Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Media Control

Quite by accident I stumbled upon Windows Media Center in Vista. I had no intention of using Vista as a media player as the machine I was building was solely intended as a World of Warcraft laptop replacement to service my evolving WoW requirements; played on my large wide screen monitor.

So within Vista I find Windows Media Center. What's this? It plays media, lots of media, all my media. It claims to play ATSC. I hook up a cheap, old USB ATSC tuner. Vista has drivers. Media Center recognizes it. It scans channels. It plays back all the over-the-air HD selections I receive. SOLD.

Everything is a Roku replacement

Everything Roku shall herein be referred to as the HD1000 aka Photobridge aka the coolest video playback device potentially ever. Thin client media playback was such a swell idea and we all tried it and we did it but Roku saw the future and it had HDMI all over it and more than that - Digital Rights Managent, which I'm sure Roku didn't want to mess with nor probably had the legal treasury to support. I understand why the HD1000 was left to die.

Microsoft has the treasury to enter agreements with those who want to protect their content and thus Vista is probably over 50 percent coded to support DRM. That seems like it sucks but for $89 I picked up Vista Home Premium OEM and came away with an awesome Media playback machine that supports DRM. And Vista plays games and does a bunch of other stuff too: though not sure exactly what, or why.

Bye bye thin client media playback machine aka Roku welcome Roku Replacement.

The Replacement(s)

Shuttle SN78SHY

Oh all right - I'll tell ya...

Although the Shuttle SN78SHY comes with onboard Nvidea HDMI support, and that's a big reason I bought it, the playback capabilities are lacking in Windows Media Center (choppy). Also, gaming,well, this is no gaming machine as is. So I threw in an ATI HD 3850 which from my experience has modest cooling needs when playing modest demand games like WoW and Warhammer Online. The full length card fits just right in the provided space. However there's no room for a cooling fan as the PCI express slot is adjacent to the right side of the case. In the name of silence I thought I'd try out the fan-less Zalman VNF100 as the cooler tubes run to a heat radiator which sits behind the video card where there is plenty of room if one does not plan on using the remaining PCI slot. With the cover removed on the Shuttle I found idle temperatures of 50C and gaming temperatures over 70C. I tried it for a while with the cover installed and the Shuttle basically became a toaster oven. Interestingly Shuttle offers this model as a prebuilt with the ATI HD 3850 as an option. I wonder how that runs.

I thought a lot about cramming a fan somewhere in the case but the space between the video card and hard drive mount assembly was nil - plus - this was all done in the name of silence. Fan noise is not what I want more of. Speaking of fan noise, the Shuttle SN78SHY is very quiet. Fan noise is imperceptible when running idle. I have not been able to stress the Shuttle enough to raise the fan requirements to perceptibility.

So with the boldness imbued upon me by television and Jesse James of Monster Garage fame I considered reversing the Zalman VNF100 radiator mount on the ATI HD 3850 thus having the radiator exposed: outside the case. Mostly though, I wondered how cool it would look. If it did work, well, I knew I would at least get decent temperatures; 50C idle and 70C under load as when the case is removed.

Results would turn out way better than expected. But first, I had to make some nice clean cuts into the case with a hacksaw and drill...