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post #1 of 24 Old 08-15-2014, 11:16 AM - Thread Starter
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No Game HTPC Build

Most threads I have read focus on builds that are set up to handle the unique needs of gaming, which is not my thing, no offense. My thrust will be different as I look into my second HTPC. Can I get some input for a Windows 7/WMC build with the following goals: Best audio (via HDMI into very good existing sound system) and video for Live/recorded TV (via Ceton tuner), Internet (such as Amazon Instant videos, YouTube, Hulu, etc.), 1 SSD Drive for OS, 2 x 2TB drives storage (RAID 1). Must be 4K capable down the road, but not immediately. Key after the above is reliability, not lowest cost, up to the minute latest tech or smallest cabinet etc.
I could use help on CPU, MB, PS, SSD and HDD selections. Thanks in advance guys!
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post #2 of 24 Old 08-24-2014, 12:05 AM
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Impossible to make recommendations without knowing your budget.
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post #3 of 24 Old 08-24-2014, 08:10 AM - Thread Starter
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Impossible to make recommendations without knowing your budget.
Fair point. I won't say money is no object, but I am not looking to pinch pennies by any means either. If it were a car, I don't need a Mercedes, but want at least a decent Audi/BMW build.
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post #4 of 24 Old 08-24-2014, 08:45 AM
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With your stated requirements, you don't need anything remarkable in terms of PC hardware.

But a few more questions might help narrow things down a bit...

Is this HTPC going to be strictly for one TV, or do you plan on using it to deliver content to other televisions? (via other PC's, WMC Extenders, Roku etc)

The 4K thing can be tricky... It isn't difficult at all to bui;d a PC that can output at 4K resolutions. Being able to play 4K content is another matter altogether, and being able to connect to drive future 4K displays is a little iffy as well. Support for 4K H.264 files seems to be decent these days, but 4K H.265 is a little more spotty. If it can play 4K H.264 files, I would consider that to be 4K capable but that doesn't mean it will play all 4K content.

Since the specs for HDMI 2.0 aren't finalized, and I'm not entirely sure if there is a finalized spec for 4K yet, it has the potential to be similar to HD where the initial displays and devices were all 1080i capable, but not 1080p, it took a few years for the dust to settle in that regard, and the early adopters ended up with equipment that wasn't as capable as the latter stuff. So the potential is there for you to build a PC that is 4K capable, but a couple of years from now they'll have a "better" version of 4K that your PC can't do.

Having said that, if all you want is the ability to easily upgrade to 4K later, it should be as simple as dropping in a new video card later on down the road. But for now, I wouldn't add a discrete GPU until they have better hardware accelerated decoding for 4k H.264 and H.265 and HDMI 2.0 is finalized. I'd just wait until you plan on getting a 4K display, then add the GPU then.
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post #5 of 24 Old 08-24-2014, 10:17 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by ajhieb View Post
With your stated requirements, you don't need anything remarkable in terms of PC hardware.

But a few more questions might help narrow things down a bit...

Is this HTPC going to be strictly for one TV, or do you plan on using it to deliver content to other televisions? (via other PC's, WMC Extenders, Roku etc)

The 4K thing can be tricky... It isn't difficult at all to bui;d a PC that can output at 4K resolutions. Being able to play 4K content is another matter altogether, and being able to connect to drive future 4K displays is a little iffy as well. Support for 4K H.264 files seems to be decent these days, but 4K H.265 is a little more spotty. If it can play 4K H.264 files, I would consider that to be 4K capable but that doesn't mean it will play all 4K content.

Since the specs for HDMI 2.0 aren't finalized, and I'm not entirely sure if there is a finalized spec for 4K yet, it has the potential to be similar to HD where the initial displays and devices were all 1080i capable, but not 1080p, it took a few years for the dust to settle in that regard, and the early adopters ended up with equipment that wasn't as capable as the latter stuff. So the potential is there for you to build a PC that is 4K capable, but a couple of years from now they'll have a "better" version of 4K that your PC can't do.

Having said that, if all you want is the ability to easily upgrade to 4K later, it should be as simple as dropping in a new video card later on down the road. But for now, I wouldn't add a discrete GPU until they have better hardware accelerated decoding for 4k H.264 and H.265 and HDMI 2.0 is finalized. I'd just wait until you plan on getting a 4K display, then add the GPU then.
That seems like a sensible p[perspective on 4K now. Main thing I want to avoid is to not close any doors now, but try to build so 4K card can be added. Assuming 4K might require a bit more horsepower, for example, I would rather take a ballsy processor now for a few more bucks so I am ready, rather than something marginal and have to scrap it.

My system is simple: One main TV, fed by the PC (with Ceton tuner) and a DVD player. Second TV gets fed with a Ceton Echo. No other PC's, Roku's etc., expected. We view live TV, Internet, DVD's and that is about it. Current TV is Sony XBR6, but expect to move to 4K Sony 49 XBR850 in next few months.
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post #6 of 24 Old 08-24-2014, 06:29 PM
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Originally Posted by sgbroimp View Post
Fair point. I won't say money is no object, but I am not looking to pinch pennies by any means either. If it were a car, I don't need a Mercedes, but want at least a decent Audi/BMW build.
Then I would go with something like:

Intel i5 3570K or higher
Nvidia GTX 770 or ATI Radeon R9 280.
8GB Ram
Motherboard doesn't really matter, get something that matches everything well and has room for expansion
256GB SSD
ANY SeaSonic PSU that's 80 PLUS with enough wattage
As many storage drives as you need

Why this? You'll be able to run MadVR with NNEID3 64+ neurons along with image doubling. You'll be able to upscale a whole lot while being futureproof. The SSD and strong processor will ensure a super smooth experience.

Could you do similar with less? Sure, but you said Audi/BMW/Mercedes, not Honda/Toyota/Nissan.
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post #7 of 24 Old 08-24-2014, 07:06 PM
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I wouldn't get the GPU at the moment
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post #8 of 24 Old 08-24-2014, 08:22 PM
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I wouldn't get the GPU at the moment
Agreed. Save your money for now. Build your system around the idea that it will one day be home to a big swanky GPU, but don't get the GPU yet. I wouldn't be in any rush to get a 4K display yet either. As an early adopter, you'll get to pay a premium for the privilege of having some 1st gen (more like 0.9gen) hardware that isn't fully compliant with the finalized specs, all so you can watch... (what's available in UHD right now, and how can you get it on your PC?)

I know plenty of people that were in a huge hurry to go to HD, and they ended up with early TVs that were 1080i, didn't have HDMI or DVI inputs, didn't support 1080p, didn't support HDCP, etc. Basically they spent a boatload on equipment that was obsolete almost immediately after they bought it. And from what I can tell, the writing is on the wall for the exact same thing to happen with UHD. But I think it would be arguably a bigger waste, since the jump from SD to even the early HD sets was tremendous. I just don't see the difference between HD and UHD being that significant. If most of the content is going to be delivered by streaming, then it's probably going to be compressed enough (at least in the early stages until all the network providers upgrade their equipment to handle the increased bandwidth demand) that the picture won't be much different from a 1080p picture.

And you never know, it might end up being the next LaserDisc.

Having said that, I would certainly plan on being able to upgrade as painlessly as possible to support it later on if/when it becomes a mainstream thing.
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post #9 of 24 Old 08-25-2014, 05:40 AM - Thread Starter
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Then I would go with something like:

Intel i5 3570K or higher
Nvidia GTX 770 or ATI Radeon R9 280.
8GB Ram
Motherboard doesn't really matter, get something that matches everything well and has room for expansion
256GB SSD
ANY SeaSonic PSU that's 80 PLUS with enough wattage
As many storage drives as you need

Why this? You'll be able to run MadVR with NNEID3 64+ neurons along with image doubling. You'll be able to upscale a whole lot while being futureproof. The SSD and strong processor will ensure a super smooth experience.

Could you do similar with less? Sure, but you said Audi/BMW/Mercedes, not Honda/Toyota/Nissan.

Good stuff. Much appreciate! I was thinking the 4670 actually, a Haswell. Maybe a half step better than the 3570?

For the SSD, 256 seems like an Audi RS5, when a straight S5(128) is pretty powerful for our roads. Is there a good reason to go that high?

Since the CPU has onboard graphics, any need to add the graphics card right now? By waiting until actually needed, more mature products might be available(?). Or is there a good reason to add that at the beginning?

No comments on rest - makes good sense.
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post #10 of 24 Old 08-25-2014, 07:17 AM
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There is no such thing as future proof.

Windows 9 is not far away but if you are going to build now Windows 7 will do. Whether media center and its program guide will continue is an unanswered question.

A computer may not provide the best quality for streaming. I just stream Netflix and use a PS3 for that. You can get a better steaming device than a HTPC for around $100 or much less.

For audio I just have HDMI from the computer to a receiver and let the AVR do the processing. Your GPU and software decoding can also handle audio. If Dolby Atmos becomes popular a new receiver will be required.

Tomshardware.com has a good review of current SSD drives

You might want to consider a HDHomerun tuner which needs an ethernet port on your motherboard as opposed to the Ceton. I have never used Ceton but the HDhomerun works well for live/recorded TV.

Your motherboard should have a PCI Express 3.0 x 16 or higher slot for your GPU. A quick internet search turned up the existence of PCI express 4 but I don't think it is commonly available. I remember Renethx writing that Haswell motherboards can handle 4K but i would advise you to check that. Whatever you get will not have HDMI 2.0, HEVC compression or future digital rights management compatibility. Being able to replace GPUs will extend the life of your build before replacing the motherboard and other changes a new motherboard may require.

I suggest one 4TB hard drive for now leaving room for additional hard drives and connections in the future.

If you system is going to play/rip discs you will need an optical drive.
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post #11 of 24 Old 08-25-2014, 07:41 AM
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Fair point. I won't say money is no object, but I am not looking to pinch pennies by any means either. If it were a car, I don't need a Mercedes, but want at least a decent Audi/BMW build.
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Good stuff. Much appreciate! I was thinking the 4670 actually, a Haswell. Maybe a half step better than the 3570?

For the SSD, 256 seems like an Audi RS5, when a straight S5(128) is pretty powerful for our roads. Is there a good reason to go that high?

Since the CPU has onboard graphics, any need to add the graphics card right now? By waiting until actually needed, more mature products might be available(?). Or is there a good reason to add that at the beginning?

No comments on rest - makes good sense.
Good questions. I put the 3570K as a baseline. If you get a great deal on it then you can't go wrong. But if you can get Haswell for a few bucks more, then sure why not?

SSD is more futureproofing in a sense. I'd say 120GB would be the minimum for an SSD. The Windows folder on C:\ can get over 30GB over time. But again, it really depends what you use it for. I personally get by without an SSD for my HTPC and I don't even notice it to be honest with you. I only use it for my gaming PC because that's where there is a lot of loading. My HTPC is mainly open XBMC, select file, and hit play. That's where it loads off the storage drives which certainly aren't SSDs.

I personally avoid Intel iGPUs because of their broken Quantization Range Setting (see here). Can you get around it? Yeah but not without it being a major PITA where Hex Editing is required.

That and it also depends on what you want to do with your HTPC. If you're happy with XBMC with DXVA decoding, then any GPU is pretty much fine. But if you want use MadVR upscaling with Jinc 3/AR enabled for both Chroma and Luma (with DX11 dithering) that's where it gets more complicated. Or maybe you want to use NNEDi3. Is it worth it? The differences are very minor compared to the dollars required so that's something you have to decide for yourself.

I personally use a GTS 450. The Nvidia drivers allow me to alter the pixel clock on my GPU to get virtually perfect 23.976hz output (which is EXTREMELY important to HTPCs). It also lets me use MadVR with Jinc 3/AR for both Luma/Chroma, and Option 2 dithering with colored noise and hiding of dither patterns. I paid $60 for my GPU nearly 4 years ago. And it's basically an overclocked 9800GTX from 2009. PQ is fantastic and the value is unbeatable. Someone might argue a GT 430 is also fine and they'd be right. But having a little headroom is always good because it gives flexibility in tweaking.

So you can see my setup is extremely modest but it gets the job done with zero lag or frustration.

All in all, it highly depends on what you want to do. I myself am a bang for buck kind of guy. Getting back to the Audi comparison, I'm the kind of guy that would buy a nice Jetta as a compromise because it gives me the most value per dollar.
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post #12 of 24 Old 08-25-2014, 07:54 AM
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I'd compromise on the GPU by getting a 750ti. It's low power, relatively cheap (~$150), and best of all, it supports 4K @ 60Hz via HDMI using the latest nvidia drivers.

That last bullet point is key. Only kepler/maxwell-based nvidia GPUs have that ability at this point. It's also powerful enough for madvr use, though maybe not using the most powerful upscalers.

The point is that the card is just to act as a bridge until powerful HDMI 2.0-based video cards crop up. In my opinion, a $150 investment is low enough to not feel guilty if I had to sell or dump the card after 6 months, but you'll still get full benefits of 4K @ 60 Hz driving your sweet UHD display. The only downside is that because it's only HDMI 1.4, you're getting reduced chroma (4:2:0), so you may notice some reduced color when web browsing. You won't notice it with video however, since video is mostly sampled at 4:2:0 anyway.

Also, don't listen to those people who say hold off on a 4K TV. Get a set that has proper HDMI 2.0 support and you're good to go. I have a 65" HU9000 and use it exclusively with an HTPC. No regrets.
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post #13 of 24 Old 08-25-2014, 08:03 AM
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I'd compromise on the GPU by getting a 750ti. It's low power, relatively cheap (~$150), and best of all, it supports 4K @ 60Hz via HDMI using the latest nvidia drivers.

That last bullet point is key. Only kepler/maxwell-based nvidia GPUs have that ability at this point. It's also powerful enough for madvr use, though maybe not using the most powerful upscalers.

The point is that the card is just to act as a bridge until powerful HDMI 2.0-based video cards crop up. In my opinion, a $150 investment is low enough to not feel guilty if I had to sell or dump the card after 6 months, but you'll still get full benefits of 4K @ 60 Hz driving your sweet UHD display. The only downside is that because it's only HDMI 1.4, you're getting reduced chroma (4:2:0), so you may notice some reduced color when web browsing. You won't notice it with video however, since video is mostly sampled at 4:2:0 anyway.

Also, don't listen to those people who say hold off on a 4K TV. Get a set that has proper HDMI 2.0 support and you're good to go. I have a 65" HU9000 and use it exclusively with an HTPC. No regrets.
4K to me is useless right now unless you're uber hardcore, want to invest in GTX 790 to upscale everything to the extreme. There's very little true 4K content and I'd rather wait for 8K because that will be the true successor to 1080p.

Right now it's SD to HD all over again where:

720p = 4K
1080p = 8K.

Where 18 months since 720p became "mainstream" people where kicking themselves for not getting a 1080p display.

I'd rather wait. Being an early (in this case a very early one) rarely, if ever, pays out.
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post #14 of 24 Old 08-25-2014, 12:52 PM - Thread Starter
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I'd compromise on the GPU by getting a 750ti. It's low power, relatively cheap (~$150), and best of all, it supports 4K @ 60Hz via HDMI using the latest nvidia drivers.

That last bullet point is key. Only kepler/maxwell-based nvidia GPUs have that ability at this point. It's also powerful enough for madvr use, though maybe not using the most powerful upscalers.

The point is that the card is just to act as a bridge until powerful HDMI 2.0-based video cards crop up. In my opinion, a $150 investment is low enough to not feel guilty if I had to sell or dump the card after 6 months, but you'll still get full benefits of 4K @ 60 Hz driving your sweet UHD display. The only downside is that because it's only HDMI 1.4, you're getting reduced chroma (4:2:0), so you may notice some reduced color when web browsing. You won't notice it with video however, since video is mostly sampled at 4:2:0 anyway.

Also, don't listen to those people who say hold off on a 4K TV. Get a set that has proper HDMI 2.0 support and you're good to go. I have a 65" HU9000 and use it exclusively with an HTPC. No regrets.
Some good logic here, but the waiting for 2.0 cards to come argument might seem to argue for holding off on buying any video card for now and just living with the Intel HD 4000/4600 on board graphics for a while, would it not?

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post #15 of 24 Old 08-25-2014, 01:19 PM
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Some good logic here, but the waiting for 2.0 cards to come argument might seem to argue for holding off on buying any video card for now and just living with the Intel HD 4000/4600 on board graphics for a while, would it not?
That's certainly my stance on things.

You certainly can get a discrete GPU now for the purpose of running at the higher (4K) resolution, or for using MadVR. You're the only one that can ultimately decide if those things are worth the extra cost in the mean time, until you pull the trigger on an HDMI 2.0 card. (And I wouldn't pull the trigger on an HDMI 2.0 card unless it can do hardware assisted decoding of 4K H.264 and H.265 video)

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post #16 of 24 Old 08-25-2014, 01:32 PM
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Some good logic here, but the waiting for 2.0 cards to come argument might seem to argue for holding off on buying any video card for now and just living with the Intel HD 4000/4600 on board graphics for a while, would it not?
Yeah you can, you just forgo 4K @ 60Hz. Intel will do 4K @ 30 Hz. Not a huge loss, but the OP sounds like he's not afraid to spend, so it's a solid option without being outright silly like buying a $300+ discrete video card.

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post #17 of 24 Old 08-28-2014, 06:42 AM - Thread Starter
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Good questions. I put the 3570K as a baseline. If you get a great deal on it then you can't go wrong. But if you can get Haswell for a few bucks more, then sure why not?

SSD is more futureproofing in a sense. I'd say 120GB would be the minimum for an SSD. The Windows folder on C:\ can get over 30GB over time. But again, it really depends what you use it for. I personally get by without an SSD for my HTPC and I don't even notice it to be honest with you. I only use it for my gaming PC because that's where there is a lot of loading. My HTPC is mainly open XBMC, select file, and hit play. That's where it loads off the storage drives which certainly aren't SSDs.

I personally avoid Intel iGPUs because of their broken Quantization Range Setting (see here). Can you get around it? Yeah but not without it being a major PITA where Hex Editing is required.

That and it also depends on what you want to do with your HTPC. If you're happy with XBMC with DXVA decoding, then any GPU is pretty much fine. But if you want use MadVR upscaling with Jinc 3/AR enabled for both Chroma and Luma (with DX11 dithering) that's where it gets more complicated. Or maybe you want to use NNEDi3. Is it worth it? The differences are very minor compared to the dollars required so that's something you have to decide for yourself.

I personally use a GTS 450. The Nvidia drivers allow me to alter the pixel clock on my GPU to get virtually perfect 23.976hz output (which is EXTREMELY important to HTPCs). It also lets me use MadVR with Jinc 3/AR for both Luma/Chroma, and Option 2 dithering with colored noise and hiding of dither patterns. I paid $60 for my GPU nearly 4 years ago. And it's basically an overclocked 9800GTX from 2009. PQ is fantastic and the value is unbeatable. Someone might argue a GT 430 is also fine and they'd be right. But having a little headroom is always good because it gives flexibility in tweaking.

So you can see my setup is extremely modest but it gets the job done with zero lag or frustration.

All in all, it highly depends on what you want to do. I myself am a bang for buck kind of guy. Getting back to the Audi comparison, I'm the kind of guy that would buy a nice Jetta as a compromise because it gives me the most value per dollar.
I personally avoid Intel iGPUs because of their broken Quantization Range Setting (see here). Can you get around it? Yeah but not without it being a major PITA where Hex Editing is required.

When I got this HTPC in Dec 2011 I remember this issue with that. One checked the box, got great blacks and correct color, but then the box unchecked itself right? I had to fiddle with the colors and blacks manually. You mean they still haven't fixed that? What is the practical result of that not working? Can one not make the other adjustments that I or is that considered half-assed?
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post #18 of 24 Old 08-28-2014, 08:51 PM
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Yeah it's just considered half-assed because like you sad it will uncheck itself. What's pathetic is even engineers would come on the Intel forums and say they're looking into it after hundreds of people complained in one thread. They've been saying that since 2011.

Always left a bad taste in my mouth with Intel.
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post #19 of 24 Old 08-29-2014, 07:03 AM - Thread Starter
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Yeah it's just considered half-assed because like you sad it will uncheck itself. What's pathetic is even engineers would come on the Intel forums and say they're looking into it after hundreds of people complained in one thread. They've been saying that since 2011.

Always left a bad taste in my mouth with Intel.
Yes, that is a fair way to put it. Seems like something simple and easy to fix.

I am pretty happy with my set up, but I always wonder if I did it the right way. I mean you have PQ adjustments in WMC, in the HTPC Control panel itself, the TV (in my case limited) and then in the Intel HD Graphics also. Where the heck is one supposed to start and is one supposed to adjust in all 4 locations????
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Where the heck is one supposed to start and is one supposed to adjust in all 4 locations????
And that my friend is the foundation behind this whole issue. I couldn't even fathom where to begin so I just popped in a dedicated GPU and called it a day.

The bonus is a quality dedicated GPU will give you better upscaling and the full use of MadVR.
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post #21 of 24 Old 08-29-2014, 03:00 PM
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I personally avoid Intel iGPUs because of their broken Quantization Range Setting (see here). Can you get around it? Yeah but not without it being a major PITA where Hex Editing is required.

When I got this HTPC in Dec 2011 I remember this issue with that. One checked the box, got great blacks and correct color, but then the box unchecked itself right? I had to fiddle with the colors and blacks manually. You mean they still haven't fixed that? What is the practical result of that not working? Can one not make the other adjustments that I or is that considered half-assed?
intel is simply following the EDID nvidia has the same problem.
madVR has a small tool to fix this in an instant for both nvidia and intel.
and for most TV it is right to send limited anyway.
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post #22 of 24 Old 08-31-2014, 02:20 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by aftcomet View Post
And that my friend is the foundation behind this whole issue. I couldn't even fathom where to begin so I just popped in a dedicated GPU and called it a day.

The bonus is a quality dedicated GPU will give you better upscaling and the full use of MadVR.
hmmmmm......I see your point. So are you saying you set the TV to all its default settings, don't touch the PC or WMC and just do all the work off the card, eh?
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post #23 of 24 Old 08-31-2014, 03:11 PM
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Originally Posted by sgbroimp View Post
hmmmmm......I see your point. So are you saying you set the TV to all its default settings, don't touch the PC or WMC and just do all the work off the card, eh?
Popping in a dedicated GPU doesn't solve the issue of where to do picture correction/calibration.

There are several schools of thought on this, but here's what I would do...

First I would determine where the picture looks good and where it doesn't. If everything looks good in XBMC but looks off in WMC, then if you adjust the setting on the TV or on the card, it's going to change how XBMC looks. So I would basically set everything to 0, and turn off all of the "enhancements" everywhere, then looking to see what looks off and adjust at the application level.

But depending on your TV, if you make adjustments there, it could effect everything you view on it. (some TV's have generalized picture settings but many of the adjustments are on a per-input basis) So that may effect how the picture on your standalone BD or DVD player, if you had one of those on another input.

If you adjust the setting for the GPU, you'll be effecting pretty much everything that is played back on the PC.

Adjusting in particular applications should only effect those applications.

If everything you view looks off, then I would make adjustments on the TV. If it's only PC content, make adjustments on the GPU settings. If it's just a particular application, then adjust it in the application.

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post #24 of 24 Old 08-31-2014, 05:18 PM
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Originally Posted by sgbroimp View Post
hmmmmm......I see your point. So are you saying you set the TV to all its default settings, don't touch the PC or WMC and just do all the work off the card, eh?
No, I always calibrate my display. That's because I usually also have other sources connected, and calibrating through GPU won't calibrate everything else. I also find it easier to calibrate the picture through the display as opposed to through the GPU.

In an ideal setup, if you were to play a file off of your PS3, PS4, Xbox, HTPC, Cable Box, etc, etc. The contrast, black levels, tint, etc would be exactly the same.
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