BACK STORY: This page is dedicated to my HTPC, the technical specs, hardware used, software used, and how I set it up and how I use it. I’ve been using a form of a HTPC for the last 8 years. Early on I used a pc connected to a 32″ Sony Trinitron CRT tube tv, back then I mostly used it for watching downloaded divx movies and playing a few NES/SNES ROM/MAME games. Over the years the specs, the purpose, and the usage of the HTPC has changed drastically, as well as the exquiment they were connected to.
The current incarnation of my HTPC has changed a lot since the first one, DVRing (or PVR..) is one huge thing that has changed over the years. My first PC that I really started to dabble with DVRing started about 4 years ago. That was around the same time I got my first HDTV. I learned about ATSC braodcast tv, and how you can get HD signals for free via the local broadcast tv stations. At the same time I found out about AVSforums, The Green Button, and Missing Remote (which used to be HTPCnews) and how I could use a PC setup with correct software and do DVD upscaling/post processing.
So with one machine I was able to have a virtually unlimited/unrestricted HD DVR, DVD upscaling, Music Jukebox, Photo streaming, and MAME machine all in one box. So then started my addiction for HTPC’s and what they could do. I spent hours upon hours on AVSforums as well as many other websites learning as much as I could about all the available software for dvd playback and DVD post processing, as well as PC DVR/PVR setups. Learning what codecs did what, which mpeg2 decoders worked the best, what video cards played nice with what resolutions, how to over come video overscan issues, ect…
The biggest issue with HTPC’s (at that time, 2004/2005 time frame) was the ability to fix overscan. If you were big into hooking up your tv to your big screen HDTV you’d know what I am talking about. Back in the day if your display wasn’t PC aware (worked well with PC’s) you would have been right along side me and dealing with overscan. I spent most of my time trying to figure out how to fix overscan with my first Sony RP LCD tv. Finally after many many hours I found out how to get into the service menu of the tv and manually fixed the overscan by adjusting the service menu settings. By doing that I also was able to get a perfect 1:1 pixel mapping which gave me the best possible picture as well as no more overscan.
Once I got the picture looking perfect and no more overscan I started to get further into post processing and DVRing via ATSC tuners. My first real DVR setup on my pc was running GB-PVR which was/is a free DVR application for your pc. It worked out ok, but was a PITA to setup, so I started messing around with other DVR/PVR applications, I think I have personally tired out every single software application know to man for DVRing. I’ve tried SageTV, BeyondTV, MythTV, GB-PVR, Meedio, and windows MCE 2005 (I am currently running Vista Ultimate which comes with Media Center), you name it I’ve tried it. Around the same time I discovered that Microsoft had a version of windows called Windows Media Center 2005, I “borrowed” a copy and from there I was hooked. I settled on MCE 2005 as the software/interface of choice for my HTPC, as it was the easiest to setup, and had the highest WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor).
I found what a 10 foot interface was, what it could do for you, how how great it was having a nice, easy to use, gui interface for all your HTPC needs. With MCE 2005 I was able to get a free EPG so that I could DVR both standard def NSTC recordings as well as hig def ATSC recordings for free with MCE 2005. Not only did MCE 2005 provide me with DVR solutions, I soon discovered My Movies a dvd cataloging, gui interface plug-in for MCE, and what it could do for me. My Movies changed how I used my HTPC, how often I used it as well as how often my wife used it.
With My Movies I was able to have a central, easy to use, searchable user interface into my 200+ ripped dvd collection, seamlessly integrated into MCE, and since then I never looked back.
Specs of first HTPC: My very first HTPC was actually a laptop, because the fact that my tv was in the living room, and becuase the TV only had Svideo input, and wasn’t an HDTV it just made sense to use the laptop for HTPC (which at the time I didn’t call it a HTPC) purposes.