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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Does anyone know if its possible to use a high end notebook as an HTPC? If so, what are the minimum specs I should purchase and do I need any special DVD player or graphic's card inside?


I certainly do not have the space nor the desire to set up a dedicated PC in my HT for HTPC purposes.


However, I do need a new laptop for work. So I was thinking that if it was possible to buy one with all the latest/greatest technology, perhaps my laptop could double as a HTPC!


Considering how little I'll actually wind up using the notebook for work, it would be nice if I could use it as an HTPC since I'd get a lot more use out of it that way. But being realistic I'm thinking that in order to do a HTPC right you need the full power of a desktop.


Thanks!
 

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I'm wondering the same thing. A compaq that I've just received has the ATI Mobility chipset, 200 MB RAM and a PII 750 processor running Windows 2000 pro.


Can this be a decent HTPC? I'd also need some way to output DTS, DD and preferably some way to output DVI.


Would TheaterTek work fine on a laptop? Is the ATI Mobility video up to the task?


Help!
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
For the 5.1 sound I heard there is a special output - can't recall the exact name but its something like S/PDIF (sp?).


My biggest question is whether its possible to get DVI out from a laptop. I know you can do RGB but when you have a DVI input on your pj you want DVI! Thanks.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by lovingdvd
For the 5.1 sound I heard there is a special output - can't recall the exact name but its something like S/PDIF (sp?).


My biggest question is whether its possible to get DVI out from a laptop. I know you can do RGB but when you have a DVI input on your pj you want DVI! Thanks.
Performance-wise, just about any laptop still sold new should have enough power.


If you are only doing DVD, then you'd just use the internal drive. If you need other sources, such as cable, satelite, games, VHS, LD etc, you will need video in. I don't know if any laptops have a) video _input_ and b) includes deinterlacing software or can use dScaler. It sounds like a long shot.


To be honest, I really don't know if there is a laptop with DVI out. I wouldn't bet either way whether or not one exists, you'll have to quick check.


The same goes for digital audio out, _but_ there are a few companies that sell USB boxes that handle the sound, just hook your USB port to the box and there's your digital sound system.


Also, JVC sells a nice receiver or two that has a USB jack, it works just like a plug & play sound system, the computer should detect it and automatically use it. I know a guy that bought one, didn't know how to use it. Based on my understanding of the USB standard and its internals, I told him to just hook it up - he did and it worked splendidly. I didn't ask if it can do 5.1 audio sent through the USB connection.
 

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I didnt know anything like that existed..USB on a reciever... If thats the case and it does 5.1 etc. and it catches on, us HTPC folks have one less thing to worry about :D
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by ebacherville
I didnt know anything like that existed..USB on a reciever... If thats the case and it does 5.1 etc. and it catches on, us HTPC folks have one less thing to worry about :D
I just checked again. I too hope it catches on.


USB input on a receiver:
http://www.jvc.com/product.jsp?model...L026800&page=2


"Front USB Audio Input"

Models RX-9010VBK and RX-8020VBK have it.


I downloaded the manual to see if there were any details to be had as to whether 5.1 bitstream could be passed through the USB connection. Even the manual isn't clear. I would recommend taking a laptop to a store that will let you play with one of these models.
 

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I have used a 700MHz PIII laptop with ATI Mobility M3 video (M3 is like Rage 128, while M5/M6 etc is like Radeon) very successfully as a HTPC for 2 years.


It has five great advantages:

(a) it is fairly quiet, and nearly silent with the hard drive off

(b) it has a built-in LCD screen (XGA) which exactly matches my projector resolution - great for setting up the projector to be pixel-perfect

(c) there are no hardware compatibility issues, as you have no choices here - it either works for DVD out of the box, or not at all

(d) it is portable (!) so you can watch DVD on the train or take your movies on holiday with you

(e) the build quality of a laptop is usually better so it is more reliable overall


You have three specific hardware requirements:

(1) DVD-ROM drive (yes really!) - ideally one that you can easily flash to be multi-region (most can be flashed apart from Sony Vaio, I think)

(2) graphics chip with 16 million colours and video overlay capable - that means virtually any graphics chip these days, including all ATI and NVIDIA chips

(3) SPDIF sound output - on laptops this is usually found only on the 'docking station' or 'port replicator' if it is available at all. Read the specifications carefully. The latest machines are less likely to have SPDIF than slightly older machines - but some HP and Compaq models have SPDIF on the laptop itself without any need for a port replicator.


In software terms, you need either Windows ME or Windows XP with SP1. A laptop with a DVD drive usually includes bundled DVD software (if you are lucky it will be WinDVD). You can buy better DVD software for a few dollars, and Zoom Player is also highly recommended as a 'front-end'.


I used to use Powerstrip on my machine but in fact Zoom Player does everything I need now. I am sure theatertek would work, since Sonic Cineplayer works on my machine (except for some occasional stutter issues when using SPDIF output, but many people experience this problem). CoolDVD works perfectly, with smooth video, SPDIF sound and no stutter.


A DVI output is optional - a few models of laptop have this (RGB is much more common), but if you have a projector capable of accepting DVI then you are a lucky man.


In conclusion, a laptop + VGA cable + projector is a very basic configuration, easy to setup and widely used for business presentations. With the right software it can also make an extremely effective HT setup.
 

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inti - great post, thanks. So you're saying that my Windows 2000 might not work very well? Great, I love installing new operating systems..


Actually I'm not that lucky - my PJ has DVI but not VGA (without buying optional adapter cable). I've heard about VGA->Component cables. Any idea how well that would work? Also on the SPDIF adapter, if your laptop or docking station doesn't have it, are there a few alternatives?


I've heard about an audigy adapter but supposedly it causes hiccups in the video.
 

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Windows 2000 is not supposed to be the best for using SPDIF. It depends in part on which soundchip you have. Search the forum, but bear in mind many people reporting audio nirvana are using a full-size HTPC with a 6 channel soundcard and analogue out.


SPDIF is extremely important, as your only other audio option on a laptop is the headphones socket with a 3.5mm->RCA adapter (which can in fact sound OK if you have a great amplifier, although it is nothing to compare with DD or DTS).


You will soon discover that getting the video to work is easy, getting the SPDIF to work reliably and without stutter is more difficult. On my Windows Me system with my preferred software (Zoomplayer with Sonic filters) I have maybe a couple of seconds of stuttering per movie, no doubt on a 'difficult' chapter change. I can obtain perfect non-stuttering playback using CoolDVD software, but there are three features in Zoomplayer which I really appreciate: gamma adjustment, video repositioning and resizing, and the bookmark feature for skipping copyright warnings after the first time you put a disk in.


Perversely it can be better to use an older machine as the audio and video drivers for that machine will have been updated many times over the years and most issues should by now be resolved.


Re. DVI, your pj probably accepts both analogue and digital through a single DVI socket. If your laptop only has VGA (the normal 15 pin monitor connector, often with blue-coloured plastic) that is the same thing as RGB analogue component video. You just need a VGA to DVI adapter cable in that case, that should be quite straightforward. Bear in mind that business pjs are intended to work with business laptops so you should be able to find a solution here. What is hard to find is a laptop with DVI-digital output (although there are a few).


I can't comment on the audigy adapter, although I believe that there are PC card audio solutions as used by professional musicians - they usually combine a MIDI interface and SPDIF and various other options (e.g. high quality line-in) on a single card. I think these cost $300 or more. A port replicator might be cheaper for you (if available for your model of laptop).
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Can someone please provide some details on the type of cable that is used to connect from the laptop's SPDIF to the A/V receiver? For example, what types of connectors are on each end? Will this go into my receivers Digital Dolby RCA or optical toslink input?
 

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RCA plug at both ends. Very simple cable. Any $5 cable mono RCA-RCA cable from Radio Shack (or Maplin if you are in the UK) will do it. You can use half of a bog-standard interconnect cable that comes free with a CD player or cassette deck (either tear the interconnect in half, or just don't connect the other side).


Use a shielded cable and choose impedance-matched 75 ohm cable if you must (maybe around $25), but frankly that will not alter your sound quality in any detectable way.


Incidentally, RCA is generally considered by audiophiles to be better than toslink in 'jitter' terms.


Actually, this is a good way to spot whether your laptop has SPDIF or not - if it doesn't have an RCA socket on the back of it then it probably doesn't have SPDIF!
 

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I recently had the opportunity to take home a new dell laptop from work. I plugged it into my projector just for grins. I started up the WinDVD (came bundled) and hit the button to enable the vga port on the laptop. What happend next was totally unexpected. The projector was showing the movie (full screen) while the laptop screen was still displaying a functional desktop showing the WinDVD control panel.


The last time I checked the only way to do this on a desktop system (equipped with a dual display card) was to hook the projector output the primary display. This was a less then ideal solution as certain windows would always pop up on the primary display.


Has this been fixed? If not, it's a nice advantage with the laptop solution.
 

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The most cost effective route for 5:1 audio from laptop is sb extigy which accepts usb in. I have used extensively and it works great with dell 7500 docking station. IR remote to extigy provides volume control etc. ..robert
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by Luis Rodriguez
The last time I checked the only way to do this on a desktop system (equipped with a dual display card) was to hook the projector output the primary display. This was a less then ideal solution as certain windows would always pop up on the primary display.
I'll have to look as I think both my ATI Radeon VE and Matrox G450 allow you to set which display is the "default" for command and other type of pop-up windows.
 

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Quote:
Featured ports include Optical and MIDI In/Out, SPDIF-In, Line-In and Mic-In.
Ouch - it has SPDIF-in, but appearently not out. So it doesn't look like it can pass the signal to my pre/pro. It goes directly to the speakers so my nice seperates would be replaced by a cheap pseudo-receiver!


Is this the only option if you don't have SPDIF output from the laptop?
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by HTCrazy

Ouch - it has SPDIF-in, but appearently not out.
It has "Optical and MIDI In/Out"... it can output a digital audio signal over the "Optical" output (optical = Toslink).
 
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