Sep 082010
Authors: Ryan Gibbons and Glen Pfeiffer

In a perfect world, we would all be able to walk into our house/apartment/dorm/wigwam, pick up a remote, turn on the telly and have instant access to our music library, stored movies, DVR recordings and Internet at the touch of a button.

It turns out that today, it is a perfect world. Thanks to home media servers, all of this is possible, and you don’t have to be a computer engineer to make it happen.

Last week, we talked about the new and improved AppleTV being released and what an awesome replacement it could be for our local cable company. As is inevitable in the computing business, we took a little bit of heat from readers for only covering Apple products in that column.

We want you to rest assured that if Microsoft had had a press conference that week as well, we would have covered it, too.

This week, in order to prove our love for products other than Apple, we’re going to talk about building a home media server on the best platform out there for doing so right now –– Windows 7.

There is third-party and open source software for managing media out there, but Windows Media Center (included as part of Windows 7) is the most polished program out there –– what it might lack in features it makes up for in ease of use and shininess.

Lets start talking hardware.

For many re-purposed PC projects like a server or a fish tank monitor (it’s on our to-do list), we’d suggest using that old PC that’s been sitting in the closet gathering dust.

However, for a Media PC you’re going to need a little more power to get those HD episodes of “Glee” up on your 42-inch plasma.

Of course you don’t have to go and build your own computer –– just be on the lookout for some of the following features when picking out a PC for the job.

Hard Drive Space: An hour of HD video can easily take up over 7 gigabytes of space, so unless you’re planning on deleting all your videos on a weekly basis we’d suggest around 2 terabytes.

Hard drive space is dirt-cheap now, and you want to be able to record all the HD cable shows you want.

Video Card: As everything we’ve talked about is put together to support HD, you’ll want to make sure the video card supports an HDMI port on the PC.

You’ll also want it to have between 512 megabytes and 1 gigabyte of built in memory – if you must, spend more money on a better video card before a better processor or more regular RAM – you’ll need it to play that HD video smoothly.

Optical Drive: Make sure its Blu-ray. If not, your media server will become outdated long before you want it to. Drives for computers are much cheaper than a standalone Blu-ray drive – for only $60 you can pop one in your server, so why not?

TV Tuner: Most computers don’t typically come with TV tuner cards so you’ll probably have to buy one after the computer. This part is essential – you need to plug your cable into the computer and therefore be able to record shows.

You can find these for around $50 (try, and installation is a breeze (avoid one that’s too easy – connecting the coax through a USB tuner card will probably be pretty slow).

There are of course the standard features you can upgrade any old PC with, but these are the essentials to one that will be a media server.

So if you’re jealous of your friend’s house always being the one people go to for watching movies, wait no longer, and start working on your own sweet setup. Binary Boys out.

Columnists Ryan Gibbons and Glen Pfeiffer would like to dedicate this column to Nathan Reitmeier’s home media server, without which many more Bothans would have died. They can be contacted at

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