Let’s outline some expectations before jumping in and lay a proper foundation for this home theater PC build.
By basic definition, the HTPC is the central hub of a media entertainment system and it should be able to perform a number of tasks such as music and video streaming, PVR functionality, CD/DVD playback, provide on-screen data such as weather conditions, RSS feeds, etc. Additionally, our HTPC should be able to stream live and recorded television to low cost satellite front-end machines scattered around the home via hardwired Ethernet (which I installed last year throughout our home).
I experimented with MythTV briefly three years ago and was impressed by the functionality that it offered. At that time I didn’t have a spare machine to dedicate to MythTV and my involvement with the software was rather short. Though that install was short-lived, it made some lasting impressions and desires to create a permanent MythTV box which I now intend to do. At that time I used the Knoppmyth distro for a fairly painless installation. Since I’m not familiar with anything outside of Debian based distros I intend on using Knoppmyth again or perhaps Mythbuntu to get a base system up and running.
DVI / HDMI Output
This system will be connected to a Sony HDTV which accepts 1080p over HDMI, so ideally the HTPC should be 1080p display capable and capable of playing high definition content. Decoding 1080p will be a big challenge and perhaps won’t even be possible with the hardware I select. I will explore this more thoroughly later. The HTPC must have DVI or HDMI video output. Though the KDS-55A2000 has a VGA input, the display’s resolution is greatly limited when connected via VGA. Simply put, VGA isn’t an option for me.
IEEE 1394 Firewire
My high def cable box is the Motorola DCT-6200 which has two firewire out ports. It would be ideal for the HTPC to communicate with the 6200, so the next prerequisite is that the HTPC have a firewire port to interface with the cable box to provide the tuner functionality.
Gigabit connectivity is desired since my home LAN is already equipped to handle it and it surely can’t hurt when we start streaming video across the LAN. Since most new motherboards support it these days, it should not be a problem.
The HTPC will be Linux powered, and Nvidia is very well supported with Linux and Mythtv so this is an important requirement for the build.
Case & Motherboard
Simply put, the case needs to look great and have good build quality. An HTPC case is a must for my personal taste and I prefer the look of a low profile case. I’m fully aware of the constraints this will put on the build. The case design will probably limit my motherboard choices to Micro ATX, which should work out fine in the end assuming I can find one with the prerequisite features above. I anticipate the case will be the most costly part of this build.