Best-of-Class Next-Gen Windows HTPC features - hardware & software - AVS Forum
View Poll Results: In what area does the HTPC need to most improve?
Stability - Windows isn't known for 'just working' 0 0%
Features - networked Bluray players with MKV support are closing in; PS3/Xbox are in the lead 0 0%
Price - if you want all around value, the PS3/Xbox with a cheap receiver & netbook are 'it' 0 0%
Marketing - most consumers don't know 'Media Center/HTPC' exists 0 0%
Appearances - the ugly beige/black box is not exactly living room art 0 0%
Don't try - it will always be a Geek DIY niche; efforts to simplify just end up complicating things 0 0%
Voters: 0. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 05-19-2009, 01:47 PM - Thread Starter
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Next gen features on Windows will 'make or break' the HTPC experience and determine what device controls the living room.

Some of these new functions are hardware related, some are software, and some features (such as internet streaming/download) will be modified by progress in the courts and boardrooms.

This thread will track the progress of new functions and info will be harvested to continually update the first post elements as follows:

Content:
  1. Bluray playback from archive/disc
  2. DISH content playback
  3. DVD-Audio/Legacy media playback
  4. FLAC/MKV support
  5. Internet streaming/download
Control:
  1. Windows 7 MC/Open Source front ends
  2. Touch Screen/'Iphone' control of front-ends

Hardware and support systems
  1. USB 3.0 Hifi Amps
  2. Hardware requirements - including 'gaming'
  3. Home media serving - 'fail safe' software and hardware

This will not attempt to be a definitive source of all HTPC info. Rather, this thread will serve as technical 'brain dump' area, link to other threads, and the first post will continually evolve to present the best 'value' mix of hardware and software for the DIY.

Bluray archiving/live playback: In addition to impressive thumbnail/media info support, Mymovies.dk offers software that allows '1 Touch' ripping of bluray drives from within Windows Media Center. Arcsoft TMT 3 and Cyberlink 9 allow playback of Bluray discs. In a fit of corporate scat throwing, Microsoft has enabled burning of Bluray discs, but still does not support playback.

Satellite input: Dish Network's 'Draco' project potentially offers Live and Recorded content viewing from any Windows 7 Media Center machine.

DVD-Audio Legacy media support: DVD-Audio software players include an exciting new project called ShaPlay that could bring DVD-Audio playback from ISO or physical media directly into the front-end. An SACD solution lacks the necessary playback hardware as there are no physical SACD drives available for the PC.

MKV/FLAC codec support: MKV and FLAC top the list of desireable. In addition to the venerable FFMPEG approach with Shark codec packages (32/64 bit), the Divx technology preview (32 bit)also enables MKV support using Microsoft codecs (which brings h.264 gpu acceleration). FLAC requires usage of WMP Tag Support

Win 7 MC/Open-source front-ends: MeediOS and XBMC are great competition for Microsoft's Media center. XBMC will possibly support Bluray archive/playback by year's end and this customizable front-end benefits from the wide codec support offered by FFMPEG.

Home media server software and hardware: convenience and protection are the dominant - and competing - themes. How can media be served to the house, but also be protected from hardware and software corruption? FlexRAID offers impressive 'Snapshot RAID' hardware protection, but does nothing for virus/accidental deletion in it's current form. Can write-access in a windows ecosystem be limited to new file writes? Or is 'read only' folder sharing from a locked-down administrator machine the only viable way to ensure protection?

Internet streaming/downloads: Piratebay defeat aside, 2009-2010 could be the year that the 'old school' distribution mentality succumbs to reality. Everything exists for consumer and artist to be brought closer together via internet distribution, and Bluray/BD-Audio is not 'it'. Netflix is aggressively pushing forward a new delivery model, and companies like Norway's 2L are delivering lossless, multichannel audio via the intertubes.

USB 3.0 amps and other hardware: to date, the PC still has to be tied to the receiver. However, Windows 7 has support for Room Correction, and given the right hardware development on the audio side, an HTPC could potentially displace a lot of hardware in the A/V rack. Goodbye quickly obsolete hardware, hello one box of simplified Hifi goodness (power/ethernet in, audio/video out).

Touch screen/Iphone control: Windows Media center is still based on the 10 foot interface and thus presents problems for touch screen control and Iphone like media selection. The obstacle to touch screen control has not changed: the OS and GPU cards refuse to output the same content at different resolutions (1080p big screen, 720p touch screen). However, XBMC has an excellent Iphone interface and will soon allow a small 10" touchscreen with coverflow media capabilities.
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Old 05-20-2009, 04:45 PM
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The big issue with HTPC's is the complication of them. Most people with HTPC's are OK with a $80+ bill for digital cable/sat and it's easier just to use the cable/sat co's DVR than to mess with a PC.

Where HTPC's could really shine would be to offer "cable" shows directly to the computer w/o paying for cable/sat. Microsoft has started with the Internet TV beta in WMC, perhaps start offering full shows instead of just short clips. Sponsors could pay the streaming bill, similar to the business model of HULU. Adding easy backup to DVD would be icing on the cake.
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Old 05-21-2009, 06:40 AM
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One thing that I think should happen is they need to get all kinds of audio (TrueHD and DTS-HD MA, including bitstreams) working over the HDMI output of a video card. It is just ridiculous that my ATI card has its own audio processor, yet if I want TrueHD or DTS-HD MA to pass as a bitstream, I have to spend $200 or more on a special sound card. Whatever licensing or protection is stopping this should get resolved.

I'm not saying that sound cards need to go away. They do have useful functions in processing sound for games (DD Live, DTS Connect, hardware acceleration, etc.), and if you're using analog out, they will always have an advantage over onboard sound in the DAC department. But, to just pass the audio that's already packaged on a disc, I shouldn't need one if I'm using HDMI.
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Old 05-21-2009, 07:01 AM
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i would say, windows need to work on its network support, we need an easier way to share our media between pc in the home. MS needs even it it were to add tuner support to its home network software, so all the MCE clients could access and control it.

"If the world didn't suck, we'd all fly off."
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Old 05-22-2009, 08:08 AM
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An alternative to Windows that supports locked down media (e.g. Blu-ray, [encrypted] cable and satellite) that can be installed off the internet.

Essentially you get a CD or bootable flash memory device that loads the installer off the 'net that handles all the configuration for you. If you load this on multiple systems in the home they should network and share media based on a standard and transparent DRM.

This should have an installable API that would allow additional functionality and customization.

Essentially, a customer and third party extensible CE device.
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Old 05-22-2009, 11:02 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DonTHB View Post

An alternative to Windows that supports locked down media (e.g. Blu-ray, [encrypted] cable and satellite) that can be installed off the internet.

Essentially you get a CD or bootable flash memory device that loads the installer off the 'net that handles all the configuration for you. If you load this on multiple systems in the home they should network and share media based on a standard and transparent DRM.

This should have an installable API that would allow additional functionality and customization.

Essentially, a customer and third party extensible CE device.

Sounds a bit like MythTV.
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Old 05-22-2009, 11:06 AM
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I voted features, but I just want one thing and one thing only: DVXA restriction improvements. I wanted all of the controlled post processing FFDShow brings to table without it breaking DVXA. I understand CUDA has the potential to make this a reality so I remain hopeful.
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Old 05-22-2009, 08:57 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SirDrexl View Post

I'm not saying that sound cards need to go away.

I'm saying sound cards do need to go away...and will. Currently the audio processing chain using a PC sound card with Digital Amplifier Receiver (Class D) is this:

Digital (on PC media/file) -> DAC (on sound card) -> ADC (on amplifier) -> Digital Amplification (on amplifier) -> DAC (on amplifier)

Time to cut out the middle man. Expect the sound card to be history in 2010 when optical interconnect USB 3.0 hits town along with a new class of Direct Digital Feedback amplifiers (ie no more DAC before amplification)

As for the game stuff, programmers don't find it worthy of their coding efforts to use soundcard DSP's just to save a few CPU cycles...
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Old 05-22-2009, 09:03 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cetra00 View Post

I voted features, but I just want one thing and one thing only: DVXA restriction improvements. I wanted all of the controlled post processing FFDShow brings to table without it breaking DVXA. I understand CUDA has the potential to make this a reality so I remain hopeful.

Well, FFMPEG has already added VDPAU (Linux version of DXVA). XBMC now supports this in their Linux release.

As to Windows support, FFMPEG DXVA support always seems to be 'just around the corner'. I agree that it needs to happen...and drivers themselves need to be cleaned up too.

Media Player Classic Home Cinema has DXVA support...wonder why their FFMPEG patch hasn't been accepted yet?
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Old 05-22-2009, 09:13 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Servicetech571 View Post

The big issue with HTPC's is the complication of them. Most people with HTPC's are OK with a $80+ bill for digital cable/sat and it's easier just to use the cable/sat co's DVR than to mess with a PC.

In my experience, set top boxes have their own quirks and frustrations - and offer problems even for the most trivial of functions. For example, how many jokes focus on programming the VCR?

In terms of usability, something like Boxee (5 minute learning curve for fairly advanced functionality) is leagues ahead.

I wonder if the 'PC's are more complicated' is a legacy 'perception issue' - perhaps HTPC's have been 'overpromise, under-deliver'?

Set top boxes have always promised little...it's easy to meet low expectations.
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Old 05-23-2009, 07:23 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dmytty View Post

For example, how many jokes focus on programming the VCR?

Seriously? When's the last time anyone programmed a VCR? Any cable co. supplied DVR is very easy to use and I'd recommend one of them over an htpc anyday to all except my "computer geek" friends.
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Old 05-24-2009, 01:08 PM - Thread Starter
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Seriously? When's the last time anyone programmed a VCR? Any cable co. supplied DVR is very easy to use and I'd recommend one of them over an htpc anyday to all except my "computer geek" friends.

What about when they want to watch their vacation pics on the big screen?

IMO the function set and GUI's of settop boxes are horrible. The only saving grace, and the reason it's 'easy to use', is because the box offers a very limited set of functions. Despite that, a quick browse of settop box forums shows that many users are equally frustrated with these simplistic consumer electronics. The PC no longer has a lock on 'over-promise, under-deliver'

A settop box is the simplest of media access tools. To commend them is akin to saying a single philips screwdriver is the epitome of tool design because there's no little bits to get lost or figure out...sure it works, but I'd rather have a leatherman on my belt.

HTPCs are like a fully loaded toolbox; there's bound to be a bit of a learning curve, but the dedicated user ends up being a very competent digital media handyman. Tool designs can be better, and the toolbox lighter, but in my opinion it's the quality of the media toolbox that must be completely addressed.

Today, with capabilities including FFMPEG/DXVA/CUDA/Open CL, the HTPC makes a great case for audio/video quality. Tomorrow, the same platform will enable innovations like Red Camera's wavelet codecs, 3D playback, and increasingly large array of speakers (10.1 systems and up).

Looking forward, media creation, access, and archiving are going to become increasingly powerful (demanding) and more complex. The HTPC has the resources, flexibility, and user base to enable complex innovations while offering potential to simply.

To contrast consumer electronics with HTPCs, I have an Oppo BDP-83. While the Oppo quality is great, the reality is that I have already found it's limits. To erase those limits means making it more like a PC...which shouldn't be too difficult considering it runs a Linux OS and Java applications at heart.
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Old 05-25-2009, 06:38 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dmytty View Post

I'm saying sound cards do need to go away...and will. Currently the audio processing chain using a PC sound card with Digital Amplifier Receiver (Class D) is this:

Digital (on PC media/file) -> DAC (on sound card) -> ADC (on amplifier) -> Digital Amplification (on amplifier) -> DAC (on amplifier)

Time to cut out the middle man. Expect the sound card to be history in 2010 when optical interconnect USB 3.0 hits town along with a new class of Direct Digital Feedback amplifiers (ie no more DAC before amplification)

As for the game stuff, programmers don't find it worthy of their coding efforts to use soundcard DSP's just to save a few CPU cycles...

I don't get the sound card either. Just run the digital out straight to the A/V receiver and let it do the decoding. You don't need a dedicated sound card just to pass the digital signal to the A/V receiver.
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Old 05-25-2009, 06:43 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dmytty View Post

In my experience, set top boxes have their own quirks and frustrations - and offer problems even for the most trivial of functions. For example, how many jokes focus on programming the VCR?

In terms of usability, something like Boxee (5 minute learning curve for fairly advanced functionality) is leagues ahead.

I wonder if the 'PC's are more complicated' is a legacy 'perception issue' - perhaps HTPC's have been 'overpromise, under-deliver'?

Set top boxes have always promised little...it's easy to meet low expectations.

For people wanting to watch Digital cable, the HTPC just isn't practical. Cable company DVR's require no large upfront cost. Any computer that can handle encrypted HD cable signals (IE has cable card) is going to run $1,000. TIVO with lifetime is $700 and is more user friendly.

The HTPC works well for us because we are OTA only for our TV. With an HTPC you also get Internet video. However there are few of us that like TV/media enough to buy an HTPC but aren't willing to pay $80/mo to watch TV.

FWIW most people with HTPC's have it in addition to the cable companies box.
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Old 05-26-2009, 08:53 AM
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Sounds a bit like MythTV.

Not even a bit. Linux, as far as I know, doesn't support encrypted cable or satellite without help from something like an HD-PVR nor does it play Blu-Ray disks. Though, I suppose, someone would argue you can rip BD or HD-DVD to disk and play them that way, but this no longer has the usability I would expect of an extensible CE device. Actually, as Linux based systems go a semi-open Tivo with much better networking, more convenient copying/back-up of media, a built in amplifier and a Blu-Ray drive would be a better example.
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