Lothar’s Theoretical Upscaler

If you’ve been around for a while, you know that I’m a big supporter of Mythtv. Everything about it is free (until September, when Zap2It stops offering free program guide info, but that’s neither here nor there). The OS is free, Mythtv itself is free. It’s just really nice. However, we’re going to depart from that for this build because the goal here is (quiet) DVD upscaling for those that don’t want to take the leap to HD DVD or BluRay quite yet. High quality upscaling can really make a difference if you’re using a projector with an image 120" in diagonal.

Rules, Case, PSU, CPU, MOBO, Video


Lothar’s Rules 

To start off with, here are my assumptions:
1) There is a projector involved capable of displaying 1080p natively
2) Audio will be run through a receiver via either optical or coax spdif
3) This HTPC will be in plain view and thus should look like your AV equipment
So with that said, here’s what I’m looking at…

Case – Thermaltake Mozart SX VC7000 – $200

We’ll start with the case because it can affect the rest of the components chosen due to overall size limitations. In this case, I decided to go with the Mozart SX because I really like the way that the front looks. It’s a little shorter than the Antec NSK2400 I’ve used in the past, but it’s a little deeper and wider so it can fit a full ATX motherboard. The drawbacks to the case though are that you are forced to use a shorter heatsync (for example, the ThermalRight SI120 that I use in my NSK2400 case won’t fit here) and it doesn’t come with a power supply. I should note that the product page for the Mozart says that it fits standard PSII power supply. This means a regular ATX power supply. Also, you’re limited to three horizontal expansion slots since the case isn’t tall enough to use vertical slots. The advantage of this case is it’s slim look and built-in VFD display with media controls.

PSU – SeaSonic S12 SS-500GB – $110

I’ve chosen this power supply because I’ve used Seasonic PSUs in the past and they’ve always been quiet and efficient. This one will be no different. I chose the 500W model because I wanted to be sure there was enough power for driving this system even though I could have probably gotten by with the 380W version pretty easily. This particular PSU should work out well because it’s got an efficiency rating of up to 85%. With its 120mm fan, this PSU should do a nice job of powering the system without making much noise.

CPU – Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 – $212

With the intention of using FFDshow for upscaling DVDs, I want to throw as much processor power as I can at this without going to a quadcore CPU. I chose to remain with a dualcore because a quadcore doubles the heat produced and I want this system to be as cool, and thus as quiet, as possible. I decided to go with a Core2Duo chip this time around because it benchmarks very well. For the time being, we will use the stock heatsync, but if that turns out to be too loud, Zalman makes some nice alternatives that should fit in this case.

Motherboard – GIGABYTE GA-P35-DS3R – $130

Since this build is based around the best possible video playback, I decided to use a discrete video card instead of a motherboard with IGP. Also, since this case can hold a full ATX motherboard, there is no need to limit the search to an MATX board, even though the case only has three expansion slots. The requirements for this board include spdif output (this board has both coax and optical), PS2 ports for keyboard and mouse (yes I still use them), and serial port (used for my home brew IR receiver). Besides those requirements, this board also has all the usual bells and whistles: passive northbridge/southbridge heatsyncs, lots of USB ports, gigabit ethernet, HD audio codec, 3xPCIe 1x slots, 3xPCI slots, and to top it off 8!! SATA II ports (yes, I said 8, not 4). The only other thing that would have been nice for this board would have been an eSATA port, but I doubt that it would be needed anyway.

Video Card – GIGABYTE GV-NX86S256H GeForce 8600GTS – $180

This video card should be capable of handling any of the current games that you might want to play on the big screen, as well as offloading h.264 decoding for next gen DVDs (even though the drivers only support this in Vista currently, as far as I know). This card is passively cooled so it will be completely silent, but it will take up two of the three open expansion slots in the case. Since this build is intended for playback and not for recording, this should not be an issue as the extra slot should not be needed.

RAM, Hard Drive, DVD, Keyboard, Conclusion

RAM – OCZ Platinum Revision 2 2GB (2 x 1GB) – $107 (currently $67 after rebate)

While the motherboard will support 1066 (and probably 1333) memory, I chose DDR2 800 RAM because there is still a pretty good price break between the two. Two gigs should ensure that the memory is not a bottleneck in the playback process.

Hard Drive – SAMSUNG SpinPoint T Series HD501LJ 500GB – $120

Since this build is not intended to function as a DVR, this drive will only be needed for the OS and maybe a few ripped DVDs. I decided on Samsung because it’s a decent price and their 400GB version is very quiet in my opinion.

DVD player – ASUS 18X DVD±R LightScribe Burner with QuieTrack Tech – $29

This is a very quiet DVD player. QuieTrack is very nice for keeping the drive noise down. I have one of these drives and it works very well. Since the drive will be behind the case facade, the color does not matter. The only drawback to this particular drive is that it is PATA and not SATA. SATA would be nice because of the much thinner data cables.

Keyboard/Mouse – Logitech MX 3200 Cordless Desktop – $70

The Microsoft wireless media center keyboard was considered here, but ultimately I chose the Logitech setup because I felt it would be better to have a separate mouse on the (rare) occasion that big screen gaming would be involved. Also, this combo uses RF so the range should be better and line-of-site isn’t an issue.

Misc. Software –
FFDshow, Zoomplayer or Theatertek, WinMCE (why buy XP when you can get MCE for the same price?), Purevideo HD.

If you want to make this system into a full blown DVR, it would be very easy to do with the addition of a tuner card, using up the last available expansion slot.
With the above mentioned hardware, this system comes out to $1158 (plus software) and should be capable of some very nice DVD upscaling using FFDshow. And it should be able to do it very quietly. The only place that might need to be modified should be the CPU heatsync. This system should also be more than capable of playing nextgen DVDs with the addition of a BluRay or HD-DVD drive. Or throw in a couple more hard drives, and this system could also make a great server or stand alone all around HTPC.

 I apologize that this has turned into a short novel, but hopefully someone will benefit from it. This should be a great system.