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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
As is the time-honored tradition on this forum and something I've found very useful while trying to figure out what to put together, I'm posting my HTPC plans. As the subject says, this is "For Your Information" for those looking to build an HTPC, and it is also a "Request For Comments" from those that have gone there before and have ideas on doing this better. This list came about after reading many hundreds of posts in this forum over a long time (thank you all!).


I've build many PCs from components before, just not an HTPC. As for price, this is not a primary concern but I would like to get decent bang-for-the-buck and keep it within reason. Total for components adds up to $2165 now (excluding shipping), this can become a bit more if needed, or less if cheaper parts can get the same job done. The plan is to use this HTPC for DVD playback, as an MP3 jukebox for all my CDs (ripped to HD), scaling/cleaning up SDTV (from a cable-box), time-shifting SDTV, surfing the Internet, occasional gaming, editing video from a mini-DV camcorder, and as an online photo album.


With that out of the way, let's get to the meat, eh..., parts. The list below has price and source as well, and comes from a spreadsheet I set up:

Now a little background for some of the parts, and why I choose them:


Deciding on a case took the longest. Initially the idea was to go for a desktop a.k.a. component-lookalike type case. But after seeing what was available and reading reviews plus tests of them the conclusion is that those cases are either just plain too expensive IMO ($400+ for the nice ones with the right holes), or had heat/cooling problems. That pushed me back to a mid-tower ATX case. I wanted it to look not too obtrusive (it'll just go next to the big screen TV), thus black became the color of choice. On the other hand, it had to look a little more interesting than the average anonymous black box. That's how I ended up with the Kingwin. Did I mention I wanted USB and firewire up front? That was another constraint.


The Toshiba DVD drive was chosen because it is both silent and can be made region-free with a firmware patch (see http://www.inmatrix.com/drives.shtml ). Being from the Netherlands myself and my wife from Turkey we'll definitely be playing DVDs from other regions.


Part of the design problem was to get things as silent as can reasonably be done. That's where the Nexus power supply comes in, the Termalright cooler, and the Panaflo fans. Information on silent components (including the ones listed here) can be found at http://www.silentpcreview.com/. The plan is to replace the case fans with the Panaflos, and run them at a lower voltage if I can get away with doing so in terms of cooling. The fifth Panaflo goes on top of the Thermalright. The Seagate hard-drive is the next generation of their fluid-bearing line, it should be equally silent as their older models. This one uses serial-ATA, which is provided by the Asus motherboard. That leaves the fan on the ATI video card. I'm expecting this to be noisy and will have to see how I can deal with it. My hope is that the case fans will move enough air over it that I can lower the fan voltage on the ATI fan.


Regular TV signal will be provided by a cable-box, going through the Prolink capture card to get massaged by DScaler before display through the ATI card. I know DScaler currently has only beta support for the XCapture card, but hopefully that'll become part of the regular release soon. The ATI all-in-wonder will also be used to provide a TV tuner with time-shifting capability a la TiVo, or at least that's what I'm hoping for.


The Pronto remote has a touch-sensitive LCD screen and one can create ones own screens/buttons on there. The plan is to use this to seamlessly integrate control of the HTPC and other components. WAF is an important concept in my case, she has to be able to use this without having to go through a 3-week tech boot-camp! As noted, I'm going to wait until the new Pronto comes out to see if it's worth getting. Supposedly it'll have a number of discreet buttons, for things like "play", "next", "previous" etc., something sorely missing on the current Pronto. However, I bet the new one will be a whole lot more expensive than this one.


That about sums it up. I'm interested in hearing about alternatives to these parts, and their pros and cons. Especially, I wonder if there are cheaper VFDs out there (that Girder can support), the Matrix Orbital is a bit expensive. Same goes for the ATI video card. Anything else with similar picture quality, and a way to provide TV time-shifting? If anyone has questions about my setup I'll be happy to answer of course. Anyway, you get it, I'm hoping to start a little discussion on the bits and pieces that make up an HTPC. Let's hear it!


- Rob -
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
[BUMP]


What? No comments/suggestions? I did it! Hit on the perfect setup! (Just kidding)


Really, your insights on this would be appreciated. Before I place the orders and spend the $$...


- Rob -
 

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Rob,


Lots to chew on. Let me start.


If I had to do it over again, I would:


- Use an external dvd-rom drive enclosure connected via firewire.

This would enable me put the CPU behind the TV and require less work (and $) on appearence and sound. Actually, I've made this improvement. Now the $300 component-looking black case is hidden and nobody sees it anyway. Also, behind the TV has caused it to go from almost silent to completely inaudible. Now the only thing on top of the TV is a small 6"x3" dvd enclosure - way cool. Of course, this eliminates the possibility for VFD display. Enter next step...


- Utilize a pocketpc, wireless internet and IR transmitter as a remote control setup.

Although still in development and refinement, this seems like the perfect answer. The pocketpc can give feedback, ie, tell you what the vfd would tell you. So in my mind, you lose nothing in terms of feedback. The advantages of this type of setup are too numerous to list. The disadvantage is that it's difficult, confusing and not quite yet ready for prime time. Are you the Lewis and Clark of your generation??? I currently have a pronto 1000 and all works perfectly so motivation is not a key driver for me.


- I've tried a number of PVR solutions and am dissatisfied with all of them although I'm working with a DTC-100 sat. rec. and I found out too late that the UIRT2 won't control the DTC-100. I am waiting for the SageTV solution. From what I've read, it could be the grail, at least for me.


Comments on your equipment:


Lots-o-power and memory. I assume that's for video editting which I don't do.


I would be concerned about your PVR plan:

- If your cable box acts as the tuner how do you plan on using the AIW tuner?

- Do you plan on capturing using the AIW or the capture card?

- What PVR software do you plan on using? ATI? Won't that require you to capture with the AIW? I don't believe dscaler works w/ the AIW capture.


I would recommend reading more on this aspect of your setup.


Good luck.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thank for the feedback Bob!


Some clarification: The 2.5GHz processor and 1Gb of memory are mainly there because it's relatively cheap. Getting a slower processor doesn't save much, getting less memory saves little as well. As you mention, it will come in handy for video editing and possibly also make the PC a bit more "future proof".


The plan is to route the cable box output into the XCapture card. Then use DScaler to process that. The AIW tuner gets the same antenna feed as the cable box (through a simple splitter) so it can do PVR. The ATI comes with PVR software. The downside is that replaying 'taped' programs will not go through DScaler (no ATI support), so their quality won't be all that great.


One of the things I'm planning to change is to use UIRT2 instead of IRMan. Having to build it is no problem, I've build lots of electronics before, but your remark of not being able to control your sat box has me worried. I though UIRT can transmit any string of IR codes?


Two more items that I keep going back and forth on: The case is one. I'm still pulled to the A-Tech case. It's pretty, but with the options I want it works out to $475 and that's a whopping amount for a case...


The other item is to change the ATI for a 9500 and get an HDTV card. There are quite a few HDTV channels available off-the-air here, so it could provide PVR functionality for both analog and digital TV channels. The part I'm unsure about is playing them back: Those cards want the TV to be hooked up straight to the card, playback through the video card means 480p max. Messing with a video switch doesn't appeal too much either, so I don't know how much use that would be.


Using a pocket PC as a bi-directional remote is neat. I won't go for it though because it's (a) expensive!, (b) not very child proof - my 3 year old would probably destroy it quickly, (c) using a stylus to control stuff is a bit more suffering than I want to, (d) lack of discrete buttons, (e) a little too experimental. So, the plan is to stick with a Pronto, like you.


- Rob -
 

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For your time shifting requirement, none of the current PVR solutions are as good (reliable) as a TiVo unit with a subscription. The $13 a month for the guide service is well worth the hassle it saves. Plus you can S-video the TiVo output to your HTPC for scaling, if that is important to you.
 

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Yes, the Tivo is the current king for SD time shifting. I have one and won't turn back. Its great.


I am also putting together a HTPC, albeit with somewhat more modest components. The only thing I am thinking of adding beyond what you have is either the HiPix or MyHD card so I can watch and time-shift a few HD shows. I haven't quite decided between the two though, so I'm putting off the purchase until I can either demo them or one turns out a clear winner.


What about software? I'm trying to choose between DVD software, perhaps the use of MainLobby etc...


Looking good. Let us know how it shapes up!


--Karl
 

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Nice plan. I am still sorting through htpc options myself so this is very helpful. The only component I have extended experience with which i suggest you consider is the Interlink Versapoint RF keyboard [which I am keying on now - hopefully without typos!]. I have been using for six months daily and it outperforms all of the ir solutions I tried. In addition to the rf advantage it has a built in cursor pad so using it from your lap is completely natural. I suggest buying the package which includes the hand pointer/control 'remotepoint' which I use regularly to control my musicmatch mp3 playbacks when I am moving around the room. Highly recommended.

Finally, I have transferred over 800 cd's to mp3 and lots of tv mpgs onto a remote firewire 80 gb drive without any problems - so remote disk is a workable solution. ...robert
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Does anyone know how the Versapoint keyboard compares (in real life) to the Gyration? It sure looks sweet on the pictures, but it's also pretty pricey, and then you still need an RF mouse (which they also make, but pricey as well).


Does anyone have experience with UIRT2? What's the good, bad, and ugly about this? Since it supports transmitting IR I'd prefer it over IRMan, to control other devices from it.


Almost ready to order the parts, and getting excited!....


- Rob -
 
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