Home theater computer doubling as home office PC? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 14 Old 01-26-2012, 06:31 AM - Thread Starter
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Now that I understand HTPCs a little more, I am ready to start investigating what will work best for me. My main reason for wanting to set one up in the first place is to integrate OTA TV, Hulu and other free services (I know I'll need a plug-in for Hulu, etc...I found a good article on how to do it here, and Netflix, which is the only media service I plan to pay for besides an internet connection from here on out. Finally, I want to be able to pause, rewind, and record live TV just as we do now with our satellite company DVR. The key thing here is going to be selling it to my wife who is skeptical. She too hates paying for TV, but does appreciate the convenience of satellite, the DVR they provide, etc... She also is not exactly tech savvy-I need something that she can operate with a remote control, which seems doable with Windows Media Center.

My plan is this-we need a new computer anyway. We both have laptops which are both fine for web browsing and checking e-mail, but over the years we've ended up with important documents, photos, and other stuff saved who-knows-where on each computer. It would be nice to just have ONE computer where we save everything (backed up of course). That computer could also be located in our home office, adjacent to the family room where the TV will be located. It would not be difficult to run an HDMI cable through the wall to the TV from the PC. The PC could chug away (I understand that dedicated HTPCs are much quieter) in the other room without bothering anyone. With an RF remote like this one I should be able to control the HTPC from the family room without a problem.

So basically I'm looking for a computer that can serve as a web browser, a place for my daughter (currently 4 months) to learn to use the computer in a supervised way, a repository for photos, documents, etc...and something to pay our bills, do our monthly budget, so forth. Since I don't need a dedicated home theater PC that is ultra quiet and is packaged in a sleek case that looks like it belongs on a media center rack, I'm hoping that I can get a good deal on something off the shelf from one the major electronics retailers either brick and mortar or online. I see that a lot of companies are even selling refurbished PCs now-if one of those works and it's the right price I'm sold. The problem is I have ZERO knowledge of what I need in terms of processor speed, hard drive capacity, RAM, etc...in order to have a viewing experience that is comparable to cable or satellite. I'll break down the requirements/questions so that people much more knowledgeable than I can hopefully recommend something:

Storage - I have no concept of how much is enough, too much, or too little. The DVR we have now (Dish Network) will store 800 hours of SD programming. that seems to work fine for us-in fact, it's probably too much. I don't think we've ever reached capacity on it and we record lots of cable junk that we never watch. We will be recording the major network shows (that's all we'll be getting with OTA TV anyway) and catching up on them over the weekend. I see us recording maybe 5-10 hours of TV a week and deleting it the following week. Other than that, we'll be making use of the pause/rewind feature pretty often.

As I said before, also on this computer we plan to store our library of digital photos and important documents. The digital photos probably number around 4000 or so high quality images (9 Megapixel) at this point and will continue to grow as our daughter and our family grows. I have them all backed up on a thumb drive now and I think they take up about 3GB. Important documents are mostly Excel spreadsheets, PDFs, Word documents, but everything we'll ever put on there will probably fall short of 1GB. Given that, how much storage will we need? I see that this refurbished PC has a 1TB hard drive. Will that be enough to store all of our stuff plus function as a DVR?

Speed/RAM/Cache - I'll readily admit that I don't entirely understand these things, but I do know that they affect how fast you can access/process all of that stored information. How much processor speed do I need? The computer referenced above has the following:

Processor Intel® Pentium®
Processor Speed 2.6GHz
Cache Memory 3MB
System Memory (RAM) 4GB
System Memory (RAM) Expandable To 8GB
Type of Memory (RAM) DDR3 SDRAM
Hard Drive Type SATA (7200 rpm)
Hard Drive Size 1TB
Graphics Intel® HD
Video Memory Up to 1696MB total available

Is this adequate, not enough, too much, etc...? Thanks in advance for helping a noob navigate all of this stuff-I'm extremely glad I found this forum.
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post #2 of 14 Old 01-26-2012, 06:33 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Badfish740 View Post

Now that I understand HTPCs a little more, I am ready to start investigating what will work best for me. My main reason for wanting to set one up in the first place is to integrate OTA TV, Hulu and other free services (I know I'll need a plug-in for Hulu, etc...I found a good article on how to do it here, and Netflix, which is the only media service I plan to pay for besides an internet connection from here on out. Finally, I want to be able to pause, rewind, and record live TV just as we do now with our satellite company DVR. The key thing here is going to be selling it to my wife who is skeptical. She too hates paying for TV, but does appreciate the convenience of satellite, the DVR they provide, etc... She also is not exactly tech savvy-I need something that she can operate with a remote control, which seems doable with Windows Media Center.

My plan is this-we need a new computer anyway. We both have laptops which are both fine for web browsing and checking e-mail, but over the years we've ended up with important documents, photos, and other stuff saved who-knows-where on each computer. It would be nice to just have ONE computer where we save everything (backed up of course). That computer could also be located in our home office, adjacent to the family room where the TV will be located. It would not be difficult to run an HDMI cable through the wall to the TV from the PC. The PC could chug away (I understand that dedicated HTPCs are much quieter) in the other room without bothering anyone. With an RF remote like this one I should be able to control the HTPC from the family room without a problem.

So basically I'm looking for a computer that can serve as a web browser, a place for my daughter (currently 4 months) to learn to use the computer in a supervised way, a repository for photos, documents, etc...and something to pay our bills, do our monthly budget, so forth. Since I don't need a dedicated home theater PC that is ultra quiet and is packaged in a sleek case that looks like it belongs on a media center rack, I'm hoping that I can get a good deal on something off the shelf from one the major electronics retailers either brick and mortar or online. I see that a lot of companies are even selling refurbished PCs now-if one of those works and it's the right price I'm sold. The problem is I have ZERO knowledge of what I need in terms of processor speed, hard drive capacity, RAM, etc...in order to have a viewing experience that is comparable to cable or satellite. I'll break down the requirements/questions so that people much more knowledgeable than I can hopefully recommend something:

Storage - I have no concept of how much is enough, too much, or too little. The DVR we have now (Dish Network) will store 800 hours of SD programming. that seems to work fine for us-in fact, it's probably too much. I don't think we've ever reached capacity on it and we record lots of cable junk that we never watch. We will be recording the major network shows (that's all we'll be getting with OTA TV anyway) and catching up on them over the weekend. I see us recording maybe 5-10 hours of TV a week and deleting it the following week. Other than that, we'll be making use of the pause/rewind feature pretty often.

As I said before, also on this computer we plan to store our library of digital photos and important documents. The digital photos probably number around 4000 or so high quality images (9 Megapixel) at this point and will continue to grow as our daughter and our family grows. I have them all backed up on a thumb drive now and I think they take up about 3GB. Important documents are mostly Excel spreadsheets, PDFs, Word documents, but everything we'll ever put on there will probably fall short of 1GB. Given that, how much storage will we need? I see that this refurbished PC has a 1TB hard drive. Will that be enough to store all of our stuff plus function as a DVR?

Speed/RAM/Cache - I'll readily admit that I don't entirely understand these things, but I do know that they affect how fast you can access/process all of that stored information. How much processor speed do I need? The computer referenced above has the following:

Processor Intel® Pentium®
Processor Speed 2.6GHz
Cache Memory 3MB
System Memory (RAM) 4GB
System Memory (RAM) Expandable To 8GB
Type of Memory (RAM) DDR3 SDRAM
Hard Drive Type SATA (7200 rpm)
Hard Drive Size 1TB
Graphics Intel® HD
Video Memory Up to 1696MB total available

Is this adequate, not enough, too much, etc...? Thanks in advance for helping a noob navigate all of this stuff-I'm extremely glad I found this forum.

Please list your CPU processor model number.
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post #3 of 14 Old 01-26-2012, 07:10 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by assassin View Post

Please list your CPU processor model number.

I don't think they list it on the site-I couldn't find it anywhere. What is the model number indicative of and what model number should I look for in a PC for my purposes?
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post #4 of 14 Old 01-26-2012, 07:16 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by assassin View Post

Please list your CPU processor model number.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Badfish740 View Post

I don't think they list it on the site-I couldn't find it anywhere. What is the model number indicative of and what model number should I look for in a PC for my purposes?

Intel® Pentium® processor G620

Which means it should be good to go for HTPC use.
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post #5 of 14 Old 01-26-2012, 07:19 AM
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That unit has no HDMI output.
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post #6 of 14 Old 01-26-2012, 07:19 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mrjinglesusa View Post

Intel® Pentium® processor G620

I figured as much since it was using DDR3 RAM. Also I didn't see the link until just now.

You PC should function fine as a HTPC assuming HP didn't inhibit any of the features with special drivers or bios restrictions.
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post #7 of 14 Old 01-26-2012, 07:36 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Zon2020 View Post

That unit has no HDMI output.

Is there a simple way to add one? Even my crappy Dell laptop has one so I just assumed this PC would have one.

Quote:
Originally Posted by assassin View Post

You PC should function fine as a HTPC assuming HP didn't inhibit any of the features with special drivers or bios restrictions.

I'm not sure what this means-can you explain a little further? Thanks for your patience with these basic questions.
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post #8 of 14 Old 01-26-2012, 07:52 AM
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Originally Posted by Zon2020 View Post

That unit has no HDMI output.

Good catch.
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post #9 of 14 Old 01-26-2012, 07:54 AM
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Originally Posted by Badfish740 View Post

I'm not sure what this means-can you explain a little further? Thanks for your patience with these basic questions.

Some manufacturer's remove things from bios that you might find necessary. I don't HP/Dell/etc so I can't speak specifically to what they are including or removing nowadays.
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post #10 of 14 Old 01-26-2012, 07:57 AM
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Here's the motherboard in that case:

http://h10025.www1.hp.com/ewfrf/wc/d...us&dlc=en#N443
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post #11 of 14 Old 01-26-2012, 08:59 AM
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I have a thought unrelated to the suitability of this particular machine.

Personally, I would be hesistant to combine my important personal documents (taxes, work, receipts, bills, bank records, correspondence, whatever) with either a system on which I was going to let a child play or on my htpc. I would certainly never combine them on the same drive as my entertainment media or children's stuff.

But that's just me.

With that said, if you're dead set on buying an econobox and trying to make it work for all of these purposes, you might consider this one. At least it has HDMI, is new, has a 1 year warranty, and Acer is less likely to have done strange things to its bios than HP.
http://www.microcenter.com/single_pr...uct_id=0373743
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post #12 of 14 Old 01-26-2012, 09:06 AM
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If you want to sell it to your wife for the ease of operation, I would strongly recommend against setting it up as double duty. Build a PC strictly for the HDTV DVR functionality, and then get one for the office.

Sign up for newegg mailer, and they often have bundles that will do DVR for under $300, you'll just have to add OS, remote and a tuner. Buy another bundle for desktop PC duty.

If you are going that route, then get a muti-user OS pack, as it comes out cheaper (3 licenses for $100, as opposed to single license for $80)

For under $1000 you will get your self and your wife a DVR and a desktop PC.

Also, if you are moving important documents off the laptops, make sure you have a back up of everything. Even though you have not lost the documents, yet, hard drives do fail, sooner or later. Make sure you have all of your important documents backed up on another hard drive, or a remote location like drop box, Amazon, or windows cloud.

6 TV's in the house on FiOS and we only pay $4.99/month to connect them all!!! Power to the CableCard and WMC7!!!
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post #13 of 14 Old 01-26-2012, 09:31 AM
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Originally Posted by blueiedgod View Post

If you want to sell it to your wife for the ease of operation, I would strongly recommend against setting it up as double duty. Build a PC strictly for the HDTV DVR functionality, and then get one for the office.

Sign up for newegg mailer, and they often have bundles that will do DVR for under $300, you'll just have to add OS, remote and a tuner. Buy another bundle for desktop PC duty.

If you are going that route, then get a muti-user OS pack, as it comes out cheaper (3 licenses for $100, as opposed to single license for $80)

For under $1000 you will get your self and your wife a DVR and a desktop PC.

Also, if you are moving important documents off the laptops, make sure you have a back up of everything. Even though you have not lost the documents, yet, hard drives do fail, sooner or later. Make sure you have all of your important documents backed up on another hard drive, or a remote location like drop box, Amazon, or windows cloud.

I would consider making 2 identical machines. I think most modern HTPCs using Sandy Bridge CPUs make perfectly acceptable typical home/office machines as well. This will make the 2nd PC build easier for you as you will be familiar with the case and parts while allowing you backup parts to use if your machines ever have problems/issues down the road that you need to troubleshoot.

Just something else to consider.
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post #14 of 14 Old 01-26-2012, 09:34 AM - Thread Starter
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OK-getting the picture that the double duty idea is not a good one. However, I'm set on buying a plain jane PC rather than a purpose built HTPC or building one simply because I can locate it in an adjacent room so I don't care what it looks like or how much noise it makes. Thanks for the suggestions-at least now I have half an idea of what I'm looking for. I'm assuming that adding a tuner card is just a matter of using one of the slots in the back? The remote uses a USB dongle, and of course I'll need a long enough HDMI to run to the family room. I don't need wireless capability on the PC because it will be sitting right next to the router. Anything else I'm missing? One thought I had was about simply using the hard drive space on the HTPC as a networked drive that could be accessed wirelessly by the laptops. Is this possible/advisable? What would I need in order to do it?
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