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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
There are several things that I'd like help with, and this is one of them:
I want to buy or build a desktop PC for my home theater setup. I want to use it to watch TV shows and movies (streaming and disc-based), play PC games, and run other operating systems in virtual machines (mostly so that I can run old software that isn't compatible with Windows 10 and/or the x86-64 system architecture). I might want to do VR, but it would primarily be to watch stereoscopic 3D movies in a virtual theater (see the other thread I created today for context). EDIT: Last night, I learned that the upcoming version of Microsoft Flight Simulator for PC will support HP's Reverb G2 VR headset, and might expand to other headsets after an exclusivity window. I'm curious about gaming in that headset.
I prefer that the 4K UHD Blu-ray drive be internal. If I get a HTPC that is designed to fit inside of a rack, then I don't want an external drive that isn't designed to go in a rack and sits awkwardly in that rack. If I get a PC that isn't designed to go into a rack and sits on the floor, like a tower PC, then I see no reason that that tower PC can't have a 5.25" drive bay that I can install a 4K Blu-ray drive, if it doesn't have one preinstalled.
I also want it to support multiple internal SSDs: one for Windows 10, one for applications and games, and one for virtual machines that contain other operating systems. The last time I read anything about SSDs, m.2 was the newest internal SSD form factor.
I want it to be at least as powerful as the Xbox Series X. As far as I know, Microsoft has not yet revealed the XSX's specifications, so it's not yet possible to buy a PC that can be guaranteed to match those specifications, nor is it possible to build a PC that can be guaranteed to match those specifications. Alaina from PC World told me that she wants to find out how to build a PC that matches the XSX's specifications (she was responding to me asking in YouTube chat about how to buy or build a PC that matches those specifications), so that's going to be a project that she's going to try to do and then report about it in PC World and/or in PC World's podcast.
Why do I insist that this PC match or exceed the XSX's specifications? I have Xbox Game Pass Ultimate (PC and console) prepaid through part of next year, and I want to be able to play upcoming games at the highest possible settings, possibly including some games that were revealed at Microsoft's recent game reveal event a week or so ago. I also have an Amazon Prime membership, and have claimed many PC games through that. When I say highest settings, I am including ray tracing, for games that support it. Possibly the upcoming 2020 Forza Motorsport game and Minecraft, whose Windows 10 version will soon support ray tracing. Further, if I get into VR for more than watching 3D movies, then I'll want ray-tracing to be available in VR.
If this will lead to this PC having a loud fan, then that would be a reason to get one that I can put in an AV component rack, one that dampens the acoustics of the components inside. Speaking of racks, what U size do I need a rack to have in order for me to insert a desktop PC that meets my requirements?
 

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First, don't bother with streaming or disc playback. It's really cumbersome as the requirements are fairly strict for UHD playback. It's actually easier to rip UHD discs and play the rips than try to build a UHD compatible system. Streaming is similar - PC is a the red headed stepchild of streaming - if all you want is netflix, that's one thing (the netflix app supports Atmos I believe) but other streaming services are iffy on what the service app supports (if they have an app). Web browser viewing is almost all just stereo at 1080p resolution. Netflix is good here as you could get UHD using Edge, but that was with the old version - the new Edge is unknown. And I think you're still limited to stereo.

Again, that is assuming the service supports web viewing.

If you insist on streaming and disc, you're better off with a standalone streamer and disc player. This way you can concentrate on the other requirements rather than have to get specific video cards for UHD playback and disc drives (I think there are only two models for true UHD playback, and only PowerDVD for UHD playback). Ripping and playing those back gives you over a dozen Blu-Ray drives all of which are extremely easy to buy, and give far more flexibility in terms of playback software.

Given what you want to do, I would say to skip the movie playback because they would limit your options unnecessarily and you will have to compromise in parts choices just to support it. A suitable player and streamer will cost a few hundred dollars but you'll move much happier with the PC you build that doesn't have to compromise on games just to get sub par movie playback from a stream or disc.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Sorry that it has taken so long for me to respond. I've been up late the past few nights researching things, including the things that you said about how I shouldn't bother getting a PC for 4K UHD Blu-ray playback and 4K UHD streaming. I'm going to write below some of my research, but I want to first ask whether I'll have to make compromises in order to buy or build a PC that supports Microsoft PlayReady 3.0. You said that I will, and I'm unsure about that. Before I move on to the next subject, I want to add that my gaming friends suggested that I get an AMD CPU and an Nvidia GPU, because AMD CPUs, overall, provide more bang for the buck, and that Nvidia has a better codec for streaming (upstream) my gameplay to services such as Twitch. I'll post more about gaming later.

Now, my research about 4K UHD streaming and Blu-ray playback. In the list below, I'm going to focus on major streaming services that I use and that have apps in the Microsoft Store for PCs. I'm not going to include streaming services that, on PC, are only accessible via web browser. I have a 2017 Surface Pro, and the major streaming services whose apps I have installed on it are Netflix, Hulu, and VUDU.
  • Netflix's app for Windows 10 supports 4K and Dolby Atmos. Sources:
    • Dolby Atmos on Netflix
    • Using Netflix on your Windows computer or tablet
      • "Every monitor connected to your computer must meet these requirements to successfully stream in Ultra HD." That's not a problem, because since this will be a HTPC, it'll probably only have one display connected to it: the TV.
      • A seventh-generation (or newer) Intel Core i3, i5, or i7 CPU, and/or a compatible Nvidia GPU (Nvidia, in their own information, adds: "NVIDIA Pascal based GPU or newer, GeForce GTX 1050 or greater with minimum 3GB memory.")
  • Neither Hulu's app for Windows 10 nor it's web player, as of right now, support 4K, even though the app on some other platforms, including Xbox One S and X, supports 4K. Source: Video Quality on Hulu
  • Neither VUDU's app for Windows 10 nor it's web player, as of right now, support 4K, HDR, or Dolby Atmos, even though the app on some other platforms, including Xbox One S and X, supports those features. Source: Vudu UHD - Compatible Devices List - Vudu Forums
Regarding Netflix, I guess that I lucked out on my 2017 Surface Pro, because it has a 7th-generation mobile i5 CPU and can play Netflix with HDR. It can't play Netflix in 4K because its screen's resolution is in-between 1080p and 4K (which is still incredible, for its screen size), but it can play it in HDR, and also supports Dolby Atmos via headphones. However, as I researched this subject, I learned about something called "Microsoft PlayReady 3.0"--a DRM-protected pathway all the way from the source video file (disc or streaming) to the display and audio output, as far as I know--and that some graphics adapters still do not support it. That's why I'm glad that my Surface supports it: if my home desktop PC doesn't support 4K and HDR, I can simply use my Xbox instead, but if I'm not at home and I have my Surface and want to watch something on Netflix (or some other service that supports 4K and HDR on PCs), I'll be able to, assuming that I have strong cellular service.

Regarding Hulu and VUDU, I have an Xbox One S and I can continue to watch Hulu and VUDU using it. It's not ideal for streaming TV shows and movies because it only offers audio bitstream passthrough to its Blu-ray player app. The fact that it doesn't offer audio bitstream passthrough to TV show and movie streaming services has been discussed elsewhere on this forum, so I'm not going to take time to explain the issues that this causes.

As for 4K UHD Blu-ray: CyberLink PowerDVD 11 supports 4K UHD Blu-ray playback.
Configuring a UHD Blu-ray Playback System - A Budget Home Theater & PC Setup: 4K, HDR, UHD Blu-ray, and More. And yes, I'll be able to watch 4K UHD Blu-ray discs on the Xbox One S, but I plan on buying a 4K UHD Blu-ray drive for PC anyway, if the PC that I buy doesn't come with one. Since I'm already going to be buying a 4K UHD Blu-ray drive for the PC, and since I'm going to be choosing PC hardware that is capable of next-gen gaming, I'm still planning on making my PC compliant with Microsoft PlayReady 3.0. Will I have to compromise gaming in order to get PlayReady 3.0 compliance?
 

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Well, people were able to get combination AMD and nVidia systems to work, but it's unnecessarily complex and fragile. Add in Playready support and it's likely once you find a driver combination that works, you cannot touch it - you risk breaking it all updating drivers. And I know games demand running updated drivers.

And no PC will have a UHD drive - like I said there are basically two drives UHD certified, so you will have to install it separately (though I have been working under the assumption it was going to be a white box or self built). Acquiring them might also prove challenging

Personally, I'd get a streaming box to handle your streaming - AppleTV, shield tv, or roku. And a UHD player for disc playback. Or rip the movies to a server which eliminates all the play ready requirements - regular Blu-Ray drives for this are easy to get, player software widely available and then you can concentrate on making a kick ass gaming system without worrying that the next update or game will break things.

The real question is how much fiddling do you want to do. If you want a system to play or watch without spending hours dealing with drivers and updates trying to get it working, I suggest you concentrate on gaming for the PC, streaming with an AppleTV or roku or shield tv, and movies with a standalone player.

But if you like working on a PC just to work on a PC, well, you can try.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Well, people were able to get combination AMD and nVidia systems to work, but it's unnecessarily complex and fragile. Add in Playready support and it's likely once you find a driver combination that works, you cannot touch it - you risk breaking it all updating drivers. And I know games demand running updated drivers.
Okay. Can you suggest some CPUs and GPUs? We haven't spoken much about games, so:
I have Xbox Game Pass Ultimate paid for through May and might renew it at that point. I also have Amazon Prime--including Prime Gaming--but I'm considering cancelling it before it renews. I've also bought some games from the Microsoft Store, GOG, and Steam. Putting all of that together, I have access to a LOT of games! Since I'm planning on buying a new desktop PC for other reasons, I figure that now might be a good time to buy a home theater gaming PC and partially switch from Xbox gaming to PC gaming.
  • Support for:
    • 4K UHD
    • HDR
    • ray tracing
    • spatial audio (Windows Sonic, which I'd set to output as "Dolby Atmos for home theater" or as DTS:X for home theater)
  • with:
    • next-gen games
      • Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020
      • The Medium
      • Minecraft for Windows 10 with ray tracing
      • The upcoming Forza Motorsport game, which will support RTX
      • Those are the only games that I'm aware of that are demanding, next-gen games, and all of them are or will be included in Game Pass for PC and Game Pass Ultimate. I say 'next-gen' to refer to games that are or will be more graphically- and auditorily-rich because they've also been developed or are being developed for one or more of the next-gen consoles.
    • lots of RAM
  • Some things that relate to form factor:
    • I'm interested in a form factor that fits in a home theater equipment rack in order to minimize clutter in my room, and I'd like to know the positives and negatives of getting one that fits in an A/V rack.
    • I'd like it to have an optical drive bay that I can install a 4K UHD Blu-ray drive in. If I recall correctly, those drives are called BDXL drives.
    • I'd like to be able to upgrade it with a new GPU at some point and still have at least one free modern expansion slot for other things.
    • I'd like to have three replaceable internal NVME SSDs, all of them supporting DirectStorage, which is what the new Xboxes use in their Velocity architecture. I'm unsure if there currently any PC drives like this. Heck, it might even require that every component in the PC be DirectStorage-certified, so this might not yet be possible.
The things in this paragraph are the least important: it would be nice if I could install old PCI cards--cards that aren't PCI Express--just in case I need to use any old PCI cards, but that is perhaps the least important thing. It would be in case I want to install an old PCI Firewire card for attaching an old video camcorder via Firewire. Or if I want to install a PCI sound card that has multichannel analog audio outputs, such as cards that use Creative ALchemy or other technology for restoring great audio to old games that relied on audio hardware acceleration and couldn't do that with Vista and newer versions of Windows. I don't know if there are new sound cards that do this--internal or external--but there are old internal sound cards that do this.
I'm not very knowledgeable when it comes to PC hardware. I don't have a set-in-stone budget and I can afford something nice, and since I don't have a set-in-stone budget, I'm interested in the point at which the performance to cost ratio starts decreasing (the point at which I'd start spending more and getting less). I looked at the system requirements for many games that I want to play on PC, and so far, as I see it, Microsoft Flight Simulator is the most demanding, if I want to run it at maximum settings. I'm unsure if I want to run it at maximum settings, but I'd like to consider hardware that will allow me to do that, and see how much it costs.

And no PC will have a UHD drive - like I said there are basically two drives UHD certified, so you will have to install it separately (though I have been working under the assumption it was going to be a white box or self built). Acquiring them might also prove challenging

Personally, I'd get a streaming box to handle your streaming - AppleTV, shield tv, or roku. And a UHD player for disc playback.
I already have an Xbox One S, which supports 4K UHD Blu-ray discs, and has some streaming apps, and I might buy a standalone streaming player.

The real question is how much fiddling do you want to do. If you want a system to play or watch without spending hours dealing with drivers and updates trying to get it working, I suggest you concentrate on gaming for the PC, streaming with an AppleTV or roku or shield tv, and movies with a standalone player.
I don't want to fiddle. I'm not even sure that I want to build my own PC. I like the idea of buying a PC that will be plug-and-play, but if I have to build my own to get what I want, I'll do it, but first I'll research things to make sure that everything that I buy will work together.
 

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With a UHD friendly firmware drive, you can hack the firmware to defeat bus based encryption. Then in turn allow other hack software like AnyDVDHD to hack the software side of the disc beyond the bus transport, so you can play it direct from disc without needing to actually RIP it. Its easy and very little config to setup. The great majority of UHD discs have no decrypt defeats and only a handful are current uncracked.

For CPU, cant go wrong a lower end 10th gen Intel or lower end AMD 5000 series about to be released. If your just doing games and video decoding, those use cases - games are mostly written/optimised for consoles and on the PC versions its super rare that higher core counts are utilised. MS latest FS is an exception, its a hog. Video decoding is just about always done via discrete GPU cos the emdedded GPU with the motherboard connectivity tend to not support current HDMI versions on Intel, and the decent AMD Ryzen chips dont have embedded GPUs in them at all. Plus, GPUs in general have way better accelerated decode than what Intel provide in the various versions of Intel quick sync. Content creation use cases like video encoding will make the CPU much more of an important thing but for general gaming and video decode, better to have less spent on the CPU and more on the GPU, or more local storage.

For GPU, depends if you really need HDMI 2.0 or 2.1. Lower end like a NVIDIA 1660 super would give HDMI 2 and awesome decode/encode acceleration, way better than Intels embedded on die quick video stuff. If you later stepped up to super high quality video rendering, that GPU has enough power to do decent settings too. Only the 3XXX RTX series so far has HDMI 2.1 however. The RTX3070 release is delayed two weeks that will be your most current cheaper option on the Ampere platform. AMD tends to be a big gamble with GPUs for HTPC use cases - I personally hope this changes overtime and AMD fixes their product stack with it, but I for one wouldnt risk my own money on an AMD based HTPC currently.

As to everything working together, the PC industry pretty much has this sorted after 30 years! lol Ahh the old days. The biggest question is specific memory to specific motherboards including BIOS version. Safest bet is to use ram from the qualified vendor list for that motherboard. Apart from ram, is pretty much all standards and easy.

Some motherboards will support three M2 NVME slots like you say. Id personally run just one, you can get them up to 8TB now. For me atleast, running more than one I'd do so cos I want to run a RAID array like Raid 1 mirroring. Not all motherboards have the same number of pcie express lanes in them in all M2 slots and some have a main plus sub ones, so I prefer one physical SSD. You can always partition the discs logically if thats what is behind your concept for three. There is also thermal benefits to less, often less is more in PCs, it is possible to exceed thermal limits and have the NVME controller slow things down to not cook itself to death. Having one, better thermals in the overall system. Also higher quality motherboards will have superior cooling solutions for the NVME drives.

Cases, powersupplies and what not to suit your rack mount config layout are super easy and very common, including fiddly bits like little extensions etcetc for cabling

cheers
 
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