ORIGINALLY POSTED 30th November 2007
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About two years ago when our DVD player packed up we splashed out on a mid-range Sony DVD-R to replace the DVD player and the old VHS video recorder under the TV. This proved quite useful in finally putting those home movies onto DVD and saving the odd film for future viewing. Not to mention clearing off quite a few of the kids TV series that had accumulated on the Sky+ box. (For those out side the UK, Sky+ gives you hard drive recording of Satellite TV – encoded on the box however)
A few months back the new DVD recorder decided it had spun its last spin, and wouldn’t even play a disk. It was out of warranty (of course) so I had a look inside and the bare-bones DVD recorder unit was a custom job that meant I couldn’t just simply replace the drive unit. After a couple of calls to Sony, (and despite Googling the particular model and discovering this to be a common design flaw with this model), I refused to cough up the 100UKP Sony wanted to replace what is afterall a 15UKP drive unit.
When my wife asked a few weeks back what I wanted for Christmas I was initially stumped. I’d bought a copy of Custom PC, which happened to have an article about the latest Intel vs AMD battle and how AMD had slipped its initial X2 lead with its failure to deliver X4 before Intel. This got me wondering how well my 18 month old X2 4200+ was actually stacking up. Anyway, cut a long story short, I started looking at what it would take to build a DVD recorder myself. At least that way I could replace a faulty drive myself!
So here we are a few weeks later, and its done. The two constraints I set myself were the 200UKP it would cost for a decent replacement DVD recorder and ~35db of background noise.
The first thing I found and liked was the Hiper Media Center Case. This is no bigger than a standard DVD player/recorder and would fit nicely inside the TV cabinet. After much googling and reading I worked out that if I could avoid having to buy a separate VGA card that would be best. It didn’t really need to do much, our CRT TV can only handle 1024×768 so large resolution VGA cards were not needed. The Sky+ box providing dual digital tuners with many more channels that available on a TV tuner card also meant nothing extra was needed. The search was then on for a micro ATX motherboard with built in VGA and some form of TV out.
I stumbled upon the AMD690 chipset which looked like it had everything I needed. A built in ATI Radeon x1250 and more outs than you could shake a stick at. The chipset supports VGA, DVI-D, S-Video and HDTV. However finding a manufacturer that had actually bothered to wire them up to a socket, and not just a jumper based header proved more difficult. Eventually I found this little beauty, the BIOStar TA690G which has everything I needed.
With the case and mobo now sorted, I’d blown half my budget. The cheapest AM2 CPU I could find was a Semperon 3000+ which given that this box isn’t going to be doing any major number crunching was more than adequate. (You need to get one of the Hiper low profile CPU coolers too). I had more than enough DDR in my desktop, so 2GB of that in the box (512MB devoted to the VGA memory) and a 300GB SATA drive that had been almost idle in my desktop PC. The peripheral requirements were sorted with the use of a Keysonic Wireless keyboard and touchpad (Nothing worse than trying to find somewhere to use a wireless mouse when sat on the sofa), a dirt cheap Cyberlink remote control and after much more googling, the actual DVD recording side of the box was solved with the K-World USB DVD maker this allows for streaming of video not only to MPEG formats but also direct to DVD. A slimline (laptop style) DVD-R drive completed the purchases and I’d gone about 10UKP over budget – this had however turned into my Christmas present!
The box came up first time without grief, after the usual messing around with the BIOS. I’d spent some time working out if I needed to buy a copy of Windows XP Media Center Edition, however the copy of Nero 7 Ultra that I had has the Nero Home application – basically does exactly what MCE does, but for a lot less of the green folding stuff!
The only real problem I had after assembling the box is the cooling. The CPU and memory side of the mobo were fine. The Hiper case has some vents directly above the CPU/memory and you can feel coolish air coming from them. However the PSU end of the case vents air sideways out of the case, directly against the side of the TV cabinet and back into the case. The SATA drive is next to the PSU and of course under some heavy thrashing from DVD encoding (or copying my many GB of self-ripped mp3’s) meant you could barely touch the case. Not good for drive reliability!
Since I hadn’t used the PCI slot in the case, an Antec Cyclone PCI bracket mounted exhaust blower was the best option. This is quiet and doesn’t add to the general noise of the box. Note that in general the box is not noticeable when running – certainly makes no more noise than the Sky+ box itself. The exhaust blower did the trick and while the PSU and drive are getting noticeably hot, you can at least place your hand on the case without scalding yourself.
The remote works perfectly with Nero Home, providing all the functions needed. So now not only have we replaced the DVR recorder, but we have an MP3 player, (oh the mobo has built in 7.1 surround, I’ve only wired up 2.1, the stereo TV speakers and a subwoofer to add what the TV lacks in bass) a photo slideshow viewer and of course now I can surf on the TV from the comfort of the sofa.
All in I went about 25UKP over budget, but considering what the box does a full media PC for the price is pretty darn good. I’ve just spent the last few nights updating the meta-data in my MP3 collection so Nero Scout indexes them properly, so its going to be a lazy Christmas in the comfort of the sofa. Even my 5 year old has adapted to it and is showing mummy how to make the DVD play full-screen 😉