So, you have the big 1080p Hi-Def TV, the awesome surround system and a DVD and music collection that puts HMV to shame.
You could throw together some parts in a fancy case and make yourself a home theatre PC, but that's so 2008. Instead, let's spruce it up by getting your HTPC to copy your precious polycarbonates to a whopping big disk!
With the introduction of 1TB+ HDDs over the last couple of years, the prices have undergone the usual jostling and competitive dropping and are now in the region of extremely affordable; so there's no excuse not to own one.
The good folks at Western Digital have very kindly supplied a 1TB Green Edition drive for article and the specs alone are impressive for our storage needs.
The Green Edition boasts up to 40% reduced power consumption, using new routines for moving and parking the read/write heads of the disk.
With power saving features in place the HDD is also less noisy and produces a lot less heat, which is great in a compact system. Western digital even go so far as to boast that you no longer need a fan if you plan to use this drive in an external caddy.
In our world, vibrations = noise; so to eliminate noise and potential catastrophic head/disk interactions, WD has secured the HDD spindle at both ends to increase stability; a very nice feature!
With your disk decided upon, you have an excuse to either use up those left over components collecting dust in your study or a chance to spend some serious dough and splurge on a proper HTPC setup.
Big things in small packages
I'm a fan of the small setups and that's why I've opted to use J&W's mini-ITX motherboard; a small system that packs the punch of an onboard AMD 780 chipset to give you the HD buzz through the onboard HDMI port.
Add to that a dual core AMD rated to 2.5GHz per a core and a measly 45Watt power rating and this makes for an ideal low noise, cool running system. Top that all off with 4GB of Kingston DDR2-800 in those dinky SO-DIMM sockets and HDD thrashing is brought to a minimum.
To make this bad boy look classy, we shoe horned it into a Silverstone SG05 mini-ITX case. A front mounted 120mm intake fan helps keep internal components cool.
Rear venting allows the included small form factor power supply to draw in cool air.
Big side vents mean that you can run top of the line graphics chipsets, with this case being able to take up to a 9" graphics card as well.
The back shows off the power supply exhaust and I/O backplane; a pretty standard fare for an ITX chassis.
On top we see a brace bar helping to support the PSU and provide some structural integrity. Additionally, the mountings for a slim-line DVD-ROM tray are easily accessible, so it might be time to break down and buy that Blu-ray reader.
300 watts is all you need
An included 300 watt power supply will power just about anything you can throw at this case.
Inside the case there is plenty of room for an ITX board with a moderately slim heatsink/fan as well as room to shove excess cabling out of the way.
Here we can see all the parts outside of the case. Underneath the CDROM tray there is a bracket for mounting a 2.5" HDD, not to mention a clip-on bracket beneath that for a full on 3.5" drive, too.
One thing I'm happy to see is the inclusion of a dust filter on the 120mm intake fan. There should be a law making sure that every case has these; they will ensure your components last longer and your case stays relatively dust free inside.
Fitting the ITX board and HSF from Scythe, it seems like there is a lot of room to spare, but that will soon change.
Because we have room for two HDDs, I've decided to use the G.Skill 64GB SSD as the main system drive for this build and the 1TB Western Digital as the data drive.
With the SSD fitted it starts to get a little cramped in here.
With the 1TB HDD in place the inside of the case looks less than tidy.
Once all of the equipment is inside the case, it really does resemble the tardis. I would have never have guessed I could fit it all in! The 120mm fan mounted up front is going to be very useful at keeping this baby cool as the AMD 780 chipset will get toasty when it's running at full steam.
Rip my heart out
Now, assuming you have knocked together a system of similar or better specification, let's turn it into a ripping machine!
Breakout your favourite copy of Windows Vista 32-bit and load it up (Try it with 64-bit, but I cannot guarantee it will work). I'm not going to hold your hand all the way through the Windows install; you should know how to do this already. If not, find someone who does and pay them in tea and biccies to do it for you.
Once Vista is installed, keep it clean and simple by installing only the necessary junk; wireless drivers and anti-virus (disable daily scanning) and make sure you have Windows Media Player 11, too.
First we are going to get WMP11 to rip our music CDs automatically on input. So open up WMP and in library view right click in the bottom left hand section of the window.
Select Tools > Options...
Select the Rip Music tab and change your ripping destination to your big fat hard drive, preferably with a folder called music or something.
Then change the codec to from Windows Media Audio to MP3 and then tick the box that says Rip Automatically.
Crank the encoding rate up to 256Kbps which takes just over 115MB for a CD. This is fine seeing as we have 1000GB to play with. That's about 8900 CDs, Which is over 450 days of continuous music playback.
Click OK and now grab a CD to test it out with. Slam it in and watch it rip away like a beast!
So, the first step of our magical ripping box is over with. Sadly this was the easiest part and the next bit is fiddly to say the least.
Stack'em up and back'em up
To rip a DVD we will be using a nice piece of free software that will essentially create a backup of the essential folders on a DVD.
Note: It will NOT re-encode the DVD into DivX or MP4 formats! This is a pure backup.
So, go and download this piece of software; it's called DVD Shrink. Once you have it installed, it's time to tweak the settings. Open up the program and click on Edit > Preferences...
Now, you can choose to compress the video to a single writable DVD at 4.7GB or you can go for near perfect quality and sacrifice up to 9GB per a movie, which works out to over a hundred movies at near perfect quality for this hard drive.
That is the only setting worth bothering with here, so you can click ok or go and explore the others at your own risk.
Done tweaking? Good. Grab a DVD and load it in. Once the disc has been recognised, you can click Open Disc.
This will allow you to select which drive you want to rip from, in case you have multiple readers in your system. (Make a note of the drive letter of the one you want to use, you will need it later.)
DVD Shrink will spend some time analysing the disc and once it's done it will show you the structure in the main window. At this point you can poke around if you like and see what extras your disc has. You can even un-click any extras such as the Swedish subtitles or the Japanese special audio commentary.
Later we will automate the ripping process and there will be no ability to deselect these options, so let's leave them in for now.
Hit the Backup! button, select your destination to rip to and go go go!
Ok, you might want to go and do something for half an hour to 45 mins as DVD ripping is all depending on the speed of your drive and your processor. If you built a beast of a quad core system with the fastest DVD reading drive out there you might have much less of a wait.
Once the rip is done, take a look in your specified folder and if all has gone well you should have AUDIO_TS and VIDEO_TS folders with the audio folder being empty and the video folder being full.
Congratulations! You ripped your first DVD! Take a moment to pat yourself on the back and break open a six pack.
One click is all it takes
Ok, now it's time to really tweak something. We're going use a pre-written script program to automate the whole thing into one-click backups.
For this you will need a very sexy tool called DVD Rip. What this does is tweak a small script based in an executable that will send all the commands required to DVD Shrink to rip a DVD to your specified location.
Once you have it downloaded, put it somewhere you can easily get at it, on your desktop or a shortcut to it in your start menu or task bar. The first time you run it you will be asked to configure the location you want and a few other variables.
Personally, I want this to be as silent running as possible, so I disabled asking for a disc name as well as notifying me when it is done. You can either save and quit or save and rip; your choice.
The executable will generate a configuration file in the same directory; you will need to keep this with the executable to ensure your settings are saved.
Congratulations! You now have a Home Theatre Ripping Machine! It's time to grab a beer and get ripping.
Remember the links to the software are:
- DVD Shrink
- DVD Rip.