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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I apologize in advance if this question has already been dealt with comprehensively, and I'm sure it's been touched on. I'm looking for an answer based on the CURRENT state of the art, which is changing quite rapidly!


I'm building a home theater which currently features a Lexicon MC-12, ADA amps, 7.1 speaker set-up, and a JVC G150CL d-ILA w/16:9 anamorphic lens. My question, quite simply, is with a budget of up to $10K or so, what is the best possible DVD transport + scaler/video processor I can use to feed this system? My equipment rack is only 6 feet or so from the projector mounting so I can use DVI. On the dedicated seperates side, I was looking at the FE products, and perhaps an Arcam dvd transport. Also looking at the asimilator, which contains both. On the flip side, I could buy a rack-mountable dedicated HTPC with a high end video card. What are the plusses and minuses of each based on the current state of the art?


I'd love to hear people's thoughts on this, or suggestions on where to search for this info if it's already been covered.
 

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I am getting excellent results with Sonic DVD decoder filters (version 2.5), ffdshow filter, and ZoomPlayer frontend.


I am using a Intel 850E chipset based system with a Radeon 8500LE(128MB) + YPbPr dongle. I run my video card at resolutons of 1280x720 and 1920x1080i.


I hope some other people can chime in, but with this setup I think DVD playback and scaling is rivalling any exotic solid state setup out there.


Of course my home theater includes a Sony KD-34XBR2 which is my primary monitor the computer.


Gyration wireless keyboard/mouse suite and a Sony TA-E9000ES preamp to round out the system.


I belive sound card reamins the one issue.


I can not playback my DTS CD's nor DAD's at 24/96.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
When you say that the sound card remains an issue, do you mean that you can't get Dolby ES or other high end multi channel outputs from the set-up?


Thanks for your thoughts.
 

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With most sound cards and good drivers, SPDIF output of all the DD and DTS formats is not a problem.


If you are going to go this route, however, you had best be familiar with working with the PC technology.


I have had both set ups and I am currently using an HTPC.


I think that an HTPC betters anything short of DVI into a Terranex scaler, however, very rarely is an HTPC permanently plug and play like a good transport / commercial scaler would be.


It will break, or you will be bitten by the upgrade bug, or something esle will happen to require a fair amount of tech skills to deal with.


Just my $.02.


Vern
 

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My experience is similar. The quality is fantastic but I must have spent about 3 months getting it to the condition it is now. My remaining work is to get better reliability out of remote control issues like starting applications reliably. The results are great but the workload is non-trivial.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Quote:
Originally posted by Vern Dias
With most sound cards and good drivers, SPDIF output of all the DD and DTS formats is not a problem.


If you are going to go this route, however, you had best be familiar with working with the PC technology.


I have had both set ups and I am currently using an HTPC.


I think that an HTPC betters anything short of DVI into a Terranex scaler, however, very rarely is an HTPC permanently plug and play like a good transport / commercial scaler would be.


It will break, or you will be bitten by the upgrade bug, or something esle will happen to require a fair amount of tech skills to deal with.


Just my $.02.


Vern
Vern -


Interesting and responsive comment, thanks. My PC skills are pretty good - I actually built my current PC, which is an Athlon 2000+. Selected a mobo, memory, drives, etc, put the sucker together and it works pretty well.


For my application, I would get a rack-mounted HTPC situated in the home theater, and it will remain dedicated completely to this function. So a couple of questions:


1. Can the HTPC be controlled via my Crestron interface?


2. Is the DVD transport mechanism in the HTPC capable of delivering as high a quality digital signal as those in dedicated high-end DVD transports?


3. What equipment would represent the current "dream HTPC" system?


Thanks.
 

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To make a long story short HTPC with Radeon 9700 will blow away almost any transport + scalar in video department. When I tried HTPC I sold Theta Voyager ($6000 MSRP) and Rock+ ($5000MSRP) right away.

The truth is that even when I still had them in my possessions I never used them again.

Interesting enough that all those "difficulties" of dealing with HTPC later on turned in to a fun.

Don't even think about it.:cool:
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by Vern Dias
very rarely is an HTPC permanently plug and play like a good transport / commercial scaler would be.


It will break, or you will be bitten by the upgrade bug, or something else will happen to require a fair amount of tech skills to deal with.


Vern
I think this is the key quote. It might be fun to hack together a PC that you use to run games on surf the web where if it goes down it's not a big deal, but the incremental performance of a HTPC system, at this point in time, I dont think is worth the aggravation.
 

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Maybe the state-of-the-art is getting better? Maybe the hardware and drivers are finally achieving some level of maturity? I have lurked on this board for the better part of a year reading and planning. Too much to do during the warm months to commit the kind of time I anticipated would be required. So, now that it is cold, I undertook the project. AND... I have had not experienced any real hassles yet.


Ordered all of my HTPC parts from various places online, finally had all parts on Tuesday. Assembled the basics and got the OS installed, got it hooked up to my home network and online on the cable modem and got the transcoder running and got it outputting to my HTPC by Tuesday night.


Wednesday after work I installed Powerstrip, got the desktop looking good at 848x480 w/540p timings. Installed the AccessDTV stuff and recorded Fastlane on Fox while I went bowling at 9 PM (Fox Widescreen, not HD but it's probably the best looking show on Fox). Came home from bowling and watched it.


Thursday after work I installed Girder and got the remote working with ADTV. Fiddled with different resolutions on Powerstrip, recorded CSI and Without a Trace. Watched them with the wife after 11. Got done watching a little after 12:30 by skipping commercials flawlessly.


Last night, downloaded Theatertek, installed it and fiddled some more with Powerstrip. Watched Spiderman with the family on DVD. Beautiful picture, flawless playback.


Today, relaxing and reading this forum while watching the Maryland game in HD on AccessDTV PVR mode, pausing and replaying. Later will install the Leadtek Winfast TV2000 XP for NTSC Tivo functionality. Probably rent a DVD tonight to watch with the family and fiddle with ripping it tomorrow while watching NFL on Fox widescreen.


So, in less then a week I am very far along with my build, am already getting a lot of use out of it, and have had no real hassles so far (knock on wood before I hit submit on this reply).


In the coming cold months, I'll work on CD jukebox, ripping and burning DVDs and CDs, streaming audio and video to other pcs and playstation in the house over the network, set it up as a web server so I can access/control it from work, some x10 home automation stuff, who knows what else.


So, I'm thinking you should not be intimidated. It seems like there is some maturity in this stuff, and I am truly having a ball being the geek I am.


Merry Christmas to me. Good luck on whatever you decide.


Bob
 

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1. Can the HTPC be controlled via my Crestron interface?


Not sure, I use a Pronto, emulating a IR wireless keyboard (Airboard).


2. Is the DVD transport mechanism in the HTPC capable of delivering as high a quality digital signal as those in dedicated high-end DVD transports?


Very few dedicated high end transports deliver a digital signal. DVI is the key here, and "bits is bits". However, you will spend 10x - 40x the amount you would spend on an HTPC to get comparable results with a dedicated transport. If you are rich, no problem.


3. What equipment would represent the current "dream HTPC" system?


Intel chip set, fastest P4 you can afford, Radeon 9700 Pro, I like the Philips sound cards, but there are many that will do the trick. Since you are going to use SPDIF, don't make the mistake of going for a high end card (LynxTwo comes to mind, but there are others) that don't have good driver support for Direct Show.


Holo3D card and DScaler to handle non-DVD sources, HiPix card for OTA HDTV.


Just my $.02


Vern
 

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A HTPC is probably superior to any DVD + transport (under the Snell and Wilcox Interpolator / Terranex price groupings) that does not maintian a complete digital signal chain simply due to the inevitable losses involved in each D/A conversion...


Think about a Regular DVD + Scaler + Component input projector... You have DVD player (D/A) Scaler (A/D scaled then D/A) projector will then be either using the anlogue for CRT or digital for a lamp proector (so another A/D for the latter)... In the case of a digital projector that combo will then represent D/A A/D/A A/D (not counting the analogue ouput in photon emmisions :) !!!) Compare that to a HTPC that reads the digital / scales in the digital domain and outputs a DVI to the native rez projector (D !!!!)... Now which sounds better ???


Of course we now have SDI output players and SDI input scalers and so there is this route... When talking at this level of reference the differences are marginal at best and require truly world class system, eyes, and training to detect preferences and even then these preferences hinge on detail / color rendition / smoothness of pans which can be tuned and tweaked etc...


To compete with a basic 1k HTPC for DVD playback (and HD if you have it) you will need to spend 10x to 40x... Of course you could get the same result with a SDI modifed player and the H3D card with SDI in for cheap too...


They are also immensely configurable and controllable (try making a MainLobby GUI that controlls your whole HT system with seperates) but this is both a blessing and a curse... They are not plug and play... They take a time investment that not everyone is willing or able to make...


They are also immensly upgradable (this swayed me early on)... When I started out there was WinDVD and PowerDVD both a 2.xx revisions... We then gained some level of AR control with YxY... CinePlayer99 came along and was too buggy to use but looked good... ATI player came along with the same filters (and many would argue was also too buggy to use :) ) and got better... Then each revision of this competion gave us marginal but definite improvements for chump change... Then came Zoom Player and TheaterTek, both have AR built into the player, both allow you to set start points and saved settings (AR prefered soundtrack) on a per disk basis (try that with seperates) so that once you set the disk up once every time after you simply insert the disk and the feature starts perfectly, no messing with menu's / choices / AR's / anything... To be honest the HTPC today is a pretty mature device compared to the beasts that we had even 2 - 3 years ago...


That is not to say they are perfect... All of that customisation and upgradability comes at a price... Do you actively enjoy tweaking your HT (to the point of addiction ;) ) or are you a plug it in and just watch films kind of guy ?? If you are the latter I would advise you to look at the HTPC and H3D card and a modified DVD player with SDI out... Cheap and superb image but it wont eveolve or take too much work... If you enjoy tweaking the HTPC becomes a hobby in and of itself, there is a certain satisfaction each time a minor improvement is made... Knowing that it evolves and that I am (almost monthly) making improvements either in its image / its control / its control of other elements (dont forget it can control X10 stuff too) that I am pretty sure HT would be a nearly stagnant hobby for me involving just buying and watching films rather than a passion and enthusiasm that I feel for the whole enveloping process...


Another point I may make about HTPC use v separates use... I think the anolgy to the simple playing films guy above is very good for the 'seperates camp' (and nothing worng with that at all) but the HTPC is something more... Its a convergence device.. It not only brings together and unifies your HT but it brings other friends to the party... Big screen gaming (dont knock it till you have tried it !!!) can be serious fun... Depending on your display device it may be convienient to web browse (hitting the IMDB to settle fast arguiments about who directed what is neat) or ripping audio... A HTPC is a lot more than sperates can ever hope to be it just takes time and input...


One big thing I have learnt (and would now advise to Bob) that has saved me countless hours... BACKUP THAT PARTITION NOW !!!! Using Ghost or Drive Image Pro is really good advice... With XP being so much more stable than 98SE or whatever it may seem less so (I remember the days when simple ATI driver updates would trash a partition bringing down days / weeks / even months worth of config work) for those that did not backup... When I do an install I do OS, then backup, add all drivers (used to be except video pre catalyst), then backup, add basic essential apps I know I will use Like Girder, TT, Powerstrip sometimes, ZP, dScaler, then backup, lastly I will add the last gloss like region killer2, MainLobby, current filterpacks, etc, then backup !!! No matter what happens I can regain a known state of stability within 10 mins or so... If I want to make a serious change or some drivers want to fight each other, or I make substantial HW changes in one go, I can go back to earlier backups in the install and creation process... If I start to get something inexplicable happening (again XP suffers less but previous OS's would get 'the stutters' or sound drop outs that would confound the best of us and often were only fixed with a nuke and pave attitude) I can fix it in minutes... Learn from someone who has re-installed countless times BACKUP !!! :D !!


For HW there are many threads... I would second Verns analasys above of Intel chipset, fast P4, Radeon (depending on gaming desires as to how much $$) but would specify a nicer soundcard as spring 2003 we expect a DVD-A solution from M-Audio so I would be looking at the revo now (or other higher end consumer cards they may have early next year depending on when I was building)... Get some form of IR input (IRMan or UIRT2), good long range wireless controllers / keyboards (if money was no object Gyration stuff is mighty nice with thier pionter mouse)... But most of all lurk for a while and learn from others before hitting that buy button...


As to your crestron question, I am guessing Crestron will output RS232 or IR ?? If so it can then control the HTPC... One question is would you not want it to be the other way around... There are HTPC apps targetting the crestron market (MainLobby / DTPro / CQC / Netremote / etc) using off the shelf webpads (Progear is popular at $600... I have a bunch of Point 510's that were $120) and SW developed right here on this forum with exactly the same ethos as the HTPC... Champagne on Beer money !!!!
 

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Looking at that post (which I had no idea was as long as it was !!!) I guess you could put me in the 'pro' camp ;) ...


I will get back down from the soapbox now !!!!
 

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Is the AMD Athalon XP 2100+ or higher with 256MB DDR400 memory a pusk, less or more desireable for this application than the Intel line?


Thank you very much


Fury
 

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Historically Intel has been the more reliable and less likely to create problems than AMD especially on VIA chipsets... Now you will have plenty of people with no problems but you do also get the odd incurable that comes down to this...


Genuine Intel is more costly per cycle and in a general purpose rig or gaming machine I would consider it but I would stick with Intel on a P4 board for HTPC... Hard to quantify items like smoothness of pans and less 'microstutters' seem to come from the P4 architecture over AMD....
 

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Since $10K won't get you even close to a Snell & Wilcox Interpolator or a Teranex, HTPC would be the option :)


Seriously, I have had the privilege to do a direct A/B comparison of my HTPC against an Interpoloator. Keep in mind that we only looked at film based material. For video based material, the HTPC still has a little growth ahead.


Anyway, the test was output on a Madrigal MP9 CRT onto a Stewart StudioTek 1.3. The results were very impressive for the HTPC. We had several non-videophiles look at the A/B and they couldn't tell the difference. Me (the HTPC proponent) and the other guy (a huge fan of S&W) could see very subtle detail differences and a slight detail edge to the S&W. Keep in mind that the S&W setup retailed at around $60K, and that my HTPC was older. Changes since then include Cineplayer 1.5 video filters and several new generations of video cards, all of which have increased PQ since then. I certainly would love to do another A/B with a 'modern' HTPC.


I currently control my HTPC via a Phast automation system. Simply load Girder onto your HTPC (along with some Girder plug-in's), add a serial cable from your RS232 port in Crestron to an open serial port on your HTPC and you will have full and complete control of nearly any and every aspect of your HTPC. Zoom Player has so many discrete codes, it's the only player to use in this type of situation. The other way to go would be a stand alone DVD player video captured via DScaler with an SDI link. If you have $10K to spend, I'd to that in a heartbeat. You'll avoid many pitfalls (micro-studdering), and we have yet to see ANY SPDIF output from a HTPC that has SPDIF audio quality equivalent to the output quality of a standalone player.


Best of luck to you and make sure you let us know what you decide and how it goes!
 

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It seems to me that the PC is simply transferring the digital soundtrack off the DVD to the SPDIF outputs at the correct timing and voltages. It should be a piece of cake.


Oz, maybe you are paying too much for your sound card? What is the technical basis for this limitation? Are the stand alone systems running higher than 48khz? I thought 48khz was the standard. It does not appear to me thatLPCM at 96k is even supported for 5.1 audio. So what is the difference between a player SPDIF at 48khx and my soundcard at 48khz?


I have no evidence to suggest that all of the bits in the 5.1 channel are not getting to the receiver. I wish that there were a good whitepaper somewhere on this. I have a C-media 5.1 channel soundcard in SPDIF mode.


One note on the remote, I have a Pinnacle PCTV/PRO which cost next to nothing and am using my MX-500 remote to control the DVD player (Zoomplayer) via the PCTV IR receiver. No fuss no muss other than setting up the remote-in to keyboard out table in the Pinnacle ini file. I am sure there are other solutions but this one was basically a freebie.
 

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IUnknown,


You're taking the 'bits are bits' argument. Many people do. However there have been many-a-long thread on just this argument. Most have been dispelled by minds immeasurably superior to mine in that argument. The conclusion for most is that jitter, as well as electrical interference does affect the SPDIF signal and alter the sound.

http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showt...hreadid=115135


This is a long and often convoluted thread (SPDIF vs Analog via the PC, and why SPDIF CD audio doesn't sound as good as STB CD transports) but if you go through the very hot debate, one of the main gists is that the decoding process alone is what creates much of the PC's deficiencies as well as the afore mentioned problems.


In particular, Dominic on page 3 mentions the audible differences of DVD SPDIF and reaffirms my findings. Several pages later there more more affirmations that the HTPC's SPDIF is not up to par with high end transports. The rest of the thread is an attempt to make the HTPC's audio sound better via upsampling, and using analog outputs, bypassing external DAC's alltogether. Yet another tangent of this thread is mounting the ROM drive in an external case, with a super high quality power source to improve the quality... anyway... lots of interesting reading.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Wow - great info guys, very much appreciate all the input on this issue. Based on this input and other research I've done, I'm leaning towards an Asimilator unit - which gives me a DVD transport w/scaling and processing capability for under $4K, not too much more than a well-equipped HTPC.


I do believe that an HTPC can reach the video output quality of anything but the highest end seperates, but quite frankly while I think I do have the skills necessary to build the machine and install the drivers and software, I'm not willing to make the substantial time commitment to do so. In addition, although it does appear technically feasible to set up an HTPC to be controlled via my homewide Crestron unit, my integrator is not familiar with how to do it and I believe it would be a fairly painful process to get there.


I'll be out at CES and I'll check the early reports on the Asimilators before making my final decision, but that looks like the way I'm gonna go.


Thanks again.
 
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