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How to Build a Home Theater Movie Server

Divx, Ripping

Building a home home movie server from a computer is not as hard as it may seem. All you really need is a spare computer 1.5ghz in speed or higher a 256mb graphics card or better and at least 1 gig or memory. The size of the hard drive varies but I recommend a hard drive that is 100 gigs in size and one that is separate from the operating system hard drive. Below I have put together a recommended minimum set up for a movie server.

Desktop PC with the following:

-1.5ghz processor or better (2.2ghz dual core recommended)

-1 Gigabyte memory (2 gigs recommended)

– 256mb video card (PCI or PCI express card recommended)

– Windows XP, XP Pro or Windows Vista

– OS hard drive 20 Gigs or larger
– Movie Storage hard drive 100 Gigs or larger (500 Gig Recommended on an external USB drive.
– DVD Drive or DVD Burner needed for ripping DVD Movies.
– Divx Conversion Software

Setting up the computer

As mentioned you will need a PC with a minimum of 1.5ghz in processor power and 1 gig of memory. Install windows of your choice on the PC (XP OR VISTA). This should be a clean install to get rid of any old files that may be corrupt that may slow the system down. You should install windows on a separate drive than your video files. The minimum OS drive should be 20 gigs. Once you have installed Windows you just need to install your DVD ripping software. All videos will be converted to Divx format. Divx is a compressed format of DVD much like an MP3 file is that of audio. There are a number of programs that will do this for you including one free at Divx.com but I have used Xilisoft DVD to Divx converter with much success. The program rips the DVD and converts it for you all at once and does it fairly fast compared to other programs in its class.

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once the ripping software is installed you are all set to finish the PC configuration. Your movie files should be stored on a separate much larger hard drive and I recommend an external USB drive for this.

The main reason for an external drive for the video files is simply speed of the system. An operation system trying to access a movie file and run windows on the same drive may cause the movie to appear choppy or have a skipping effect during playback. By storing the files on a separate drive it allows separate read and write functions by the computer. The second reason for the second separate drive is storage and ease of access. Having a USB external drive allows you to unplug the drive at anytime for backing it up or adding a third drive in another USB port. 100 or eve 500 gigs may seem like a large space to fill but trust me you fill it very quickly.

Once the second drive is installed/plugged in your ready to rip/convert your first movie. Start up the computer and place the DVD you want to rip into the DVD drive. Start up the conversion software and rip the movie to the external separate drive. When I set up my movie drive I set up different folders to place the categories of movies in such as Action, Children’s, Horror, Comedy, Sci-fi etc. It is important that when ripping a DVD and converting it that you only let the computer do this function at this time. Do not try watching a movies while ripping another or surf the web as precious resources from the CPU and Memory are needed to rip a movie of quality.

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An average Divx movie file size is from 700mb to 1.2 gigs in size depending on what setting you enabled when ripping it. You will have to play with the ripping software to get it to tuned to rip correctly the first couple of times. It’s like setting up a scope on a gun and once its aligned its good to go. Some of the more common ripping problems are choppy video which can be fixed by increasing the quality and size of the rip and some experience the audio to be out of sync of the video. Fixing the audio requires some other fine tuning adjustment but one quick fix is setting the program to have high priorities on the CPU and disabling the preview when ripping.

Once all this is set and all looks good start ripping your library and then putting them in the categorized folders. When playing back the movies I simply use Windows Media Player and set it automatically go to full screen and the controls disappear on full screen so all you see is the movie.

To get your PC to hook up to your TV you will need a few things. If you have a newer TV with PC input such as todays flat screens all you need is simply a longer monitor cable. If you do not have PC input to your TV you can buy a box at your local radio shack that plugs into you PC from monitor out and then converts it the plug is a RCA cord to hook into your VCR, or RF modulator box and then to your TV.

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The audio hook up is much the same as the video hook up. On the back of your PC is an audio output jack where you hook up your speakers. This is a 1/8″ stereo female jack and all you need is a 1/8″ stereo male jack to stereo male RCA’s to make the connection. Again if you have a newer TV you have the hook up for these jacks in the back of your TV. If you do not have a new TV a RF modulator or a VCR with a line source will work to plug into first and then your TV.

Divx movies of good quality will look great on your TV however the size of your TV will effect the quality. My TV is 37″ and is a LCD flat screen, I can hardly tell the difference from a DVD and a ripped Divx and can probably only tell because I know its not a DVD. Someone visiting watching the movies would never know the difference. TV’s larger than 37: may start to show pixels on the screen as the screen size starts to distort the compression. You can set the DVD Conversion software to rip the movies at HD quality at the expense of increase movie file size.

Always remember to only copy movies you own, and enjoy your new movie server.