How to make an awesome media center all under $100

My housemate and myself have come up with a sweet media center setup that’s easy to use and just pure awesome. With a press of a button on an iPhone, iPad, Android or web browser, the media center, projector and sound system automatically turn on, and in a matter of seconds a fully function media centre experience.

No messing around finding the right remote, or turn equipment on manually, and no wasted power. Power Board

Most of the magic of this system relies on a power board, a crucial piece of hardware. Why is it so important in this case? Well this power board controls the power for the PC, projector and sound system via IP. Right now your thinking that this is some sort of expensive network connected power rail, but it’s not. It’s simply a eco friendly load sensing power board.

These power boards are designed around saving power on home entertainment systems. How they are designed to work is quite simple and works well with our media center design. They have a master port which always has power turned on, and a series of slave ports. The power board monitors the master port for a change in load. When the load is high it switches on the slave ports. Incredibly handy design for our purpose, and only costs $10 or $20 more than a normal power board. I found mine in KMart.

Now the great part about this is that we can plug the PC into the master port and turn on Wake on LAN (WoL), connect the projector and the sound system to the slave ports, and with any luck, when you turn the PC via Wake on LAN or via the power button, your whole system will turn on. Display (Projector)

As I mentioned above, our setup uses a projector as a display. This gives us a large bright screen. The projector in our setup was obtained by accuring 3 broken projectors from companies throwing them out, and reassembling them into a single working projector. It’s a little old, so not the greatest resolution, but for our purpose it does the job well for the right price. Sound

In our case, we just recycled a sound system that wasn’t being used. Just connects to the PC via a RCA to 3.5mm jack, also home made (cutting up two cables and joining them together). Nothing really fancy about it. Computer and Software

The computer was also recycled IT equipment, nothing flash in terms of hardware. The software is what brings this all together.

XBMC (XBox Media Center) is a lovely open source media center application that runs on GNU Linux systems, and unlike the title suggests, it’s actually designed for more than the XBox and is really nice software.

To make it a thousand times nicer and easier OpenELEC has rolled all the software up into an easy to use distribution . They have built it from the ground up, so no extra bloat and boots in a few seconds.

In our setup, we just pointed XBMC to our NAS, and we were pretty much done. Remote

To finish it all off, we pretty much installed XBMC remote applications on any device we had Wi-Fi on. My favorite was Constellation which is designed for iPad and iPhone which does a beautiful job of displaying all the media and content, and has a very pretty remote control page.

Nearly every single one I’ve tried has a Wake on LAN function that allows for easily turning on the media center.