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Discussion Starter #1
Hello All -


I'm very new to HTPC's and I have a few questions that I thought you guys and gals might be able to help me with. I intially started this project with PVR/DVD Player replacement in mind. That objective is still in the forefront, I'm just not having a lot of luck >=/


Unfortunately, I didn't find this forum before I made the big purchase decisions (cpu/mb/ram, etc) and because of my low budget, I'm now kinda limited in my upgrade options. At least, for the near future. So, without further adue:


Here's the HTPC setup:

AMD 2400+ XP

MSI K7N420 Pro (can't provide a link yet, haven't gotten the required 5 post's :))

512 Megs of Crutial Ram (Can't remember speed or manufac. ATM)

120 Maxtor Drive 8MB Cache (Can't member much more than that ATM)

AIW 9000 Pro + Remote Wonder

NForce 1 Audio

XP SP1


and the Reciever:

STR-K502P (Came as one of those Home Theater in a Box deals)


and finally the DVD Player:

DVP-NS752P


Rather meager equipment, I know. However, since I live in an apartment complex, it's normally more than sufficient.


As far as digital connections go, the reciever has only one coax hookup and 2 optical ones. The coax is currently being used by the Comcast Digital Cable box. The Receiver shares one of the optical's with the cable (Under the label of Sat I believe).


The DVD Player utilizes one of the optical in's.


The Recieiver itself does not switch S-Video, so I do not use it to do any video switching at all, just audio.


TV-Out from the HTPC is handled via the AIW 9000 Pro to a model number-less RCA switch (I've got a few devices using S-Video) which then goes to the back of the TV. Picture quality is ok for regular PC use, considering it's an older 35" Sony SDTV and not a plasma :)


Now... I initially set this up to catch regular analog TV via the coax in. I tried the S-Video/Composite approach from my Comcast Scientific Atlanta 2200 Explorer box, but the picture looks very ... soft .. for lack of a better term. I suspect the AIW as the culprit. Is this a safe presumption??


I've been playing around with Snapstream's latest build. Very impressive software. However, since I didn't learn until AFTER I bought the AIW 9000 Pro that it's not a hardware encoder solution, caputure leaves a lot to be desired.


So, a few questions:


1) Obviously, the AIW is a rather un-impressive capture card. I'm thinking that I need a replacement. Any suggestions? I think my only real requirement would be that it accepts S-Video/Composite in, so that I could record off my digital cable box. Snapstream at least, has support for IR Blasters and splitting the S-Video/Composite (1 to the RCA switch and one to the HTPC) from the digital cable box, seems like it would work. Am I wrong about that? Of course one that performs much better than the AIW would be nice :) I've seen a few suggestions in other threads. Most seem to recommend one of the FlyVideo cards, which utilizes software encoding I think, not hardware. Others seem to recommend one of the WinTV products because of their hardware encoding capabilities. Being a little confuzzed, I thought I'd ask.


2) To replace the DVD Player, I was thinking of the Real Magic XCard. I know that the ATI software that ships with the AIW has a software player. However, it doesn't look to terribly good. This of course could be due to the card itself, or something else that I haven't thought of. There are other software players of course, but none that I've tried seem to look or sound as good as the Sony. The XCard seems to be built for HTPC's. S-Video out, uses overlay (no need to worry with processing or HTPC interference at all, from what I can tell, it's a bad a** dvd player on a PCI card). Does anyone have any feelings about this card? What are some other viable solutions?


3) Software to run it all. I like snapstream for TV capture, but that's probably because it's my only experiece in this area. I've seen SageTV and a few others, but since I lack a card that is compatible, I haven't had any hands one experience with them. While Win XP maybe nice on a pc monitor, it isn't that pretty on a TV. Any suggestions for "10 Foot" or better integration/interface software which would allow me to run user definable programs (emulators, games, etc)?


4) Anything else you guys could think of that I've done wrong in so far as hooking up/setup that I might be able to rectify rather easily/cheaply.


Many thanks for reading and responding in advance to my long winded first post :)


crix0r
 

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poor guy, dissed on his first post. Come on guys help him out! Sorry I can't help crix0r, I just started re-lurking yesterday.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
hehehehehe...


Nah, I don't think I was dissed.. I just think it's kinda a big post that takes more than afew lines to answer.. Most folks don't have a lotta time (I know how that goes, trust me :))


BUUUUUUUT.. Thanks for the support :p


crix0r
 

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i'm in pretty much the same boat as you, SDTV, digital cable etc.


i have just put this together, so haven't had much time to do any tweaking etc, but i have my cable box going out to a hauppage 250 pvr card, via s video, then i have a matrox g400 video card feeding via s video again to my TV.


as i said i haven't tweaked it much, i am however starting to use Sage, and one of the limitations of the matrox card is that i can't see the on screen display of sage, due to the fact that their DVD max software takes over whenever it sense a video source.


i would like to upgrade to a better tv and video card...but not this year :)
 

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I'll take a whack at it.

Quote:
Originally posted by crix0r
1) Obviously, the AIW is a rather un-impressive capture card. I'm thinking that I need a replacement. Any suggestions? I think my only real requirement would be that it accepts S-Video/Composite in, so that I could record off my digital cable box. Snapstream at least, has support for IR Blasters and splitting the S-Video/Composite (1 to the RCA switch and one to the HTPC) from the digital cable box, seems like it would work. Am I wrong about that? Of course one that performs much better than the AIW would be nice :) I've seen a few suggestions in other threads. Most seem to recommend one of the FlyVideo cards, which utilizes software encoding I think, not hardware. Others seem to recommend one of the WinTV products because of their hardware encoding capabilities. Being a little confuzzed, I thought I'd ask.

AIW's are a great marketing gimic, but aren't for a "hardcore" HTPC that needs to act like an STB. FlyVideo and other similar cards are great for dedicated Dscaler setups. I am a staunch proponent of hardware encoders for PVRs, SW just leads to too many problems, ie you have to be careful what you do while recording. I've had a WinTV PVR-PCI, the original hw encoder card, and now I have a PVR 250, I'll never go back to a SW card.
Quote:


2) To replace the DVD Player, I was thinking of the Real Magic XCard. I know that the ATI software that ships with the AIW has a software player. However, it doesn't look to terribly good. This of course could be due to the card itself, or something else that I haven't thought of. There are other software players of course, but none that I've tried seem to look or sound as good as the Sony. The XCard seems to be built for HTPC's. S-Video out, uses overlay (no need to worry with processing or HTPC interference at all, from what I can tell, it's a bad a** dvd player on a PCI card). Does anyone have any feelings about this card? What are some other viable solutions?
IMHO the Xcard is unnecessary with current hardware. There are only two conditions where the Xcard is worthwhile, when outputting to an SDTV, and via PDI to Dscaler/Holo3D. I hear amazing stories about the Xcard and PDI, but I've also heard amazing stories about speaker cables. However, the current crop of DVD decoders, TheaterTek (Sonic Cineplayer), nVDVD, WinDVD are excellent.
Quote:


3) Software to run it all. I like snapstream for TV capture, but that's probably because it's my only experiece in this area. I've seen SageTV and a few others, but since I lack a card that is compatible, I haven't had any hands one experience with them. While Win XP maybe nice on a pc monitor, it isn't that pretty on a TV. Any suggestions for "10 Foot" or better integration/interface software which would allow me to run user definable programs (emulators, games, etc)?
My suggestion would be SageTV, all the way (people probably see me comming a mile away by now). I've been using it for ~10 months and it's been great. I use it for all my TV and DVD viewing. I haven't watched Live TV since I started using it (the stories about Tivos changing your life are true). I use Sonic Cineplayer decoders (same as TheaterTek) and the TV and DVD PQ are excellent. I control this with a remote pretty much exclusively.


I wouldn't get the Xcard, if you can't get the PQ you want without it, stick with your DVD player. HTPCs really shine on progressive displays and the Xcard won't help you much on those. The other thing with the Xcard is that it is (so far) not possible to use the Xcard within one nice unified UI. SageTV can use the Xcard but you does not support output of the UI/OSD via the Xcard, you have to use a switch or two inputs on the TV to see the Xcard video and OSD/UI/Windows desktop/etc.


SageTV is well worth the investment (both SW and HW). The current 1.4 has been great and the beta 2.0 looks like it will be much better. It's (IMO) the best PVR software available, multi-tuners, network encoders, real clients, DVD playback.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Stanger89 -


Thanks for your responses :)


I've got a few more questions.

AIW's are a great marketing gimic, but aren't for a "hardcore" HTPC that needs to act like an STB. FlyVideo and other similar cards are great for dedicated Dscaler setups. I am a staunch proponent of hardware encoders for PVRs, SW just leads to too many problems, ie you have to be careful what you do while recording. I've had a WinTV PVR-PCI, the original hw encoder card, and now I have a PVR 250, I'll never go back to a SW card.


While I like the idea of a software encoder (It's so much easier to fix a big in software than it is in hardware :)) I think that I will probably go with the WinTV PVR-250 PCI. Remembering that I will almost always only be capturing S-Video/Composite from my STB. Snapstream (Beyond TV now) is what I have been using with my AIW. It does support the STB via PVR-250 setup (even has a nifty IR Blaster that will change the channel for me) So all in all, this might just work the way I want it to. There are of course, a few issues. First and foremost, not being too terribly versed on the subject, what's DScaler? I presume that's only for projector setups?

IMHO the Xcard is unnecessary with current hardware. There are only two conditions where the Xcard is worthwhile, when outputting to an SDTV, and via PDI to Dscaler/Holo3D. I hear amazing stories about the Xcard and PDI, but I've also heard amazing stories about speaker cables. However, the current crop of DVD decoders, TheaterTek (Sonic Cineplayer), nVDVD, WinDVD are excellent.


Well, for the next few years atleast, I'll more than likely be outputting to a SDTV. So, I'm guessing it's safe to say that it can knock the socks off my progressive Sony? Well, in this case atleast? (S-Video out of XCard to Audio Authority 1155 switch, to back of TV).

My suggestion would be SageTV, all the way (people probably see me comming a mile away by now). I've been using it for ~10 months and it's been great. I use it for all my TV and DVD viewing. I haven't watched Live TV since I started using it (the stories about Tivos changing your life are true). I use Sonic Cineplayer decoders (same as TheaterTek) and the TV and DVD PQ are excellent. I control this with a remote pretty much exclusively.


Well, I haven't been able to try it just yet because I don't have any supported hardware (I think it's a hardware encoder only piece of software). Though, if I do go with the WinTV PVR-250, I will give it a shot. Though, I do like me some Snapstream :)

I wouldn't get the Xcard, if you can't get the PQ you want without it, stick with your DVD player. HTPCs really shine on progressive displays and the Xcard won't help you much on those. The other thing with the Xcard is that it is (so far) not possible to use the Xcard within one nice unified UI. SageTV can use the Xcard but you does not support output of the UI/OSD via the Xcard, you have to use a switch or two inputs on the TV to see the Xcard video and OSD/UI/Windows desktop/etc.


See two questions above. Basically, for the fairly foreseeable future, I'm stuck with SDTV. I want to get the best quality I can... if that means sticking with the set-top Sony progressive, I will. However, I think that the x-card can do a better job. That is, of course, unless it can't do 192khz sound.. though I think it can. Also, I think Joveplayer ( http://www.8dim.com/joveplayer.htm ) does a fairly good job of using the XCard's capabilities.. then again, I'm just reading the blurb on the page. I have yet to read anything else about it or see it in action.


Of course, I don't want to corner myself either. If by some stroke of luck I get a HDTV sometime soon, aren't folks using the XCard alot as the base of their DVD player? (XCard/PDI solution.. though I must admit I have no idea what PDI is just yet).


Thanks again for your help,

crix0r
 

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I was going to "take a whack" as well but when I saw that stanger89 had done so I figured I'd probably just be repeating his recommendations. Therefore I won't bother, other than to say, "what he said."


stanger89, if you said anything that I wouldn't agree with, please say so ;) .
 

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I definitely have many of the same questions. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of info here for SDTV people. I have a nice big SDTV Sony projection TV. I don't want to buy another projection TV, even though HDTV sounds incredible. I want to buy a Plasma HDTV. Until I can afford that though, I'd like to get as much of the HTPC capability as is "worth it" all set.


From what I've gathered SDTV HTPC use just isn't worth it. I'm basically going to get mine working as a Juke box, and if I can get the PQ good enough a DVD player. Aparently all other functionality isn't worth it.. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by crix0r

First and foremost, not being too terribly versed on the subject, what's DScaler? I presume that's only for projector setups?
Dscaler is for anyone who wants to clean up captured video before displaying it. The Dscaler application has experimental recording feature but it is really focused on working with live, raw, captured video. There is also a Dscaler directshow filter which carries the main clean-up features. It can be used to clean up raw streams in a DirectShow context before displaying them. Many SageTV users use this to improve their video quality.

http://www.dscaler.org/


Sorry, I can't answer your other questions. I wanted to minimize my STB collection so XCard and Holo3D are not something I can say anything useful about.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by Solarius
From what I've gathered SDTV HTPC use just isn't worth it. I'm basically going to get mine working as a Juke box, and if I can get the PQ good enough a DVD player. Aparently all other functionality isn't worth it.. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
I definitely think an HTPC has plenty of value even without an HDTV.


I happen to have an HDTV (barely... its a Samsung "EDTV") but even before I bought it I had a great PVR [SageTV], ability to schedule MP3 recordings from FM Radio [Axife FM Player], a jukebox with 200 GB of my music [J River Media Center], all with 3 "A/V" boxes (HTPC, cable STB and stereo amp), one remote control [Phillips MCE and USB-UIRT] and clear menus that anybody could drive [myHTPC and Girder]. Sure, an HTPC cannot make an SDTV into an HDTV, but heck, nobody can.


That said, nobody can tell you how much something is worth to you. If you estimate that the value does not exceed the cost (in effort and $), then who am I to argue with you?


Regards,
 

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crix0r,


Let me know if I miss any of your questions I kind of got lost.


Dscaler:

Basically a deinterlacer/filterer/postprocessor for live TV. It's great at what it does, but only does it for live TV. As salsbst said, you can use some of Dscaler's features in SageTV.


Xcard vs Sony:

DVD players have pretty much been perfected from a SDTV standpoint, I doubt there would be a noticeable PQ difference between the two.


Xcard Audio:

I couldn't find any specs but I doubt the Xcard supports audio beyond 48kHz.


Future HDTV:

Yes there are people on this board using the Xcard+PDI for their DVD player, but from what I've seen I think most of these people have large front projection setups where miniscule differnences are noticeable. Also going PDI adds at least another $100 (least expensive PDI card w/o modding your own) to the cost.


Basically there are two things that HTPCs can do very well, PQ on an HDTV and user interface. What I would do is get the 250 and get everything set up using your video card (I'd use SageTV). This will give you the best possible user experience. With SageTV you can have all your TV/DVD/Music (if it's mp3, I'm hoping for APE soon) in one unified user interface. You'll be able to navigate and do anything with just a remote.


Now if the PQ doesn't do it for you then you could add an Xcard and a switch and probably set it up for nearly seamless switching from video to UI input. This would definitely increase the complexity of the setup, and posibly the useability, but it is doable.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by salsbst
I was going to "take a whack" as well but when I saw that stanger89 had done so I figured I'd probably just be repeating his recommendations. Therefore I won't bother, other than to say, "what he said."


stanger89, if you said anything that I wouldn't agree with, please say so ;) .
When did I ever say you could agree with me.:D
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by salsbst
I definitely think an HTPC has plenty of value even without an HDTV.


I happen to have an HDTV (barely... its a Samsung "EDTV") but even before I bought it I had a great PVR [SageTV], ability to schedule MP3 recordings from FM Radio [Axife FM Player], a jukebox with 200 GB of my music [J River Media Center], all with 3 "A/V" boxes (HTPC, cable STB and stereo amp), one remote control [Phillips MCE and USB-UIRT] and clear menus that anybody could drive [myHTPC and Girder]. Sure, an HTPC cannot make an SDTV into an HDTV, but heck, nobody can.


Regards,
Well, I wasn't saying that an HTPC had NO value. I plan on using mine as a Juke box / picture viewer / DVD player. All I was saying is that unless you have an HDTV most of the other functionality doesn't seem worth it. I'll probably use it as a PVR for those super, "don't want to miss them but have to" shows. But as far as watching SGTV through it all the time, it doesn't seem like the extra time and effort will give you even a equal PQ. Of course, this is just what I've gathered from months of trolling several HTPC forums. Okay, no more thread hijacking. :rolleyes:
 
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