Scott Hanselman

Building your own Windows Media Center Edition 2005 Home Theater PC System

February 16, '05 Comments [21] Posted in Programming
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My co-worker Krishnan is truly the gadgeteer. He has more techie stuff than anyone I've ever known, including myself. He is also an expert on all things HD and Media-y. So, I asked him "should I buy a Media Center PC or build?" I had picked out a lovely $2500 system.

UPDATE - June 2005: Make sure your motherboard and case match. If you click on the D6 link below, be aware that depending on stock on hand Newegg.com may offer you a "similar" motherboard. For one reader they recommended an ATX mobo and Micro-ATX and that's not cool. Also, while note that the Ahanix D6 is not the 601. I currently recommend the LARGER standard ATX Ahanix 601. Make sure you measure as some of these cases are pretty deep.

He said that he just built one from scratch for around $1500. Here's what he did:

This system is totally HD ready, and Krishnan said he taped 11 hours of 1080i SuperBowl content into about 43gigs without a hitch. He's using it as his primary PVR now.

Does anyone know if you can somehow "coerce" or upgrade (laterally?) Windows XP Pro into being a Media Center machine? Perhaps my existing main machine (with specs better than these) could do double duty, without reinstalling, etc.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2005 2:42:27 AM UTC
What is he using to get his TV Listings? I've seen Xml.com's article on using the open source XMLTV spec (http://www.xml.com/pub/a/2004/02/18/xmltv.html ) using Freevo and MythTV, but they are Linux based solutions. I was thinking about starting up a .Net version so I could do the same thing, but with Media Center, but I never looked around to see if there is already a Windows based solution (and I'm sure BillG wouldn't be happy with it since MS paid a good bit of money to get TV Listings for WebTV).
Wednesday, February 16, 2005 3:19:12 AM UTC
It's explicitly prohibited to do an upgrade from XP Pro to XP MCE, and it's not even advisable to upgrade from one version of MCE to the next. XP MCE is much more fragile when it comes to driver compatibility, so it's best to do a clean install anyway.

MCE 2005 is a GREAT product btw, everyone who has seen my setup wants one. I have been thoroughly impressed with the stability and the UI is honestly a joy to use.
Brad C.
Wednesday, February 16, 2005 3:53:51 AM UTC
XP Pro -> Media Center 2004 was a breeze - no big deal at all since it was basically an extra install disk after XP was installed.

XP Pro -> Media Center 2005 is basically a re-install but we'll keep your settings - in a nutshell I've done it and it worked but it was a mess and at the end of the day I opted for a re-install. Time/Effort wise - shell out the $1500 and be done with it - you'll end up with less grey hair.

-paolo
Paolo
Wednesday, February 16, 2005 4:50:39 AM UTC
Built my own using an MSI Mega 180 case (cool form factor, looks like a bookshelf stereo). Case + hard drive + memory + dvd burner + Gyration remote / keyboard combo were under $900. Agree with Paolo on the time / effort thing, though. I burned a good amount of time with the driver / codec setup. Coulda spent the time learning WSE or Swahili or something.

http://www.msi.com.tw/program/products/slim_pc/slm/pro_slm_detail.php?UID=546
http://www.gyration.com/mcrsuite.htm
Wednesday, February 16, 2005 5:11:50 AM UTC
Wow-- a Prescott 3.2? And the Maxtor 250gb? I guess he wasn't interested in building something quieter than, say, a jet engine.

I highly recommend sticking with the Athlon 64 if you want a HTPC that can run at full bore without A) melting or B) making your wife go deaf. Well, more than she is already.

May I recommend http://www.silentpcreview.com/ ?

Also MCE2005 does not support HDTV, so he can't be using that to record his HDTV content.
Wednesday, February 16, 2005 5:22:56 AM UTC
Windows MCE 2005 does support HDTV as the second tuner. You need to have your Primary tuner configured 1st and then Windows MCE 2005 will ask you if you want to configure your DTV.

One caveat though is it only supports over the air HDTV reception.
Krishnan
Wednesday, February 16, 2005 5:25:29 AM UTC
Jeff:
http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/mce/expert/hdtv.mspx
Wednesday, February 16, 2005 5:26:35 AM UTC
Jon: I was looking at the Mega 180...what chip did you put in there? And what can you share about the driver/codec setup?
Wednesday, February 16, 2005 5:34:30 AM UTC
Update Rollup 1 for Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 with HDTV Support (KB873369).

WTF is that? Someone moved my m*********ing cheese.
Thursday, February 17, 2005 2:45:07 AM UTC
Scott, I double and make sure the Case/MB combo works together, you have a D6 list which is of Micro ATX form factor, and list MB is std ATX.
Thursday, February 17, 2005 3:05:00 AM UTC
Ah, I should have read more carefully, you said your friend built one using these components, for some reason I had in mind that your were building one with theses components.
Thursday, February 17, 2005 8:11:35 AM UTC
Scott,

While taking your C# class at OIT last term I was in the process of custom-building an MCE PC myself. I tried to create a setup that made it easy to have the PC function for normal use as well as simultaneous MCE use on a separate TV screen. Many long nights later I surrendered to the fact that MCE is not designed to work well concurrently with regular PC use. Even with dual graphics outputs and dual soundcards, I could not find a seamless way to work on one monitor while have the MCE interface function acceptably on another. I've decided to eventually make it a dedicated media machine, and in the meantime I only use MCE when I'm sure I won't be needing that PC for anything else.

As a side note, when I do use MCE I find it to be a great application and one of Microsoft's best products. I'm looking forward to the full-HDTV-support update this fall...
Thursday, February 17, 2005 4:03:15 PM UTC
By the way Intel is now selling a bare bones media center PC to OEM's. More details can be found at Intel Entertainment PC Bare-bone System for Intel Processors, Model L8D915POMS2N3S OEM http://www.newegg.com/app/ViewProductDesc.asp?description=56-122-001&depa=1

Krishnan
Monday, February 21, 2005 10:33:55 AM UTC
Buy vs Build = strong vote for build. I was slightly concerned myself since i hadn't built new systems for few years. yet we had to put few servers togeather fast few weeks ago, and i'm found myself assembling *kick ass* AMD64 systems for less then $1500 in just under 2 hours per box. Things defenitely got better then it was in 2001. No jumpers, mobos and cases clearly marked, SATA is great. just have all parts pre-ordered and you can save over 1000$ for 2hr of work.

My recomendation would be to go with AMD64. It runs circles around P4 on 32bit instructions and obviously your system is completely ready for 64-bit W3K now or XP when it comes out.
Max S.
Monday, February 21, 2005 2:12:38 PM UTC
You could also check out the products Sage TV (http://www.sage.tv) and Beyond TV (http://www.snapstream.com/Products/beyondtv/default.asp). Both will run on a plain Windows XP and offers some extra features.
Monday, February 21, 2005 10:55:30 PM UTC
Krishnan, that's an interesting link-- I couldn't get yours to work though:

http://www.newegg.com/app/viewProductDesc.asp?description=56-110-011&depa=0

This does include a lot of stuff that's a PITA to build in that form factor. Might be worth checking out, but I am a little leery of the integrated video.
Monday, February 21, 2005 11:51:06 PM UTC
Review:

http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/mobile/display/asus-digimatrix.html

It's definitely interesting, but I'n not sure if this will work for MCE2005-- you'd need a MCE2005 compatible MPEG-2 encoding board in the mini-PCI form factor.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005 11:41:16 PM UTC
The real question is why bother with MSE at all? For far less get a lifetime subscription and a replay. It does everything and more. Did I mention it would make much less noise and take up 1/3 the space. You can even upgrade the hard drive to anything MSE supports (basically)
Ed
Thursday, March 03, 2005 10:50:21 PM UTC
Hi Jon,

Could you tell us more about your Mega 180 configuration / drivers/codec ?

Did you add another Video card or just the onboard Geforce 4 MX?

And, last question, is every thing is ok using media center 2005 ?

Thank you in advance, Jon(or anyone using the MSI MLega 180;) ).

-Phil.
Phil
Sunday, February 05, 2006 10:31:56 AM UTC
Have a Look at XLobby instead of using MCE, at www.xlobby.com
David
David
Friday, March 17, 2006 5:06:30 AM UTC
I had a Mega 180 laying around for the last few months. Decided to install MCE05 and it's completely unstable. Don't think the integrated graphic card will be able to support it as it halts on bootup with no bios beeps and it is capable of going into safemode. Then noticed on MSI's page that it only supports Windows XP. I also had the MS8606 tuner and that too does not have a MCE driver. Jon if you can let us know what drivers you used and if your system is still running smooth.

I'm running smooth on another computer but prefer to use the Mega because of it's size and look.
Tony
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.