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Do-It-Yourself Guide: Building a Home Theatre PC / HTPC

Do-It-Yourself Guide: Building a Home Theatre PC / HTPC - PCSTATS
Abstract: Computers are a perfect fit for the entertainment room, and building a home theatre PC is not more difficult than assembling a standard system - as long as you have the right components for the task.
Filed under: Beginners Guides Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: PCSTATS Jan 20 2006   Mike Dowler  
Home > Reviews > Beginners Guides > PCSTATS DIY Guide

Connecting the Television signal to the TV-tuner

Depending on which inputs your TV-tuner will accept and which outputs your set-top box or cable connection offers, simply connect the appropriate cable to the TV-tuner card. Remember that S-video offers better picture quality than composite connections. If you have basic (analog) cable, you can connect the coaxial cable that carries it directly to your TV-tuner.

Playing back digital media with the HTPC

Windows XP comes with a capable media player included with it, so technically you don't need any other software to begin playing back DVDs, audio and video files on your new HTPC. Since most TV tuner cards come with remote controls though, and since these remotes usually work only with the software bundled with the TV-tuner, it's best to use the bundled applications to play back your files.

In our case, the Powercolor Theatre 550 Pro shipped with a copy of Cyberlink's PowerCinema software, which includes full DVD, video and audio playback functionality as well as some PVR options (but not program scheduling). For a more in-depth look at this software, see our review of the Theatre 550 Pro card here.

Controlling a Satellite or digital cable feed with a TV-tuner

Most TV-tuner cards, including the ATI Theatre 550 PRO we used in this article, will give you full channel control with basic (analog) cable feeds as well as broadcast TV. Where things get difficult is with the set-top TV decoders that come with most satellite and digital cable services. While they can receive television signals from them, there's no way for most TV tuner cards to change channels on one of these devices. You will need to use your set-top box's remote for that.

There is a way around this annoying limitation, but it requires extra equipment. Infrared USB devices are available which can be programmed with your set-top box's control codes. The device then acts as a relay between your HTPC and the TV decoder, so that when you change channels on your HTPC, the IR device sends the channel change signal to the set-top box.

Unfortunately these devices are usually specific to individual multimedia software packages. For example, a similar IR device is included with licensed Windows XP media centre 2005 PCs.

Home multimedia software: recording and scheduling live TV

One of the best uses for a TV-tuner card-equipped HTPC is as a PVR (personal video recorder). By running your TV feed through the computer, you can record the signal onto your hard drive for later viewing, and also pause, rewind (and fast-forward after the fact) through live TV broadcasts. The TV-tuner accomplishes this by streaming the TV signal directly onto your hard drive in real-time, then displaying the recorded signal on your TV or monitor. Since the image you are viewing is coming from the HTPC, you are free to pause or rewind it while the TV-tuner continues to record the original signal in the background. This does lead to some picture quality degradation though, as the data is compressed as it is recorded to the hard drive.

If you want your HTPC to truly function as a PVR device like the (in)famous TiVo, you will need some form of TV scheduling/recording software, preferably with an integrated electronic programming guide (EPG) that allows you to view upcoming shows and schedule recordings.

Generally, these programs come as an all-in-one package like the PowerCinema software that was included with the Powercolor Theatre 550 TV tuner card PCstats used for this article. It's worth noting that PowerCinema does not include an electronic programming guide, so it's not the best choice if you want full digital recording functionality. Software packages you might want to look at include Windows XP Media Centre 2005 and SageTV.

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Contents of Article: PCSTATS DIY Guide
 Pg 1.  Do-It-Yourself Guide: Building a Home Theatre PC / HTPC
 Pg 2.  Ingredients for a Good HTPC
 Pg 3.  Choosing The Video Card
 Pg 4.  Installing the processor
 Pg 5.  Installing the CPU - Continued
 Pg 6.  Installing the heatsink
 Pg 7.  Installing the DDR Memory
 Pg 8.  Installing hard drives and optical drives
 Pg 9.  Connecting data cables
 Pg 10.  Installing the video card and tv tuner
 Pg 11.  Identifying and connecting the rear ports
 Pg 12.  Connecting the computer to the TV
 Pg 13.  — Connecting the Television signal to the TV-tuner
 Pg 14.  Tweaking Windows XP for TV display

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