As I mentioned in my last post, I now have a Home Theater PC (HTPC). Want to look under the hood?
- Shuttle X27D, with an Intel Atom 330 dual-core 1.6 GHz low-power CPU, an Intel 945G graphics processor, and a single 2GB RAM module. This unit has DVI and VGA video ports, both capable of resolutions up to 2560×1600, but only in mirrored mode (no dual monitor support). I’m pretty happy with it, but the GPU can’t really handle 720p or 1080p at 24 frames video reliably. If I had this to do over again, the reviews suggest the Dell Studio Hybrid would have been a better choice. However, I don’t know if it is as quiet as the Shuttle, and it costs £100 more.
- Seagate 320GB 7200RPM 2.5″ SATA hard drive. That’s plenty of room for music, 480p video, and video games (MAME, NES, SNES). Go bigger if you plan to archive higher resolution video. I tend not to keep shows once I watch them.
- DVD+-RW Multirecorder. More than I need, really. I just want to watch my DVDs, and rip them to local video files for “Saturday morning cartoon”-style shuffling.
- Keysonic Compact Wireless Keyboard with Integrated Touch Pad. All around a good product, and pleasingly small. I do not want a monster keyboard lying around my living room, nor anything with wires, nor a remote control. So this is pretty good. However, it supports only single-touch tapping (no two/three-finger tapping for middle/right click), and pressing both buttons together does not produce middle-click. Warning: this keyboard uses 2.4 GHz. Sniffing with Wi-Spy shows it communicates at 2422 MHz, which is WLAN channel 3. I moved my WLAN to channel 11 to avoid issues, but when I’m copying large amounts of data the keyboard still stutters a little. Not often a problem, but annoying. Also, wireless keyboards are not secure (except bluetooth keyboards, which suck for other reasons). Someone with an antenna and custom software can read what a user is typing from a distance. So don’t use this keyboard for Internet banking.
- Panasonic TX-37LZD70 37″ LCD HDTV. I bought this last year planning to use it for this purpose, so it supports 1080p video via HDMI. It has excellent picture quality and good sound. But much to my annoyance, it refuses to believe that I don’t have a TV signal and never want one. It starts in TV mode even when the PC is operating, and I always have to change inputs after turning it on. It also waits somewhere between 20 and 60 minutes to shut off when no signal is detected (I’ve never timed it). Dear TV makers: please sack your TV development teams and replace them with your PC monitor development teams. Then instruct them to stop re-implementing the same crappy menu interface from 1992. Thank you.
- Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex 32-bit. I wanted the simpler and faster Gnome interface rather than KDE, because KDE encourages me to customise and play. And I just want an HTPC, not a general purpose device. Despite my efforts at making 1080p video work, I tend to run at 720p so the interface is readable from my couch 3 meters back.
- Miro 2.0.4, using the Miro APT repository for automatic updates. Miro is awesome. Miro downloads all my favourite shows and organises them in neat little menus. The interface isn’t suited to a simple remote-control interface, so expect to have a mouse or touchpad handy.
- tvrss.net to supply RSS feeds to torrents of my favourite shows.
- Elisa, a remote-control friendly media center interface. It’s a bit buggy and slow to index content, but it sure is pretty. It’s easy to get Elisa to play Miro’s video content. However, it needs some work before I’m ready to use it full time. Most notably the DVD interface is quite bad (probably based on gstreamer, which itself has terrible DVD support).
- Kaffeine for playing DVDs. I’ve tried Totem (gstreamer and xine), xine-ui, and VLC. Kaffeine is the only one I have found with decent full-screen mode controls, DVD menu support, and which totally ignores stupid “this button is disabled” restrictions during playback. I’ve configured it to launch automatically when DVDs are inserted.
- Amarok 1.4.10 for playing music. All the other software on this list can play music too, but it is hard to beat Amarok’s support for static and dynamic playlists, streaming audio, and ability to quickly parse my 110 GB music collection.
I named it gozer, and put a small name label over the irritating blue LED on the faceplate. It illuminates the “o” perfectly. Gozer the Gozerian, Gozer the Destructor, Vulguus Sil Drohar, Lord of the Trebulian, The Traveller has come!