How much to build a HTPC?


Senior Member
I need to start planning for a HT System.

How much would it cost to build a HTPC to be able to play 2 (or more) movies at the same time, store approximately 100 or so DVD's and some music. I would like any tv or computer in the house to be able to view these movies if possible.

Playing two movies at the same time may be difficult. While a TV card usually takes the input, the output goes through a video card. While many cards support dual video outputs so a computer can have two monitors, I don't think this works for TV output (although it is a good idea). Maybe it does, I just don't ever remember coming across this.

Normally a computer has only one video slot (I don't think you can use SLI to get around this). You can get PCI video cards, but I am not sure how well that would work in this case (or other issues).

I have heard about using one output to go to the TV and another to a monitor (so you control the pc and watch tv at the same time). I have not tried this myself though.

The other question putting this aside (and perhaps someone else has information on that point) is where do you want this system to be: low end and inexpensive, or go for the value in getting a nice machine but saving since you are building it yourself? If you want it to be on the low-end and very inexpensive, you are probably better off buying one on clearance as the low end is dominated by manufacturers. It can be hard to compete in cases like that.

As you move up the scale however, you can save a lot of money and get a real nice system if you are closer to the higher end.

Is there a ballpark you had in mind dollar wise or are you looking for a recommendation?
I dont know the range. I would not want to go to low end. So I would say on a scale of 1 to 10 for price go about 8.

Would it be possible to set up a server and access multiple movies on networked PC's and tablets etc?

I more of an alarm guy and I am not that heavy on ITE. I need to get an idea of teh cost so I can budget some HTPC equipment in for the next 6 months to a year.

I already own 2 Tablets. Everything else would be from scratch to a degree.
It sounds like you're really looking for a Media Server. What you’re asking to do is fairly common so anticipate getting a broad range of responses.

You could build a Server to handle the job or purchase some type of NAS (Network Attached Storage) solution to store your media. Then you just need a software solution and some clients to playback the media. Clients could consist of a standard PC, HTPC, Tablet, etc. I recently built a Media Server that ended up costing around $1,500. As for the software, I went with the MainLobby suite of products from Cinemar.

You may want to check out the AVS forums as well:
Perfect. Then building should make sense.

I don't have a lot of time, but I'll start with a rough list of parts (and can cross check a few vendors later in case of price differences):

CPU (recent price drops have been great on this) - $184

Motherboard (this should be a good value, need to look further at this later as some of these are fairly new and I have not looked closely at the differences) - $103.99

DVD Burner (may find a better price but Plextor has the best drives) $63.99

Hard drives (3 500gb drives in raid 5) $239 (note these drop to as low as $179 each recently if you watch)

Power Supply (need to check for low noise, non-sli) ~$100

Video - Any other uses for this machine? Plan on playing games or anything like that? Shooters or other graphically intensive programs? Going to guess unless we go for the newer stuff somewhere between $100-$150 will get a nice balance.

Ram $144 (just need to check the speed on this) 2GB

Cases - PC case or HTPC? Did you like the shots of the one I posted? Does it need to be real small? The one I got was $150 with shipping

OS - Will this be an MCE machine or other? I think I saw XP Home for $50 recently (otherwise $89), as otherwise Windows MCE shoudl be around $130 or so. If you need Windows XP pro it gets closer to $140 I believe.

Eye/Remote (MCE one is about $30, usable with Sage as well).

TV Tuner (times how many you want) $64

Thermal compound - I usually clean off the stock cooler they give and use something like this (even replace the stock heat sink) $6.99

Floppy/Card Reader (I usually like to add one of these): $24
I'm playing with Sage right now, Note I found out Cablevision channels are not always properly reported in MCE (fine in Sage). Wife likes it as well, only complaint is several clicks to delete something (which can be fixed with new skins I think).

There is a rough stab at it, please give any feedback based on what you want to do with it. We can go higher (increase cpu, high end video card if you are going to do other things).

Case may have an impact on number of drives, etc. I may have missed something but this should get you started. We can refine based on your feedback. This will be a nice setup. Dual core machine so plenty of power, low power usage, nice ram setup, big hard drives with redundancy (can look at pricing options, 4 250's vs 3 500's etc).
Mike, count on using a RAID5 setup for the amount of media you are looking at storing. To loose a drive (which will happen) and loose your media is a big bummer. Loosing a drive on a Raid5 just means another check to and 10 minutes to replace it. So, upgrade the motherboard to one that supports Raid5 (though none I am aware of support many drives), buy a PCI RAID5 SATA card like a 3ware, or buy a NAS that has RAID5
Good point, I had assumed raid 5, but neglected to check that motherboard (most of the time I am buying the high end asus motherboard, which has that. I neglected to check that.

Usually they support 4 drives, but I haven't looked these over in detail yet. 3 500gb drives worked out well as 100 dvd's @ 8GB each is 800 GB, 200 left over for OS and others (actually for a lot of TV space more might be useful).

Of course if the techniques such as DVD Shrink are used that someone referenced recently, it would hold much more.

If the case that is selected holds 4 drives, we can check price efficiencies of 4 250's vs 3 500's.
If what you're looking for is a media server and not an HTPC you don't need to go big on the CPU or the motherboard.

I actually bought a Dell 600SC Server with a 1.8G Celeron and 128M of Ram (too low in my opinion).

The board came with on-board video and sound, which don't matter because it just sits there except when I need to do something to it. Also, the motherboard has a few 64-bit PCI-X slots which was nice when I went to pick-up a RocketRaid 2220 SATA Raid card that supported RAID5.

Not including the hard drives, I put that system together for about $700 and it worked pretty well. However, I quickly found that the Dell case was too cramped for more than about 3 drives so I upgraded the case to a CODEGEN mini-server along with a 4-Bay Hot Swappable enclosure.

Having said that, if you want to go the PCI-Express route for your RAID card you'll need to get a newer motherboard which means a newer CPU and RAM. Also, and I don't know why, those 3- and 4-bay enclosures have been sold out everywhere and for some reason no one seems to be making more. It sucks because the case that I have has room for another one and I didn't figure they would be a piece of hardware that would stop being made.

The point I'm trying to make is that you don't need to drop a ton of money on your media server. Personally, I only want my media server hosting files along with a few other low resource tasks. I prefer to spend most of my money on the htpc and let it do all the work rather than installing a bunch of stuff on the box hosting all my media causing potential problems.

But that's just me. The beautiful part of all this is that there is no "right" answer and one size does not fit all.
2 more quick items since I saw that Mike posted while I was doing my write up.

I would purchase a dedicated RAID card and not do an on-board controller. That way if your mobo dies your RAID is still good or if your RAID dies you just need to swap out the card with an identical controller. To me it's like the TVs with the built in DVD player. It's handy but if something breaks it's a bigger hassle when they're tied together.

Also, I would purchase a seperate drive for the OS. I bought a 40G drive for around $50 that is dedicated soley to Win2k. If one of the RAID drives crashes you'll still have access to the computer and if the OS drive crashes your RAID array will still be OK until you can get the OS drive replaced.
Micah said:
If what you're looking for is a media server and not an HTPC you don't need to go big on the CPU or the motherboard.
I will add one item from recent experience. I had MCE on a P4 2.53Ghz machine 533 FSB without HT. I would notice slight pauses when the channel was being changed. Given that I recycled an old machine, I decided to try some newer hardware (specifically wanting HT at least).

Given the parts I had I put a 3.0Ghz socket 478 P4 together with 2GB of RAM. The motherboard (decent asus one) was $94 and the CPU was $107. I now have two tuners and have not noticed the blip (although dont use IR anymore to change the channels so it is not an apples to apples comparison).

My point is don't go too far down the chain, and with the recent price cuts it does not have to be too pricey (the dual core I referenced was $184, not too shabby). And on top of that it is one of the more 'energy efficient' ones, since this will be on 24x7.

Good point on the raid cards, downside is it typically adds around $200 for a decent one (if you have seen good cards for less, let me know). I agree that if your board goes you are stuck with that type, but I haven't seen the board go very often, and if you are going to change the board, usually there is much more that changes to go to a newer one.

For example, the system I referened above (P4 2.53Ghz) I originally thought of just swapping the motherboard and cpu to get to the 800 MHz fsb. The memory changed between those models to dual channel, so memory needed to be added as well. Once you get to buying cpu, motherboard and memory, you are essentially at a new computer. I agree with the concept, but unless it fails quickly I suspect it will not be cost effective to upgrade the motherboard. It becomes a question of cost as well (another $200). That money though lets you add drives to the array, and the other benefits you mentioned.

All that being said, personally, I have not purchased an additional card (although if I was expanding beyond what was supported on the board I would).
No argument here as far as the hardware goes.

If you're going to use the box for anything other than hosting movies/music/recorded media you'll want to spend the extra cash to make sure it has the juice to play multiple roles.

I have a HTPC and a Media Server that are two different boxes that do two different jobs. The Media Server just sits there and looks pretty but doesn't do too much intense processing. It just waits for one of my devices to request media, streams it out, and goes back to sitting there.

As you can probably tell, I like to have dedicated parts (whether they're components or computers) to do dedicated tasks. It makes it easier to do smaller upgrades and when those upgrades occur, my entire "system" isn't offline if I don't get it all done right away.

As I said, there's no one "right" answer and the beauty of this whole thing is that with the proper planning anyone can customize their system to work exactly how they want it to. Although I guess that's part of the headaches as well.
Hope I'm not hijacking this thread, but you guys seem to be the right ones to ask! ;)

My plans were to make a centralized HTPC. I like having centralized components with nothing near the TVs. I wanted to have 2 tuners (record 2 channels at once) and 2 video outs (play on 2 tvs at once).

If I'm reading your comments correctly, this probably isn't doable?
I also use a multi-machine approach.

I have a PC with 2 tuner cards that I use as a PVR - all it does is record tv. It can play back the recordings, but I usually don't use it for that. The hardware is older - it's only got a P4-1.8G processor - but it's more than adequate for this job. Using tuner cards with hardware encoding, the processor is usually running at less than 10% while recording from both tuners at the same time.

If I play back a recording, that requires 60-70% of the processor. The video hardware you use, and any enhancements for playing back the video, will affect this significantly. If I play back and record at the same time, I sometimes see problems with the video. A better processor would help with this, along with better video (I'm using what's on the motherboard and it's not the most exciting hardware).

Recordings that I want to save are either on a server or burned onto DVDs (as mpeg2 files) - I got tired of adding hard drives to the server. If I want to watch a movie that I've recorded, it's not too difficult to pop the DVD into a drive (which is actually on the same server). There aren't that many movies/programs that I need instant access to.

I have several options when playing back the recordings, but the one I use the most is a Hauppauge MediaMVP. This is a networked device that connects to the server and can play mpeg2 files (among other things). An MVP can be connected to each television and they can each play a different recording. There are also MVP-based front ends for things like SageTv so you can get a remote interface to your PVR, for example (I use SageTV, but not through my MVP). I used to have 2 MVPs, but I'm only using one now. I distribute video from a central location and only need one player [1]. The MVP is not very fancy (composite or svideo only, no digital audio output) but they are relatively inexpensive, small, and work well.

The reason I store everything as mpeg2s and don't compress it to something like Divx is because just about everything I have or deal with can play mpeg2 files natively. The MVP does it without needing any processing from the server - it just gets the files over the network and plays them. The MVP will play Divx files too, but they need to be transcoded on the server - eating up clock cycles.

My machines are distributed in several locations. The PVR machine and MVP happen to be in the same location but the main server (file storage and running the MVP backend) is in another room. And the video output (from the MVP, for example) is run through coax as composite video to other rooms for viewing.

[1] I'm the only person that's ever watching, so I don't really need multiple different files playing at the same time. If I did, it would be no problem to have more than one MVP - in my case all in the same central location.
Thanks Smee. I think this solution is workable. I will look around a little more too - I was hoping to find some that supported HD signals, not just SVideo (I'd like to mix and match - some TVs will be HD, some not). The price is reasonable, and it looks easy enough to connect.

Do these allow you to play a DVD as well? I can't tell, but I suspect not...
I agree with smee - I use a 2.4 celeron with 512mb ram with 1.2tb of movie storage. I use this as a server and the movies are played on MCE boxes, but I have had 3 going at once and this server was still able to anounce an incomming phone call. It also serves as an MP3 player and operates an onboard sat card. The only limitations as far as the movies go is the network connection speed, wireless will not cut it. So playing movies on the tablets I do not think it will work so well if they are wireless.

I disagree about the RAID 5 advice though, I tried that and it did not work out so well. I still lost data when I lost a drive. I would suggest a mirror system. Definetly use an off MB controller!, that way as stated above, you can either replace with identical card or put in another system with out to much trouble. Curently I am running 2003 server and mounted the drives off of an existing shared folder but I had to create an empty dir in order to mount the drives. This way the shared folders still work as before.

checkout HTPCNews and there forums section, along with the AVS forums referenced above.-Skybolt