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HTPC-NG

HTPC = Home Theater Personal Computer

NG = Next Generation.

But, I’ve used the NG moniker for the second time, but whats after next gen? Voyager? I’m not that dedicated to Star Trek so it stays at next gen.

Some number of months ago I was tired of the loud cpu cooling fan, so I went the way of water cooling. It’s been pretty nice, you can still hear the water pump but at least when the processor is pegged the cpu fan doesn’t spin up to 5000 rpm’s and drown out the audio. Things were fine until I got the itch to upgrade again. This time, for better HD playback.

Before I lay down some hard earned cash on a HD DVD player though, I wanted to get a hold of a real HD movie. I’ve managed to get a few by now, and up until this weekend they were un-watchable. For two reasons, 1) my htpc (and desktop for that matter) lacked the processing power to play back VC-1 HD DVDs and 2) The shitty DRM system of AACS and HDCP. So I needed a HDCP compliant monitor (which I have, my samsung HL-R5067W ) and a HDCP compliant video card. All of this required a complete upgrade, because the only available HDCP (and HDMI out) compliant cards on the market are pci-e cards, and my current system was a old AMD board with agp.

So this is what I got:

CPU: Intel Pentium D 930 3.0GHz, 4MB L2 Cache

RAM: 1GB of 4200 DDR2

Motherboard: Asus P5N-E SLI

Video Card: eVGA Geforce 7300 HDMI out

That was the new stuff, I re-used:

Sound Card: X-Mystique 7.1, it does Dolby Digital Live encoding

Tuner: Dvico Fusion 5 Lite HDTV Tuner

I also had to get a new water block for the cpu, and changing out the water block means I have to drain the lines, and then fill the lines back up so the pump does its job. This is a lot harder than you think. It took about 20 minutes of fiddling and rotating my make shift external water station to get the water lines filled with the coolant.

After I got Windows XP installed ( I was tinkering with Vista, but so far I still dislike it), patched, updated… it BSOD in the middle of applying a few patches from Windows Update and failed to boot up properly. So, back to the re-install, but this time I used nLite to create a custom XP boot CD with SP2 slipstreamed and most of my drivers integrated as well. The un-attended install of XP took 20 minutes from start to finish. Very nice. I got the appropriate codecs installed, and setup Media Portal as my media front end and time shifting application.

Finally, after all that, I loaded up Batman Begins (HD DVD source). It was almost midnight by then, but the first few minutes of the movie look fantastic. Really sharp and the playback was smooth, so that makes me happy with the end results.