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HTPC vs. Pre/Pro

post #1 of 65
Thread Starter 
All,

I'm in the process of upgrading our home theatre and wanted to see if now might be the right time to put together a HTPC for our needs. The real question is whether I can put something together for less than what a dedicated AVR/Pre/Pro would cost. The following are the objectives of a build:
  1. 2D and 3D Blu-ray playback
  2. Verizon FiOS integration (presumably via CableCARD)
  3. Video processing
    • 1080p24 passthrough of Blu-ray
    • 1080p scaling, deinterlacing, and enhancement (e.g. sharpening) of content
    • Color management system for calibration (i.e. ISFccc)
  4. Audio processing
    • Decoding of Dolby Digital, TrueHD, DTS-MA, etc.
    • 5.1+ audio pre-outs for use with external amplification
    • Room correction
  5. Simple user interface for family usage
  6. Integration with tablet/smartphone devices

I'd be willing to spend between $1,500 and $1,750 for this build if needed as that is what a comparable pre/pro would run me; obviously if I can do it for less that would be awesome! My initial reaction is that I'm likely looking at a i5+GPU+HD HomeRun+Xonar HDAV type setup, thoughts?
post #2 of 65
http://assassinhtpc.com/performance.php

Check out the Prestige, that thing is a monster. Add a graphics card and a cable tuner and you're still way under your budget.
post #3 of 65
The cost varies greatly depending on what kind of PQ / SQ you want. I recommend

- Mid-range system: AMD A10-5800K Trinity (better than adding a mid-range discrete GPU to an Intel low-end / mid-range CPU)
- High-end system: i5 + HD 7770 or higher.

Xonar HDAV has been discontinued. Check Sound Cards for use with power amplifiers, notably, HT OMEGA CLARO halo XT.
post #4 of 65
Thread Starter 
So it sounds like this is a possibility and thank you for the link to the audio cards.

If I were to put in a graphics card (likely for MadVR support...and occasional gaming) is there generally a preference between Radeon and GeForce?

Two things that still seem murky are:
  1. Room correction/calibration - Is this possible and if so how is it done? From what I've gathered the only real option is JRiver MC, but that seems to be more of a just a general per channel level adjustment than an actual acoustical correction.
  2. Audio/video switching - With a 7MC/XBMC/JRiver setup is it possible to have the HTPC effectively act as a switcher (e.g. when I want to watch a Blu-ray it will automatically launch the requisite player, engage MadVR with a preset where there is no scaling; when I want to watch FiOS it will launch a different player, engage MadVR to include scaling/deinterlacing, etc.)?
post #5 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by Manchild View Post

All,
I'm in the process of upgrading our home theatre and wanted to see if now might be the right time to put together a HTPC for our needs. The real question is whether I can put something together for less than what a dedicated AVR/Pre/Pro would cost. The following are the objectives of a build:
  1. 2D and 3D Blu-ray playback
  2. Verizon FiOS integration (presumably via CableCARD)
  3. Video processing
    • 1080p24 passthrough of Blu-ray
    • 1080p scaling, deinterlacing, and enhancement (e.g. sharpening) of content
    • Color management system for calibration (i.e. ISFccc)
  4. Audio processing
    • Decoding of Dolby Digital, TrueHD, DTS-MA, etc.
    • 5.1+ audio pre-outs for use with external amplification
    • Room correction
  5. Simple user interface for family usage
  6. Integration with tablet/smartphone devices
I'd be willing to spend between $1,500 and $1,750 for this build if needed as that is what a comparable pre/pro would run me; obviously if I can do it for less that would be awesome! My initial reaction is that I'm likely looking at a i5+GPU+HD HomeRun+Xonar HDAV type setup, thoughts?

I just want to point out that you say your choices are HTPC or a Pre/Pro, but 1, 2, 5, and 6 are functions you're not going to find on a Pre/pro. You're certainly not going to find a pre/pro that does everything on that list, and most likely, you're not going to be able to put together an HTPC that can replace a pre/pro (it is possible but it's not easy, and IMO not as good).

The other thing is you're going to be hard pressed to find just a pre/pro, let alone a pre/pro+amp for your budget, and I'd venture you're not likely to be able to build an HTPC plus get an amp for within that budget either. Your best bet is likely an HTPC plus an AVR.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Manchild View Post

So it sounds like this is a possibility and thank you for the link to the audio cards.
If I were to put in a graphics card (likely for MadVR support...and occasional gaming) is there generally a preference between Radeon and GeForce?
Two things that still seem murky are:
  1. Room correction/calibration - Is this possible and if so how is it done? From what I've gathered the only real option is JRiver MC, but that seems to be more of a just a general per channel level adjustment than an actual acoustical correction.
  2. Audio/video switching - With a 7MC/XBMC/JRiver setup is it possible to have the HTPC effectively act as a switcher (e.g. when I want to watch a Blu-ray it will automatically launch the requisite player, engage MadVR with a preset where there is no scaling; when I want to watch FiOS it will launch a different player, engage MadVR to include scaling/deinterlacing, etc.)?

Room correction on the PC is years or decades behind where it is on standalone devices. And source switching is essentially impossible, for an HTPC to replace a pre/pro or AVR, you need to have it be your only source.
post #6 of 65
Thread Starter 
Starting to piece together the whole thing and it's easily looking like a $1,500 machine to do it right. So question is basically whether this has a demonstrable value proposition versus a hardware pre/pro...hmmm...
post #7 of 65
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by stanger89 View Post

I just want to point out that you say your choices are HTPC or a Pre/Pro, but 1, 2, 5, and 6 are functions you're not going to find on a Pre/pro. You're certainly not going to find a pre/pro that does everything on that list, and most likely, you're not going to be able to put together an HTPC that can replace a pre/pro (it is possible but it's not easy, and IMO not as good).
The other thing is you're going to be hard pressed to find just a pre/pro, let alone a pre/pro+amp for your budget, and I'd venture you're not likely to be able to build an HTPC plus get an amp for within that budget either. Your best bet is likely an HTPC plus an AVR.
Room correction on the PC is years or decades behind where it is on standalone devices. And source switching is essentially impossible, for an HTPC to replace a pre/pro or AVR, you need to have it be your only source.

Noted. The amps are a sunk cost given I already have them; I'm looking at the next investment on an incremental cost basis.

I agree that if you want to have a simplified HTPC experience it needs to be the sole source (and hence why it needs to replace the functionality of the sunk investments in my Blu-ray player). I'd presumably subsidize the Ceton infiniTV 4 by not having to pay my "Whole Home DVR" bill. As such it's looking like to make a HTPC the sole source I'm looking at $1,500 with remedial room correction as opposed to a pre/pro to conform my existing components for slightly more.

The room correction bit is an important one...at least for me.
post #8 of 65
Read this post and others by Tong Chia.

As for madVR, I recommend

A10-5800K (HD 7660D) for Mitchell-Netravali to Bicubic (chroma) / Lanczos4+AR (image)
HD 7770 for Mitchell-Netravali to Bicubic (chroma) / Jinc3+AR (image)
HD 7850 for Jinc3+AR (chroma, image)
HD 7870 for Jinc4+AR (chroma, image)

madVR uses only GPU via Direct3D API, so CPU is less important and Core i3-3220 / 3225 is a good choice. If you are interested in SVP (Smooth Video Project), Core i7 is recommended for the highest quality settings (A10 / i3 / i5 is enough for the high quality setting).
post #9 of 65
There are many things a dedicated per/pro cannot do. What a good htpc offers, simply blows away anything comparable.

1 year from now, you'll wonder why anybody would do anything but a well executed htpc.... They're that good. Here's some things I like about my setup:

It's simple. I use jriver and it took me Just a few mins to show my 60yr old mother in law how to use it. Her response "wow, this is easy!"
My entire media library is on one device.
I can browse, launch, change volume, all on my iPad or web browser.
I can stream all my content to any mobile device that I choose, converting video formats on the fly.
The sound quality blows away anything ive ever heard (separates and receivers)
The video quality is simply stunning.
It's still a fully functioning computer... And I can use it as such whenever I want.
It's infinitely upgrade able.
It's very inexpensive for what you get.
post #10 of 65
Thread Starter 
I don't disagree. Getting quality audio and video out isn't a concern; having no real (or even reasonably straightforward) room correction is a big drawback.

I may see if there are standalone Room EQ boxes to put in-between the Halo XT and the amps.
post #11 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by Manchild View Post

I don't disagree. Getting quality audio and video out isn't a concern; having no real (or even reasonably straightforward) room correction is a big drawback.
I may see if there are standalone Room EQ boxes to put in-between the Halo XT and the amps.

Distance and level correction are easily available. As well as bass management.

JRiver allows a very flexible Parametric EQ that can be applied to any channel.

Room EQ Wizard can measure and generate in room frequency response.
post #12 of 65
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by NorCalJason View Post

Distance and level correction are easily available. As well as bass management.
JRiver allows a very flexible Parametric EQ that can be applied to any channel.
Room EQ Wizard can measure and generate in room frequency response.

Yea, but how hard is that to setup as opposed to grabbing a mic and hitting a button (i.e. Audyssey XT32 on an AVR)?

Lots of things I like about a HTPC...just how hard it will be to get it equivalently setup.
post #13 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by Manchild View Post

Yea, but how hard is that to setup as opposed to grabbing a mic and hitting a button (i.e. Audyssey XT32 on an AVR)?
Lots of things I like about a HTPC...just how hard it will be to get it equivalently setup.

Nothing about a HTPC is a one-button setup.

LOL!!!

biggrin.gif
post #14 of 65
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by NorCalJason View Post

Nothing about a HTPC is a one-button setup.
LOL!!!
biggrin.gif

Of course, but from what I've read of REW thus far it doesn't seem straightforward. The rest of it doesn't concern me...other than no real way to do a 12V trigger to the amps.
post #15 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by Manchild View Post

Of course, but from what I've read of REW thus far it doesn't seem straightforward. The rest of it doesn't concern me...other than no real way to do a 12V trigger to the amps.

I used a smart power strip to trigger my amp. It turns on when the TV is powered up.
post #16 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by Manchild View Post

Of course, but from what I've read of REW thus far it doesn't seem straightforward. The rest of it doesn't concern me...other than no real way to do a 12V trigger to the amps.

There's a few ways to do a 12v trigger.

REW is really simple now.

smile.gif
post #17 of 65
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by NorCalJason View Post

There's a few ways to do a 12v trigger.
REW is really simple now.
smile.gif

Define simple smile.gif

I've also been reading that Win7 also has room correction natively. What are the principle differences?
post #18 of 65
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ruiner View Post

I used a smart power strip to trigger my amp. It turns on when the TV is powered up.

This...this...is just so simple smile.gif
post #19 of 65
Thread Starter 
....and JRiver doesn't support Ceton or HDHomeRun Prime.

So basically I'm stuck with 7MC if I do this. Just feels like there isn't a truly comprehensive way of tackling what I want to accomplish.
post #20 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by Manchild View Post

Define simple smile.gif
I've also been reading that Win7 also has room correction natively. What are the principle differences?

Again, it depends on what you consider "room correction"

W7 audio drivers allow for distance, level adjustment, and bass management.
post #21 of 65
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by NorCalJason View Post

Again, it depends on what you consider "room correction"
W7 audio drivers allow for distance, level adjustment, and bass management.

I basically consider "room correction" to accomplish two principal things: 1) frequency/level management to produce a flat frequency response when utilizing the entire system (including sub); and 2) phase/time management to ensure that sounds converge on the listener as creatively intended. If I can gain confidence I can do this with reasonable simplicity I think I'll go the HTPC route.

In terms of UI and integration it seems like I have to use 7MC as the consistent front-end and then integrate MPC-HC for Blu-ray (MKV) playback via MediaBrowser or OpenWith. I suppose I could also just do ArcSoft, but I know it's less configurable than MPC-HC.
Edited by Manchild - 12/13/12 at 4:20pm
post #22 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by Manchild View Post

I basically consider "room correction" to accomplish two principal things: 1) frequency/level management to produce a flat frequency response when utilizing the entire system (including sub); and 2) phase/time management to ensure that sounds converge on the listener as creatively intended.

You're covered well on #2.

#1? Well... maybe. It seems Audyessy is the most popular method of achieving this (being build in to many AVR's over the past couple of years). I'm not going to address the debate about it's effectiveness, just the features to consider.

DSX = Additional channels (nothing to do with #1)
LFC = Bass noise blocking (nothing to do with #1)
Dynamic EQ = Low volume listening enhancements (nothing to do with #1)
Dynamic Volume = Auto volume leveling (nothing to do with #1)
2 EQ = Automated filters for all channels but subwoofer (doesn't meet your #1)
Mult EQ/XT/XT32 = Automated filters for all channels, sub included (meets your #1)

My point is this - different flavors of "room correction" may or may not satisfy your requirements.
post #23 of 65
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by NorCalJason View Post

You're covered well on #2.
#1? Well... maybe. It seems Audyessy is the most popular method of achieving this (being build in to many AVR's over the past couple of years). I'm not going to address the debate about it's effectiveness, just the features to consider.
DSX = Additional channels (nothing to do with #1)
LFC = Bass noise blocking (nothing to do with #1)
Dynamic EQ = Low volume listening enhancements (nothing to do with #1)
Dynamic Volume = Auto volume leveling (nothing to do with #1)
2 EQ = Automated filters for all channels but subwoofer (doesn't meet your #1)
Mult EQ/XT/XT32 = Automated filters for all channels, sub included (meets your #1)
My point is this - different flavors of "room correction" may or may not satisfy your requirements.

Agreed; one of the principle reasons I've been considering an AVR or Pre/Pro instead of building this HTPC is for MultEQ XT32. The rest I could kind of care less about.
post #24 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by NorCalJason View Post

DSX = Additional channels (nothing to do with #1)
LFC = Bass noise blocking (nothing to do with #1)
Dynamic EQ = Low volume listening enhancements (nothing to do with #1)
Dynamic Volume = Auto volume leveling (nothing to do with #1)
2 EQ = Automated filters for all channels but subwoofer (doesn't meet your #1).

Those aren't room correction. Room correction is frequency (sometimes phase) correction based on measurements of one, or ideally many, location in the room. Things like Anthem Room Correction, Audessey MultiEQ, etc. There's really no good* way to do this on a PC.

*good means it's relatively easy to set up and works across all media played equally.
post #25 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by stanger89 View Post

Those aren't room correction. Room correction is frequency (sometimes phase) correction based on measurements of one, or ideally many, location in the room. Things like Anthem Room Correction, Audessey MultiEQ, etc. There's really no good* way to do this on a PC.
*good means it's relatively easy to set up and works across all media played equally.

Easy is relative.

You can currently use JRiver to apply parametric eq filters across all media played.
post #26 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by NorCalJason View Post

Easy is relative.

Easy is not having to record your room response, generate an impulse response, feed it into a program to generate a correction filter, and load that into yet another program to actually do the correction, etc, etc.
Quote:
You can currently use JRiver to apply parametric eq filters across all media played.

In that application, but not in any other applications (Windows Media Center, Total Media Theater, etc). And a PEQ isn't the same as room correction.
post #27 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by stanger89 View Post

Easy is not having to record your room response, generate an impulse response, feed it into a program to generate a correction filter, and load that into yet another program to actually do the correction, etc, etc.
In that application, but not in any other applications (Windows Media Center, Total Media Theater, etc).

If you're running JRiver, there's no need for WMC or TMT.
post #28 of 65
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by stanger89 View Post

Those aren't room correction. Room correction is frequency (sometimes phase) correction based on measurements of one, or ideally many, location in the room. Things like Anthem Room Correction, Audessey MultiEQ, etc. There's really no good* way to do this on a PC.
*good means it's relatively easy to set up and works across all media played equally.

+1; this is what I mean.
post #29 of 65
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by NorCalJason View Post

If you're running JRiver, there's no need for WMC or TMT.

Have to do WMC if I want live TV (FiOS, not OTA). If I'm not going to fold live TV into the mix than building a HTPC solves nothing (for me). The goal for me is convergence; to basically have the PC act as a single source driving my amplifiers and display.

So long and short is that if I want as clean an interface as possible for WAF I basically have to run 7MC (again...for live TV) and MPC-HC (via OpenWith or MediaBrowser) for Blu-ray playback (and potentially with AnyDVD HD if I want to play straight from the disc). If I look at the lowest common denominator (7MC) my only real room correction option is whatever is built into Windows 7, yes? And if so it can account for per channel levels and timing, but not overall frequency response of the system (like MultEQ XT32).

As much as I hate to say it this is looking like a challenging value proposition...and I'm frustrated and Microsoft (and others) aren't backing a media convergence platform...shame.
post #30 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by Manchild View Post

Have to do WMC if I want live TV (FiOS, not OTA). If I'm not going to fold live TV into the mix than building a HTPC solves nothing (for me). The goal for me is convergence; to basically have the PC act as a single source driving my amplifiers and display.
So long and short is that if I want as clean an interface as possible for WAF I basically have to run 7MC (again...for live TV) and MPC-HC (via OpenWith or MediaBrowser) for Blu-ray playback (and potentially with AnyDVD HD if I want to play straight from the disc). If I look at the lowest common denominator (7MC) my only real room correction option is whatever is built into Windows 7, yes? And if so it can account for per channel levels and timing, but not overall frequency response of the system (like MultEQ XT32).
As much as I hate to say it this is looking like a challenging value proposition...and I'm frustrated and Microsoft (and others) aren't backing a media convergence platform...shame.

http://www.dirac.se/en/consumer-products/dirac-rcs.aspx

I believe this will work for room correction on top of 7MC, but havent tried it. Also its a bit pricey at 487 euros.
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