Project: Media System

A few months ago we started researching HTPC’s. Now we know what you’re thinking.. what the heck is a HTPC? Here’s a description in a nutshell:

Some people use a computer connected to their TV to play video, music and display pictures. Now, most computers and laptops are fairly large in comparison to the regular stereo and video equipment, such as DVD and Blu-Ray players. Why do it? Some people have many thousands of hours of video, music and pictures saved on their home computers. There are several ways to display this content on the family tv, but the easiest is to have the computer directly connected. What a Home Theatre Personal Computer does is simplify this process by providing the content directly to the TV through the person’s home network.

There are many models of them out there, from the full size computer to a laptop doing the work. Digital media is the way consumers are moving, and the ability to pick up a remote control and browse all your movies collection on the screen, then press a button to play, pause, rewind, etc. is a big draw.

What we have been researching is a smaller model of the PC, something more along the lines of a DVD size computer. Here’s some of the results:

Mini-ITX computers are fairly new to the market. They don’t have a lot of penetration to the general consumer and tend to be used by hobbyists or specialists for one-of uses. We chose the Zotac ION motherboard as it incorporates a good processor and a top of the line graphics card. It’s got an HDMI port and optical audio connection for high quality video and audio. This means you can plug it into your existing TV an stereo systems with no special connectors.

With no fan, the system is totally silent. One drawback is to keep it cool enough to run there are a multitude of vent holes across the entire case. If they are covered, it may cause a heat build up that would degrade performance.

For software, we looked for something that wouldn’t increase the cost of the unit. Linux is a free operating system that has several bonuses to it. First and foremost, it’s free! Next on the list is the size, at less than a gigabyte with the media playing software, it can easily reside on a usb thumb drive.

There are several media playing software packages on the internet. All of them are good, and have great qualities about them. For this project I chose XBMC.

Everything seems to be working with a single exception: We can’t get the HTPC to connect to any Microsoft Windows 7 computers. Ubuntu (linux) and Windows XP or Vista all work. A little research on my part finds that We’re not the only people with the same trouble. It seems that either an update done to the XBMC software or one that Microsoft made has broken the connection. While we’re pretty good with the software, there are better programmers and software engineers than us!

Currently, this project is on hold. As soon as the issue with the connection to Windows 7 machines has been resolved, we’ll begin development of the HTPC again. If anyone has a solution to our trouble, please give us a heads up!

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