Thursday, March 26, 2009

Media Gadget Showcase - Home Theater PC Setup by ZetaVu

Our fourth submission for the GeekTonic Media Gadget Showcase Series is a Home Theater PC and Digital Media-Powered Home.  ZetaVu, a frequent commenter and guest blogger on GeekTonic shows us his HTPC/Digital Media setup includes quite a mixture including Snapstream's BeyondTV HTPC setup, DirecTV, a VCR and even a Betamax!  Read on for his great write-up with photos to share.

NOTE:  This is a guest post by ZetaVu.  To read more about how to submit your photos and/or write-ups for the GeekTonic Media Gadget Showcase Series, read this.  Basic guidelines for writing and submitting a guest post at GeekTonic can be found here.


Ok, I've been meaning to document my home theater setup, and considering it is rainy and nasty outside today looked like the day. That and I think I've gotten it finally to the point where I am happy enough not to tinker with it for a while.

First off, I'll break it down by room. My main home theater is in the family room, which is halfway under ground but makes for a good hub location. More importantly my office is right next to it (behind the tv) and since that is the only room my wife lets me tinker it is essential to the insane wiring setups I feed the house with. It also lets me use my main computer monitor as a second monitor for the htpc computer. I went with a 22" Samsung LCD, beyond the excellent screen quality it has a front panel button that lets me switch between inputs with one press. I also keep my cable modem and router in this room, along with a LaserJet printer/fax that serves as a printer for my htpc if I need one. I've turned the joining wall into a closet (my wife had me put a curtain along the entire wall, meaning I can do whatever I want there and she can cover it up to keep me from embarrassing her).

Samsung 46

My main TV is also a Samsung, 46" LCD, mounted to the wall with a two piece Sanus wall mout LRF118-B1 articulating arm and the Sanus Lr1A-B1 In-Wall Mount. This was an essential purchase as my wife would not tolerate the LCD sticking 4-6" away from the wall, and I wanted a full articulating wall mount. The wall portion of this mount is connected inside the wall between the studs, and when fully compacted the LCD sits less than an inch from the wall. Total cost was about $400 between Amazon and, and well worth it for the WAF.

In-Wall articulating TV mount

Now my setup requires two things, first is complete HTPC integration, and second is computer free operation for when my wife doesn't want to think about it. This means redundant connections to TV and throughout the house, an incredibly simple remote system, and no visible cables or ugly components. Fortunately I had a nice component cabinet with glass doors and a covered base. However, this meant I also had to make an enclosed wire path for the cables, and fortunately having my office behind an enjoining wall helped us out here.

Audio Cabinet

HTPC under the Audio Cabinet

To save on length and give me more flexibility on the component side, I decided to run a straight path between the TV and the component cabinet. This involved strategic drilling and a length of 1" PVC pipe that I fed through holes drilled in the studs (did not want to weaken the wall). Fortunately, I already had a hole cut in my office wall from a previous project, so I could use that as a guide during the process. Everything else was a lot of spackling and painting after the fact. End result was a minimum 10 foot cable length, meaning I could use 12 or 15 foot cables depending how much slack I wanted.

Cables piped through wall

I originally had my HTPC in the office and ran cables through the wall, but I decided it would be more convenient to put it in the bottom of my component cabinet, closer to my receiver and STB's. For temperature control I pulled the back off the bottom of the cabinet, and since I already had the base of that wall opened to outside concrete for my satellite and antenna cables, I was able to take advantage of the natural cooling from the outside underground wall. As a precaution I also added an adjustable speed fan directly on my hard drives, and taped the fan temperature sensor directly on my data drive. I also put my Electroline 8-port antenna amplifier for my OTA antenna (roof mounted arrow style), and my battery backup and surge protectors there. My latest addition was to move my second H20 Directv STB down there, since stacking two STB's generated too much heat in the top part of the cabinet, and my wife objected to the ugly silver STB.


Battery Backup and Cable Amps

In the main component area, I have a VCR and my black H21 STB, along with the Hauppauge HD PVR for that box. Next shelf up is my Yamaha RX V663 receiver, along with my Ipod dock and my home made LCD Smartie display. Tucked away as well is Universal Blaster 100, which sends individual IR blasters to all my components and receives RF inputs from my three identically programmed RF10 remotes. This has eliminated line of site issues for everything but the tv set. It also works on the same RF frequency as Radio shack or Jenson IR extenders, of which I have several.


Receiver and components

RF10 Universal Remote

My HTPC is a custom build, Foxconn NF4UK8AA-8EKRS AMD motherboard with 4200-X2 processor, 2gb Corsair memory, Asus Earthmate 430 PS and PNY 8500 GT video card. My internal tuners are an Hauppauge HVR1600 (which also has the IR remote), and an HVR2250 dual input PCIe. I also have an HVR950 and HD PVR connected by USB. In addition to the Hauppauge remote I also have an ATI Remote Wonder, and can use my PDA via wifi as a remote. I control my STB's with serial cable tuners, null modem cables with Iogear GUC232A usb/serial adaptors. Total hard drive space is 1TB. I also have wireless mouse and keyboard and a second set of usb mouse and keyboard in my office. OS is XP SP2, I use BeyondTV as my PVR and Media Portal for all other HTPC functions. I control all remotes with EventGhost, using keyboard shortcuts in each program so I can program the remotes any way I want. The Hauppauge remote can be programmed into my RF10 learning remotes, meaning I can finally control all my hardware components and my HTPC with one, count it, ONE remote.

Going through the wall to my tv is the power (so I can run it on the surge protector), two HDMI cables (one for my H21 box, one for the Yamaha), one set of component cables and one VGA cable (both go to my HTPC, have not decided which works better yet), a toslink optical to output the TV to my Yamaha, one audio line (HTPC 2 channel) and my amplified antenna coaxial. I had tried using DVI-HDMI for this tv but because of the way NVidia sets up their drivers, my TV won't recognize the external audio input if I send HDMI (it looks for audio through HDMI and my card does not have that). Since I did not see any major quality difference, I use either VGA or component to my main TV, and send the DVI to my monitor in my office. My motherboard also lets me output 2 channel sound through the analog output and SPDIF through the coaxial output simultaneously.

Office monitor

My second STB (the H20) connects to my Yamaha via HDMI. I also connect my VCR to the Yamaha, and use the HDMI from that to the TV if I want to watch those directly (upconverting the VCR). The VCR also has inputs from both STB's and has coaxial output feeding the rest of the house. This lets me play either STB on any other tv in the house (using an RF remote or IR extender to control channels and switch inputs on the VCR). I also have computers by my other two tv's that either run BTV link or can access my server via the webadmin to play shows or live TV. Hence, the versatility.

Velodyne amplified subfwoofer

Polk front speaker

In Wall Sonance Speakers

My family room came pre-installed with Sonance in-wall speakers which were of pretty good quality, so all I needed to do was to add a Velodyne amplified subwoofer and three Polk speakers (center and far back) to get a decently balanced 7.1 surround sound environment (the Yamaha microphone balanced the various speakers quite well). In addition, I setup Zone 2 of my receiver to feed a wireless speaker transmitter, letting me place one set of speakers in our dining room and another set upstairs. I also ran some wires to my backyard deck for Zone2 as well, with an in-wall switch to turn those outdoor speakers on and off. This lets me control audio in any room, or my deck using either the RF remotes or my PDA with wifi. I have a few programs on my HTPC that interact with my PDA, one with Media Portal, one just as a blind media player. These let me view my music library on the PDA and control and navigate the audio from any room.

Upstairs setup

My two other entertainment rooms are my basement and my spare bedroom (which my son has now moved into). The spare bedroom has my old Sony 40" projection tv, just shy of HD resolution. That tv is setup to receive the coaxial from the VCR downstairs, letting it receive either Directv STB. The H20 also has an antenna input for local HD channels, so I was able to pull the converter box off this TV. It also has a local DVD player, my son's Wii, and an s-video connection to his computer in the next room (running BTV Link). That computer also has an ATI Remote Wonder, so he can control BTV Link from the spare bedroom. He has his own custom programmed RF10 remote so he can control all components in the family room from upstairs. I also have a working Betamax VCR setup here, although I expect my remaining Beta movies will be unwatchable soon, however how many people can claim to still have a working Betamax?

Basement Audio System


My last setup is in the basement. I used to have a 19" tv mounted to the wall, but now I just use my old 19" lcd monitor with my ready to be replaces computer. (an old K7S5A motherboard). That system I am using as my Ubuntu Studio test build, although I also have an XP install on it. For Ubuntu I've been using the Beyondtv placeshifter with VLC player. I'm hoping to eventually get BTV Link to work under Wine (or eventually shift to a linux friendly solution) but for now things work well enough not to  mess with it. I also use this computer as my audio capture system (loaded with my Creative Audigy platinum card). Next to it is my old stereo system, including working turntable and cassette player (I have a reel to reel player stashed away as well if the urge ever comes over me. I've used this with Audacity to convert some of my collectors albums into fairly decent MP3 files.

LCD Smartie

And I just completed the last piece to my dual option media network. The Directv STB's are used for recording through BeyondTV as well as watching directly on TV, so there is always the chance that someone will unknowingly change channels on a STB during a recording. Initially I started with my homemade LCD smartie, which lists if there is a current recording, when it ends, when the next recording is, and which STB it is using. This almost worked, whenever my wife remembered to check the LCD before changing channels, but it did nothing if my son was watching up in his room. Next solution was to build an LED alert system using Ledsdriver. I took a usb to serial adaptor, and a serial to ethernet adaptor, and then some old Ethernet connections from work to make a cross room system. I had already wired Ethernet cables to every room in the house and was not using the cable in the spare bedroom. Following the Ledsdriver instructions, I wired up two leds through the Ethernet cable into the spare bedroom. I then made up some batch files that worked off of LCDSmartie to turn the LED's on when each of the STB's was recording. This gave him an alert not to change channels on the stb when the light was on.

Ledsdriver indicator

Ledsdriver - receiver

Ledsdriver - sender

Then, since I use serial port tuners for my boxes, I devised a more advanced batch file that would disable the IR remote on each STB during recordings. This way, even if my family completely ignored all the indicators I setup for them, the still would not be able to change channels during recordings.

Well, that's about it. It's obviously not the most complex or all encompassing system in the world, but it has made our world just that much more convenient.



About ZetaVu:  "ZetaVu is a frequent commenter and Guest-Poster at GeekTonic with a great deal of knowledge with HTPC's and other media gadgets.  I've gotten to know him from the many hours spent on the Snapstream, MediaPortal , AVS and other Forums where you'll often find him (under the same online name).  His past guest posts include iPod Without iTunes and Video Editing Power Tools both of which are great reads.

If you'd like to have your setup or media gadgets highlighted, and want a chance to win some gift certificates read the guidelines for submission here.  We're looking for things as simple as a few photos of your favorite media-related gadgets or as elaborate as the ZetaVu's setup outlined above, Damian's HTPC setup, Dennis's home theater setup from last week and Sodarkangels HTPC build from earlier.  Either way, join in on the GeekTonic flickr group and upload your media gadget photos!