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Multi-purpose HTPC project

Blasted

Junior Member
Oct 12, 2014
8
0
66
Hello,


As a usual, recorrent consumer of media entertainment, I've been tinkering with the idea of building a multi-purpose HTPC for use at home. Currently, I have a Pi which serves my media-consuming purposes, mostly for series/movies streaming. However this solution is becoming unsatisfactory, as the Raspbmc software is a little buggy, too slow/unresponsive, and the streaming is unreliable at best. I've decided to come up with a topic on the forum to read some suggestions and feedback from fellow interested users and keep up a journal of this project's progress. So, bear and jump in with me :D

One of the things I must achieve on a new system is ease-of-use and quick response (We arrive late at home and just want to see an episode of something before drifting to bed; Having to waste 20min to get a decent HD strem + subtitles on a 45min episode is exasperating sometimes). I've been noticing other uses my "HTPC" system would be helpful with, and came with a few topics, software and hardware-wise:

- Act as NAS: The HTPC should be able to work as a "light" NAS system. I'd like to be able to store personal documents, some backups and personal photos, movies and media in general. This data should be available on my home network and some of it remotely (act as a cloud where I can dump files when I'm outside);

- Manage/download series, movies and respective subtitles: I'm done with the streaming path, at least for now. My ISP provides some decent download speeds so I'd rather have a system where I can decide which series I follow and which movies I want, then the system itself downloads them automatically when they are available. Same with subtitles. From what I've seen already, looks like slickbeard/couchpotato can do something like this;

- Organize media library: This is a pretty much widespread feature on most HTPC software now. I expect the HTPC to organize, sort and download info/metadata about the media I have/get;

- iOS/Airplay compability: I have some iOS devices at home, and I'd like to be able to control the HTPC with some app, send photos/videos from the phone to the TV screen and access the files when I'm out of home;

- Easy to use: I plan to have the system work simple, at least in the frontend. As much as "sit-and-play" as possible. XBMC-like.

- Responsive: I don't plan on playing any games with the HTPC. But I want to navigate the menus without breaks and play 1080p, eventually 4k if financially possible, without any problems;

- Silent / Low power consuption: I plan on leaving the HTPC on my living room, and have it on all day. Therefore, these two aspects are quite relevant and I'd rather spend a bit more to ensure a lower energy bill later;

- Blu-Ray player: Though not frequently, the system must be able to open and play some BR with movies/pics;

- Portable data: Needs to be able to plug in SD memory cards/USB disks and open the media inside for visualization. Needs to be able to backup to the HTPC these files.

- Good audio output: I'm no audiophile, but I plan on getting a decent 5.1 audio in the room and I'd like to have the HTPC playing the sound through it with decent quality.

From my digging so far, I'm considering XBMC on Windows as a software base, though I'm not fully commited on it yet. On the hardware side, I'm still somewhat in the dark, as I don't want to buy more than I need nor getting a sub-par system just to save a few bucks. I will update this post after I educate myself and get my choices down to fewer options. Your input and suggestions on this are more than welcome!

Cheers,
Blasted
 

Charlie98

Diamond Member
Nov 6, 2011
6,214
38
91
- Act as NAS:

- Silent / Low power consuption
Pick one. :D Understand, a PC that needs to be quiet is going to be tricky if it's full of HDDs. Using a good, sound-damped case like the Fractal R4 is essential, but you might want to consider building a NAS... and a separate HTPC. You can build a smallish mITX HTPC to handle pretty much everything else, have it stream from the separate NAS. This question (HTPC as NAS) has been hashed over before, if you search the HTPC forum you will find the respective threads.

As far as a front end, I use Windows Media Center (WMC) with the Media Browser snap-in. Very simple to use, fairly capable. I've tried XBMC (now called Kodi, by the way...) but don't really care for it; it's very capable but not as simple to setup and use... at least in my case. WMC comes with W7, but not W8, etc... which means it may have a limited service life if MS doesn't decide to keep it updated.
 

poofyhairguy

Lifer
Nov 20, 2005
14,613
315
126
Pick one. :D Understand, a PC that needs to be quiet is going to be tricky if it's full of HDDs. Using a good, sound-damped case like the Fractal R4 is essential, but you might want to consider building a NAS... and a separate HTPC. You can build a smallish mITX HTPC to handle pretty much everything else, have it stream from the separate NAS. This question (HTPC as NAS) has been hashed over before, if you search the HTPC forum you will find the respective threads.
I completely agree with this. Optimal is a server and separate HTPCs. I mean, not only do hard drives need active cooling any CPU doing Air Video is ramping up sometimes as well. Let all that hot and noisiness sit in a closet or something, while your HTPC is a small Chromebox (best XBMC box) next to the TV.

I mean, a Chromebox is fanless/silent. Can't beat that.
 

poofyhairguy

Lifer
Nov 20, 2005
14,613
315
126
He wants Blu-ray capability though. Now, if he ripped the Blu-rays, then he could do that pretty easily.
Lol, I just assume the ripping of Blu Rays in 2014! Who REALLY wants to sit through previews and menus you can't skip?

;)
 

Blasted

Junior Member
Oct 12, 2014
8
0
66
Blu-ray playback is not the top priority, but is something I'd be happy to have. Call me old-fashioned xD I even have some books in paper!

Could I fullfill all my other needs with Chromebox+NAS?

NAS + HTPC can be an option; However, I won't have the need for gazillions of TB for storage. I'm guesstimating my storage needs could be satisfied by 2x3TB disks. Also, I'm a bit worried that accessing the media library in the NAS from the HTPC might not be "smooth" and lag a bit?

Financially-wise, wouldn't it be substancially more expensive to get NAS+box, as I'd have to have 2 "computers"?
 

poofyhairguy

Lifer
Nov 20, 2005
14,613
315
126
Could I fullfill all my other needs with Chromebox+NAS?
Yes. I do. Plus the added option you can expand one day.

Ever get another TV/ larger place? Just add another Chromebox and you are set with a shared library and metadata (aka start in one room finish in another).

NAS + HTPC can be an option; However, I won't have the need for gazillions of TB for storage. I'm guesstimating my storage needs could be satisfied by 2x3TB disks.
That is enough I would have a dedicated NAS machine. You move the Air Video, downloading and media storage to the NAS, let the Chromebox do everything else (and MORE- mine is every console from the NES to the PS2).

Also, I'm a bit worried that accessing the media library in the NAS from the HTPC might not be "smooth" and lag a bit?
Nope, the Chromebox has a SSD for the local metadata and as long as your network is sound (gigabit wired or 5GHZ wireless) it is no problem. Heck I do it all day to four XBMC clients for five years now! The real lag you felt before from the Pi is the weak hardware, which the Chromebox lacks.

Financially-wise, wouldn't it be substancially more expensive to get NAS+box, as I'd have to have 2 "computers"?
Not long term for certain and not initially maybe.

Not long-term because you can grow much easier. You go FrankenNAS (which is what I call these HTPC and NAS combos) and the livingroom noise will eventually push you to do what I am suggesting. Or wanting a second client will. Or you end up needing more storage then you guessed right now. Or something else, but the point is part of your initial investment might have to be scrapped or underutilized. I have been there.

Plus, with a dedicated NAS box, who CARES what it looks like? Get some junker case, some junker PSU, a loud but powerful fan, etc and throw it in a closet. You can almost build the thing sans drives at goodwill. But if you build a FrakenNAS, you will have to blow money on a semi-expensive HTPC case just to get three drives in your livingroom in a way that is not offensive. So the extra is the cost of the Chromebox, which is worth it for a fanless device that can play almost anything.

Way to go.
 

hoorah

Senior member
Dec 8, 2005
755
18
81
NAS separate or as part of the HTPC has been hashed out many times, but here is the short version-

Separate boxes are better for less service interruption. If you tinker with your server box (trying a new backend software, upgrading hardware, swapping drives, etc) all that downtime falls over onto the HTPC. This will yield a low WAF.

Separate boxes are also better if you're concerned with having the front-end PCs go to sleep. If all of your data is on your main HTPC and you want to watch something on a tablet or another TV, the main one has to stay on 24/7. If its quiet and low power that may be okay, but if its a monster system it can be inconvenient.

Of course, theres the added complexity that HTPC cases typically don't have a bunch of drive bays. If you think you can get by on 2x2,3,4TB drives, then you might be okay. On the other hand if you expect to have 6 drives in your system your options will be limited.

I also don't like storing my personal data on the HTPC, which (for me) has a blank password and auto-login to make it easier for the rest of the family. If someone were to use that PC to want to stream something online and gets malware, that has access to all of my data. I much prefer having my data stored on a NAS/server box and separated out by user.

If I didn't need WMC (cablecard), I'd go NAS + chromebox (XBMC) in a heartbeat. Low noise in the family room is supreme.
 

BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
14,528
940
126
I took the maverick approach of making my sig-rig "HTPC-functional" as an afterthought. More accurately, I'd done it with its predecessor: a Q6600 system.

I don't know what I'd "recommend." The reason I have a WHS server is the reason cited by other posters here. But I'd heard rumors and hints of folks who enabled their server for HTPC duty.

With my multi-purpose 2600K rig, HTPC is a low-level background process that accounts for 3 to 5% CPU usage. It's pretty much "nothing." I can play TitanFall on one monitor while CNN blairs in the background on my HDTV and doesn't miss a lick.

And I still don't know what I'd "recommend."
 

Aikouka

Lifer
Nov 27, 2001
29,596
471
126
If I didn't need WMC (cablecard), I'd go NAS + chromebox (XBMC) in a heartbeat. Low noise in the family room is supreme.
Windows HTPCs don't have to be noisy. In my living room, I use a fanless case, and in my bedroom, I have a NUC with the fan profile set to 20% minimum (default is 40%, which is too loud).

Although, I am having problems with the latter that are beyond noise. Frankly, I've grown very displeased with Haswell over time. I normally build my desktop with fairly high-end components (not ridiculously expensive, but quality components), and I've had troubles with it from initial build. It took a ton of convincing for Intel to take back their CPU, which alleviated my problems for about a year until they came back. I use a NUC downstairs on a touch-based HTPC, and if you're using HDMI and the monitor is off, you cannot access it via remote desktop (Intel is aware and they've been unable to fix it for about a year so far). With my NUC that I use as a HTPC upstairs, I'm constantly having to restart it to fix a bug where the NUC's sound gets messed up after I turn the TV and receiver off (Same as before, Intel is aware and they cannot fix it). Stereo plays fine, but once it tries to bitstream anything, there's no sound and the video plays at about 1 FPS. My Ivy Bridge HTPC? It works great! :\
 

Blasted

Junior Member
Oct 12, 2014
8
0
66
Ok, Im starting to see the NAS+HTPC has its advantages.
Would the basic version of ASUS Chromebox do the job right? Some of the movies I want to see are 1080p and Id like to avoid lag and stutering. If not,which Chromebox should I be looking at?

Regarding the NAS, this might not be the correct place, but what would you suggest in order to obtain the desired results and functionality pointed above?

Cheeers
 

poofyhairguy

Lifer
Nov 20, 2005
14,613
315
126
Ok, Im starting to see the NAS+HTPC has its advantages.
Would the basic version of ASUS Chromebox do the job right? Some of the movies I want to see are 1080p and Id like to avoid lag and stutering. If not,which Chromebox should I be looking at?
Yup, Celeron Chromebox can play any 1080p file you throw at it on the CPU alone. Its an amazing little box for less than $200. Can run any XBMC skin too.

Regarding the NAS, this might not be the correct place, but what would you suggest in order to obtain the desired results and functionality pointed above?
I think for your needs some Windows box running Flexraid might be best. I am a big Unraid fan personally, but I run the Air Video off of my desktop.
 

Blasted

Junior Member
Oct 12, 2014
8
0
66
Sorry for the lack of activity, but some urgent matters made me put the project in standby for a while.

I've been tinkering with the Chromebox+NAS idea. For that I will have to ditch the Blu-ray playback already. For the memory card reading, I guess I will have to get a external reader and plug it on the Chromebox when I need to (won't be used everyday or so).

Regarding the software-side, I can automate the downloads, the sorting/organizing and the media scrapping from the NAS itself, correct?
 

tential

Diamond Member
May 13, 2008
7,363
641
121
I completely agree with this. Optimal is a server and separate HTPCs. I mean, not only do hard drives need active cooling any CPU doing Air Video is ramping up sometimes as well. Let all that hot and noisiness sit in a closet or something, while your HTPC is a small Chromebox (best XBMC box) next to the TV.

I mean, a Chromebox is fanless/silent. Can't beat that.
Not really. My Fractal Case has 6 HDDs in it and it's silent.
Your HDDs are mostly running Idle there isn't a reason for them to need a mass amount of cooling.

Blasted, this is my HTPC.
i7-4770k
8GB of RAM
22TB of HDDs
HD7950 card
Fractal Design Define R4
Ceton InfiniTV4

For the "auto downloading" I could set that up with sickbeard/couchpotato or whatever but I'm weird and I refuse to do it. I could use RSS feeds as well, I just prefer to download full seasons at once.

Audio? I have HDMI fed to a Receiver so of course I'm running 5.1 surround sound.

Act as a NAS? Well I just share every HDD over my network.

Easy to Use? I don't use it anymore besides playing Gamecube/Wii using Dolphin Emulator on it. I have a laptop in my bedroom I use instead. Since all the drives are shared network locations (NAS or whatever you want to call it I hate that term), they're all available on my laptop. I use XBMC of course to organize it.

Responsive? Well my client is my laptop which is responsive despite being 6 years old. Currently using XBMC 14.0 and Nebula skin on my Projector.

Portable Data? I could add it, I just don't care about that at all.

Blu Ray? I could again add this, but I don't have CD Drive in my HTPC. I never use one. If I need a CD Drive I usually just use my laptop. Then if I need the files on my HTPC, I just drag them over to it.

Silent/Low Power concern ( I think I already typed about this but elaborating on it) my HTPC is on 24/7. It's quiet/low noise. However, when gaming, the fans can "ramp up". They are only audible if you're listening for it or if I've been gaming for a LONG time. And I'm not talking loud audible, I'm talking, once I turn off everything in the room and the fans are still cooling they're audible.

You can automate downloads however you want whether you use Sickbeard/Couch Potato, Whether you use RSS Feeds or whatever.

How I do my downloads is as follows. I built a small thinclient (1U Server Rackmount PC) using a J1900 (you don't need this fast at all A J1800 is fine) 4GB of ram that was lying around, a 1.5TB HDD that my main HTPC no longer has room for. It's running Ubuntu and I just use the default Transmission Client. I add downloads to it on my laptop using the remote client (which for some reason is 10 times more feature full than the native ubuntu client....). You could automate the process, I just again don't care to but it's possible and you coudl use utorrent as well.

I'm not very good with Ubuntu so I just do it the way I do it but it's possible.

Sorry for the scatter brained post, but I hope that helps.

Oh, and the HTPC has an i7 4770k+HD7950 for gaming but I don't actually game on the HTPC at all anymore. I game in my bedroom using Steam In Home Streaming. The HTPC is essentially just a server that serves a ton of content including games but I rarely actually use it itself. I could download on the HTPC as well, but I don't want the HTPC to always be connected to a VPN and so I built the small client PC to always be connected to a VPN.

It's just your choice of how you want to set things up.

Edit: I could launch Steam from XBMC on my Laptop but I tab out so often to web browse that it's pointless. Half the time I'm webrowsing on 1 half of my screen and watching TV on the other half.
 
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poofyhairguy

Lifer
Nov 20, 2005
14,613
315
126
Sorry for the lack of activity, but some urgent matters made me put the project in standby for a while.

I've been tinkering with the Chromebox+NAS idea. For that I will have to ditch the Blu-ray playback already. For the memory card reading, I guess I will have to get a external reader and plug it on the Chromebox when I need to (won't be used everyday or so).

Regarding the software-side, I can automate the downloads, the sorting/organizing and the media scrapping from the NAS itself, correct?
Yup, do all that on the server. Chromebox is for playback and maybe old console emulation. Just rip the Blus, I Iike Makemkv for that.
 

Raincity

Diamond Member
Feb 17, 2000
4,475
12
81
I am running something similar and its whisper quiet . My HTPC server is housed in a Fractal Define Mini with 24T of media storage. I have another 2T drive just for DVR. The DVR portion is done in Win 7 Media Center. I serve up the media and DVR recordings via Plex to Roku 3 boxes in the house over a wired connection. The only limitation I have run into is the lack of DTS support with the Roku boxes. The next step for me is to convert with a new server built running Freenas along with Plex and Myth TV in jails to Chromeboxes. Maybe next year I will do it. I am trying to get some life out of the Roku boxes before the upgrade.
 

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