Wednesday, March 14, 2012

HTPC Experience

Hello Blog-readers and Tech Nerds.  It's been a while since I've contributed so on Pie day (which so many of my friends have pointed out is only observed by real nerds), I thought I'd write a techy post on my Home Theater PC experience...hence the title.

The market is being flooded by new digital means of watching TV on your big screen.  From the Apple TV to Google TV, the Boxee Box to integrated Apps built into your favorite flatscreen, companies are finally trying to tap into what many of us have been doing for years.  Watching TV on a computer.

I built my first HTPC in 2006 out of the best components I could afford off at the time.  It was a great box that looked like an old school audio receiver with volume knob and buttons on the front.  Even had an LCD you could have display almost anything.  I ran that system all the way till 2010 (almost 24 hours a day) till the motherboard fried.

For the last 2 years I've been running a much smaller machine and I have to say, I'm quite impressed with the quality.  Asrock put together some bare bones systems built mostly on laptop parts that really handles the graphic requirements a new HTPC needs (that's for the suggestion Brain).  Costing me less than $500 for the hardware, I have a high definition system connected to my Flat Screen that when coupled with Windows running Media Center and a Tuner Card will record and play TV almost out of the box.

What You Need:

  1. Asrock Barebones Computer
  2. A version of Windows (suggest Windows 7 64bit with Home Premium or above for Media Center)
  3. A USB TV Tuner (This one looks pretty good and does digital)
  4. A HDMI cable to connect your TV (assuming you have a HDTV with HDMI input)
  5. You probably want an external hard drive cause you're gonna fill up the built in one with recorded TV
  6. If you buy the Asrock that doesn't include a remote, pickup a MCE remote with infrared receiver
  7. If you like to have the keyboard an mouse handy, a wireless set makes it easy to hide
The Setup:
  1. Boot up the Asrock and install Windows (use a password you can easily input with the remote).  Connect to the internet and run windows update.  I'd throw the following software on there too:
    1. Chrome for Browsing
    2. FlashPlayer
    3. VLC (for watching odd codex)
    4. ffdshow (Free open-source codex to process video and audio)
    5. Make sure the Graphic Card drivers are the most current and up-to-date
    6. Logmein or another remote desktop client
    7. Virus Protection (use something free with good ratings, Norton will just slow the whole thing down)
    8. I'd setup Netflix while you have the mouse and keyboard connected to make it easy
    9. Install your external hard drive, format and name it if you so desire
    10. Install your Tuner Card
  2. Now, connect the computer to your flat screen (if you are using the built in infrared, make sure the box is in direct sight of your remote, otherwise locate your IR receiver in a good location)
  3. Make sure the tuner card is connected to your cable or cable box
  4. Boot the system and run Media Center.  You will now walk through all the steps to properly display MCE on your TV and setup the Tuner Card to work with your service provider. (Note: if you are using a cable box things get much more interesting with IR blasters and trying to get windows to control your cable box.  I just gave up and use the basic cable and avoid the mess of cable boxes)
  5. Setup MCE to record your favorite TV shows.
There are of course many issues that can arrise and having your own HTPC isn't for the faint a heart.  But lets be honest here, having something you don't have to pay for, that records TV and will display whatever online content you want on your big screen is pretty awesome.  It's really just a huge computer so go ahead an throw on The Daily Show through Chrome and full screen it...looks better than Netflix most of the time.  YouTube and Vimeo, with HD streaming you won't know why you ever just flipped channels for hours looking for something to watch.  

Saturday, March 3, 2012

DIY Boot Straightener

Droopy boots get me down. They flop over in the closet, looking messy and creating extra creases and slouchiness in the boots I'm trying to get a lot of life from.

Solution? A pool noodle. I grabbed this noodle at Target for $2 (too bad they haven't shown up at our Dollar Store just yet). I cut it into four sections and straightened up my black and brown boots in nothin flat! Regular scissors work fine - this was a two minute project.

Happy Saturday!
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