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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm considering building a HTPC, and I've been doing some research over the last week or so.


Here's my current AV set-up:

-AVR: Pioneer VSX-1019AH-K

-Speakers: Ascend Sierra-1 (front pair)

-Subwoofer: Rythmik F12

-TV: Panasonic Viera TH-42PZ85U

-PS3 (including Netflix streaming)

-AT&T U-Verse

-Harmony 550 remote


Here's what I've determined I want to use the HTPC for:


-storing and playing music through my 2.1 audio set up. I recently upgraded my speakers and AVR, and I want to be able to play all my music in lossless format(s), at least the quality I get with playing a cd.


-storing and playing blu-ray movies. I'm planning to add a center and surrounds to get 5.1 or 7.1 at some point, so I want the HTPC to be capable to play up to the latest HD digital formats. I think my receiver can decode everything, so I don't think the HTPC would need to decode everything but at least be able to pass it to the receiver. I have a question about this I'll ask below.


-browsing the internet and basic computing on my TV. I'll probably want to run either Mac OSX or Windows 7, I haven't decided.



The HTPC doesn't need to: have a tv tuner, work as a PVR/DVR, be a good amplifier, upscale or play games. I use my PS3 to play games, CDs, DVDs and Blu-Rays, and it does a reasonably good job at it.


Size is not a major concern. Though, I'd like the case to look nice and fit in well with my other components.


I'd like to stay around the $500-$700 range.



Here are my questions:


-can I use digital/optical output(s) from the HTPC and let the AVR do the decoding, upscaling and whatever else to get high quality audio and video? I've read thread where people discuss the ATI Radeon 5000, 6000, etc series that bitstream over HMDI, but do I need this? Or can I just allow my AVR to do the heavy lifting (decoding, upscaling, etc.)?


-has anyone considered or put in a good DAC into their HTPC? Is it possible? I have a feeling this might be a dumb question since I haven't seen it anywhere on the forum.


-What are my options for ripping CDs and Blu-Rays? Does anyone somehow rip or convert these some other way than an optical drive in their HTPC. I'm guessing it's probably easiest just to put in an optical drive.


-assuming I need an optical drive to rip my CDs and Blu-Rays to the hard drive, does the quality of the optical drive affect the quality of stored media? how?


-can anyone recommend a set up based on my concerns? I've read through the "Guide" thread and the low-end, middle-range and high-end systems, but I can't tell if the video/audio capabilities are what I'm looking for. I'm sure if I went with the high-end system it would do everything I asked of it, but I think I'd be spending much more than I need to.



I'm sure I left somethings out that you need to know to answer my questions. So, feel free to ask away.


Thanks for any help!
 

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Wow, where to start.


You can use either optical or co-axial digital to send 5.1 audio to your AVR for processing, or a Core i3 CPU/Radeon HD5XXX video card with HDMI output for 7.1 channel bitstreaming to allow your AVR to decode the audio essentially exactly as it is written on the disk.


For video, you essentially can not send an un-processed image out of a HTPC, on the bright side, you don't want to, post-processing in a HTPC is leagues above most post-processing in AVRs IMHO.


Good DACs in HTPCs is far from un-explored, it just seems lost on most here. I personally prefer a good HTPC dac over bitstreaming, but it is a matter of preference. For your application I would highly recccomend the Asus Xonar Essence ST. It has very good stereo audio, and is expandable to full 8 channel analog RCA outputs with the addition of the H6 daughter card.


However, if you just want GREAT stereo now, and are only going to upgrade to 5.1 surround in the foreseable future, you should get the EMU-1212m. It has absolutely GREAT stereo analog outputs and very good digital audio out. I have a pair of them and love them. For more information on HTPC DACs I would recommend heading over to Head-Fi forums, you can read about the topic till your head explodes.


You do have to have an optical drive to get media off of an optical disk, fortunately, it's purely digital, so the drive doesn't matter.


For ripping audio, there are several options, I am deaf enough to use 320khz MP3 with AudioGrabber, but people with better ears and the right equipment generally prefer FLAC or OggVorbis, again, Head-Fi would be your place to go for the best information IMHO.


For ripping BDs your best bet, IMHO is AnyDVD HD by SlySoft. It doesn't allow you to re-author the disks(aka remove menus or special features) but for decrypting the disks and making a bit-perfect back-up, it's easy, efficient and IMHO still the most reliable.


For playback of BDs with 8 channel audio you are very limited on software based on the hardware you're using, with the most all encompasing currently being PowerDVD, though TMT is superior in image quality it does not support the Radeon HD5XXX series of video cards, yet.


Based on everything you've asked about, if I were you I would get:

Core i3 530

H55 or H57 motherboard(there all pretty close to the same unless you want SATAIII or USB3.0)

Emu1212m Audio Card

4GB of memory(it's all close enough to the same if you're not overclocking IMHO)

For hard drives get as many WD Green Power drives ending in EARS as you can fit in your budget, Lossless audio and BD rips will eat through HD space fast.

Corsair makes some very good PSUs as does Seasonic, if you're going with analog audio this is more important than you might think, get a good power supply and you'll keep voltage ripple to a minimum.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by aggieactuary /forum/post/18148503


Size is not a major concern. Though, I'd like the case to look nice and fit in well with my other components.

Well, it may end up being if you end up with a lot of hard disks in it. I use a tower instead of a desktop case just cause I want a bunch of drives powered up without turning on the server.
Quote:
I'd like to stay around the $500-$700 range.

Should be easy as long as you either use your display as the display, or already have a monitor.

Quote:
-can I use digital/optical output(s) from the HTPC and let the AVR do the decoding, upscaling and whatever else to get high quality audio and video? I've read thread where people discuss the ATI Radeon 5000, 6000, etc series that bitstream over HMDI, but do I need this? Or can I just allow my AVR to do the heavy lifting (decoding, upscaling, etc.)?

Because of your arrangement you've told us above, I don't think you really need to upscale anything. Let the display handle that. For all your movies, your PC will do the work there.

As for optical vs HDMI, I Think you'd be doing yourself a disservice using anything but hdmi from an HD video card. Jmho, but I really like my HD4870 (more a gaming card, bit overkill for movies, but it sure does work nice). If you're going thru the trouble to build an htpc, it would be crazy to not use hdmi sound.

Quote:
-has anyone considered or put in a good DAC into their HTPC? Is it possible? I have a feeling this might be a dumb question since I haven't seen it anywhere on the forum.

Not sure what you're referring to. My answer would be , no.

Quote:
-What are my options for ripping CDs and Blu-Rays? Does anyone somehow rip or convert these some other way than an optical drive in their HTPC. I'm guessing it's probably easiest just to put in an optical drive.

Yup, pretty much, get a BR drive for your PC. I rip BR, DVD and CD with my BR drive, and I have no troubles what so ever. I write DVD/CD and that has never failed either. I use various programs to rip. Don't get an HTPC without AnyDVD-HD. It's as important as the OS. I use Windows Media Player to rip CD's. DVD's I use MakeMKV and for BR I use Eac3toGui with some underlying programs. You can rip right to ISO using AnyDVDHD and it is as simple as it gets. Your grandmother could do it in her sleep. MKV otoh is not quite as simple, but once you get it set up, is also very easy. If you don't mind using more space for your movies, ISO is an easier, more trouble free way of playback.

Quote:
-assuming I need an optical drive to rip my CDs and Blu-Rays to the hard drive, does the quality of the optical drive affect the quality of stored media? how?

Yes, you need an optical drive. A Blu-Ray Combo drive will work fine. I see NewEgg has a special on right now for the LIteon, and that also has a promo code via email that makes it dirt cheap. I do not think higher end helps quality, but it can help with speed. Just make sure you get a fast drive if you have any volume of ripping to do. I really don't so it didn't much matter, but I have a pretty nice LG retail drive and really like the way it works.

Quote:
-can anyone recommend a set up based on my concerns? I've read through the "Guide" thread and the low-end, middle-range and high-end systems, but I can't tell if the video/audio capabilities are what I'm looking for. I'm sure if I went with the high-end system it would do everything I asked of it, but I think I'd be spending much more than I need to.

I could tell you what I like, but that's about all it would be worth. Opinions... I like AMD, ASRock, ATI, LG, OCZ, Apevia, and Slysoft. Past that, it's all utility.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by K-Spaz /forum/post/18150095


Not sure what you're referring to. My answer would be , no.

Besides the fact that a lot of people, myself included, have dumped more time and money into DAC configurations just to get good stereo out of our HTPCs, and for years, yup, you're dead on, lol.


DAC stands for Digital-to-Analog Converter and it does just that, converts ones and zeroes to analog sign waves to be amplified and played. The quality of a DAC directly correlates to the quality of the audio track heard, and it makes all the difference in the world. The reason you don't hear as much about it is that a crappy DAC will sound crappy on any amplifier and speaker combination, but a good DAC will only sound good on a good amplifier and good speakers.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks ArtosDracon! There's lots of great information in your reply.


Quote:
You can use either optical or co-axial digital to send 5.1 audio to your AVR for processing, or a Core i3 CPU/Radeon HD5XXX video card with HDMI output for 7.1 channel bitstreaming to allow your AVR to decode the audio essentially exactly as it is written on the disk.

So, if I just want 5.1 and I'm sending an LPCM signal then optical or coax digital will deliver the same quality sound as the HD5XXX with the HDMI output. The only advantages to the HDMI are (1) the 7.1 formats and (2) if I put in a better DAC in my HTPC than my receiver , correct?


Is (2) incorrect becuase I can I still send a 5.1 bitstream to the AVR to be decoded?


Should I be looking at buying the PSU separate from the case? If so, what's the advantage?


Does your suggested set up assume an ATX case or could I get away with a Micro-ATX?
 

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#1 is correct.


#2 is backwards. A good quality DAC will require individual channel analog outputs, rendering HDMI essnetially useless since HDMI video is essentially the same as DVI.


The only advantage to HDMI audio is LPCM or bitstreamed 7.1 channel audio.


I would buy the PSU separate from the case unless you are getting an Antec Earthwatts or a SeaSonic or Corsair PSU with the case. And this matters for both analog and digital.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by ArtosDracon /forum/post/18152905


#1 is correct.


#2 is backwards. A good quality DAC will require individual channel analog outputs, rendering HDMI essnetially useless since HDMI video is essentially the same as DVI.


The only advantage to HDMI audio is LPCM or bitstreamed 7.1 channel audio.

Ok, thanks. That makes sense.


I have two more questions, if you can bear with me.


Is the E-mu 1212m considered to have a better sound quality than the Asus Essence ST?


Would the Essense ST allow me to play music on analog outputs and movies on HDMI?
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by aggieactuary /forum/post/18153076


Ok, thanks. That makes sense.


I have two more questions, if you can bear with me.


Is the E-mu 1212m considered to have a better sound quality than the Asus Essence ST?


Would the Essense ST allow me to play music on analog outputs and movies on HDMI?

For analog 2 channel and spdif 6 channel, yes the EMU is notably superior, it does not do 8 channel though.


The only way to do that would be to use HDMI audio integrated to either your motherboard or video card for movies and manually switch your audio output to the essence for stereo, but if you were going to do that, I would definitely say get the 1212m for stereo and an HD5XXX series for HDMI and video, would be a great balance of movie and music in one box, and exactly what I'm doing in one of my HTPCs.


I use HDMI from my HD5750 for movies and games and manually switch to my modified 1212M for music. The quality difference is clearly audible to me between the two.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by ArtosDracon /forum/post/18158284


For analog 2 channel and spdif 6 channel, yes the EMU is notably superior, it does not do 8 channel though.


The only way to do that would be to use HDMI audio integrated to either your motherboard or video card for movies and manually switch your audio output to the essence for stereo, but if you were going to do that, I would definitely say get the 1212m for stereo and an HD5XXX series for HDMI and video, would be a great balance of movie and music in one box, and exactly what I'm doing in one of my HTPCs.


I use HDMI from my HD5750 for movies and games and manually switch to my modified 1212M for music. The quality difference is clearly audible to me between the two.


But could I just use the 1212m for both music and movies, if I'm only looking to go up to 5.1, right? If so, would it all go through the S/PDIF? Would I be using the 1212m DAC for music?


I guess the question stated another way is: with the 1212m, can I run 2.0 (or 2.1) for music using the 1212m DAC and then 5.1 for movies (I don't care which DAC for movies)?


It might take me a while to get to 5.1 anyway, and 7.1 isn't even on my horizon, yet. So, I figure I'll probably be ready to build a new HTPC or at least upgrade it by the time I get 7.1.
 

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The 1212m won't do AC3/DTS pass-through. But then you could you use on-board S/PDIF for movies ...
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by aggieactuary /forum/post/18153076


Would the Essence ST allow me to play music on analog outputs and movies on HDMI?

I think what I should have asked is: Would the 1212m and/or Essence ST allow me to play music using the analog outputs (so that I get the advantage of the good DAC) and then listen to movies at at least 5.1 through the S/PDIF?


I was thinking I could use the analog outputs for 2 channel music and then digital outputs for the 5.1. But maybe there are no options for telling it to play through one kind of output for music and then another for movies, right? But if I wanted to actually switch the plugs for music and movies, then I could, right?
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by aggieactuary /forum/post/18159740


Ok, so I could use the analog outputs on the 1212m for music and the S/PDIF on the 1212m for movies?

No, the S/PDIF on the 1212m won´t passthrough AC3 or DTS.


The Essence ST will give you that of course and would be a one-card solution, but there's the question of how well it fares SQ-wise against the 1212m. I personally don´t know but would lean to the E-MU. But there should be comparisons out there on the net ...
 

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Spot on, The E-mu 1212m for music and integrated spdif or hdmi for movies. I have compared the STX and the stock 1212m and there is only a very minor difference, that would likely be un-noticable on hardware even like mine, but on custom monoblock amps and custom speakers, there was a sharpness to the STX, an obvious issue with power management and not with the DAC, a cheap transformer I would guess, and that's saying something cause the transformer on the 1212m is not the best.


And you wouldn't have to switch the plugs, just run both analog and digital outs and switch in software and on the amp. Three clicks in windows 7, two in 7MC with a plug-in and one button on your amps remote, you get used to it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
assuming the 1212m and Essence ST are close enough in music quality for my purposes, what would be the disadvantage to the Essence ST?


the ST is more expensive, but I'm thinking it might be nice to have the extra movie capabilities just in case.
 

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IMHO the only disadvantage to the ST is slightly lower quality capacitors and transformer. The major advantage to the ST is that it has sockets for the DAC and for the opamps so you can alter the sound and quality of signal very easily. A quality PSU with minimum ripple and noise is going to be more important with the ST than with the Emu, but not by a big margin.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
If I drop the need to play/rip blu-rays (since I have a PS3 and need to drop the total cost), what can I shave off here?


I could get a smaller HDD. I'd probably get 1TB instead of 1.5TB.


Would I be ok with 2GB of RAM?


What about motherboard and processor?
 
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