The Home Theater PC complete

I don't remember now how I found Beyond TV, but for all of the times I was missing the two TV shows I actually watch, I figured there has to be a better way than the VCR. I had seen Windows Media Center and wasn't that impressed, or interested in tying into the platform. BTV controls DirecTV receivers by a serial connection, has free program listing and it has a great hardware MPEG encoder bundle. TiVo shmeevo, I say.

So I took the plunge and built my own box. The most ridiculous thing I bought was the case. The aluminum Ahanix D5 looked the nicest to me. Yeah, it's a rip-off for $200, but I couldn't find a better looking one in black that didn't have a stupid door on the front. What the hell is with the doors on the front of HTPC cases? Last I checked, none of my other stereo components had doors on them. It's a nice case, with two issues. The first is the cheap punch-out slot covers on the back. That's lame, and for $200 I would have expected better. The second is that the drive cage is nearly flush to the front, meaning you don't get enough wiggle room to align your DVD drive so that the button makes contact and the replacement drawer face is in the right place. I had to shave the sides of the existing face off so it could slide ever so slightly further into the cage. One other minor complaint is that the little display has to connect via the parallel port, and the software for it sucks. It's a minor complaint because I wasn't really that concerned about using it in the first place.

I got a really spiffy A-bit (NF7-S) motherboard with Nvidia's nForce chipset and an optical SPDIF audio output. Sitting in it is a mobile Athlon XP 2400+. I opted for the mobile because it runs a little cooler and is easily over-clocked. The rest of the stuff is pretty standard, including a wireless card. The hard drive was a steal at CompUSA... 250 gig Maxtor for $130. The DVD burner is a $68 NEC that does dual-layer discs. It all fits no problem. A $17 infrared keyboard/mouse has been a home run.

The heatsink had to be quiet, and work efficiently, so I settled on this beautiful unit from Thermaltake. It's HUGE! It really dominates the inside of the case. Sure enough though, it runs at a fairly cool 45 degrees most of the time, and that's with the CPU slightly over-clocked.

The software is awesome. Beyond TV is a really great product. The guys at Snapstream really put a lot of love into their products (and they're all about .NET too). I got their remote control as well, which works great with PowerDVD and to a certain degree, iTunes. Pausing live TV works as it should, and it "finds" the TV spots in recorded programs. The hardware MPEG card makes nice recordings from the DirecTV receiver. The really neat thing is that you can pull up the program guide on their site from any Web browser, and BTV periodically checks the site to see if you've ordered any recordings. That's cool.

I replaced my CD player, DVD player and VCR with this one box. The remote and BTV make it possible to never need the keyboard when you're using TV functions. I only need it for iTunes. Bottom line, I have a media center I can always upgrade.

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