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
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
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...
drives that seem to have a cult following among computer nerds.
Power supply: A 300w model would do fine... a 500w model
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?)
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:
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.