Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The new HTPCs are so tempting

It has been a while since I blogged here. Got very busy. But I am hoping to restart. We will see how it goes.

Today's topic is HTPC. There are some really wonderful HTPCs coming out these days. I wish I could buy all of them :). I have an old HTPC now. You can barely call it a HTPC. It is simply a desktop that I filled up with a lot of hard disks. It has an AM2 motherboard capable of 6 channel surround sound with AMD X2 3600+ processor and nvidia 9800 GT GPU. The GPU is way too powerful than required for a HTPC I know, but it was also my gaming machine for a while. Crammed into all the spaces are 4 hard disks with 250 GB each. I also have a kworld pci ATSC/QAM tuner for all my digital tv recording needs. It was so much fun when I built it more than a couple of years ago.

For the software I used freevo as my media center software. It would record shows too. So I did not need anything else. It was very configurable and everything is in python and most importantly it can playback media using various media players. Of course mplayer handled every kind of media for me. The advantage with this kind of setup is that I need not wait for freevo to pick up the new mplayer code. As soon as I install a new version of mplayer, freevo would start using it. However freevo looked so '90s when it came to graphics and UI design. So I switched to xbmc.

Now xbmc is my favorite media player. It is beautiful and all the animations and skins are a treat to the eyes. But it does not record live tv. So for that I installed mythtv and setup the backend to record live tv. A crobjob faithfully downloads EPG every night. I configure everything in mythtv using the web interface. Easy! The best thing about xbmc is that it uses nvidia's vdpau for decoding and rendering my videos. I love this feature. Of course freevo could also do it too because mplayer can render using vdpau. Anyway the point is that now all the work is offloaded to the GPU and so the CPU is not as taxed.

This and the fact that hard drives with lots of space are dirt cheap brings me to the idea of using a much much lighter setup. What if there is a small low power device that has a nvidia GPU and a low power CPU with just one 1 TB hard drive, has 6 channel analog and a digital audio output and a PCI slot for my tv tuber card? That would be awesome and then I would not have to hide my dirty HTPC behind my LCD TV.

I have my eyes on such a setup. More tomorrow though.
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