First, its appearance as PC in livingroom should not scares family member, that’s why it should be able to accomodate any entertainment needs by its easy operation.
Second, it should be interconnected with existing devices, such as LCD TV, legacy 5.1 surround system, and other PC.
Third, as PC it should not add noise especially from its fan.
My choice on Biostar TA-690G answers the connectivity requirement, it has integrated ATI X1250 graphic with native HDMI port as well as DVI, coaxial and component output, although not a powerful graphic card, just more than enough for mpeg decoding encoding activity. For audio output digital (SPDIF) and 7.1 analog audio output provided by Realtek ALC 888 added with AMD AM2 4000+ Mhz and 2 Gb of ram just suite my need.
It’s really hard to find a small desktop form factor PC case because most of PC case manufacturer tend to sell tower or mini tower form factor which I don’t think it will look nice sitting nearby other livingroom systems, but there are some HTPC cases specialist sells on quite high price, I was spending 3 month to find the right PC case before finally I decided to use Simbadda CX-10, a mini-atx form factor just nice for the momment, when the first time I switched-on the system, sound from its PSU fan just like a tornado inside the case and later I decided to change stock PSU with Silverstone 500 watt cooled by 120mm fan reducing the noise and giving more pure power to the system.
After the ground sets, its time to plug TV card on top of it. I was thinking that any TV card will do the job so I bought cheap Pixelview PlayTV, but then I just realized I need a compatible remote control and receiver to extend the signal command to my digital sattelite receiver and this TV tuner did not provide IR emitter, other than that this TV card using software based mpeg-2 encoder which resulting stuttery picture when playing Live TV, well its time to go shop for another TV card. After more reading on internet and checking here and there finally I found Hauppauge PVR-150 MCE comes with 1 IR receiver, 1 IR emitter and MCE compatible remote control for a reasonable price.
It’s time to burn and test for real world, all features (Live TV, TV Recording, FM Radio, DVD, Pictures, Music) are working as expected, media center interface is very user friendly and easy to operate even for my 5 years old nephew, although there are some comments against its horizontal layout compared to previous XP MCE 2005, the only thing I missed is the EPG, but its due to my location in Indonesia no EPG provided, although there are external EPG generator from TVXB which theoritically should help, no one provided centralized EPG in Indonesia.
During long run test, I found the quality of Live TV degrade, I think this is because it’s integrated graphic card getting hot and causing mild stuttery picture, however since only me that aware of this problem, adding external graphic card considered as low priority.
All sets ??? No no not really, I need to connect media center audio output to my 5.1 Pioneer receiver for DTS and DD play back, again I found something unpleasant, motherboard only provide SPDIF header o bracket included so I can’t connect to my receiver using optical gossh! it’s a simple thing but really hard to get in the market, after googling here and there for 2 month finally I can get it from a shop in Medan and ship it to Jakarta, kind of funny huh…
Plug and play and solved…nope! Another problem arose, I could not send simultaneous audio output to digital and analog output device, its totally crazy knowing this problem after all the pain finding SPDIF bracket. Googling arround and found an answer for Realtek audio chipset from this site, I still have chance for simultaneously outputing sound by copying rthkdaud.dat to c:\windows\system32\drivers, hurrayy…. both PC speaker and my receiver outputing audio!! but wait…wait lets try to play DTS and DD…shuuut! It doesn’t send DTS/DD signal out to my receiver and only receive downstreamed 2-channels audio, when I switch audio output to digital, DTS and DD received correctly by my receiver but my PC speaker just don’t work, finally the conclussion is Windows Vista Media Center will not outputing sounds simultaneously to analog and digitial due to removal of audio hardware abstraction layer in Vista, it’s not hardware problem, its Vista’s design…aaaarrrgh, why MS dictate how people going to use the sound output device on their PC, gosh….