Upgrading to a new Media Center PC – Part 3, The Setup

Here’s the specs and comparison of my old and new HTPC.  After this I’ll list the rest of my setup.

new htpc vs old htpc

Old HTPC: Compac Presario model SR1834NX (full specs).  This computer had an AMD athalon 64 Processor and an aftermarket video card.

New HTPC: Acer model AX1420G-U5832.  This computer features an AMD Athalon II x4 quad core processor running at 3.1 GHz.  It also has a 1terabyte HDD and 4 Gigs of RAM.

Comparison: With a fresh Windows XP install and aftemarket video card, the original Compac PC performed well considering it’s age (over five years old).  However, it had problems decoding HD video correctly and significant artifacts were left on the screen during streaming.  This was especially evident during fast pans in the video.  The one advantage that it had over the new PC is the HDMI output from the aftermarket video card.  Although the VGA cable was used for the video, the HDMI cable was used for audio allowing more than two channels.

The new Acer AX14200-U5832 doesn’t have these decoding problems.  It plays streamed video almost flawlessly.  HD video stored locally is displayed without a problem as well.  The 1 Terabyte hard drive should be able to take care of my media storage needs for quite a while (should store around 3,000,000 MP3s or around 200 DVDs for example).  The new Acer PC was much smaller which was an advantage in this situation (around 12″ high x 18″ deep x 4″ wide by looking)

One disadvantage is that it doesn’t have a HDMI output, however, this can be fixed easily with an aftermarket video card.

the following is a diagram of how everything works together.  With almost any home theater setup, the AV receiver is the central hub of all audio and visual information.  Everything is described in detail after this diagram.

Home theatre PC layout

TV – Olivia 37″ LCD TV.  The makers of this particular TV are no longer in business, so I suppose they are now hard to find.

AV Receiver – Sony STR-DG720.  This receiver gets generally good reviews at this price point.  Capable of 7.1 sound and with all the inputs I needed, this is what I bought.  The Onkyo receivers in this price range generally get better reviews, but are somewhat more expensive.  It met my needs three years ago when I bought it.  At the time it seemed like it would have all the inputs I needed in the foreseeable future.  For now, I was right, but everything needs an upgrade eventually.

Speakers – ironically enough, a set of Onkyo 6.1 speakers that I bought off Craigslist for $75.  The guy I bought them from had all the speakers stacked around his TV, and it seemed like his wife was making him get rid of them.  I felt kind of bad taking such a nice set from him, but that’s the price he asked and I didn’t argue.

I only use five of these speakers and the subwoofer as the setup of our room doesn’t accommodate 6 very well.  Most movies are encoded in 5.1 anyway, very few in 6.1, so I don’t see a huge advantage in using the other speaker.  The back two are mounted to the ceiling (using CL2 cable to go inside the wall).  The center channel is inside the entertainment center that the TV stands on.  The left and right channels stand on floor mounts around 2 feet high.

Blu-ray player – I do have one of these, a Panasonic DMP-BD60.  Works well for my needs as my PC soesn’t have one, but I was disappointed when they decided not to do a firmware upgrade to allow Netflix.  With a computer, you’re not hostage to manufactures deciding to upgrade your unit or not.  My computer doesn’t have a blu ray drive, so this is a useful piece of equipment.

Universal remote controlLogitech Harmony 550.  This works much better than using several remote controls.  Also looks very good.  Highly recommended.  Only drawback is that sometimes it can get out of sync with your devices if the IR doesn’t pick up well.

Internet connection – AT&T “3.0” Mb/s service.  This is advertised as 3.0 Mb/s, but I generally get 1.6, or just over the minimum threshold.  “1.5” Mb/s worked for streaming as well even thought it was less than 1Mb/s in reality, but had a hard time with some content.  Although it’s discouraging that the service is not what is generally advertised, the price is right at $15/month for new subscribers.  Be prepared to call several times to make sure they’re charging you correctly.  They seem to have some issues.

Sony Playstation2 – This doesn’t get much use anymore.  I always felt they had great potential as MP3 players, or a simple Linux box, but unfortunatly, there doesn’t seem to be much software to accomplish either of these things. There’s better hardware out there, so there’s probably not a lot of motivation to mess with this hardware.

So that’s my setup.  Maybe that will give you some ideas when setting up your own system.  Getting a HTPC isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do, but it’s not too bad if you know where everything needs to connect.  Hopefully this helps.

[ad#Google Adsense-text leaderboard wide not home]If you didn’t see it before, check out Part 1 – “Why a PC for your TV?“, or Part 2 – “The Swap.”

  1. A thought. Does your TV have a digital audio out?

    I have my 360 and my htpc hooked up via HDMI to my tv, and then run one optical cable from my TV to my reciever. Any audio from any device connected to the tv is then sent through the receiver without any interaction on my part.

    • Thanks for the idea. Would be ideal especially since my receiver seems to miss signals from the remote often.

      Unfortunately, my TV only has one HDMI input!

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