It’s Time For a Proper HTPC! (Post 3of3: Everyday Use)

First we had The Planning phase.

Then, The Build phase.

And now, the Everyday Use phase. Let’s do this!

So, it has been just about 2 months that we have been using the final setup. For those of you who may not quite remember what the final setup was, here is a quick recap. We ended up going with a Mac mini running Plex Media Server combined with the Plex Client. For local storage we are using a 4 Bay Drobo.

Hardware PerspectiveFrom the beginning of this project my goal was to have one box that could do it all. No more switching between sources or using 4 different remotes. The Mac mini is that one box, with Plex as the gatekeeper to all media. We have a good amount of local media, movies and tv shows, that are all stored on the Drobo. The Mac mini has no problem at all playing back local media.

The newer Mac mini also has a nice extra bonus for those of us who want to use them as a HTPC, HDMI w/embedded audio on board! This means 1 simple HDMI connection from the Mac to the Television. Perfect!

There isn’t really a lot to say about the hardware since it is an all in one solution. The only other external hardware is a Samsung Blu-Ray drive in an external enclosure, attached via USB 2.0. We rarely, if ever, use physical discs, but should the need arise, this covers that. We do also have the TV hooked up to an OTA antenna that is called the WallTenna. It is completely dependent on your location, but if you have a good signal at your house it works great! It’s quite amazing how good the HD quality is that comes over the air for free!

Software PerspectiveAnother mandatory item for this project was the ability to control the whole system with a simple remote. I did NOT want a keyboard and mouse in the living room to control this thing. This meant some kind of Media Center front end. After using XBMC for a couple days, I just couldn’t get into it so I started looking at some alternatives. The alternative I decided on was Plex Media Center. It has a great user interface and has the ability to pull in content from local sources as well as a MASSIVE list of internet sources. The whole interface can be controlled with the simple and effective aluminum Apple remote. The same remote that you would use with an AppleTV. Plex also has mobile apps that allow for control of the media center, but also the ability to stream your content on your home server to your mobile device. The really neat part about this is that not only does it stream within your house to your mobile device but across the internet to anywhere! On the road and decided you want to watch a movie that is at home on your Drobo? No problem!

If you sign up for the “MyPlex” account, this is made even easier as you can use your account to access your content remotely, so you don’t have to deal with the sometimes messy port forwarding and firewall traversal within your home router/firewall. This sharing is extended even further if you decided to exchange servers with your friends and family. You are then able to access content from their servers and they can access yours. It becomes a social server of content for your friends and family to share. Very cool idea.

Plex has so many features, you would be reading this forever to hear about them all. Instead, I will link again to http://plexapp.com and you can look around at all the awesome stuff Plex has to offer!

It’s Time For a Proper HTPC! (Post 2of3: The Build)

After much planning and searching for the parts you saw in the last post, I have now now done a complete flip and changed the whole plan for the project!

The setup is now as follows:- Mac mini (2.3GHZ Core i5, 8GB Ram, Intel HD 3000 Graphics)- Drobo w/8TB of Storage Space- External Samsung Blu Ray Drive- Elgato EyeTV USB OTA Tuner- Walltenna OTA Antenna- Apple Remote- Plex Media Server / Client

Why did I change everything? Cost, size, reliability, and power consumption. I originally went with the PC build route thinking it would save some money, but that turned out to be false. The size of the Mac is microscopic compared to the giant Silverstone case. With the PC build, it would have to run Windows, and that was something I just didn’t want to deal with. Finally, being a HTPC, this machine needed to stay on 24×7 in order to be a true entertainment “ready anytime” kind of device. Even with a smaller 650W power supply, that was going to be a lot of power being consumed unnecessarily.

We are approaching the end of the first week of use and so far things are going remarkably well! Look for “Post 3of3: Details” in the coming weeks to see how we set it up, how it works day-to-day, and if it’s the right solution for you!

It’s Time For a Proper HTPC! (Post 1of3: Planning)

The time has come. I am tired of bouncing around between 4-5 different devices when it comes to watching content in the living room. We have an AppleTV, Boxee Box, Mac Mini w/Drobo, Xbox 360, Over The Air TV, and of course AirPlay from iPads and iPhones.

It’s time for living room content unification!

The plan is to build a custom “Home Theater PC” that will handle all content in the living room / home theater. Here is the list of parts that will go into this build.

Hardware
Case:

Silverstone Tek GD08B
Motherboard:

MSI MB-Z68A-43 LGA1155
Processor:

Intel Core i5-3450 Quad-Core Processor 3.1 GHz 6 MB Cache LGA 1155
Heatsink:

SilverStone NT01-E CPU Cooler
Memory:

Corsair Vengeance 8 GB
Main Hard Drive: Corsair Force Series GT 120 GB SATA 2.5-Inch SATA III Solid State Drive
Storage: (6)

Western Digital 2 TB WD Green SATA III
Disc Drives: Samsung Blu-Ray Combo Internal
Power Supply:

CORSAIR Enthusiast Series TX750 V2
Tuner: Hauppauge 1229 WinTV-HVR-2250
Control: Logitech Mini PC Entertainment Dinovo Keyboard

Software
Operating System: Windows 7 Professional
Media Front End: XBMC

The “Must Have” List
– Netflix Playback
– Amazon Video Playback
– iTunes Playback
– OTA TV Playback w/ Recording
– AirPlay Capability
– 10+TB RAID 5 NAS for File Storage
– 2+TB Storage for DVR
– All functionality accessible from single interface
– Single remote control
– SMB / FTP / AFP file access
– Very quiet!

Check back for “Post 2of3: The Build!” in the coming weeks!