Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Consideration factors for building your own HTPC

This is part two of the HTPC project series. In part one, I've described the advantages of having a HTPC. In this installment, lets talk about some of the key consideration factors you should think about when building your HTPC.

(1) Appearance
As the center of the entertainment hub, the HTPC will usually find its place in the living room near the TV. Unless you conceal it in a cabinet of sorts (which isn't such a good idea due to poor ventilation), you will probably want it to look good or at least blend in with the rest of the living room decor.

This factor will influence your choice of enclosure as well as input devices like remote, mouse and keyboard.

(2) Noise
Again, as the HTPC will mostly be in the same room, you will want it to be as quiet as possible so that you can enjoy the audio fidelity of your music or movies.

Typical noise generators to watch out for are the cooling fans (e.g. power supply, cpu, graphics card) as well as the harddisks. At times, the enclosure as well as the location where you put the HTPC will also aggravate the situation due to bad airflow (causing the fans to spin faster hence nosier).

This consideration will also indirectly affect your choice of the components; more powerful CPU and faster harddisks will generate more heat which in turn cause the fans to spin faster leading to more noise.

(3) Power consumption
Since this is the hub for entertainment, you will probably have it running for a large part of the day in both attended mode (e.g. playing music, movie, games, etc) and unattended mode (e.g. recording TV/FM programs). Hence you will probably want to also consider the power consumption so that it won't break your bank due to running cost.

This will influence your choice of hardware; i.e. rather than getting the top-of-the-line components which are typically power hungry, go for components that are just good enough for your needs. You may also want to consider components that have smart power saving features. e.g. components that shuts itself off or go into low power mode when idle, motherboards that support WOL (i.e. Wake-on-LAN) so that you can remotely start the HTPC instead of leaving it on 24/7.

(4) Usability
Usability here refers to how easy it is to use the HTPC. You will definitely not want a setup where your three years old son or ninety years old granny need to complete a one year IT program before being able to use the system. Neither do you want a setup where you have to click 10 times before you can listen to your favorite CD or watch your favorite program. And lastly, you will definitely not want a setup where you need to get up from your cosy couch and walk across the room to skip a track or turn up the volume!

The above are four key consideration factors to take into account when choosing the parts you put into a HTPC. In the next installment, we will look at which components are required and how these factors will influence the choices we make.

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