June 4, 2005

MSI is still out there pitching in the “just how big is this market, anyway?” small form factor home theater PC niche.

eHomeUpgrade has the scoop on their latest effort, the “MEGA PC 915” direct from Computex 2005.

New-to-the-line features include Instant-On and PCI-Express video support.

Direct from MSI at Computex 2005: “You will find a lot of improved features like Instant-On mode for direct DVD/VCD/CD/MP3/FM/TV playback. No need to boot the system into Windows and you can enjoy video or audio entertainment in a jiffy with a press of your remote control. Based on Intel 915G chipset, MEGA PC 915 supports the latest Intel Pentium 4 Prescott (LGA755) CPU that offers higher computing performance. It also supports the PCI-Express x 16 so that users can easily upgrade the graphics performance by simply installing high-end graphics card.

With Shuttle getting into the HTPC market lately, they’d better hurry if they want to capture any significant numbers here…

HTPC Frontend Comparisons

June 4, 2005

Eirik Solheim has put up a mini-roundup of his experiences with several different Home Theater front-end programs.

He discusses ShowShifter, MyHTPC/Meedio, SnapStream PVS/Beyond TV, and MCE 2005.

His conclusions are that (although you leave aside some bells and whistles), MCE is the simplist way to get a reasonably great front-end experience.

I went down a rather similar path myself — I ran ShowShifter for quite awhile. Although I never really used its PVR functionality, I used its Live TV to front-end a Tivo, and to integrate watching that with the ability to play DVDs and get to my (rather extensive) collection of digital video.
Read more

GTR B-01 – Cheap HTPC Case Review

May 22, 2005

Dan’s Data has a detailed review of the GTR B-01 HTPC case, and Dan’s fairly impressed.

The GTR B-01 case supports a MicroATX motherboard, has a wide aray of front-panel connectors, a backlit front panel display, passable looks and sells for $115 Australian (about $90 US.)

If your HTPC must be a thing of beauty replete with RAID arrays and multiple tuner cards, then the GTR B-01 just won’t have enough room for the gear you need, much less achieve the requisite ooh-ah factor.

For most HTPC purposes, though, the B-01 will cut the mustard. You can take the cheap way out and use a MicroATX board with integrated everything, or you can install your own selection of graphics, sound and tuner cards, and be confident that the PSU won’t scream and explode. And three 3.5 inch bays give you room for a moderately ludicrous amount of local storage; “300Gb” drives are mainstream now, so it’d be no biggie to pack in around 840Gb of formatted space.

Shuttle HTPC – The XPC SB83G5M

May 14, 2005

As much as I love small form factor (SFF) boxes (at last count, I’ve got 4 of them around the house, three Shuttles and a Biostar), they’ve never seemed terribly practical for HTPC use.

The problem isn’t horsepower, it’s expandability — you typically have one video card slot, and one PCI slot. Once you drop a tuner in there, you’re saying you’re going to live without ever adding another tuner card, a better sound card, etc. Even a MicroATX motherboard gives you more breathing room, with three PCI slots.

Maybe it’s not so bad, though. With dual tuner cards (guess you won’t be adding an HD tuner to that), and decent motherboard audio, it could be fairly survivable.

Apparently Shuttle thinks so too — they’ve now brought out a box (either barebones, or fully built up running Windows MCE 2005) designed to appeal to the HTPC enthusiast.
Read more

DIY Linux HDTV – Pack a Lunch

May 11, 2005

Extremetech has yet another good do-it-yourself article, this time on building a Linux HTPC, part 4 of their “Microsoft-Free Home” series.

I was secretly pleased to see that they didn’t find this an easy task — trying to get MythTV or KnoppMyth running exceeded my pain threshold a few months ago.

They’re nice enough to warn you about this early on –

Before you embark on trying to build a Linux-based Home Theater PC (HTPC), you have to ask yourself a question: “How much time do I have to dedicate to bringing up a Linux-based HTPC?” If the answer is “not much,” then a Linux-based HTPC is probably not something you should build. Assembling the hardware is pretty easy, and the physical assembly process takes a half-hour to 45 minutes. Installing the OS can be a very straightforward affair as well. But installing extra drivers as well as installing and configuring a PVR media application (and its required packages) are not trivial tasks, and the road ahead is laced with hidden potholes.

Basically, it comes down to “what’s your time worth?” — the same hardware plus a couple of hundred dollars worth of software can have you running you running SageTV, BeyondTV or MCE on Windows XP in an hour or two.

On the other hand, if you’re a rabid anti-Microsoft type (personally, I don’t care about running Windows on my TVs, as long as it isn’t on my desktop) and have ninja-like Linux skills or time to kill, then this may be the project for you.