Dolby TrueHD comes to HTPC’s

Aimee and I use my home theater a lot and so when my DVD player started skipping on disks I got frustrated.  I tried cleaning it but good hygiene is not the cure for every electronic woe.  Normally I would just replace the DVD player.  After all, DVD players are around $20 these days.  My DVD player however is built into the projector so I searched for a different solution. 

I decided to upgrade my Home Theater PC (HTPC).  It is already connected to the projector so I don’t have to worry about plugging and unplugging devices from my projector.  Of course it needed a few upgrades.  Since I always watched DVDs on the projector DVD player I never needed one on the HTPC so I built it with a standard CD-Rom.  I plan to upgrade to Blu Ray and 1080p video sometime so I figured I should just install a Blu Ray drive in it.  With a little price shopping I found one on sale and ordered it.  I started to get excited about Blu Ray audio.  Since my projector is only 720p I will not get to experience the great video quality from Blue Ray until I eventually upgrade but I already have a 7.1 system hooked up.  I figured I would hear a marked improvement when watching Blu Ray disks but then I learned some bad news.  Most of the 7.1 cards out there do not support Dolby TrueHD, the impressive audio standard I was looking forward to. 

I had to rectify this situation so I began looking for a card that could handle it.  Low and behold, I found the ASUS Xonar HDAV1.3.  It is a PCI card with 2 HDMI ports (one input and one output) and a S/PDIF port on it.  This card can provide the true Blu Ray audio experience and it even comes with a low profile adapter for smaller cases. 

Benchmark Reviews has a nice review of the card here: http://benchmarkreviews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=341&Itemid=59&limit=1&limitstart=0

Arcade Update

It has been a while since I posted anything about the arcade machine and for good reason.  It has been a while since I have done anything with the arcade machine.  Last Friday, Aimee and I had a little party for some friends and Chris and I were playing King of Fighters on the arcade machine when he made a comment that the screen was fuzzy and that I should replace it with a new LCD screen.  This got me thinking.  The next day I opened the case and found the VGA port on the board but there were other cables connected to it.  I disconnected those cables and attached a 19″ LCD to the system but nothing ever displayed on the screen.  I pulled the mainboard from the machine and moved it to my workbench for further analysis.  After a few hours of messing with mainboard jumpers I found out how to change the output mode from NTSC to VGA.  I tested it on the monitor and it worked but I could not do anything as the mainboard was not connected to the coin ops.  I put the board back into the machine and setup the LCD close to the machine and did a full test of games and found that it did look a lot better.  The monitor that was in the arcade machine must have been 25-30 years old so it was due for a replacement.The next step was to price out a good monitor.  I wanted to get something rather large as it is a decent sized arcade machine.  The problem, however, is that my budget is not large.  I finally found a Sceptre 23″ LCD with a low resolution for a very fair price.  Normally I would be ashamed to buy a large monitor with a low resolution.  I always buy the monitors with the highest resolution.  In this case it is actually better as the machine will not output in a high resolution and the further away I get from a LCD’s native resolution, the worse the monitor looks.

The next step was to remove the old monitor from the machine.  Once a number of boards and glass was removed from the front of the machine, Ian and I were able to remove the old monitor.  I then measured the case and the new LCD monitor and went to Home Depot to get several boards.  I also got poster boards and cut them to size around the monitor so that it would be framed within the machine.

On Friday, Chris and I built a frame for the LCD with the boards and then covered the boards with a thin packing material for cushioning and to resist slippage.  My measurements were correct and the LCD fit perfectly in the system.  We then put the newly cut bezels in front of it and connected the new screen.

I have to say that even I was impressed.  You cannot tell that the screen is a replacement screen as it fits so perfectly in the system and the colors are perfect.  The screen is very bright (300 cd/m2) and it has a good contrast ratio (1000:1).  Both Chris and I are very happy with the latest modification to the system and I have been showing it to everyone who stops by.  A special thanks goes to Chris for his ideas and help installing everything.

So what is next?  Well…There have been a few items that I have never gotten to with the system.  I still need to add a new vent to the top of the system and a fan or two to the bottom to increase air flow.  I also have a broken A button on the player 1 console so I need to fix that as well.  There are also a number of nicks and scratches that I want to paint.  I would also like to do some customizations to the main menu screen so that the games are displayed in a better order.  In the next year or so I may replace the sound system and I am thinking of adding some side art too.

The arcade project is an ongoing one but the nice thing is that I can still use it as I slowly upgrade things.  It is a lot of fun.