HTPC Basics HArdware
Building an HTPC is similar to building a personal computer with a few
caveats. Keep in mind these are just talking points to get a beginner
started in the right direction.
- An HTPC is typically in the living room and should be silent
- If you want to record TV you need a TV tuner device of some sort
- Required CPU speed is dependent on the functions you want to perform
- You can never have enough hard drive space
CPU requirements depend on a few different considerations that include
what type of video card you have, if you plan on using it for an
extender server and if you plan on transcoding videos on the fly for
If you plan on only playing back media files, any modern dual core CPU
paired with a video card that decodes H.264 in hardware will work for
you. For more information, see Matt’s article on the basics of Video Card HD processing. Check his guide out before buying a vid card but you will find that the most recent generation of video cards fully decode most formats without using the CPU.
If your box is going to be a multi-tasking monster and perform other
tasks watching media files, I would recommend a higher-end dual core
CPU or faster quad CPU. The Network Topology section will describe more
of what you might expect in a whole-home Media Center setup.
For what its worth, my recommendation for the sweet spot is a 4550.
Here is a quick summary of the tuners available.
Analog TV cards – These cards are able to tune standard
defintion signals such as an s-video output from a cable box or
satellite box, or they can tune analog cable with the onboard tuner.
Combo tuner cards – These cards have an analog tuner and digital
tuner. You are able to use each tuner independently of one another. The
digital tuner is able to tune QAM and ATSC (broadcast digital TV)
Hybrid tuner cards – These cards have an analog and digital
tuner. However, you can only use one tuner at a time. They are
typically lower in price than combo cards.
Digital tuner cards – More recently companies are releasing dual
tuner cards that have two digital tuners onboard. These will work with
QAM signals and ATSC (broadcast digital TV).
HD PVR -Hauppauge’s HD PVR, see review here, is able to encode
high definition output via component cables to H.264. This allows you
to use a set top box to view high definition content from any source
that has component out.
CableCard Tuners – Exclusive to OEM machines sporting Vista
Media Center, CableCards tuners llow full tuning of all premium HD and
SD cable content minus the two way communication for PPV.
Assuming your HTPC will be a stand-alone component, simply pick a case
that looks good and is quiet. Alrighty, there is a little more than
that :). Here are a few things to consider.
- How quiet are the included fans?
- How is the airflow? Will it be sufficient to cool two tuner cards, multiple hard drives etc?
- Does it have enough hard drive space?
- Does it look good?
- Micro-atx versus full ATX
Here are a few of the well know vendors.
Memory is dirt cheap. Get as much as your OS and packetbook can afford.