Every so often, I’m asked about how I have my home entertainment center set up. Usually, I grab the nearest whiteboard and marker and then diagram it out, because it can be somewhat difficult to explain just by speaking… I think, however, I should be able to jot it down in text with the aid of some pictures!
First of all, meet Kagami, the hub of my home network…
Some of you may be wondering “What? That’s it? That doesn’t look like anything special…” and on appearance alone, you would be correct. Kagami is the only off-the-shelf desktop computer I own (and in fact the first one I’ve owned in many many years) and is a Dell PowerEdge SC440. The base machine cost me about $250 to purchase from Dell without an OS and I’ve pretty much left her stock. There are, however, a few major additions, namely in the area of storage. At present, Kagami carries 4 hard drives: 2 750GB Samsung Spinpoint F1s and 2 1.5TB Seagate Barracudas. Judging by the manufacturers’ capacity figures, she carries 4.25TB worth of storage space (the “real” number is actually around 4.1TB, using computer interpretation of the number of bytes in a kilobyte).
The other reason Kagami is special is that she isn’t using a run-of-the-mill operating system. She’s running an OEM copy of Microsoft’s Windows Home Server, which allows me to backup and maintain all of the other machines in the house.
Pretty much all of my media (music, videos, pictures, and DVD images) is stored on Kagami and important irreplaceable data such as pictures are duplicated across multiple drives.
Next, meet Chikane. She’s my primary machine and serves as the powerhouse for all off the important tasks I do from day to day (like surf the internet, check email, and do photo processing). On the outside, she looks far more interesting…
As my pride and joy, Chikane has all of the best toys, including a quad-core Intel processor, 8GB of RAM, and 750GB of hard drive space. She also sports a media card reader and two CD/DVD RW drives. Another important feature to note is that she carries a TV tuner card that has the capability of receiving digital television broadcasts. This allows me to record and store high definition content from over the airwaves. The extra CPU horsepower also allows me to rip and convert DVD content, though the majority of what I do is convert existing DVDs to flat images for storage on the server. For TV shows, however, I usually elect to rip the individual episodes for storage (more on that later).
In addition to the main computer, I also have two media center PCs in the house. First is Belldandy, the “older sister” of the group. I originally built Bell in the summer of 2004 as my primary machine in college and has stayed with me all of these years. With the advances in computing power, her 2.4 GHz P4 CPU is a far cry from the 2.4 Ghz quad core found in Chikane, but she does give enough for decoding DVDs and playing back standard definition content. With some coaxing, she’s even been known to play HD content and even used to be my HDTV recorder.
Despite her age, she still runs Windows 7 gracefully and outputs 720p picture to the TV. However, due to the fact that she’s connected via wireless, she’s severely limited in bandwidth and often has trouble streaming anything of a medium to high bitrate (like DVD images).
Lastly, we come to Konata, the primary media PC in the house. She makes herself at home in the living room and is hooked up to the main entertainment system in the house.
Konata was built specifically as a media PC, and features all of the parts to match. I’d picked out a low power output dual core CPU and paired it with a motherboard based on the ATi 780G chipset. This combination gives me a relatively cool running machine that has enough horsepower to decode high definition video and Blu-Rays without the need for add on cards. To top the package off, I also installed an LG BD/HD-DVD reader.
Earlier, I mentioned that my format of choice for DVDs was straight uncompressed images. Using a combination of Windows Media Center and a piece of software called Media Browser, I’m able to create an extremely rich library browsing experience and have access to my entire DVD collection without ever having to grab a disk from the shelf. I store all of my DVD images and videos on the home server, point Media Browser to those directories, and it (with a little help from me) grabs the associated metadata from the internet and creates an extremely rich browsing experience (see above). Cover art, plot synopsis, and actor information is pulled down and displayed. In addition, since it is integrated directly into Windows Media Center, I can then take advantage of Media Center’s capabilities to play DVD image files. It’s as if I had the disk inserted into the drive!
That’s a quick run around my home media set up. Hopefully it was simple enough to understand!