About 2 months ago, I decided to take it on to myself to build the ultimate Media Center PC setup. As many of you know, I am a huge movie/film buff. My massive DVD collection currently stands at about 400 DVD’s. In an attempt simply my living room, I decided to build a home theater PC that would allow me to rip my entire DVD collection to a series of hard drives and easily control everything with a remote control from the comfort of my couch.
In this first post, I will briefly introduce you to the hardware and the software I have used to build my home theater PC. I will review all aspects of my home theater PC in greater detail with a series of posts over the next few weeks.
For about a week, I researched different home theater PC options. I looked into PC’s, Mac’s, and the possibility of building my own machine. After much thought and research, I decided the best solution was a top of the line Mac Mini. I purchased the 2.53 GHz – 4GB – 320GB HDD Mac Mini from Amazon for $769.89.
You can purchase the Mac Mini for $777.17 on Amazon.
Aside from the computer, I needed a few extra items to really maximize the potential of my home theater computer. For storage, I decided to purchase a Drobo S. For those of you that don’t know, a Drobo is a box that contains multiple hard drive bays. You can insert different size/brands of hard drives into the Drobo and it will spread your data across the various drives. Ultimately what this means, is if a drive in your Drobo fails, you simply take that drive out of the Drobo and put in a new one, and no data will be lost. For TV viewing, I decided to checkout the Elgato Eye TV Hybrid. This is a USB TV turner that allows you to plug a cable or TV antenna wire into your computer. To control everything, I decided to go with the beautiful and incredibly functional Logitech Harmony One remote control.
You can purchase the Drobo S for $637.71 on Amazon.
You can purchase the EyeTV Hybrid for $134.90 on Amazon.
You can purchase the Harmony One Remote for $177.91 on Amazon.
One of the reasons I decided to go with a Mac instead of a PC was the availability of amazing home theater geared software. For playing my ripped DVD’s and other content on my Drobo S I decided to go with an application called Plex. Plex is a wonderful application that takes your content, organizes it into a nice “remote friendly” interface, and ever downloads movie posters, synopsis information, cast and crew information and fanart (menu background images associated with that film). It works with Movies, TV Shows, and Music. It also offers a library of handy plugins to help you easily access content from Hulu and Netflix.
While Plex does offer plugins for internet content, I decided to go with the increasingly popular Boxee for my online content. Boxee is a great application that organizes all of the popular online video content into an easy “remote friendly” interface. What I love about Boxee, is you can access the most popular TV Shows from across the web from inside the Boxee interface, no need to browse to 10 different websites to get your content. Some of the content available includes Hulu, NBC, ABC, Netflix, MLB, YouTube, and even Pandora.
For watching live TV, I opted to go with the Elgato Eye TV Hybrid and the Eye TV 3 software. The Eye TV software works with EyeTV hardware to bring live TV to your Mac. You can browse through channel guides from TV Guide, setup shows to record, manage reoccurring season recordings, and of course watch live TV and channel surf like on your normal cable box.
Now, I have all this great software, how am I controlling it all? I could just use my wonderful Apple remote, but that is a bit to simple for me. I didn’t want to have a different remote for my media center, my TV, and my surround sound system. I opted to go with a Logitech Harmony One remote and the amazing Remote Buddy software from IOSPiRIT. Essentially, what Remote Buddy does, is it allows you to control almost any aspect of your computer from a remote control. You can launch applications, change control panel settings, do program specific activities, and even write custom Applescripts to accomplish almost anything. Most opt to go with the simple setup and use the Remote Buddy menu to accomplish mosts tasks. Being the hardcore geek that I am, I opted to get into the more advanced functionality of Remote Buddy. I will do a full post on my Remote Buddy setup in the near future.
The information above, is just a glimpse of what is to come. I am going to walk you through my setup, in great detail, over the next couple of weeks. Some of the information I am going to go into greater detail about, is formal reviews of all of the software and hardware above, how everything is connected, and some of the more advanced geeky customizations I have made. Be sure to subscribe to my RSS feed, so you don’t miss out on any of this series of posts.
* The prices above are what the various products cost at the time this post. Some of them may change by the time you are reading this.
If you have any specific questions you would like me to answer about my setup, please ask them in the comments section below. I will try to answer all of your questions as I write the more detailed posts. When I answer a question, I will reply letting you know that I answered it, and will link you to where you can find the answer.