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attention HTPC users

923 Views 16 Replies 12 Participants Last post by  carlos_r
I've got a few questions before I start trying to finalize HTPC components. I'm asking this here, b/c this is the CRT forum and it seems that many people on the HTPC forum use their machines for rear projection/plasma/lcd/dlp displays and I would like advice from the CRT group. So here goes:

Which video card or cards are you using? I know that an almost run of the mill hauppage card (compatible w/Dscaler) for video capture and scaling but I'm not sure about the output card. I was thinking about the ATI 7500 card but I keep reading conflicting posts about the 8000/8500 and above. Is the 7500 still acceptable? I don't have perfect vision so there is a good chance that I won't be able to tell the difference between the new stuff and the 7500.

What about sound ouput for dvd? I was looking at the SoundBlaster 5.1? Is there a better solution.

As you can tell this is my first HTPC so if I like what I see then I will probably go for a much better setup further down the line, but right now I'm just curious to see what I'm missing.

Thanks to all in advance.
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Sound is easy, the popular choice is an M-Audio card with the Audiophile 2496 probably the most popular.

I'm not sure about the video card. ATI for sure. I moved from a 7200 to a 9000Pro. Both of these don't do squat for games but look real pretty. It's hard to say whether or not the great improvement I got in picture quality is due to the card upgrade because I changed too many other things at the same time (went to Catalist 2.3 drivers and TheaterTek 1.5).

Just FYI, I'm running Win98SE.

Thanks Cary. I've tried finding the Audiophile 2496 on the web and can't, where did you get yours?

I'm not going to be playing games just DVD/DirecTV/vhs. Also thanks for mentioning the software you are running as well.

For the record I forgot to mention that I will be sending the image to a BG800. So I know that I need to also use powerstrip to get the negative sync.
I'll throw in some alternatives:

I use GeForce 4 because it does the dual monitor thing so well. The picture looks great, but I've never seen an ATI card in action. Most say it is best. I use my computer both with my G70 and a Dell 19" flat CRT monitor. It is a workhorse that does movies at night.

As far as sound card goes, the Sound Blaster is fine. Most just send a digital signal to their receiver so the card is moot. If you are going to use your computer to manipulate music, it's a different story.
That is what I am planning to do, route all audio to my receiver, unless I get the desire to record to the pc through the capture card.
I started with a Geforce2 and changed to a Radeon 7500. The latter

had much better image.

Thanks for the advice, what about my choices in CPU? I've read to stay away from AMD, but which intel is best? Would the fastest celeron be alright or would I need to go with a fast p3 or a low speed p4?

I finally found the Audiophile 2496, above what I need, so I will probably go with the sb5.1, its cheaper and will probably do what I need.
Originally posted by Steve B
As far as sound card goes, the Sound Blaster is fine. Most just send a digital signal to their receiver so the card is moot. If you are going to use your computer to manipulate music, it's a different story.
I have to respectfully disagree with the above. A lot of people have mentioned that 'digital is digital' so it doesn't matter what sound card you use if all you do is pass S/PDIF (digital) out to your receiver or pre/pro (which then decodes the Dolby Digital or dts bitstream).

That may be true, but only if indeed the sound cards all send out the same information. As it stands, the Audiophile 24/96 is STILL the preferred choice if all you're doing is sending S/PDIF (digital) as the drivers completely bypass the windows audio mixers and such. The packets send by the Sound Blaster's digital output is padded by Windows if I remember correctly resulting in a less detailed, less 'airy' sound quality. There have been numerous discussions on this years/months ago in the HTPC forum. Every time someone mentions 'bits are bits' this discussion comes up and everyone that has owned both cards and reasonably high quality equipment chimes in to mention that yes, they do hear a difference.

How much of a difference you do hear is very much a function of (a) how good the rest of your audio equipment is, (b) how fussy you are to begin with (sort of goes with (a)!), and (c) what software DVD player you're using. PowerDVD and TheaterTek or any other player that uses the Ravisent or Sonic sound filters have been long known to have the best sound quality (when using S/PDIF out). WinDVD is well known to be the WORST sounding software dvd player. I can concur - I can readily hear the difference between WinDVD and PowerDVD/TheaterTek. I don't hear any differences between PowerDVD and TheaterTek. They both sound great.

Not sure if it's still true, but Sound Blaster cards used to also output dangerously high (non-standard) S/PDIF voltage levels. 1-2 years ago, people that used these cards to pass out S/PDIF had to also buy Hoontech daughterboards which would lower this voltage level to safe levels. Not sure if the same is true with newer SB cards though.

As for the video card, if 3D gaming quality is not paramount, buy the cheapest 9000 series card you can find. There may be a 2D quality difference between the 'made by ATI' and 'powered by ATI' (OEM) cards that you should check in to. When in doubt, buy the real thing. If the OEM's use cheaper lower bandwidth RAMDACs and/or have different EM/RFI filtering built into the output stage, you may get less picture quality out of the OEM cards.

If you can find a 7xxx series cheap enough, they're still a good option. There's not a huge difference in going from the 7xxx series to the 9xxx series. I still use a 7200 card to drive my BG800. The 7500 is the same thing, just more expensive because of the advanced 3D features over the 7200. If you're eyeing the 7500, save some money and get the 7200 if you don't need the dual output features or other added features.

I used a GeForce card for 1.5 years before switching to the Radeon 7200 about 1 year ago. Big difference. VERY noticeable. No banding/posterization problems, a much smoother image. Much richer colours. To put it in perspective, if we say that the new Radeon 9xxx series cards give 100% of image quality, the 7xxx series would be 95-97% and the GeForce would be around 50-70%.

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Thanks Kal, others have sent me PMs (thanks) suggesting the audiophile 24/96.

Does anyone use a Mike Parker modded ATI? I know that those are supposed to be THE best out there, but I don't think my projector will resolve that much added detail.
Unless you need the sound card yesterday or simply have money that's burning a hole in your pocket I would recommend waiting a week or two. M-Audio is rolling out the Revolution 7.1 and Digital Connection has it listed for pre-order at $99. It has coaxial S/PDIF, so if you need optical TOSLINK then you are better off with the Delta DIO.

Here's the thread in the HTPC Forum:

M-Audio Revolution

I will be using this board in most of my future HTPC builds.


I use the MP-1 modified Radeon 7500 with my Sony G-70 and can clearly see the difference with and without. It is NOT subtle.

I am an HTPC user, not an HTPC hobbyist, so I went with stable, mainstream components. This list is about 6 months old, and these components had been out about 6 months when I purchased.

So this is definitely a very dated list.

Intel P4 1.6 GHz Northwoods

Asus P4B266 I845D P4 Skt 478 DDR ATX MOBO

Radeon 7500 / MP-1 Mod

M-Audio Delta 410

IBM 7200 RPM 120 Gig HDD

Toshiba DVD-ROM Drive

Win XP Pro SP-1

TheaterTek DVD


Hope this helps.
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I can second the M-Audio 24/96, it is top notch in all aspects.

The Radeon video cards are the way to go for DVD playback, and from what I understand Mike parker's latest mod's to those cards are outstanding. I was using one of his early mod's which showed minor improvement in all areas, but something happened, and now I've had to go back to my old Radeon 32DDR with the output filters removed.

The differences between it, and MP's early mod is easily noticable.

If your going to spend the big money on the latest Radeon, Mike's mod'ed cards are much better.
Originally posted by SteelCup
has anyone check out this card?

it is supposed to be audiophile quality.
While I cannot vouch for its performance in 5.1 applications, the audio quality is quite good, especially considering it's price. I watch movies with headphones driven by a Spirit Folio Notepad mixer and have no complaints about its the job it does in the analog department.

The card is based on the Crystal/Cirrus CS4630 chip in conjunction with the CS 4294 and 4297 codecs. The 4630 does a decent job in using the PCI bus bandwidth efficiently, unlike some of the Creative stuff (at least the older stuff). Bus latency problems can give you grief regardless of whether you're doing D/A conversion on or off board.

-Dan the lurker
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Currently using:

Video: ATI AIW Radeon 8500DV

Sound: Audigy Platinum

I use the HTPC primarily for Standard TV, DVD, and playing back archived music and TV episodes. I've experimented with HDTV some, but my WinTV-HD sorta, well, sucks.

All this is running through an ECP-4000 and a 5.1 decoder.
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Thanks for all the input everyone. I will start trying to decide how I want to jump. I've been reading the other threads talking about the Mike Parker card and I went to the dealers for the USA, but I can't find anyone selling the 7500 modded card, only the new stuff. Will Mike still mod the older card?
I have been using the following components in my HTPC for over a year now without any problems (no downtime) and with an excellent image

I am currently using an ATI Radeon 64, looking to upgrade next year with an MP-1, and an improved sound card.

HTPC(P3,833MHz/WIN-Me) Asus CUSL- , Radeon 64 (cat 2.3), TT 1.5,

HiPix (HDTV), TB SantaCruz sound card, PowerStrip, SilverSerpent cables

IBM 30gb hdd, 3x WD 100gb hdd (hdtv archiving) removable.

ECP4100 (MS07)w/mods, 16:9 80x45 DIY screen

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