Friday, August 16, 2002

My dream entertainment PC

I've been thinking about this a lot and I've desided a fun project would be to build an entertainment center PC. Gateway tried this a couple years ago with mild results. The unit was pretty big, but had a DVD player, numberous audio and video attachments and a big 32 inch TV/monitor. The monitor is pretty impressive, but the PC left something to be desired. Our system at work, that we us for our conference room has been pretty much gutted and rebuilt by me. The functionality is still there but with better parts. So I started thinking lately, why not make one for myself.

The funtions I'm looking for are:

  • PVR (Personal Video Recorder). This is like what a Tivo will do. Allow you to cache video for replay, fast forward and pause. I also want to be able to keep certain shows or movies that I like. Basically I could watch a PPV movie, record it and store it on the hard drive and watch it again later when I want.

  • DVD playback and recording. I'd want a DVD recorder. It would play regular DVDs as well as make them. That movie I recorded I could put on DVD (for personal use!) and free up hard drive space. Sure I could compress the hell out of that movie and maybe get it to fit on a CD but why? I might as well put it onto VHS tape if I was going to do that, the quality would be about the same.

  • 5.1 suround sound audio. Many of the better audio cards on the market today will give you all the attachments you need as well as 5.1 or even THX encodeing and decoding. What this means is you can get an audio signal that is equivalent to those more expensive rack-mount systesms.

  • A video card with coaxial cable in, with TV tuner and S-video out (and/or composite). This will allow me to bring in my cable TV and/or VCR directly into the computer, for recording purposes, but also allowing for video playback, either DVD or stored video on the hard drive, via the S-video or composite connection into the TV.

  • An IR port with remote. This will be a bit tricky to find, but not impossible.

  • A really big hard drive or two. A later possible upgrade would be to go with SCSI for faster hard drive speed and better data through-put. Standard IDE drives are bigger and cheaper but lack sustained speed. In small bursts they can rival a SCSI drive, but for streaming content and continuous read/write activity SCSI out proforms IDE any day. That is why most servers and high-end workstations (where the video and audio editors work) use SCSI instead of IDE.

  • Memory and CPU speed are less of a concern, but I probably would go with a Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon XP with half a gigabyte of memory, just because it's so cheap these days.

So that's the start of the plan. Now to go hunting for the details. I'll list all parts and prices on a page that I'll link to in a bit. This will give others a way of recreating this project for themselves and for family to consider as gift possiblities. ;)

I'm also going to compair the final price and functionality against the standard consumer products that I'm consolidating. I believe that my PC will be considerably cheaper, but we'll see.

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