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Old 06-27-2012, 02:31 PM   #1
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Default Budget HTPC / DVR build

I've been flailing about for some kind of TiVo/DVR solution that didn't involve any kind of monthly subscription (either to TiVo or to a cable/satellite provider). We only have OTA TV and use Netflix for movies. I wanted something that could record TV shows while we were away, or record while we were watching something else.

There are a few prebuilt set-top DVR's (Channelmaster, Sony) but all are $300+ and are either unsupported (Sony) or extremely glitchy (Channelmaster).

I decided that building an HTPC was the better solution. Windows 7 Media Center gives you full DVR functionality with a TV tuner card, and would give me flexibility to build and reconfigure the system to meet our needs. Budget, howeve, was limited. Here's what I did:

1. HP Compaq dc7800 Small Form Factor -- $140

I wanted a form factor that wouldn't stick out like a sore thumb in my entertainment center (ie, no full size towers), but most of the HTPC-specific cases would necessitate a more expensive build. I came across this HP and it fit the bill -- the CPU is more than adequate for HTPC purposes, it had enough expansion slots, and while it's not exactly a NeXT cube, it's sleek enough to hide in my entertainment center. As an added bonus, mine came with an empty 3.5" drive bay instead of a floppy drive, which means I'm ready to add a hard drive for DVR storage.

-- $40

The onboard video on the HP is probably adequate for most HTPC stuff, but for $40, this Asus Radeon card gives me HDMI which means I have a 1-cable solution for getting 19201080 video and sound to the TV. And while it'd be rather sluggish for gaming, it's perfect for HTPC purposes with silent cooling (no fan) and extremely low power requirements.

Hauppauge 1213 WinTV-HVR-2250 PCI-E x1 Dual TV Tuner Hauppauge 1213 WinTV-HVR-2250 PCI-E x1 Dual TV Tuner
-- $110

TV tuner cards seem to be a pretty glitchy category. There's not a single company or product that gets universally good reviews, but Hauppauge seems to be fairly well regarded, and the 2250 dual tuner card did everything I needed (while fitting into a low-profile PCIe slot). This package came with a IR receiver and MCE remote which should work until I decide to upgrade to a nicer remote.

AmazonBasics High-Speed HDMI Cable AmazonBasics High-Speed HDMI Cable
-- $5

This cable resulted in untold measures of frustration. I could not get a video signal from the HTPC to my TV no matter what resolution or refresh rates I tried. Finally I swapped the cable for an old Phillips HDMI cable I had kicking around and it worked immediately. I'm going to test it to see if it works with my XBox 360...if not, it's going back.

5. Scythe 2.5 Twin Mounter RC HDD/SSD + Rosewill 18" Serial ATA Black Flat Cable -- $13

I was pondering the storage issue for a while (after all, an 80GB HD won't hold much recorded HD video). External drives seem to be cheaper right now for some reason, so I considered either adding a USB 3.0 card to the HTPC, or cracking open an external drive to use internally.

Instead, I rooted through my PC parts box and came up with a 2.5" 250GB laptop hard drive. I figured for the cost of some 2.5"->3.5" rails and another SATA cable, it'd hold us over until hard drive prices come back down. We'll just have to be a little more diligent to delete stuff after we watch it until we can pick up something like a 2TB drive.

6. Logitech K400 USB RF Wireless Keyboard -- $37

While the MCE remote is great for controlling Media Center, I wanted something that would be more functional for non-MCE purposes. This is the perfect solution -- a laptop-sized keyboard with an integrated trackpad and mouse buttons, all for under $40.

TOTAL: $345

For less than $350, I've built an HTPC / DVR that can pause, rewind, fast forward, and record TV programs. I can use it to play DVDs, stream Netflix or Hulu, or play any video file format. Media Center downloads a full TV program guide which means I can automatically record full series just like TiVo. It's so quiet that the case fan of the regular desktop computer on the other side of the room (a Dell minitower) is louder.

I'm extremely pleased with the result. I've long thought about building an HTPC, but never had the time or interest in doing an expensive custom-built solution (or paying for an ultra-expensive prebuilt solution). This setup was literally no more involved than opening up the HP and tossing in the video and TV tuner cards.

Future upgrades will include another stick of RAM (I think Win7 32-bit can only address another 0.6-0.7 GB, but if I find one for $10-15, I might as well do it), a much larger HD, and possibly a nicer remote if I get tired of the one that came with the TV tuner card. But the system is completely functional as it is. Last night our dinner plans took a little longer than expected; in the past we would have rushed to get it ready and then been forced to eat in front of the TV if we wanted to catch our show. Instead, I hit the power button on the remote, the system woke up in 5 seconds, I set it to record our show, and we enjoyed a nice relaxed dinner at the table. Lovely.
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Old 06-27-2012, 03:02 PM   #2
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I'm using something similar. Picked up an acer aspire revo 3700 (ebay refurb $260 delivered)- came with win7 media center 250gb hd, 2gb ram. Came with a wireless keyboard and mouse that work well. Added a noname media center remote that was leftover from something else (video card I think, but these sell for $10 as you know). Using a dual tuner HD HomeRun box on the network (<$100 on sale at new egg). The revo plays up to 1080p smoothly - locally, live from the HomeRun and from shares on the network. Netflix streaming works well also- and honestly we are recording so little tv now with all the content now available on netflix. I had another Revo setup as above and will sell that for 3-4x the cost of those WD boxes- $68 on ebay. They don't tune/record live TV but do everything else, and are easy to take with you.
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Old 07-01-2012, 01:54 PM   #3
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I'll link my system I just built. I am extremely happy with it, I did not have high hopes initially, but good god did it ever come together.

Newegg.com - LIAN LI PC-Q25B Black Aluminum Mini-ITX Tower Computer Case
You can get this type of case for as cheap as $40, but I only buy Lian Li due to extremely good experiences with the guys - and this case is unspeakably awesome. I have fit and ran 7 3.5" and 1 2.5" hard drives in it at once!

Newegg.com - CORSAIR Builder Series CX500 V2 500W ATX12V v2.3 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC Power Supply
This is an upgrade from my 420w or 430w version of this - I paid $20 for mine ( Newegg.com - CORSAIR Builder Series CX430 V2 (CMPSU-430CXV2) 430W ATX12V v2.3 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC Power Supply ), that one is available for $25 atm. The one I picked up is $5 cheaper right now, but I'd have gone with the first one in a heartbeat if it was on sale at the time.

Newegg.com - AMD A8-3870K Unlocked Llano 3.0GHz Socket FM1 100W Quad-Core Desktop APU (CPU + GPU) with DirectX 11 Graphic AMD Radeon HD 6550D AD3870WNGXBOX
Newegg.com - ASRock A75M-ITX FM1 AMD A75 (Hudson D3) HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 Mini ITX AMD Motherboard

Used DDR3 1600 RAM: A few bucks plus cost of shipping.

I'm shocked at the pure awesomeness of this combo. I've had it running Dolphin @ 1080P, some Diablo 3, and you name it. BTW, this includes USB 3.0 integrated into the mobo as well. It's a bit more expensive than your proposed system, but it hits all that you want, and good lord does it ever make me go "OMGWTFYESSSSSSS!" for what I got for my buck.

Total cost of my system, minus a TV Tuner card, came to $278.39* after rebates, promo codes**, etc.. I've had it running everything I've managed to throw at it, including D3 and Dolphin, as well as running as a Linux server/home router/etc. etc. etc., and yet I still can't speak highly enough of it. I am shocked at how great of a deal it was overall.

*: Edited in total cost yo!
**: Disclaimer: This actually took several months to piece together this cheaply for all the right promo codes and deals to hit at once.

Last edited by blaen99; 07-01-2012 at 02:13 PM.
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Old 07-01-2012, 03:05 PM   #4
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I'm running at HTPC I built 3 years ago and it still works out great (AMD X4 630, ATI 5750) and after considering building another to a smaller form factor, a laptop seems like the best bang for the buck (considering that you WON'T be gaming on it). Personally I just use mine for Hulu, XBMC, a few emulators (nothing as new as Dolphin), and web browsing. Watching slickdeals.net you can find a great <$300 laptop that can do all of that in a tiny form factor.

Also, if anyone has never had a HTPC before, I recommend a few pieces of software:

- XBMC or MediaBrowser for Windows Media Center (I prefer XBMC, but I don't use a TV tuner card)
- HyperSpin (for emulation, very pretty)
- Hulu Desktop

Lifehacker has some good articles on putting together HTPC's if anyone is interested.
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Old 07-01-2012, 06:46 PM   #5
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I've had HTPCs before the existence of digital TV and recommend them to anyone.

If you have an old PC, turn that into a HTPC, you don't need much grunt, just a digital tuner (one with 2 tuners is recommended since one digital tuner is NOT enough) and lots of hard drive space.

You want to keep it as quiet as possible. Western Digital "Green" drives are the quietest I've found. I like Noctua fans and CPU coolers since they're almost silent.

A remote keyboard is useful too.

As for HTPC software, I prefer MediaPortal, it's far more evolved than Windows Media Centre (and unlike Media Centre, which Microsoft seem to have stopped development on), it's still developing.

MediaPortal can be controlled completely by a remote control too - I use a Logitech Harmony programmable remote.
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Old 07-04-2012, 10:35 PM   #6
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Just got Remote Potato set up. Now I can check my TV schedule and set recordings from any browser or from my Android phone.

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