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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'll start off by saying my ultimate goals are to have a media PC that I will be able to use to play dvd/Bluray watch and record TV over the internet, play ripped DVDs, torrents and ultimately ditch cable TV.


Since I really don't watch a whole lot of TV, i can't justify spending the amount of money i pay to Comcast each month. Every show I watch is available for free somewhere on sites like Hulu or on network television.


Here is what i plan to do.


Take an old PC and upgrade it to a media center.


I have a Dell dimension 4600 with 512mb ram and an 80g hard drive. The TV is a Sony 50" LCD projection and i have an Yamaha Dobly/DTS receiver .


I plan to upgrade the video card, sound card, add memory, a larger second hard drive and a TV capture card. Also I need an HD antenna for picking up local HD channels.


I figure I am going to need to buy and test each component to see how it works independently, after I test them I will return them to the store, and shop online for a better price, unless I am wowed by the performance or unless I won't see any cost savings. Its its cheaper I may buy a prefab Media PC, but i need to test the components first.


Last night I started the process. I added a new video and sound card.


For the time being I need a card that is AGP 8x (no PCI express on the mobo) and can handle HDTV out.


I found a Geforce 6200, no hdmi out, but it does have HDTV component out, and since the TV is only 720p I think it will be OK. I installed the card and downloaded the latest drivers from the net. With some minor tweaking of the TV settings and video card the picture on the TV is much better than I expected, there doesn't seem to be any scaling issues, the picture is fairly clean, the windows fonts aren't particularly crisp, however it is a large screen so i can be expected. The pictures jumps from time to time and may be a driver issue, its seemed to stabilize after a finished the tweaking.


So now that I have a good picture on the screen I set up the sound card, the card is a Diamond XtremeSound 7.1/24 bit Sound Card. I have a an external receiver than will be decoding the signal, so i just needed a coax or optical out. Again I'm just testing to see how my external components perform. this card doesn't have any way for me to test my surround settings, when I enable the pass through, it only sends out a 2 channel signal. I'm not sure if it can send out an 5.1 sound test or I need to play a DVD and check it that way.


So that brings me to the next test. DVD playback.


First snag, the video card is telling me there is a copy protection problem between the card and the DVD player. This could be a driver issue as well, I'll check around today.


So next I went to play back some torrents that I have, unfortunately I only have two, Horton Hears a Who and Cinderella. The copy of Horton isn't the best quality , but it played beautifully, the video and sound were right in sync, no video jumping or skipping. and even though it wasn't the best quality its still looked really good. Cinderella on the other hand played terrible, there was a very noticeable lag in the video playback and the sound was way out of sync. The problem is definitely with the a cards since the movie played just fine when I used my old card and monitor.


So that's where i stand at this point, tonight I plan to play around some more, I need to get a network connection down to the basement to test out sites like Hulu to see how they play.


I appreciate all comments.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
I found out today that my problem with DVD playback has to do with some copy protection and component output, the solution per nvidia is to drop to 480p output or use a DVI to HDMI connection.
 

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In all honesty, the amount of work you are going to have to do to test your Frankenstein build is not going to be worth it, and with a 2.8GHz P4 you may never be able to play real 1080p content, you are going to have to make sure what ever video card you get does hardware acceleration for HD codecs.


You can easily build a true HD capable machine for around $600 in hardware, and you will be much better off. You really want a dual core CPU to get proper playback, especially if you plan on playing HD MKV files, which many video cards will not accelerate via hardware.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I think you may be right, but i need to test all my components to see how they handle. I don't just want to go out and build a HTPC, without making sure that the picture looks good on the TV or the sound sounds good or else im going to be stuck with another pc i don't need, I also need to make sure I can get really good over the air HD reception.


If any of these little tests fail I'm sticking with Cable.


But thanks for the advice.
 

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The picture will look great. A PC will do a better job with that than anything. Sound is the problem right now... Bitstreaming HD stuff isn't quite as easy or worth it at this point. I just use DD/DTS for the time being.


I watch and record digital OTA TV just fine and it looks great.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by mike_311 /forum/post/15413745


I think you may be right, but i need to test all my components to see how they handle.

But how can you accurately test an individual component, without having it in the complete system you plan on using? You at least need to make sure your CPU is up to snuff, or any video testing you are going is going to hit a bottleneck right there.


If it helps, I have detailed my entire set up in this thread


I have DVD, MKV and Blu-Ray playback working perfectly.


Also, to get around the Blu-Ray audio issues, I have converted them all to MKV (Though I only have a couple at this point)


I don't however use my HTPC for TV viewing, except for DVD series rips. To me, my cable DVR works better.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
For starters I need to make sure the picture looks good on my TV, I wasn't sure if it would scale correctly or how clean it would look. Its an LCD projection, not and LCD panel, and its only 720p. So far it looks really good, so I answered that question. Tonight i plan to go grab and DVI - HDMI cable to see it that resolves the dvd playback so i can check the quality of that and the see how sites like hulu play. And hopefully get some surround sound working.


Once thats ok, i'll grab an antenna and check the OTA HD braodcasts. If all that looks good, I may end up going out and buying a decent PC maybe with bluray or build one.


I didn't want to just go out and by a PC becuase I can't just return it without paying a restocking fee or shipping costs, doing it this way I just waste gas and time.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by HTPC101 /forum/post/15414988


Sound is the problem i am having as well.. But my picture quality is GREAT!

I'm curious as to the sound issues you guys are having, is it with dvd playback or ripped dvds?
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by mike_311 /forum/post/15415067


I'm curious as to the sound issues you guys are having, is it with dvd playback or ripped dvds?

Right now, there is no good way to bitstream audio via Blu-Ray, so you are stuck sending LPCM via the HTPC to the reciever. In theory, this should result in the exact same output, but TMT and PDVD downres LPCM to 96Khz. Though this is really hard to detect unless you have super ears and even better equipment. To get around this, you can convert Blu-Rays to MKV and the audio will be converted to FLAC. This is what I do, but you do lose menu's and such.


DVD audio playback is fine
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
I'm also curious as to watch os/media software you guys are running.


davdev you didn't list your in your write up, what are you using for sound? The mobo has onboard sound but its looks to be analog, do you use digital out to a receiver?


EDIT : Nevermind i see the optical out port.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by mike_311 /forum/post/15415268


I'm also curious as to watch os/media software you guys are running.


davdev you didn't list your in your write up, what are you using for sound? The mobo has onboard sound but its looks to be analog, do you use digital out to a receiver?


EDIT : Nevermind i see the optical out port.

I use VMC with the mediabrowser plug in.


I use the onboard HDMI to pass both audio and video. It does LPCM for Blu-Ray and bitstreams DD and DTS
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
ok


the latest tests i ran last night: I didn't get the dvd working since i picked up the wrong adapter (too many males ends...) but im not concerned, i'm confident dvd playback will look great.


I bought a powered antenna to check out the OTA signals, and wow. thee digital channels come in clear as crystal with the antenna just sitting outside by the cable connections, i would actually mount the thing up higher on the roof. I get all the the hd versions of cbs, nbc, abc, fox, and wb where all our shows are located. This is a huge selling point for my wife. I did't think it would work that good.


Next I hooked up internet, and fired up fancast and hulu. Besides the clunky interface, nulu streamed DVD quality shows lag free and fullscreen, I tested some episodes of Lost on fancast and the they were streaming 720p HD and it looks really really good, no lag whatsoever. the only problem is, ABC's site doesn't do a fullscreen pop out so you could see the window around the edge in XP blue, it was pretty annoying, but i would be watching the shows or recording them off the antenna anyway. They seemed to be the only network doing it that way, every other site had a fullscreen mode that looked like TV.


so it appears all the tests I wanted to conduct were a success and I'm confidant the dvd playback will work just fine.

So now the real issues:


i'll be posting my content related questions here


i think the best bet is for me to buy or build a new HTPC, since my mobo doesn't have pci express i can't get a video card with hdmi so i'm stuck paying an extra $50 for adapters and cables. Also i would need to upgrade the memory and hard drive along with the video and sound and a tuner. and I'm not sure if the cpu could handle recording TV. Not to mention remotes.


Price shouldn't be too much of an issue since the unit will pay for itself in a few months of not paying Comcast.


The biggest selling point is it needs to be easy. The interface needs to be clean, my wife needs to be able to pick up a remote and do what she need to do, is there a way to book mark links to sites like fancast so they are able to be access from a media center (MC) interface? Can the remote navigate a web page like a mouse?


How stable is the HTPC, does it crash often? it can't be crashing if its recording a show, it needs to be on ALL the time.


thanks.
 

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An HTPC shouldn't crash any more than any other computer. I have no issues with my two HTPC's, but I'm pretty good with computers.


As far as the rest of it, I would spend some time on www.thegreenbutton.com and this website searching on Media Center and such. There is so much you can do with an HTPC that we can't tell you everything. Have a look at Windows website to explore Media Center.
 

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One thing you should understand (can't stress this enough) is that a HTPC is never (never) going to work like consumer video components. HTPC is for folks who like to tinker and tweak - not for somebody who's trying to (just) save a buck or two. You WILL get phone calls at work from your wife trying to make something work ("Just reboot the machine honey, and tell me if that fixes it") and you will spend far more in time than you ever saved in dollars. Do you see the hundreds/thousands of posts here with all kinds of little issues?-you will not be exempt from this. And, I'm sorry but the "after I test them I will return them to the store, and shop online for a better price" bit is just plain wrong.

Not saying "don't build a HTPC", but your expectations might need to be shifted a bit-


Oh, and the "it can't be crashing if its recording a show" will happen. Someone might chime in and say it's never happened to them, but for every one of those you'll have another thousand that have had different experiences
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by rockytt /forum/post/15422533


One thing you should understand (can't stress this enough) is that a HTPC is never (never) going to work like consumer video components. HTPC is for folks who like to tinker and tweak - not for somebody who's trying to (just) save a buck or two. You WILL get phone calls at work from your wife trying to make something work ("Just reboot the machine honey, and tell me if that fixes it") and you will spend far more in time than you ever saved in dollars. Do you see the hundreds/thousands of posts here with all kinds of little issues?-you will not be exempt from this. And, I'm sorry but the "after I test them I will return them to the store, and shop online for a better price" bit is just plain wrong.

Not saying "don't build a HTPC", but your expectations might need to be shifted a bit-


Oh, and the "it can't be crashing if its recording a show" will happen. Someone might chime in and say it's never happened to them, but for every one of those you'll have another thousand that have had different experiences


I completely disagree. In fact, I think we are going to see HTPC segment continue to grow and eventually make it into the mainstream.


Look at the market trends...20% of US households are viewing TV content online. In Europe, the numbers are even higher. Many people are watching online content exclusively. That is statistically significant. They are doing this around uncomfortable desktop and laptop environments today using computer monitors. Imagine if they can have that viewing experience from the comfort of their couch...I think we are just seeing the begginning of this market segment.


This migration to online viewing is not going unnoticed by the film and TV studios. As the OP pointed out, most of the content that he wants to watch is available online. This is becuase the studios are rapidly moving to an online distribution model to feed the droves of people consuming content online.


Do you really think that AV and PC vendors are going to just ignore this trend? Not a chance. There is money to be made there and they are absolutely going to address it.


This is not to say that the HTPC is completely consumer friendly today, but in the past 2 years alone there have been significant improvements in h/w and s/w to increase the usability and functionality.


Everyone is looking at this with a fresh set of eyes to understand what is needed and drive to address those needs.


I know because that is exactly what I am doing today. As one on the team of the key drivers of the MSI 7411 (aka MSI Media Live Diva) platform, we set out to build a platform from the ground up to address the HTPC market. We are working to bring changes in h/w to make it easier to use and increase functionality that targets a specific market segment.


I have also had the good fortune to work directly with large and small AV companies.


I can confidently say that the world is rapidly changing.


And by the way, I did recently ditch satellite and move to an OTA and Online consumption model using my HTPC based upon the MSI 7411 platform. I am married with 2 kids and while there was some initial concern, those objections have long since faded as my wife has become and kids have become comfortable with watching TV online.


I would also point out that neither my wife nor my kids are tech saavy. I don't get calls complaining that they have to restart the HTPC, etc. My box has been very stable for several months now.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by rockytt /forum/post/15422533


One thing you should understand (can't stress this enough) is that a HTPC is never (never) going to work like consumer video components. HTPC is for folks who like to tinker and tweak - not for somebody who's trying to (just) save a buck or two. You WILL get phone calls at work from your wife trying to make something work ("Just reboot the machine honey, and tell me if that fixes it") and you will spend far more in time than you ever saved in dollars. Do you see the hundreds/thousands of posts here with all kinds of little issues?-you will not be exempt from this. And, I'm sorry but the "after I test them I will return them to the store, and shop online for a better price" bit is just plain wrong.

Not saying "don't build a HTPC", but your expectations might need to be shifted a bit-


Oh, and the "it can't be crashing if its recording a show" will happen. Someone might chime in and say it's never happened to them, but for every one of those you'll have another thousand that have had different experiences

I do like to tinker and tweak, if i didn't wouldn't be building a Frankenstein piece to test stuff out, and i disagree that the approach I'm taking is wrong, let me see, why don't i just go out and by a PC or build one, and find out my TV doesn't accept or scale the picture correctly, or how about i get the PC together and i can't get OTA HD reception good, now im stuck with another PC AND still paying for cable. I stated the intent of my approach is to make sure im comfortable with the output, Im testing the water before i dive in.


Oh, and it is for people who want to save a buck, that's the force driving me, I've wanted to build a htpc for years, but now i have a legitimate reason to put out the expense.


I appreciate criticism in my approach, but give me a good reason and don't try to sell me on the approach that and HTPC liken a hobby for enthusiasts only, not a acceptable alternative to home theater components.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by mike_311 /forum/post/15423327


I do like to tinker and tweak, if i didn't wouldn't be building a Frankenstein piece to test stuff out, and i disagree that the approach I'm taking is wrong, let me see, why don't i just go out and by a PC or build one, and find out my TV doesn't accept or scale the picture correctly,

Does it have VGA in? It will work. Is it 1080p? It will work. A computer is FAR more powerful than anything else you could hook up to that TV.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mike_311 /forum/post/15423327


or how about i get the PC together and i can't get OTA HD reception good, now im stuck with another PC AND still paying for cable.

If you want more than a few channels, you'll need cable anyway. I run cable and OTA through my computer tuner card. If you can get OTA HD with your current TV, the computer will do it just fine (if your TV does it).

Quote:
Originally Posted by mike_311 /forum/post/15423327


I stated the intent of my approach is to make sure im comfortable with the output, Im testing the water before i dive in.

I can understand testing the water, but not if it costs you any money on an old build. There are many people that have gone through the hassles and solved a good bit of problems. I have not had any issues with any one of my HTPC's.



FWIW, my wife isn't computer savvy (isn't computer-stupid either) and she's never had an issue with working the HTPC. She used to only want to have a cable box as she knew how to use it and view what's on with the guide. She now prefers VMC much more.


If you already know how to build, configure and use a computer, it's pretty much the same thing on a big ass screen.
 
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