Home Theater PC - Totally Geeking Out

For two years I have wanted to get a Home Theater PC (HTPC). I fell in love with the idea of having most of the features of a TiVo and all my media on one box connected to my TV so it's easy to access. The problem is, I never had the money to splurge on it. I had hopes for the economic stimulus check, but a lot of it went to pay off the credit cards after a bad year of medical bills and various other financial surprises.

I also didn't know where to start. There are some many ways to go about it and a myriad of components to choose from. I visited a local guy to see his setup, and that helped me realize that it wasn't such a daunting undertaking.

Then last week I spotted a low-end, but still decent PC on sale for $300. I called the store Monday and they had a few still in stock so I drove down and snagged one. What I got was a Compaq Presario with a Pentium D dual-core 1.8 GHz CPU, 1 GB RAM, and a 320 GB hard drive - loaded with Windows Vista Home Premium which includes Vista Media Center. Not bad for $300.

I got it setup, downloaded the latest patches, ran DeCrapifier to remove all the preloaded junk software, plugged in the old PCI analog TV tuner I had and started to play with Media Center. But the fun didn't really get rolling until the shipment arrived on Wednesday with the video card with S-Video output and the combo analog / digital TV tuner card.



I was giddy. That's right, I was having so much fun playing with this gadget I was like a kid at Christmas. Media Center looks gorgeous. I had fun poking through the menus exploring each feature. I recorded some TV programs, "paused live TV" and even rewound to see a play in a soccer match in slow motion. I copied my music to it and let it shuffle play. I put some favorite photos on it and watched a slideshow, to my music. Played a DVD. I'm still tweaking and figuring it out and having a ball.

Where it will really shine is when the Fall TV season starts and I can set it to record every episode of my favorite shows to watch whenever I want - it'll be nice to not have to be in front of the TV when they air.

A few complaints though. Changing channels is on the slow side (a few seconds) so channel surfing is sluggish, but the program guide (especially the mini-guide) make up for this - I surf the guide instead of channels - when I find a program in the guide that sounds interesting, I change the channel and check it out.

The guide is key, which brings me to my biggest complaint: no program guide for digital TV sub channels. Each station can have up to 4 sub channels (i.e. KBYU has 4, KUED has 3). Currently the guide only shows me program info for the first sub channel. If the government has it's way, over the air (OTA) analog TV will be shutoff February 2009 leaving only digital TV. That's only 8 months away, and Microsoft still doesn't fully support digital TV with a full program guide. Ridiculous. I hope Microsoft gets this fixed soon. If not, I might try some other media programs like SageTV.

So, yeah, I'm a geek who likes to play with techno gadgets. Tomorrow I hope to have the digital audio hooked up to my surround sound receiver to get 5.1 goodness.

Update: Yesterday I installed Lifextender to delete commercials from recorded TV programs. I checked the results this morning and it looks like it accurately detected the commercials and deleted them. Sweet.

14 comments:

Lori said...

Sweet!!

Andy H. said...

S video output? No HDMI or at least component video output on the vid card?

KanyonKris said...

andy - my TV is old. We thought about using part of the stimulus check for a new LCD TV, but we couldn't swing it. Maybe Christmas.

I am Matt said...

What are you using as a remote? I have some hardware to use and even got it set up on the xbox360 but don't really like the paddles as the remote. Does it play avi or mpeg? As I remember the xbox 360 set up would only play wmv and i didn't go to far other than that. I think this holiday weekend ill have to geek out again and see what damage I can cause.

KanyonKris said...

You can buy the XBox 360 remote for $20 from many local stores like Best Buy or Circuit City. Also, many universal remotes can be setup to control the XBox 360. But I like the layout of the media center remote (XBox 360 has a very similar layout).

The guy who has the home media system I went to see uses TVersity to play all his media on his XBox 360.

UtRider said...

Totally geeking out? I think your new nickname is Syndrome! I hope you get Versus 'cause you need to record the Tour, edit out all of the commercials, burn a few DVDs and distribute them to your closest friends this winter.

Boz said...

Versus need to do the tdf in HD. I don't know why they can't. Maybe the feed they buy isn't available in HD. IT WOULD ROCK in HD!!

irideiwrite said...

Will you come to my house and set that up?

I'll cook steaks, chicken, brats, etc.

KanyonKris said...

UTRider - I love that line from The Incredibles: "I'm still geeking out about it!"

Sorry, I don't have cable or satellite, just the local broadcasts - so no TdF. I know, it seems weird to have a HTPC and only have local TV, but I'm too cheap for cable/satellite.

irideiwrite - let's talk.

Eat Sleep MTB said...

Welcome to the 21st century. Oh and 5.1 is so 2007, you need to do 7.1 with a powered subwoofer. I prefer the Polk in wall speakers that you can point the tweaters in the direction of the throne.

KanyonKris said...

I don't need no stinkin 7.1, my living room is small so I doubt I'd even be able to hear the extra 2 channels, much less have a place for the speakers.

"Throne" ? You have a home theater setup in your bathroom?

Eat Sleep MTB said...

That was meant to be a joke. But the part about a powered sub-woofer is totally serious. Get one or I will kill you. Just kidding, but seriously, buy one.

KanyonKris said...

And I was joking back.

I have a sub, not sure if it's powered but it packs an acceptable punch.

I am Matt said...

thanks for the link to tversity. That thing rocks. Mine is up and running in a very short amount of time. Have to tweak it a bit but... very excited.