Due to a string of unfortunate decisions, I am a reluctant homeowner. Since buying the house I’ve either been too low on funds or too adamant to sell it to bother with any “remodeling”. Recently I decided that I ought to go ahead and make it my own since I’m likely going to be stuck with it for some time. I have started this process by setting out to remodel the living room, making it more comfortable for me. In the coming month I’ll be covering up the gaudy wallpaper with a new coat of paint, and installing new lighting and curtains, but the first step was ditching the kitchy wal-mart entertainment center that’s been there for 7 or 8 years, and replacing it with something a little more my speed.
I’ve had an old RCA console stereo in my basement for years that I purchased with the intent of converting to a stealthy, modern entertainment center. It was the foundation of this project. My brother gave me an old TV of his years ago, which I think came out of a dumpster. It served me well, but there is no place for it in the console stereo, so it had to be replaced. After courting a couple of LCD tvs on craigslist, I ended up grabbing a newegg.com special Corion/Digital Lifestyles 42″ LCD. It was larger than I’d originally set out to buy, but the price was really too good to pass up. I also got a Rosewill wall mount from newegg. The TV is pretty nice. reviews on newegg seem to go both directions, but my particular TV has a great picture, and has given me no problems. I even contacted their tech support to get some information that wasn’t included in the manual and had my e-mail returned in a couple of hours.. at 7p on a Sunday no less!
The next step was assembling a home theater PC. At the onset of this project, I had planned to incorporate many source devices inside the console stereo, routed through a receiver and controlled by the computer via IR blasters. As I pieced together the configuration for my HTPC, I realized that I could make the computer do almost everything I need in the box. (save for the PS2) So, I ended up going with an ASUS barebones system with a 2G dual Allendale core proc. The ASUS was an awesome purchase – not only did it _exactly_ fit an existing knockout in the console stereo, the case is super operable and the integrated media connections were just where I wanted them too. It looks nice, works well, and with the newegg rebate, was really affordable. I got another rebate on 4G of quick memory too. The HTPC was finished off with a SATA hard drive and SATA DVD-rom, and an ATI TV Wonder 650 tuner card that I picked up on ebay. I’m currently using the on board video, and it works great. I may upgrade it pending future tuner card options. The ATI 650 was really the only boner of the project – the ATI catalyst drivers for XP are just plain inoperable. For this reason, I am running Vista Ultimate with the TV pack. The catalyst drivers are much better there. Compared to my old Hauppauge PVR-150 card, the analog tuning is pretty good, however, the interlacing is not awesome on a 42″ display. The HD tuning of the ATI, while functional, seems taxing on the hardware. I am considering dropping in the AverTV PCI-e combo card alongside the ATI to handle HD and let the ATI just do analog.. Or I may ditch the ATI altogether.
I had the TV on the wall and ran the HTPC for a month or so, tweaking it out and getting MCE happy. (I even installed a netflix “watch instantly” program that operates entirely in the MCE interface) It was time to hack up the console stereo. My inital modification plans were minimal. One side of the stereo was dead when I got it, and I was hopeful that it might be as simple as a blown speaker so I could use the existing amplifier. ..and it was, but the more work I did, the more crazy ideas I got. I think at the most complex, the console would hold the HTPC, D/A converter, a trio of homebrew amplifiers, a turntable, the PS2, reworked speakers based on Zaphs budget MTM plans, and a subwoofer. after getting through 95% of the woodwork and realizing the time I’d have to put in for the rest of that stuff, I decided to scale back and just hit the functional points for now, and revisit the others later. The woodwork was pretty basic, but since I was adapting an existing piece, everything had to be trimmed to fit. the Speaker compartments were sealed, a shelf was made for the HTPC and an access panel was cut for cabling. I’m going to leave it this way for a while, and re-think the speaker upgrade. I will probably still go with the Dayton woofers, but I think I’d be making a mistake by using a wave guide style tweeter in this console stereo. I think I am going to build a pair to his plans for my listening room though. Since space for a turntable is limited, I am going to hold off unless one of those 14×14 Denon’s makes itself available to me, or I find a good deal on a plinth mount setup.