General Home Theater PC Suggestions
When you are building your Home Theater PC, there are a few things I would suggest as a general good practice. You can definitely get a working Home Theater PC without doing these things, but I would at least consider them as they will benefit you in the long run.
STATIC IP ADDRESS : When networking your HTPC, I would definitely assign a static IP address that is out of your DHCP scope. If this just made your head want to explode, I apologize. What this means is basically you have your HTPC connected to your home router, which has a service running on it called DHCP. What DHCP does is, every time a device connects to your network it assigns it a unique IP address within it’s scope. By default, most routers have a scope of around 50 addresses, 192.168.1.1 routers usually have a range of 192.168.1.100-192.168.1.150 or so. Checking your range in your router configuration will be able to give you a better idea of what your range is, and then you can set it to any address outside of that range. So if the range is 0-50, set it to 51 or some other number under 150.
Power Backup : Ok so you might be thinking, why should I spend $100 on a battery backup? The answer is, you most likely want to protect your data! This is especially important to your Home Theater PC if you have DAS (Direct Attached Storage) such as a RAID 5 or some other volume that could experience corruption in the event of a brown/blackout. It’s much easier to plug 4 cables into a UPS than it is to work with advanced disk tools to try and recover your data, or better yet, paying someone to try to recover the data off your RAID.
System Backup : Now we touched on power backup, but you probably also didn’t think about your system backup did you? Although I publish some pretty outstanding guides on Sickbeard and Couchpotato; you probably don’t want to have to go through with configuring all the settings again on these apps and any other media center related settings you took your time tweaking ever so perfectly. That’s why I would definitely suggest you invest some time into setting up an automated backup of your operating system. For Mac users, this could be as simple as setting up a Time Machine volume on your external storage drive. For Windows users, you may want to use NovaBackup or some other full system backup utility.
NAS (Network attached storage vs DAS (Direct Attached Storage) -see HTPC storage
Wireless vs Wired, which should I choose? : Simply put, if you can hardwire without it being a hassle, why not? There is no downside to being hardwired other than you have an extra cable run. If your storage is on a NAS (Network Attached Storage) you definitely want to strongly consider going hardwire. Which leads me to my next few points…
100Mbps Ethernet vs 1000Mbps Ethernet : You optimally want to get the most throughput possible in any scenario simply because more bandwidth = less hiccups or at least less worry of experiencing hiccups. I don’t want to suggest you invest a ton of money into your already expensive home theater PC setup, but if you are in the market for a new router/switch I would say go with GigE as it will definitely help.
Wireless G vs Wireless N : This is a tougher question than 100Mb ethernet vs GigE, the theoretical rate for Wireless G is 54Mbps, which is around 5.4MBps, which SHOULD under optimal conditions be fine for streaming 1080p, right? Wrong. Wireless G even in a perfect setting isn’t going to get you 1080p playback without stutters, if at all. The way the traffic flows over wireless G you are lucky to get 720p working flawlessly. Add in any download traffic on top of the streaming, and you are done. Wireless N on the other hand, even single band, should be enough to stream 1080p, though I can’t say I recommend streaming over wireless. Wireless receives too much interference from outside sources, such as your microwave, etc.
Alternatives to Wireless networking, without pulling wires :
As one of our readers suggested we take a look at Powerline networking. I recently purchased a powerline network kit for around $100 and basically what it does is creates a network via your current home electrical wiring. All you need to do is plug a device into an outlet in your living room or wherever your media center is located, and one wherever your content is stored or your router is located and plug in some network cables and BAM, easy as cake. It really was this simple to setup and gives you approximately 200Mbps transfer rate. The testing I did showed pretty consistent transfer speeds and outperformed older 100Mbps wired connection by about 50% in actual performance. This is definitely another option to look into if wireless isn’t an option.
Also suggested by our reader, MOCA, or Multimedia over Coax, is similar to Powerline networking, except this time it operates over your Coax cable wired house. I have not tested this solution thus far, but it is another option if you are adventurous. For more info, check out Moca Alliance’s site.