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Build Your Own Media Center PC, Part 2

by Wei-Meng Lee

Last week, I showed you how to buy all the pieces to build your own media center PC for around $1,500. This week, it's time to roll up your sleeves and get to work--I'll show you how to assemble the PC, install the operating system, and finally, use it.

The first step is be to prepare the motherboard. Figure 29 shows the MSI 945GM2 with the Intel Pentium D fitted into the socket. Also, notice that Samurai Z CPU Cooler on top of the CPU.

Figure 29
Figure 29. The motherboard with the CPU and CPU cooler

Next, fit the hard disk, graphics card, TV tuner, and DVD writer onto the casing. Figure 30 shows my assembled computer in the Antec Fusion case. For the Antec casing, the VFD display connects to the casing via a USB connector. Be sure to connect it to a USB connector on the motherboard. Likewise, do the same for the Mozart SX.

Figure 30
Figure 30. The assembled system in the Antec Fusion case

Figure 31 shows my assembled computer in the Mozart SX case.

Figure 31
Figure 31. The assembled system in the Mozart SX case

Receiving TV Signals

Once the media center is assembled, it is now time to prepare it to receive TV signals. How you do this depends on the way that you receive TV signals at home.

If You Have a Set-Top Box

First, connect the cable point directly to the set-top box. Next, to connect your set-top box to the WinTV-PVR-500, simply connect the color-coded connectors from your set-top box to the similarly coded connectors on the WinTV-PVR-500. Figure 32 shows the connectors at the back of a typical set-top box.

Figure 32
Figure 32. Connecting a set-top box to your TV tuner card

If You Do Not Have a Set-Top Box

In this case, simply connect the cable point directly to the WinTV-PVR-500's TV connector.

Connecting the PC to the TV/Monitor

Connecting a monitor to the PC is straightforward. If your monitor supports DVI, connect the PC and the monitor using a DVI cable (see Figure 33). If it doesn't support DVI, connect them using a VGA cable.

Figure 33
Figure 33. A DVI cable

If you are connecting your PC to a TV, and your TV supports DVI input, then connect the TV to your graphics card using a DVI cable.

If your TV does not support DVI, but has an S-Video input, then connect the TV to your graphics card using an S-Video cable (if your graphics card supports an S-Video output). (See Figure 34.)

Note: S-video cables only carry video signals, but not sound. Hence, you still need to connect the sound separately.

Figure 34
Figure 34. An S-video cable

If none of the above solutions is suitable for you, you need to connect the video and audio from your PC to the TV separately. To connect the sound output from your PC to the TV, use a mini stereo phone plug (see Figure 35) and connect one end to the "line out" of your sound card and one end to the TV (the red and white connectors). Then, use a composite video cable (the yellow connector) and connect it to the "composite video output" of your graphics card and the other end to the TV.

Figure 35
Figure 35. Using a mini stereo phone plug and a video cable

If you already have a set of composite video and audio cables (with the three colored connectors), then you can simply buy a 3.5mm stereo mini phone plug to RCA jack adapter and connect one end of it to the sound card and the other end (the red and white connectors) to the composite video and audio cable (see Figure 36).

Figure 36
Figure 36. Using a set of video and audio cables and a stereo mini phone plug to RCA jack adapter

Connecting the Remote Control

Last, but not least, connect the Media Center remote control receiver/blaster box (which comes together with the remote control in the WinTV-PVR-500 package) to the PC. Windows should automatically detect the new device; no drivers are needed.

Installing the Operating System

Traditionally, the Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 operating system only came preinstalled on new computers sold by PC manufacturers. And that means that you were forced to buy the entire system, without the ability to build your own custom media center. However, now you are able to buy the OS itself from OEM vendors. Here is a list of vendors selling the Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 operating system.

Alternatively, if you are a MSDN subscriber, you can download the Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 from Microsoft's MSDN site (via the Subscriber's Download area).

Installing the OS is the same as installing Windows XP--all the steps are the same. Depending on the TV tuner cards you use, upon successful installation of the OS, you will be prompted to install the drivers for the TV tuner card. In this case, simply install the drivers provided by the TV card manufacturer.

Also, depending on the type of motherboard, you may need to install drivers for the:

For the both casings, you need to install the VFD application that came with the casings. Doing so will allow the VFD display located at the front of the casing to display useful system information when the media center is in use (see Figure 37 for the VFD display on the Antec Fusion).

Figure 37
Figure 37. The VFD display on the Antec Fusion case

Launching Media Center

To launch the Media Center, you can either:

Figure 38
Figure 38. Ways to launch Media Center

Configuring the Media Center

The first time you launch Media Center, you will be brought through a series of steps to set it up (see Figure 39). To start the Media Center setup wizard, click Next.

Figure 39
Figure 39. Setting up Media Center

In the next step, you will be:

Figure 40
Figure 40. Configuring your display

When the setup is complete, you will be brought back to the main menu (see Figure 41). You are now ready to use Media Center!

Figure 41
Figure 41. Main menu of Media Center

You can now use your remote control to navigate the menus in the Media Center. To select the highlighted menu item, press the OK button on the remote control.

Playing DVDs

One of the most common problems people have with Media Center occurs when they try to play a DVD on the computer. You will see the error as shown in Figure 42.

Figure 42
Figure 42. Decoder error message is displayed when you do not have an MPEG-2 video decoder installed

This is because, by default, the Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 does not come with a MPEG-2 video decoder (also known as a DVD decoder). To verify if there is in fact a video decoder installed on your system, use the Windows XP Video Decoder Checkup Utility provided by Microsoft.

If there isn't any video decoder installed on your system, you need to purchase one. Sometimes when you buy a DVD drive, it may come with a free version of CyberLink PowerDVD. In this case, install the PowerDVD application and it should do the trick.

Alternatively, you can also purchase the NVIDIA PureVideo Decoder (a plugin for Microsoft Windows Media Player and Media Center Edition that enables smooth and vibrant videos). You can download a 30-day free trial ($19.95 to purchase).

Once the video decoder is installed, you can verify it by running the Windows XP Video Decoder Checkup Utility again (see Figure 43).

Figure 43
Figure 43. Using the Windows XP Video Decoder Checkup Utility

With that, you can now pop in a DVD into your DVD drive and navigate to the Play DVD menu item (see Figure 44), press the OK button on the remote control, and start watching (see Figure 45).

Figure 44
Figure 44. Selecting the Play DVD menu item

Figure 45
Figure 45. Playing a DVD movie

Listening to Radio

The Hauppauge TV tuner card comes with a radio receiver and so you can also tune in to the radio using the Media Center. First, navigate to the Radio item (see Figure 46) and then press the OK button on the remote control.

Figure 46
Figure 46. Selecting the Radio menu item

Then, enter the frequencies of the radio stations you are interested in and save them. You can save up to nine stations (see Figure 47).

Figure 47
Figure 47. Saving radio channels

After this, simply select the preset radio channel and press the OK button on your remote control to listen to the selected channel.

Viewing Photos

You can also view photos on your media center by selecting the My Pictures menu item (see Figure 48).

Figure 48
Figure 48. Selecting the My Pictures menu item

You will see the pictures (organized in groups) saved on your current computer (see Figure 49).

Note: The fastest way to add photos to your media center is to copy them (from your digital camera, for example) and save them into the My Pictures folder within the My Documents folder.

Figure 49
Figure 49. Viewing pictures

You can select a particular group and then select the Play Slide Show item. Figure 50 shows the slide show in action.

Figure 50
Figure 50. Viewing a slide show

Watching TV

The main attraction of having a media center is the ability to watch TV on your computer. Before you can watch TV, though, you need to do some work. First, navigate to the Settings menu item (see Figure 51) and press the OK button on the remote control.

Figure 51
Figure 51. Selecting the Settings menu item

Next, follow these steps:

  1. Select TV and press OK.
  2. Select Set Up TV Signal and press OK. A warning prompt will be shown, alerting you that any recording in progress will be affected. Select Yes and press OK.
  3. In the Set Up Your TV Signal screen, select Next and press OK.
  4. You will be asked to select your region. Select your region and then select Next and press OK.
  5. You will now select the type of TV signal you receive (see Figure 52). Select the appropriate type and then select Next and press OK.
  6. Figure 52
    Figure 52. Choosing the type of TV signal you receive

  7. You will next be asked if you have a set-top box. For simplicity, I am not connecting to a set-top box. Select No and then Next and press OK.
  8. You will now configure the TV tuners (See Figure 53). If you have dual TV tuners (such as in the case of the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-500), select Two and then Next and press OK.

Figure 53
Figure 53. Selecting how many TV tuners to configure

That's it! You are done now. Depending where you are located, you may be able to receive guide listings for your TV programs. When you are done, select Return to TV Settings and then Finish and press OK.

Scanning for TV Channels

With the TV signal all set up, you need to scan for TV channels that you can receive. Select Scan for more services (see Figure 54) and press OK.

Figure 54
Figure 54. Scanning for TV signals

As usual, a warning prompt will be shown, alerting you that any recording in progress will be affected. Select Yes and press OK. Media Center will now start scanning for channels (see Figure 55). This may take a while. Select Next and press OK.

Figure 55
Figure 55. The TV channels found

That's it! Navigate to the My TV (see Figure 56) menu item, press OK and then select Live TV.

Figure 56
Figure 56. Selecting the My TV menu item

You can now select the channels you want to watch using the remote control. Figure 57 shows the picture quality of a selected TV channel. Overall, the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-500 board delivers very good picture quality.

Figure 57
Figure 57. Watching TV on the media center

Recording TV

Besides watching TV, another great feature of the Windows Media Center is its ability to record TV programs. To record a program, select the Add Recording item (see Figure 58) within the My TV screen and press OK.

Figure 58
Figure 58. Adding a TV recording

Specify the channel you want to record as well as other information such as start and end time, frequency, etc. (see Figure 59). To record the program, select the Record item and press OK.

Figure 59
Figure 59. Recording a TV program

If you have dual TV tuners (like the WinTV-PVR-500), you can watch and record TV programs at the same time.


In this article, you have seen how to custom build your own media center by building your own PC and using the Microsoft Windows Media Center Edition 2005 OS. I have built my own media center using the two casings from Antec and Thermaltake. The estimated cost of each system is summarized below:

Components Price (using Antec Fusion) Price (using Thermaltake Mozart SX)
Casing $219.00 $250.00
Power Supply (Coolmax 400Watt ATX power supply with 120mm fan) N. A. $40.00
CPU (Intel Pentium D 830 3GHz) $280.00 $280.00
CPU Cooler (Samurai Z CPU cooler/CL-P0220 CPU cooler ) $25.00 $23.00
Motherboard (MSI 945GM2 HF) $109.00 $109.00
Memory 2GB (two pieces of Corsair's 1GB PC4200 DDR CL4 Value Select DDR2 memory) $250.00 $250.00
DVD Writer (Pioneer DVR-110DSV) $69.00 $69.00
Hard Drive (Seagate Barracuda ST3250824AS 250GB) $96.00 $96.00
TV Tuner Card (Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-500 MCE-Kit) $170.00 $170.00
Graphics card (Asus Extreme N6200TC TOP/TD/128M) $55.00 $55.00
Keyboard (Remote Keyboard for Windows XP Media Center Edition) $80.00 $80.00
Operating System (Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005) $125.00 $125.00
Total $1,478.00 $1,547.00

Note: Actual pricing may rise or fall depending on the market rates. This table is provided for your information and reference only.

As you can see, for around $1500, you will be able to build a relatively powerful media center. Your choice of casing will affect the overall pricing a little, but not much. Also note that I have not included the pricing of the monitor/TV, as you may want to use your existing display or TV.

Wei-Meng Lee (Microsoft MVP) is a technologist and founder of Developer Learning Solutions, a technology company specializing in hands-on training on the latest Microsoft technologies.

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