How to design and build your own HTPC., Newbie Guide to the HTPC


DTVUSA Jr. Member
So you have decided to build a PC for your home theater system, but you do not know where to begin. This guide is designed to teach you the basics of how to design and build an HTPC. We do not get too in depth, this is only to provide a very general overview.

The home theater system of today is smaller and cheaper than ever before. What used to cost thousands can now be had at a fraction of the cost. Low priced electronics have made it economical for people to place a dedicated computer within their home theater to perform a variety of tasks.

The first step in designing your HTPC is to consider how you are going to use it within your home theater. Typically, people want to use their HTPC for storing music, recording video as a PVR and to play DVD movies. Home theater gaming is also becoming more popular, so high end 3D graphics acceleration could be a valid consideration as well.

Once you have identified the basic role of your HTPC, the next step is to figure out how to fit it into your home theater setup. You need to find a suitable HTPC case to house the components.

The qualities you should look for in an HTPC case are style, size and capacity. Style is optional, however we highly recommend choosing an HTPC case that does not clash with your home theater design. The size and capacity of the HTPC case is important because it needs to fit alongside your existing home theater components, but it also needs to have enough space for adequate expansion and air circulation.

After you select an ideal HTPC case, the next order of business is finding the actual computer hardware to assemble your HTPC. If you primarily intend to use your HTPC for watching movies and as a digital video recorder, focus on finding a large hard drive and a video card with inputs.

You may also elect to use a video card along with a video capture card. The ATI Radeon All in Wonder series of cards offers a multitude of features for recording video, and provide adequate 3D processing capability. The hard drive in your HTPC should be no less than 120 GB in size. This will ensure that you have a decent amount of storage for video.

Once you have these two components selected, you need to choose a motherboard and CPU. Unless you plan on using your HTPC for gaming, consider using older CPUs. Not only will they cost less, they produce less heat. Reducing heat is essential if you want a quiet HTPC. The high performance CPUs of the present are generally noisy, and can in many cases be overkill.

Now that you have the core of your HTPC components selected, feel free to add on optional components to suit your tastes. Some popular components include a WiFi network adapter, HDTV Tuner and Remote Control.

Adding a WiFi card to your HTPC will give you a wireless home theater. You will have the ability to send data to and from your HTPC without connecting any cables. This is ideal for streaming music and videos from other computers in your home, or from the internet. Keep in mind that a WiFi network requires a Wireless Access Point, and that each computer you want to connect to your wireless network requires its own WiFi card.

HDTV is the up and coming digital video format, offering dramatically higher resolutions and improved color for an ultra-realistic experience. Adding an HDTV Tuner card to your HTPC will allow you to enjoy high definition television broadcast. Some HDTV Tuner cards offer a recording capability, which means you gain TiVo-like functions for high definition video.

A remote control should be standard for any HTPC; however you may also use a wireless mouse and keyboard combination. A remote will allow you to control your HTPC as you would any other component. They typically plug into your USB port, and include the software required to operate your HTPC.

As home theater technology makes the transition into the new millennium, expect to see more innovations in the HTPC and home theater computing segments. Home Theater is becoming Home Entertainment, which includes interactive video games, music and internet all in one place, in addition to movies. We hope this guide gives you a nudge in the right direction, helping you to build a great HTPC.