My Setup

My Home Theatre setup is based largely on information I gleaned from the internet.  I am especially grateful to the members of AVSForum who so selflessly share the details of their setups and freely offer their advice.  This page is my (very) small way of giving back.  It exists here in a very rough first draft, but I really wanted to get something published.

Philosphy
I guess I should say right off the bat that I believe "you get what you pay for", and to do things right requires a willingness to pony up for good equipment.  Having said that, I do not believe you have to mortgage your house to put together a home theatre that would satisfy the vast majority of people.  Second, I am a firm believer in building your own equipment where it makes sense from an economic and practical point of view.  For example, I am not a speaker designer, and would never pretend that I could build a set of speakers that performed any better, for any less money, than a moderately priced set of  'off the shelf' speakers.  I am, however, an avid computer builder, and relished the idea of assembling my own HTPC from custom selected components to achieve the perfect balance of cost, performance, and quietness.

HTPC:

Mobo: Basic no frills ABIT which really only had four requirements
1) Fanless Northbridge chipset
2) PCI express slot for video
3) SPDIF output built in
4) would fit my HTPC case

Video card: Basic mid priced card will do fine, here were my requirements:
1) Fanless design - quiet!
2) hardward DVD decoding - to take the load off the CPU
3) DVI output- to mate to my projector

Monitor:  Besides the projector for movies, I elected to go with a computer monitor for basic setup needs and for when I simply wanted to use my HTPC to stream ITunes off the internet.  I am especially proud of this component which I stumbled across on ebay.  It is a compact VGA monitor designed to install in a car.  The form factor just begged to be incorporated into my component rack (the now-famous 'flexi rack') which I did by extending the top-most shelf about 4 inches back past the all-thread rods the pictures below show this pretty well.

CPU: I went with mid-level AMD chip.

Memory:  Again, middle of the road here with 1/2 gig.

DVD player:  An 'everything in one' model from LiteOn... cheap drives that seem to have a cult following among computer nerds.

Power supply:  A 300w model would do fine... a 500w model would be underworked, resulting in less heat build up.  Pick a model with a thermally controlled fan.  I implemented a trick inside the power supply to help control fan noise by unglueing the thermistor from the heatsink and routing the air more efficiently over the heatsinks inside.  This quieted the power supply down considerably and does not seem to have hurt the power supply.  (yet?)

STEREO:

I ended up spending a bit more than I planned but I am very happy with the result.  I chose the Yamaha HTR-5890.  My favorite part of this thing is the automatic speaker calibration with the included microphone.  The setup could not have been easier.

Connections:
Stereo -> HTPC
The number of connections between the Stereo and HTPC seemed daunting when I started the research process, but then I learned about the SPDIF connector which basically allowed me to send every channel of sound over a single fiber optic cable to the stereo.  The ABIT mobo came with some software that basically allows me to route the raw dolby encoded bit stream from the DVD directly to the Stereo, which then takes on the responsibility of decoding the audio and sending each channel of sound to their respective speakers.   I felt this was a better approach than allowing the decoding to occur on the computer motherboard using it's own dodgy audio chip set.

HTPC -> Projector
My HTPC has a NVIDIA 6200 graphics card with passively cooled chipset and onboard DVD decoder.  The output is via DVI connector to my Optoma projector.  I chose this particular projector because it had these critical attributes:
1) It had a DVI input which I feel is far superior to any analog solution (placing more of the onus on the video card's ability to render the image)
2) The DLP chip is natively 720p (1280 x 720)
3) The chip is WXGA or 'Wide XGA', meaning when every pixel is lit, the output has a 16:9 ratio.  This is a very important distinction, since many projector manufactures will quote a chip resolution of 1280 x 720, leading the average consumer to believe they are getting a 720p output.  The reality however is that in a plain old XGA implementation, when every pixel is lit, the output has a 4:3 ratio.  So buyer beware.
What does this all mean?  When I set the HTPC to output a 720p video signal, there is a pixel-for-pixel relationship between the computer signal and the projectors DLP chip, giving me absolute control (from the PC) over what is projected on screen without worrying about what sort of scaling the projector is going to try and do.

Enough talk, lets see a few pictures:

Here is the complete component rack in my (unfinished) basement.  Flexi Rack construction was pretty standard with the exception of using 4 all thread rods instead of 3.  The shelves are 1/2" plywood painted flat black with a fast drying Rustolium brand paint.  The HTPC is on the bottom rack and is housed in a SilverStone HTPC case;  this particular case has an exceptionally clean front panel, with only a door for the DVD drive.  I was a sucker for the bright blue power light too.  Above this is the Yamaha stereo, with plenty of clearance above it for good airflow.  I jammed a few of my favorite DVD's on the next shelf just because I thought it looked nice... it is actually a pain trying to keep these lined up.  The mouse is a wireless Logitech MediaPlay, which turned out to interface nicely with my DVD software (Power DVD, the free version that came with the DVD drive).  I can hold it just like a TV remote and control all the usual functions of the DVD.  The keyboard was the simplest most compact design I could find, which also turned out to be the cheapest (always a nice feature of computer equipment).  The monitor is the car-computer monitor I mentioned earlier.  When deployed it does a fine job of allowing me to navigate the PC to do basic maintenance, and run ITunes.  The following pictures show a bit more detail on this.

For wire routing I simply sent each cable to it's closest all-thread leg and wrapped it with velcro cable ties.  Because my PC to Stereo audio connection consists of exactly one cable (the SPDIF cable), the wiring layout is very managable.


























Below is a closeup of the keyboard, mouse and monitor.  I really love this monitor!  The documentation was a bit dodgy on specs but it appears to be 800 x 600 resolution.  You can't tell here, but the text is perfectly readable.  In it's stowed position, you might not even realize there was a monitor there.