows XP Professional, but considering moving up to Windows 7 in the not-too-distant future.

The onboard video and our dual core AMD processor gives us full 1080i resolution native, with no hiccups or issues at all. The hardest part was figuring out scaling on the display settings to give readable text from across the room (for when the wife is surfing or getting email). We watch movies using PowerDVD 9, and sound is fed from the digital out off the motherboard into the Sony surround sound system I've had for a few years. All in all, it's an awesome layout, and we very seldom miss having cable. As long as Netflix keeps updating and putting new titles on (and not old stale stuff we don't care about), I think we'll be more than happy with this setup. But I think my next purchase will be a decent wireless HTPC keyboard, maybe one of the Logitech DiNovo units - we have a regular wireless Logitech now, but it gets flaky at distance, so I would like to get a good bluetooth unit.

Julio Franco

Posts: 8,765   +1,653
Staff member
I've had to move a lot over the past few years and that meant I never got the chance to settle on a single living room space to set up something nice. This will change when I move to my own house later this year, I plan to have it wired up so I can stream content across all rooms and have a dedicated media room with a large TV/projector and a set top box or HTPC, we will see.

In the meantime, I'm usually streaming by hooking up a laptop to my TV, I even had an old Thinkpad dedicated to this task a while ago. The Xbox 360 also works well with certain types of files when in combination with TVersity. I guess the potential is there for the Xbox but the software is quite limiting.


The coax comes out of the wall in my office and goes into a two-tuner SiliconDust HDHomerun. We then use my Vista PC as a DVR (a 1TB drive holds about 150 hours of HD Programming), and our two XBOX 360's as media extenders on the two TVs in the house. It works AWESOME, except that we only get "regular basic cable." The good news is that we don't really miss extended cable, and our cable TV bill is $13/month.

Rumor has it that SiliconDust is coming out with a cable-card ready HDHomerun. If so, we're totally buying one.


We're using an Acer AspireRevo R3610 dual-core Atom/ION nettop running Win7; 2 gigs of RAM with a 1TB Seagate external HDD and a micro external DVD burner connected to our NAT and the internet over a gigabit network. Browser = Firefox 3.6.

This streams Netflix and HULU like a champ because under Win7 or Vista and using Silverlight or Flash 10.1 beta GPU acceleration is enabled. Poof - smooth HD streaming. Love it.

Now we're waiting for Boxee for Windows to come out of beta to provide the dashboard. The beta is very nice but still a bit unstable, sometimes crashing when you choose a Netflix or HULU program and the audio keeps playing if you exit. Nothing they can't fix quickly and 95/% of the time it's fine.


Posts: 1,577   +628
Guest said:
Now we're waiting for Boxee for Windows to come out of beta to provide the dashboard. The beta is very nice but still a bit unstable, sometimes crashing when you choose a Netflix or HULU program and the audio keeps playing if you exit. Nothing they can't fix quickly and 95/% of the time it's fine.

I got tired of holding my breath on Boxee. I read about it in Maximum PC, and immediately went to grab it, only to find out it was available for every platform BUT Windows at the time. So I waited, then it finally came out and I grabbed it, only to find out Netflix worked on every platform BUT Windows... The Windows stuff is always dead last on the priority list, and usually months overdue before it finally crawls out to be tested. Now that they have their own stand-alone box to concentrate on, I'm guessing this pattern will only become worse as the priorities get shifted around again.

I'd suggest checking out the ZeeVee product Zinc. It's not perfect, but it's very useful, has a great 10 ft interface, and works well with media center remotes. I found it while waiting for Boxee to get their ducks in a row, and have been pleased that I made the switch: http://zinc.tv


Posts: 2,117   +922
This was how I was setup not too long ago, my PC wasn't for say a HTPC but it was hooked up to a 42" via HDMI and to an amp vis Optical cable. I used the screen for just about everything including from time to time watching a movie or something, I have an extensive library of media at my finger tips for just the occasion :cool:

Its posted in the Gallery HERE

Now my PC is up in my room and I use a PS3 as a media hub to watch movies and what not on the HDTV, its a little more convenient that way due to the ability to have someone watching a movie whilst I play games or use my PC in general.


Posts: 829   +36
Well sadly I don't have a HD TV or a HTPC or even a PS3 :(. So for now I just watch everything on my monitor. But in my near future I see a PS3 and am planning on playing everything through it on my TV. I still do have cable, and probably won't ditch it any time soon. I do hope to build a media server in the next year or so, complete with a couple TV tuner cards to use it as a DVR.


Dedicated Media Server: Windows 7, 1TB drive, 4 channel Tuner card.
I pay only $1 for basic cable bundled with my broadband $49.00. With basic cable I receive 16 analog and 13 local HDTV QAM chanels.

Three used Xbox 360s ($100 ea from pawn shops) connected to TVs.

I run MediaBrowser and Playon on the server that is extended to the 360s. Playon allows the 360's to run hulu and $8. month netflix streaming And Mediabrowser displays all your content with descriptions, backdrops and posters.

I use Media Center Master and TED (TV Episode Downloader) for all my metadata and torrent downloading of any movie and TV show.

So for $58 a month, I get all local channels, Any new TV or DVD release, Hulu and netflix, all available on the xbox 360 that uses less power then a computer, starts up quick, no need for a keyboard and the media remotes are $20.00 new. Xbox live gold account is not needed for this setup.


I have an Acer Ax1301 hooked into a 720p television via HDMI through a Denon receiver. Using a clear QAM dual digital tuner to pull in broadcast channels from Comcast. Remote is airmouse on an ipod touch plus a WMC remote that come with the tuner. Total storage space = about 700 gig.

Windows Media Center
Clicker.com - Cable shows
ITunes - Movies and kids shows
Amazon VOD - Movies


Posts: 488   +10
I got the Acer AR1600. For 200 USD it is a pretty good device in a very small package. It would be nice if they could get the price down a little more so I can justify buy more.

I'm hoping we might get more cheap set top boxes with SDKs that allow DIY widgets or Apps that can take advantage of new services, or something like Andriod that has an open platform.

I hate that I have to have an Xbox Gold membership to watch my netflix on xbox live. That is rediculous. Sure give us the Netflix app for free but make us pay to use it. I'm not at the point where I want to pay for xbox live... I'm not gettinganything out of it. I do not really play online and 5 bucks a month is still too steep when I have a bunch of other subscription. I undertand it helps them pay the expenses for the community, but the price is not yet right for me when I can get it free in so many other places. I guess I should have read b/f buying a second 360... my fault/loss.

As for the Acer the booting up the PC is the only thing that takes away from the experience... It would be nice if they built a shell over Windows to get to the basic media stuff and you could exit when you need to use windows functions beyon media. With that I would get over not having the (almost) instantly on device.

Hmm Wii would be a great media center if you add a part here and take another there... actually left alone just the interface could make it happen for a few years whistle we wait out a hardware refresh. OOps I think I let slip Nintendos plans... nah they are just a game company... unless they plan to pull an Apple.

They have the perfect platform to create a media center base around. They have now the most installed base in the world for current gen... Well even Sony could have done it with the PS2 (that is another story)

Expand on flash/ standard harddrive usage. The price is low enough and you would have the online gaming options and the channels concept for downloadable software. The only issue is that there is no way to output HD content on the Wii. - in it's current form... Just a thought Nintendo... come on your are giving is Netflix... are we going to get to see our Miies on Facebook and Twitter soon??!


I bought (did not build) an HTPC for $500 and love it! It adds the flexibility to go anywhere on the web- not just the few places where web TV plugins allow TVs and various STBs to go- they're way too limited.

I have a low form factor (LFF) ACER Aspire AX3200-EF9100A (2008 model) that has a 1.8Gz Quad Core processor, 4 GB ram, Hybrid SLA graphics (on-board and GPU share the work), blu-ray player/DVD burner, running Win 7 x64 (upgraded from Vista). The HDD is 650 GB, so once I start recording content I will need a server or E-SATA HDD added to it for enough storage. It's on wireless LAN right now but will be putting it on a HomePlugAV outlet for a solid connection.

It is attached to a 40" Samsung 1080P LCD TV via HDMI and the audio goes out via optical S/PDIF to a Panasonic 5.1 surround receiver (although the on-board Realtek HD audio is only sending stereo out- need to troubleshoot that..ugh).

Windows isn't exactly distance-viewing friendly yet (except in Media Center) so I have my windows set on large fonts (150) and with the high-contrast black (ground color) theme. It's not pretty like aero, but it's sure easier on the eyes for reading from a distance. I zoom web browser windows 200% to be able to read, and I can easily read and tweet away from my counch like that.

Since I browse the web a lot on it, I use Panda's recently released free cloud virus scanner for real-time protection without the heavy load.

I don't have a TV tuner yet- waiting for the Ceton quad cablecard tuner to come out the end of March to install that and start being able to watch all cable content (including encrypted) and stream live and recorded TV to extenders (theoretically).
We have one XBox 360 right now on another PC and will probably just get an ION set-back nettop to VESA mount to another TV. This will replace all the cable STB+remote rentals with just one m-card rental for all four tuners for just $2/mo.

Clicker is my internet TV search engine of choice. I shop, tweet, read, watch blu-rays and internet TV, and soon, will watch all live TV and record it all from the HTPC. It's just plain fun to do it all on the big TV!

I use a Logitech DiNovo Mini keyboard/remote with this HTPC. I absolutely love it! It's gorgeous, fits in the remote caddy, rechargeable; it does everything except make the coffee, and you don't need to point it at the HTPC because it's bluetooth- perfect for couch potatoes. IMO there's nothing that compares to it on the market (so it is pricey).
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