Do I Really Need a Home Theater PC (HTPC)?

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The Home Theater PC has hit an all time high. Everyone wants to have a single location to play music, stream movies, and capture movies like a DVR, and some would like to browse the Internet on that same PC. I think this is a little extreme. The HTPC is now becoming the do everything PC, and not really doing HTPC duties.  Do we really need a HTPC?

Let’s list some things that already exist:

  • Cable companies give you the option of the DVR. Now my HTPC does not need to record.
  • Most people have an iPOD or some sort of music player.

You can simply play your music player through your receiver. My HTPC does not need to play music. That leaves only one thing left… playing movies.

For the sake of argument, let’s remove the HTPC off the table completely.  How can we play movies without a PC and without a DVD disc?

There are many DVD players out there that are now equipped with a Hi-Speed USB 2.0 port as well as up converting to 1080p. The model I am referring to is the Philips DVP-5992 or the DVP-5990. Both can play CD, (S)VCD, DVD, DVD+R/RW/DL, DVD-R/RW/DL, WMV, DivX, WMA, MP3 and HD jpeg photos. The Hi-Speed USB 2.0 link plays video and music from a USB flash drive.

However, not listed in the manual – the player can read FAT32 external hard drives as well.  WHAT?!?!? Hold on a second…  You’re telling me that a DVD player can see a hard drive? YES IT CAN! Why invest in a HTPC when a $50 DVD player can achieve the same thing! The player can read a DivX file from any optical media as well as external hard drives and thumb drives. 2.5” USB powered drives are powered by the DVD player.

Since the DVD player is connected to my 7.1 Pioneer receiver, I can also enjoy Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround from my DivX files if encoded the right way.  How do we get started?

First off we need to find where we can buy the Philips DVD player.  Notice the image above, showing the USB port – this is where you will connect your FAT 32 external media (hard drive or thumb drive.) You’ll need to download a free application called CompuApps SwissKnife that allows you to format large disks to FAT32.

Second we need to download the latest DVD Fab decrypter.  This is how we get DVD ripped to your hard drive. I like to do many at once; however you’ll need a large amount of disk space – about 8 gig per movie.  The DivX encoder; Omniquiti Lathe 1.5, allows you to do batch jobs;  however  it works very well in XP but not in 64bit Windows 7, but PocketDivXEncoder_0.4.5, does. I found this on the net very easily for free.

I’m not going to show you how to encode, if you have a HTPC, you already know how… 😉 and that’s an entirely different article.  The image below shows an example of a 16 gig thumb drive ready to be used on the DVD player, notice the drive is formatted FAT32:

OK, let’s turn on the DVD player. This is what it will look like (minus the folder structure):

This is the root of the 500 gig drive. I like to make my movies organized, so I made a few folders to get to the movies easier.  Please take note on the lower right of the image – highlighted is USB1. This DVD player can read DivX file off of DVD as well. The remote has a DVD button so getting to the drive is a snap

I proceeded to go into the movies folder and went into movies that begin with the letter “B” – notice it’s as easy as this. Balls of fury is currently highlighted and ready to be played.

This TV is a 64” projection TV.  The quality of the movies is very important. I keep the movie files between 1.2 gig to 1.5 gig. This gives great resolution of the DivX file. Transformers; Revenge of the fallen is going to be a 2 gig movie. If you use Lathe or Pocket DivX, the video quality would be 120 for pretty much every file. Anything higher may not be necessary; however if you want the best, you can crank it up to 199 for the best

If you want to keep the Dolby digital sound, under the advanced options select direct audio stream copy.  I tend to do this for every movie; however, TV shows don’t get this checked off. Please take note that each step in numbered, making it very easy to know what to do next.

The HTPC can be a complicated device to operate, especially if you have a wife and a few kids. Playing a movies or a show is as easy as turning on the DVD player and then selecting USB. Having a HTPC is just another added expense is not needed for this task.

The cost of the DVD player is around $60. External 500 gig hard drives are another $100 or so. I like to use 2.5” portable drives; however I do have a few 3.5” externals at each location. I have a total of three of these DVD players throughout my home. Each drive has the same movies and shows on them. If you don’t need to record because you have a DVR, and playing movies and music is your main goal, then this is the solution for you!

Joe Schibani Jr. (Joeteck)

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