Thanks to some unexpected freeing up of time (and more news unrelated to Feature Friday), we are happy to announce that Feature Fridays are back on the menu. As always, if you have a setup you’d like featured, feel free to send it in to natethomas AT xbmc DOT org (also, see the end of this article for a new contest).

This week, we turn to Matt, who successfully managed to buy his massive collection of harddrives before hard drive prices went crazy. Like all good enthusiasts should, he’s hidden his server running Ubuntu in a back closet, where his 12 TB of harddrive space can spin quietly, away from earshot.

When Matt designed his entertainment center, he decided that visible wires were for crazy folk. The problem was, he didn’t have an entirely new room to work with when building, and he didn’t want ugly speakers hanging out of the walls. So, he did this:

Ceiliing Speaker

That’s right, Matt skipped the walls entirely and stuck the speakers directly into his ceiling. Specifically, Matt stuck four Polk Audio 620-RT speakers in the ceiling. Those, combined with the Polk Audio TL3 center channel in his entertainment cabinet, provide for full surround without any clutter. Here’s a view of one of the 620-RTs without its cover.

Ceiling Speaker without cover

With the cover in place, as you can see below, the speakers blend almost seamlessly with the ceiling and other ceiling pieces.

A room of invisible speakers

Next, to crank up the bass, Matt hid his Polk Audio DSW Pro 660wi 12 inch subwoofer almost in plain sight. Can you see it in the above picture? (No, it’s not the dog.)

A well hidden subwoofer

How about now?

Because Matt went with a wireless subwoofer, he was able to place his sub anywhere he wanted to in the room, so long as it was relatively close to a power outlet. Even if he hadn’t though, as you can see from the above picture, Matt has done an excellent job managing cables without tearing out walls.

Finally, we turn to my favorite part of this entertainment center. Most enthusiasts, when setting up their rooms, hang their TVs on their walls using the VESA mount. The thing is, if you’ve got a perfectly acceptable entertainment center cabinet to rest your TV on, there’s almost no reason to hang the TV on the wall. So what do you do with that free VESA mount?

Matt choose to use the VESA mount to hang his XBMC-running Zotac ND22 HTPC directly onto his Sharp 42″ Aquous LCD.

The other way to use a VESA mount

Zotac, meet Sharp. You’ll be spending some time together.

And so Matt’s setup is complete. Let’s take one last look at how it all fits together.

Matt's Entertainment Center

Not bad at all. And not a wire in sight. (Though a ridiculously adorable dog is still very much in sight.) Good job, Matt!

Photo Challenge:

Next week, I’d like to change Feature Friday up a bit. Instead of highlighting one individual’s home, I’d like to set a challenge in honor of Matt’s setup. Send us a link to a picture of how you hide (or elegantly display) your HTPC. Feel free to upload the picture to your picture hosting site of choice. (I personally prefer, but any one that allows downloading will work.) If you’ve got a cool story to go along with the picture, send that along too. The challenge will end at 1AM, Easter Standard Time, Thursday night/ Friday morning.  A few of us Team members will then select our favorites, and we’ll present as many as seems reasonable on the blog next Friday. The winner of the challenge will earn the respect and admiration of the Team and of your fellow users. I suppose we could see if we can come up with a prize that’s a little more tangible, but no promises.

Send your links to natethomas AT xbmc DOT org with the subject: Hidden XBMC, and good luck!

  • James

    HI can you please share hardware specs of the 12TB server in this post; seems like a beast of a machine


  • Ron

    I wonder what the sound quality of those ceiling mounted speakers. I’m assuming this is an american home, with wooden ceilings. In a concrete ceiling this speaker solution would probably not work very well, am I right?

  • David

    Very nice setup, well done Matt!

    Just wondering if mounting the speakers on the ceiling makes a big difference in terms of sound positioning compared to having them traditionally in front and behind the viewer?

  • rikardo1979

    yeah, I would like to know some details too.
    Is this only the storage server or is it also running the XBMC on it ?
    Cos I using separate sys for XBMC Media comp and I built extra media server running on FreeNAS system.
    Thanks in advance for info

  • Matt

    i am also curious about the specs on the server also if you have it running 24/7

    also is ubuntu a better OS to run for your media server i currently have a pc with windows 7 ultimate x64 running off a laptop hdd and 5 x 2tb drives connected and was wondering if ubuntu is better to run or is windows a good choice to stick with i do not have the drives in a raid setup i keep offline backups instead not personally a fan of raid

  • Matt

    I’m curious about the Cisco IP phone. Running a home PBX?

  • Caleb

    Ive always wondered where people get floral couches from, you never see them in the stores. The only time I’ve seen one is when a grandparent died and no one wanted it lol.

    As for the server Matt, unless you are familiar with Linux based OS’s I would stray away from them for now. Try experimented a bit first then once you are comfortable move it. I run 5TB in a Debian server I put together and the uptime is months now (Since its not important I restart it after major updates)

  • mddubs

    Thanks for featuring my setup Nate! About my specs…

    The full size tower is an ABS Tigas case, Intel DG35EC mobo, Intel E8400 C2D 3GHz cpu, 8GB DDR2. There’s a RocketRaid 3530 controller card running a 40GB 10KRPM drive for the host OS, a 1TB disk for virtual machines, and 6x2TB disks in a RAID6 array (with room for more) for storage. It’s running Ubuntu 11.10 and sharing files over both SMB and NFS. It’s also my VoIP server running Asterisk.

    The Zotac unit is also running Ubuntu 11.10 and I have it connected to the fileshare through NFS.

  • h.udo

    Very nice setup. Very nice indeed. Do the speakers in the ceiling provide the immerse sound one should expect from 5.1?

    I think you should stick with the OS you feel most comfortable with. I use Ubuntu in my media server/main XBMC machine because I find it more stable and not so power hungry than Windows 7. I also like the fact that I can do most maintenance tasks over SSH or web frontends (downloads and such).

  • mddubs

    @h.udo – As I was researching speaker placement, every audiophile I came across said to avoid in-ceiling speakers except for the two rears if absolutely necessary. But my options were limited, I’m not an audiophile myself, and I’d been living with the TV’s built-in speakers for a few years so I went for it anyway… and I couldn’t be happier. The sound quality is clear, loud, and deep. The environment is totally immersed with sound. Guests are impressed or even shocked because they don’t expect it. The front center speaker is key, I wouldn’t put the center channel in the ceiling.

    @Matt – yep, I’ve got the server running 24/7.

  • jgslima

    That’s very cool. In fact, I didn’t know this (cheap) Zotac device. It seems there is always a different way to run XBMC.

  • rikardo1979

    I just rebuilding my media server and just waiting for big 17 bay server case and few hdd cages to fitt my 7 hardrives in(for now).I using FReeNAS.I will post some info and pics once I finish it all,hope end of the next week.
    I have separate media comp runing my XBMC/OpenElec on

  • Xeno43

    Do this photo challenge again in a month and you will see my Raspberry Pi duct taped to the back of my flatscreen…

    Nice set up though, I love the speakers in the ceiling

  • Alberto

    I suppose the speakers have been set for the persons sitting in the floral couches, since the position of the right front is kinda skewed towards the display. As it has happened to me, for many visitors, many times they can’t tell the difference, I guess I’m just curious :)

  • h.udo

    That was my feeling. I’m not a big audiophile but I like a crystal clear sound when watching a movie. Of course, for hardheaded audiophiles, your speaker layout must come out as heresy. Doesn’t really matter. It works for you. Again, very nice setup. Congrats.

  • BigJRM

    You have a very beautiful, complete media room. Mine is still a work in progress. At 70, progress is slow. I’m wondering what kind and size of files you view. I built a media server with an ASUS AT510NT-1 with buit-in HDMI. It will not properly display *.mkv movies. I read the problem was the video card doesn’t have the power to render video fast enough, therefore, poor display. I set up an older computer with a 512MB DVI video card and it does much better, but still not perfect. I plan on building an new computer for media with a 1GB video card and I’m hoping this works better. I have lots of video files of 4 to 6 GB in *.mkv format, the lower sized files play well, but the larger files falter in fast action.

    As far as speaker arrangements go, what satisfies you is what counts! Best wishes with you viewing enjoyment.

  • mddubs

    @Ron @David
    The building is actually concrete and steel, there’s a good 1-1.5ft space in the ceiling. After I installed each speaker, I made sure to put the installation back around and on top but without interfering with the driver. Nothing rattles or sounds hollow or tinny. I was definitely worried that placing the speakers so high would sound “confusing”, but the center channel is right were it should be and then the effects surround the room. It really sounds good, I don’t have any plans to change it.

    Yep, running Asterisk. I love my 2cents/min no contract plan.

    The couches are from my wife’s grandparents… no joke :)

    Thank you. I have lots of large, high-definition files. The reason I bought this Zotac is because its one of the first nettops with a NON-Atom cpu, so the processor has good deal more power. The built-in GPU has VDPAU support which, once enabled, puts as much load as possible on the GPU without straining the rest of the system. When watching a high-def movie, my CPU hovers around 10-15%. But unfortunately it’s not powerful enough for flash video… YouTube/Hulu etc is pretty choppy at 1080p. Good luck with your project.

  • ryan

    mddubs :
    Thank you. I have lots of large, high-definition files. The reason I bought this Zotac is because its one of the first nettops with a NON-Atom cpu, so the processor has good deal more power. The built-in GPU has VDPAU support which, once enabled, puts as much load as possible on the GPU without straining the rest of the system. When watching a high-def movie, my CPU hovers around 10-15%. But unfortunately it’s not powerful enough for flash video… YouTube/Hulu etc is pretty choppy at 1080p. Good luck with your project.

    First, great setup. I’ve used XBMC for years…back when it was XBMP and I’m always searching for the best box to host XBMC. I’m using an ATV2 now and it does the trick for the most part. It is great to hear that the Zotac can play the large .mkv’s. I’m looking for a box that can play those as well as stream Netflix with no issues. I know that building an HTPC would do that but I love the footprint of those Zotac boxes. What Zotac model are you using. Again great setup and I’m enjoying Feature Friday.

  • grimneko

    I was wondering, where did you get the plate on that you put the mount for the ZBOX? It would enable me to finally hang my ZBOX to the back of my TV.


  • Kenny

    Its really a shame that such a great setup is in a room that looks like an old-folks home. He would have been as well running the cables in the walls and redecorating the place ( i have never seen a room more in need of redecorating ).

  • de_inferno


  • ghostface

    Nice setup… Hope I get the chance to show the world mine when I’ m done…

  • mddubs

    I bought the VESA adapter plate at B&H Photo, you can probably order them online somewhere.

    @ryan @bigJRM
    I spoke too soon, none of my high-def content is in mkv. So I just tested a large MKV and it’s too choppy. ZOTAC ND22 WON’T PLAYBACK 1080P MKV’s SMOOTHLY. Seems to be too processor intensive.

  • Dan

    Just wanted to add for those interested in the Zotac’s that the Zotac boxes with the 2nd Gen Ion GPU’s playback 1080p no problem. Ive been running one for almost a year now. Its a dual core atom, boots off of XBMC on an 8GB SD card and is used daily.

  • Ricky

    You’d think they would invest some of that money into a new couch…

  • Christoffer


    You just need 4-6 hdd’s, any machine can get you this. Most motherboards have 6 sata-ports available! :)

  • Rich

    Seeing the ceiling mounted speakers there I am glad I opted not to go down that route. While hidden they are very visible if you know they are there, installation would also be a pain unless wireless and I can’t believe for a second that the sound is anywhere near as good as with speakers at ear height (I know that was never claimed) although if used to the TVs internal speaker I’m sure they are an improvement.

    Personally I opted to hide and disguise the speakers and cables with furniture and under floor/carpets. Some nicely positioned shelves and units can hide cables very well (admittedly I have had to chase some plaster out and run some cables in the wall but it was a very minor job and redecoration was simple and does not show) and put the speakers on a shelf with DVDs, photos or ornaments and they are as hidden as ceiling speakers. While my setup is still being installed I’ll be sure to have photos of it all once complete somewhere (for someone to criticise).

    Apart from that it looks good.

  • Patrik Dufresne

    I like your setup. I find interesting to have a separate server for storage. Does the connection between XBMC and the storage is wireless ?

  • Mike Plow

    Nice setup but surely he should be docked a thousand geek points for having a floral sofa. :-)

  • Ronner

    6x 2TB in raid 6 is in fact 8TB of space, not 12. Kudos to the server, I have a similar set up, though I don’t mind speakers in my livingroom. Besides that I wonder if the soundquality and feel of sounddirection will be as good as with regular speakers.

    and please tell me you inherited the couch. please please! ;-)

  • entertainment center

    I like that sub in the corner, bet it shakes the couches pretty good!

  • Anonymous

    mddubs :
    The full size tower is an ABS Tigas case….

    Holy mama jama, ~$500 for the case!!!

  • Aussie XMBC

    Thanks for your comments on the Zotac, been looking these for a while, but wasn’t sure what would have the required grunt. What O/S are you running? I’m keen to have something that will boot straight to XMBC but that I can still on occasion do some web browsing.

    Next problem will be getting one in Australia!

  • Anonymous

    1AM, Easter Standard Time? Isn’t that several months away?


  • Phlegm

    Thanks for sharing Matt, and plz ignore the interior decorating comments. I’m impressed with the neatness of your setup, and the planning that must have gone into it.
    Was about to ask about the VESA-mounted box and its ability to decode on the fly, but it looks like .mkvs are choppy based on your feedback. (I’m still iffy on the second gen ION GPUs – would love to see some reviews of 1080p performance.)

    Q: Assuming the Zotac box is passively cooled, does it get hot? Would you feel comfortable with it being placed in an A/V cabinet?

    Well done man.

  • Colin

    It ‘s very nice!