What would a HTPC give me beyond my Roku XS? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 17 Old 01-08-2012, 04:08 PM - Thread Starter
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What capabilities does a HTPC give me that my Roku XS does not?

That was the question someone asked me over the holidays in a discussion about the HTPC build I'm planning for June timeframe.

Primary reason I am planning a HTPC build:

For my movie/tv series collection, it would be great to
  • To access it with any of the media mgmt interfaces (XBMC, Windows Media Center, etc) that I've seen screenshots of here. My guess is those interfaces would be much more fun than the one for accessing media attached via hard drive to the Roku, but I don't know that for sure.
  • To use it without handling physical media
  • To be able to use the drawers that the physical media currently occupies for something else!

Secondary reasons:
  • It could be the DVR for my panasonic IP cameras ?
  • It could be the hub of my music collection. Pandora has helped me discover new music vs listening to my same favorites from the 90's :-).
  • True confession: I don't honestly know what practical reason would create a need for me to transcode video files. (By "practical reason", I mean the end-result use case.) But I'd guess the "why" would become obvious once I started using a HTPC.
  • I have almost 1TB of data I use for work that is currently on a NAS with a limit of 1TB. So I need to replace the NAS soon anyway.
  • I can't wait to have system with USB 3, front and back for doing my safety deposit box backups. I have wasted so many hours of my life babysitting USB 2 I/O speeds.
  • If the HTPC has the i5 + USB 3.0, it should speed up my drive backups since those are encrypted

I did not really 'get' what was all the excitement about media streamers till Santa delivered a Roku XS. Now I'm addicted! Reasons:
1) Quality of content
2) NO COMMERCIALS!! (I hate all blaring, obnoxious, and repetitive commercials.)

My favorite channels so far via the Roku are
- Amazon Prime Instant Video (enjoyed Foyle's War!)
- TED channel (just saw the Improve Everywhere segment)
- Pandora (recently discovered One Eskimo and Massive Attack)
- MOG (initially liked RDIO, but it literally has no privacy. So I switched to MOG)

So part of my answer back to this question to my friend was, "I didn't know why I needed a Roku till I started using it either."

Related info:
  • My content provider is Direct TV. I switched to them from Time Warner to get the NFL Network. But their picture quality was noticeably better as well, along with lower price. Another reason to have a HTPC would be if I could use it to delete all the commercials off a Direct TV football game recording!
  • I am not a hard-core gamer. The first game I really liked since Centipede was Plants vs Zombies on my iPad2. I have made it all the way through the yard and the night and the roof.
  • I am somewhat technical (run a website for a charity), and am not afraid of experimenting, but I don't have a ton of time (work takes 60 hrs / week).
  • Family IT hardware = 3 Thinkpad laptops, 1 Windows 7 PC, 1 Vista PC. All systems are Core 2 Duo CPUs or earlier! + 1 Buffalo Terastation NAS, 2 iPhones, 1 iPad2. There is ethernet run to a lot of places but NOT to the TV location. Installed Netgear's powerline solution (Netgear xavb5004-100nas) with the Roku, and it's worked flawlessly.

A discussion of all this was the context of the question I was asked, and am asking here.
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post #2 of 17 Old 01-08-2012, 04:26 PM
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For playing internet content, the Roku XS is hard to beat (I have one as well as a HTPC). For managing a large movie collection and playing blu-ray & DVD rips with maximum quality, a HTPC is hard to beat. For DVR/PVR functionality, the verdict is still out for me - my experiment with this ended up with me just keeping the cable DVR, but I am not a TV or sports junkie, my thing is movies.

If you are a video quality maniac (hey, this is AVS), I personally believe I am getting better quality from my particular HTPC rig than with the usual Sigma-based appliance (WDTV Live, Roku, etc) for 1080p MKV's. I am comfortable that I have equivalent IQ to what I get playing the BD on my Oppo, and the MadVR settings I'm using give me similar upscaling results with SD material.

I do not think there is yet a perfect one-box solution - the best results in each category still tends to require specialized solutions. You can do everything with a HTPC, but it will require a few sacrifices in expectations IMHO.
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post #3 of 17 Old 01-08-2012, 05:58 PM
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I'm curious ? What sacrifices would those be . I haven't taken the plunge yet so I want to know

Thanks

-flocko
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post #4 of 17 Old 01-08-2012, 08:45 PM
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Ease of access from the NAS. Roku absolutely sucks at accessing data from NAS's. But for internet streaming it's hard to beat though I really hate the netflix interface. By far the worst from every way I have accessed. Granted the WMC interface isn't anything to get all hot and bothered over it's better than the Roku. In general I feel the Roku interface is sluggish but otherwise pretty easy to navigate, actually better than WMC.
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post #5 of 17 Old 01-09-2012, 08:25 PM - Thread Starter
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Thank you for your replies!

Related question:

Should I keep my 1TB of work data that needs to be available all the time in a separate NAS from my HTPC data?

(the HTPC would be on a lot too given that I take care of an elderly parent who would probably use its media browsing capabilities if easy enough...)
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post #6 of 17 Old 01-10-2012, 04:32 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boomhower View Post

Ease of access from the NAS. Roku absolutely sucks at accessing data from NAS's. But for internet streaming it's hard to beat though I really hate the netflix interface. By far the worst from every way I have accessed. Granted the WMC interface isn't anything to get all hot and bothered over it's better than the Roku. In general I feel the Roku interface is sluggish but otherwise pretty easy to navigate, actually better than WMC.

I feel the Roku XS (and Netflix via my ATV2) has better video quality - the streaming clients for the PC are a bit of a disappointment compared to many of the current dedicated boxes. However the HTPC excels at movie playback (if set up correctly).

I use ATV2 for Netflix and obviously iTunes content. I use the Roku for Amazon and Hulu. These things are cheap, so unless you are short of HDMI inputs, I don't see the point of obsessing over a one box solution. I use a Harmony One remote, so switching back and forth is pretty painless.
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post #7 of 17 Old 01-10-2012, 04:34 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GreenThumb View Post

Thank you for your replies!

Related question:

Should I keep my 1TB of work data that needs to be available all the time in a separate NAS from my HTPC data?

(the HTPC would be on a lot too given that I take care of an elderly parent who would probably use its media browsing capabilities if easy enough...)

No real reason to use separate NAS's. If we are talking about dedicated NAS appliances (like Synology or QNAP), they use little power and can be set up to sleep the drives when not in use, so just get a big one and leave it on 24x7
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post #8 of 17 Old 01-10-2012, 09:26 AM
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A couple of things an HTPC can do that a Roku can't that were important to me:

1) Record and archive content from your DirecTV. I have DirecTV also and we use the 2 HD DVRs (and the "whole house" setup) for normal TV viewing and time shifting, but the HTPC with a Hauppauge Colossus allows me to record content from my DVR in HD with DD 5.1 for long term archiving - somethign for which the DirecTV DVRs are ill suited. And if I want, I can even burn a DVD or blu ray of it (for example, I recently made a copy of a college football game in HD for a friend who had missed it that he was able to watch on his blu ray player).

2) Access ANY internet streaming content. I know Roku now has something like 350 apps, but it still isn't everything, and there's new content on line all the time. With a box, you're at the mercy of the company as to what they provide access. With an HTPC it's your choice. Particularly important with sports. I don't think, for example, that the Roku provides the CBS Sports internet feeds of every March Madness game. Does Roku have an ESPN3 (or Watch ESPN) app? I don't know. They now have a GoFightLive app (no other box does) but they didn't when I built my HTPC, and that was important to me too. More and more colleges are providing access to their athletic events (basketball, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, volleyball, etc. ) on their websites. Roku will never provide access to all of those. So basically, I didn't want to be limited to just the "popular" content sources as dictated by the box manufacturer. I wanted to have access to whatever I wanted on my home theater and to whatever might become available in the future.
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post #9 of 17 Old 01-10-2012, 09:44 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zon2020 View Post

A couple of things an HTPC can do that a Roku can't that were important to me:

1) Record and archive content from your DirecTV. I have DirecTV also and we use the 2 HD DVRs (and the "whole house" setup) for normal TV viewing and time shifting, but the HTPC with a Hauppauge Colossus allows me to record content from my DVR in HD with DD 5.1 for long term archiving - somethign for which the DirecTV DVRs are ill suited. And if I want, I can even burn a DVD or blu ray of it (for example, I recently made a copy of a college football game in HD for a friend who had missed it that he was able to watch on his blu ray player).

Really !!?!!

The DirecTV installer told me I could not do that!
(He said Time Warner, yes, DirecTV, no)

What is your physical hookup like?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Zon2020 View Post

I have DirecTV also and we use the 2 HD DVRs (and the "whole house" setup) for normal TV viewing and time shifting, but

That is my exact setup as well.
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post #10 of 17 Old 01-10-2012, 10:18 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GreenThumb View Post

Really !!?!!

The DirecTV installer told me I could not do that!
(He said Time Warner, yes, DirecTV, no)

What is your physical hookup like?

That is my exact setup as well.

One of my DirecTV DVRs is on my equipment rack with my main home theater setup along with an AVR, my main HTPC, a blu ray deck, and even an old VHS (hey, I haven't needed the space, so it still sits there, and the digital clock is handy).

The HDMI output from the DVR goes to the AVR.

The component video and optical audio outputs of the DVR are connected to the Colossus. The HDMI output of the HTPC goes to the AVR.

Some people here use the Colossus's IR Blaster to change channels on their DVR. I don't. I just use the DVR alone most of the time for TV viewing, but when I want to record something, I just use the included Arcsoft ShowBiz software and capture the feed from the DVR in HD .m2ts format with DD 5.1 audio. The quality is indistinguishable from the original DirecTV feed, meaning it's not blu ray, but it's pretty darn good. I record mostly sports, movies and music concerts. Normally I do it overnight. So for example if I want to record a football game that I've DVRd, I set Showbiz for the length of the recording, start the playback on the DVR, hit the Showbiz start button, turn off the TV and DVR, and go to bed. In the morning the recording is there on the PC where I can do whatever I want with it; store it, watch it; edit out commercials and halftime; convert it to MP4/stereo to take with me on my tablet; burn it to disk, etc. I generally don't capture it as I watch it because then I couldn't pause, rewind, switch channels or games during commercials, etc., without messing up the recording. So I record it on the DVR, and then capture it on the playback from the DVR when it won't be disturbed. Basically I use it the same way I used to use my old JVC DR-MX1S HDD/VHS/DVD recorder.

Also, some folks here actually feed their Colossus using HDMI and apparently DirecTV doesn't put HDCP on the HDMI outputs. But I don't think the quality is improved any. BTW, the FCC now allows the cable and satellite companies to block the use of component outputs for the first 90 days of release of first run PPV movies. So you may not be able to capture those if that matters to you, but you can capture anything else from your DirecTV box, including HBO, Starz. ESPN, HDNM, and VOD content.

Also, I use J.River Media Center to organize and watch my captured content.
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post #11 of 17 Old 01-11-2012, 08:42 PM - Thread Starter
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Zon2020, thanks so much for the detail.
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post #12 of 17 Old 01-11-2012, 09:58 PM
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I really hate the netflix interface

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post #13 of 17 Old 01-18-2012, 09:26 PM
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I have a VGA connector from my CRT projector that an HTPC can support but roku does not.
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post #14 of 17 Old 10-14-2012, 07:36 PM
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Officially shut off my htpc last year after several months running htpc, roku and apple tv. I use the roku 10x the apple tv, as i like the pricing on amazon streaming much better. Htpc always had glitches (ran boxee and ms media pc os), and, even with the hp remote, often needed human intervention. If you want lots of flexibility but know you will have to tweak, use an htpc. If yu just want stuff to work, got with a roku.

My 2 centavos
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post #15 of 17 Old 10-14-2012, 07:43 PM
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I've been running my HTPC for over a year and for the last five months it is the ONLY thing connected to my HT (except the blu-ray player that gets used about once every month or two). I'm even watching Sunday Night Football off my HDHR Prime Tuner right now. I don't have glitches. You must have done something wrong.

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post #16 of 17 Old 10-14-2012, 09:55 PM
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I'll chime in a bit here. I've had Roku box since two weeks after it's initial release; I didn't preorder early enough for the first batch off the line. I've been using an "HTPC" for about two years or so. It should be noted, I'm sports a junkie and frugal.

Some of the stuff you mentioned, it doesn't matter which way to go other than preference and your LAN setup. Some where, you're going to have a PC connected. The example is sharing your movie collection. Your movies are going to be stored a PC or server which XMBC or the like will access. On a side note, transcoding is nice to have if you want to access on your home network, on say, your smartphone. I do this with Plex. Back on topic, both can access stuff such as Netflix, Hulu, Crackle, Amazon VOD, and so forth. Each their quirks for whatever device or platform you're on. Hulu is really good on the HTPC, whereas is decent on steamer boxes because of limited content and interface. Netflix is really good on streaming boxes, and less than desirable on a HTPC; it works, but you can tell it's now the ugly step child.

Where Roku, and most other boxes such as AppleTV, excel is in the easy of use. If you don't have tech savvy people in your home, you have to be next to brain dead to operate them, once set up. I have three Roku boxes in my house. They have their limits because of either lack of applications or hardware. But for most people, the picture and audio quality is good to them. I know Plex has an app on the Roku, and works pretty well; it's a lot better from the days when it was a private app.

HTPC, as someone above posted, it's completely robust. It can be user unfriendly with a lack of ten foot interface. It can be more user friend the less tech savvy, but it's got a lot more work to it; I believe Aasassin has guides on how to do this well. Personally, I just leave mine setup like a PC just connected to the TV. You have access to anything on the internet. Throw in a VPN (virtual private network) and really release the power. I can access stuff not available in the USA such a NFL Game Pass, BBC iPlayer, and so forth. For sprots, I give the finger to black outs.

On a side note, my HTPC is actually more two PCs. There is a PC that actually sits in the home theater. I use to access to access plex, wieb sites, and so forth when in the home theater. Then I have PC in the office that stays on 24/7 where the Plex server sits, I do all my DVR recordings, do rips, and so forth. That PC is connect via ethernet cable to my LAN, where the HTPC is WiFi.
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post #17 of 17 Old 10-14-2012, 09:58 PM
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the question really is not what can the HTPC do or not do compared to the Roku. It's a more what do you want do with your setup? Who is going to use it? How much do you want to fiddle with it to setup or in the future

to me, comparing the two is like comparing an orange to a tangerine. Similar, but definitely have their differences. .
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