Home Theatre PC Project 
Sunday, February 1, 2009, 15:45
Posted by Administrator


After using the XBOX I found in the garbage room of my apartment for 3 years it was time to graduate. The XBOX did a very good job as a media player, however the lack of CPU power made it impossible to play any HD material. With the latest development of the XBMC (XBox Media Center) and the portable code enabling it to run on several platforms there were more options to choose from. The choice was a Linux based platform using the Ubuntu 8.04 distribution. As size and power efficiency (to keep the temperature low) the choice of hardware was a motherboard with built in Nvidia graphics and a low power Intel CPU capable of decoding 1080p material. Please find full Hardware listing below:

Montherboard ASUS P5N7A-VM
- This was chosen for it's size, built in Nvidia 9300 graphics and HDMI output.
CPU Intel E8400
- This is low power CPU fast enough to decode any material up to 1080p quality.
HTPC case Antec NSK1480
- Small case which had a big enough power supply (350W) and speed controllable fans.
CPU Fan Scythe Shuriken
- Low profile CPU cooler with big quiet fan
Hard disk Samsung/Keian SSD 32Gb
- Cheap and fast SSD hard disk
Memory 4Gb DDR2 800
Remote control and display iMON IR/VFD PAD

Total cost was less then 500 USD for all the above.



The hardware installation was quite straight forward and all things basically worked as planned. The iMON have a good feature that enables it to turn on the PC via an IR remote control (it's connected to the HW power switch on the motherboard). Also the iMON's display is supported through LCDproc in XBMC and will display information while playing media.
To control XBMC I'm using the wireless XBOX controller I had before (a Logic 3 Freebird controller bought at Julia Sweden for 199SEK). A simple soldering exercise and the interface was changed to a USB connector. If you don't already have a controller I would recommend getting an XBOX360 controller and a USB receiver as then there's a quite straight forward installation and you do not need to become a C++ programmer again (see below).

The software installation was also quite simple. Basic installation of Ubuntu 8.04 (I didn't go for the 8.10 version as there were a number of problems reported using XBMC with 8.10). After installing the OS I manually installed NVidia drivers version 177.82 and ALSA 1.0.18 in order to get HDMI and sound over HDMI to work correctly (sound over HDMI also require a BIOS setting). After this I setup the software sources in in order to get apt-get to find XBMC and install the latest stable version. There are a lot of very good information including step by step instruction on how to setup XBMC on the hardware used available on the forums on xbmc.org and ubuntuforums.org. Also do use Google and search for "P5N7A-VM XBMC" for a lot of good information. In order to get support for the iMON I had to install LIRC and LCDproc. Both SW fully support the iMON, however there were a little hands on needed.



The XBOX wireless controller I had I finally got working using the xboxdrv software and a few hours C++ programming. If you use a XBOX360 controller it should however be a rather straight forward exercise.

In addition to the above I'm running CygWinX on my PC and use gdm/xdmcp to get a graphical environment to access and administrate the media box.

The whole setup probably in total took ~30 hours, however then I was playing around ans testing quite a lot. The only problem was with the standby power used by the iMON. For some reason the motherboard though the voltage was off at power on when the iMON was connected to the standby power. This which caused the PC to refuse to start. The workaround was to connect the iMON power after the standby power had come on. I'll make a small delay circuit do fix this later. Also to ensure maximum cooling of the graphic chip which can get quite hot a simple paper barrier in the case directed the airflow better and reduced the temperature with about 5 degrees.
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