Traditionally a home entertainment center is a cluttered mess of wires and various single-function devices. Television, VCR, DVD, CD, WebTV ®, PlayStation®, Game Cube®, Nintendo®, MP3 player, TiVo ® recorders, etc. All this takes up space. Most standard Personal Computers can perform all of the functions that the multitude of cluttered machines perform, and require just one device.

There are many reasons that it can be invaluable to use a PC as the heart of a home entertainment center. One is that hardware can be upgraded. Software can be updated. PCs can also be configured to do a limitless number of tasks. With the right configuration one can sit on their living room couch and pay the bills and play an online game, all while never getting out of their comfortable spot on the couch.

The first thing you need to build a Home Theater PC (HTPC) is a great 3D graphics card. The graphics card should be able to accept video inputs and outputs since this machine is going to be used for many functions. The most important thing is that the video card absolutely has to output HDTV signals. A good card is ATI’s All-in-Wonder 9800 Pro because it was pretty much the only card in the market that fulfilled the requirements without needing additional hardware when my reference source was written over a year ago, though I am sure there are more and better ones out now. The AIW 9800 Pro was built around the wonderfully amazing Radeon 9800 Pro 128 MB chipset. This provided enough gaming power to run even the most demanding games. Also, the AIW 9800 Pro provided a TV recording function, a remote control, HDTV output, and lots of video inputs.

The next major component needed for this HTCP is the hard drive. It is essential to have the fastest and biggest hard drive available because it will be used to record television. PC Enthusiast Magazine used The Maxtor DiamondMax9 250GB SATA hard drive for this project. It proved a lot of storage space and had a 7,200 rpm speed and 8MB of cache. This made it where there would be no glitches in their recording television.

Low fan noise is important in this system since the HTPC will be used to watch movies and TV programs. The magazine chose Intel’s Pentium 2.4C processor because it runs at manageable temperatures at an affordable price. They combined the 2.4C with the ASUS P4P800 Spingdale-based motherboard.

It is important to select quality dual-channel certified memory due to the fact that a dual-channel motherboard is being used. The Corsair’s 512MB TwinX4000 memory runs at 500MHz. This will make the system an overclocker’s dream come true.

Although the hard drive is large enough to hold about a weeks worth of TV shows, you may also want to have a way of archiving older shows. The pioneer A05 is just the ticket. It can burn DVDs at four speed and CDs at 16 speed. There are better, faster things out, as my source is a year old, but this is pretty cheap now.

For sound, the M-Audio Revolution 7.1 will perform the chores nicely. This offers a 24-bit, 192 kHZ output. This is appreciated when watching movies on DVD. This supports Sensaura, EAX, D3D, and A3D for gaming but the lack of EAX-HD is a small turnoff. The tradeoff between EAX-HD support is difficult but most older games don’t yet support EAX-HD.

A wireless solution is wanted for input devices. Logitceh’s MX Duo is a good choice. It includes a wireless Elite keyboard and the MX700 mouse, which has won awards. It is the only wireless mouse recommended by PC Enthusiast Magazine for use with 3D games. Another great thing about the MX700 is the ability to recharge using the base station.

The last thing needed to be decided on is a case to house the HTPC. This is totally personal preference . The magazine chose a sleek aluminum case made by Ahanix. The d.Vine5. It is made to look like standard home theater equipment. The only bays needed here are one for the hard drive and one for the optical drive. The fact that extra bays are lacking on this particular case is not an issue.

Now that all the parts are decided upon one must actually assemble it all into a working HTPC.

The first step is mounting the CPU and memory. The usual high-octane aftermarket fan was not used due to noise levels but the stock Intel fan serves the needs for this system fine. Once the CPU is mounted correctly the CPU fan can be clamped down after spreading a bit of Artic Silver III. Plugging in the fan’s power connector on the motherboard is the next step. After that the memory needs to be installed onto slots one and three. These are color-coded and allows the board to run dual-channel memory.

Now the motherboard and PSU must be installed. The motherboard is placed into the case and screwed down once the CPU and memory have been mounted. Although the d.Vine5 case fits regular sized motherboards, it is unusual in that it requires a micro-ATX power supply. A 230W micro-ATX PSU is a good choice here. It provides enough juice to all components but probably knocks out the overclocking.

Once those are installed the DVD and hard drive must be installed. First the drive bay must be removed from the case. Then both the DiamondMax9 and A05 are screwed into the drive bay. The stock face plates are removed and an aluminum one is attached to match the case. The drive bay is then put back into the case and screwed down.

The video and sound cards are the next start. The video card is very easy to install. Just pull back the AGP lock, slide in the AIQ, and lock it back in place. Then it needs to be screwed down. The case chosen didn’t come with any thumb screws which is pretty much standard on high-end cases nowadays. The next step is installing the Revolution 7.1 into one of the available PCI slots.

Now that all the components are installed the next step is hooking up all the cables. First connect the IDE cable for the AO5. Next connect the SATA cable for the Diamond Max9 hard drive. SATA cable connectors are “L” shaped. This makes connecting the hard drive pretty easy. After that connect the power switch, reset, HD LED, and power LED cables. Lastly, connect all the power connectors. Since the Maxtor drive has both standard and molex and SATA power connectors it was decided in this case not to use the power adapter provided by SATA.

Now the internal work is completed, so the case needs to be closed up. Put the top on and screw it in. Now you can crack open the MX Duo, plug it into an open USB port and to the power outlet. The batteries for both the mouse and keyboard should have been included.

Now it’s ready to be hooked up to your HDTV. Pure awesomeness is the clarity and now its something you can show off. The TV recorder, powered by ATI’s EazyLook interface is nice for TV viewing. The live TV function is great fun and works like a charm. The final step is throwing out all those old single-function devices that have been cluttering up your home, or better yet sell them on Ebay to pay for all the pieces of your new entertainment center.

PC Enthusiast Magazine, September 2003