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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
There was a time when I thought..."why would I want to waste a perfectly good PC to just play DVDs,when I can buy a DVD player for a lot less". Now I'm starting to see why people use PCs. You can put all your movies on the hard drive and just load them up, add your own intro to the playlist, and have multiple output options, amung other reasons.


I've scanned this forum to look for a good build thread and have yet to find one (unless my search wording sucked, most likely it :p ). I'd like to build a HTPC for as little as possible. I understand that the more you can afford the better it will be, but right now I'd just like to get started with one, and then possibly move up. Or is it cheaper to buy a PC from a store and use it for Home Theater use?!


Right now I'm running an Infocus 4805, Panisonic SC-HT700, XBox, Playstation, Pelican SwitchBox, and Comcast Digital HD Box (not sure of the model... I think it's a Motorola something or other).


I'd like to be able to copy all my DVDs onto the hard drive of this PC, and possibly have a second monitor just for preview.


Any ideas?!! All suggestions appreciated!! :D



-Sean
 

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First question to ask yourself is if you care about looks. If not, then Dell always has good deals on systems. Combine a coupon with a rebate and they get REALLY cheap.


The thing that will cost you money is your hard drives (depending on the size of your DVD collection). To save yourself from heart ache, you will want to run RAID-5 (so at least 4 drives). If one fails, you just swap in a new one and it will rebuild.


As for the specific parts, there are endless possibilities depending on how much you want to do with the HTPC (DVD playback, HDTV, DVR, games, etc.) Keep reading! (I have been out-of-the-loop for a while so I'm learning the latest-and-greatest too!)
 

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Of all the things you shouldn't cheap out on, the RAID backup is number ONE when it comes to A/V systems. I have gotten to the point in my AUDIO collection that I have to consciously make sure I've got a good backup at all times (never know when your PC is gonna go belly-up). I have collected about forty gig of MP3's. The earlier ones were Napstered, but the vast majority are paid for and I'd hate to :


a) lose them and have to repay to download

b) go through the trouble of a, even if there were no expense involved.


Right now I'm using an external USB 80 gig hard drive to store copies of my MP3's, which will suffice as a backup until I hit 80 gig of MP3 files. This will likely be a long time as I have most everything I really want now. I've been using my PC as the AUDIO portion of the A/V scenario for as long as I've been aware of MP3's (around 4-5 years now). MP3's were the reason I upgraded my old 486 PC since it didn't have the horsepower to play them!!


Now let's talk VIDEO FILES and HD VIDEO FILES. Are you aware of the file sizes for these type of files? I've played around a bit with video on my PC. Got a TV tuner card in it (non-hd) with video capture capability. I'd use it more, but I drop a few too many frames (750 Mhz PC not enough horsepower) for it to be practical. What I can say is that video takes at least ONE GIG per hour (some expert from around here can verify-adjust) and quite possible even more if you're trying to capture at a high quality high frame rate.


Bottom line: You'll need a LOT of storage space and while relatively inexpensive compared to 'yesterdays' prices, the only way you can be sure not to lose anything is to buy twice as much space as you need so you can keep a full backup. With a Raid setup (it doesn't HAVE to be a 4 disk array) the backups are done in realtime automatically. I think that WHEN I build my next PC it will have a four disk raid cluster that is hot-swappable. Not just for protecting my music files, but also the increasing size of my family photo gallery. It's gotten to the point that SO MUCH OF OUR lives are tied up on PC's that to lose ANY HARD DRIVE would be akin to losing your wallet and keys at the same time. :mad:


So whatever you do when you build that 'cheap' PC, be mindful that the real cost of the adventure isn't the HARDWARE. It's the time/trouble to setup the pc, acquire the movie files, and tweak the thing to perfection. And you get to start over from scratch should you have a hard drive failure without proper recovery options. :eek:


Enjoy.
 

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Sean, I sent you a private mail.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks for the info guys!! I hadn't thought about a raided system, but now that makes sense. I don't really care about the looks of it, as long as it's functional.


I guess what I was looking for is some specifics like how fast a processor, how much RAM, some front end software for ripping DVDs. My employer gets discounts at CompUSA for computer parts, but not neccessarily for built systems. But there are a lot of existing systems out there that seem pretty good for HT setup. I just need to know what are the minimum requirements for a HTPC, or at least a base PC that would only need a couple of upgrades.


I'll keep reading the forums and finding out more. Keep the info coming!!


-Sean
 

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I'm a total cheapskate, and have a very decent HTPC, so I guess I'm qualified to answer. Here are my picks for best bang-for-your buck components


Processor: If you're building from scratch, and not trying to re-use a processor you already have, don't buy anything less than a P4 2.4. That's really bare minimum for you to get the benefits of ffdshow (upscaling software). Better yet, get a 2.8, 3.0, or 3.2. Unless you have a great cooling solution, go with Northwoods over Prescotts (or go AMD, which I know nothing about).


RAM: RAM's cheap these days. Might as well spring for a GB of whatever works in your mobo.


Mobo: I'm a huge fan of ASUS's P4P800 series. They don't have the bleeding edge bells and whistles (no PCI express), and they're not exactly cheap (tho Newegg has great deals), but they're ROCK solid, have gigabit LAN onboard, easy overclocking, & tons of other great options. My main HTPC has a P4P800-e deluxe and my server runs a P4P800-SE.


Soundcard: Chaintech AV-710. For ~ $25, you get the option of bit-perfect audio (do a search) via toslink, or if you'd prefer to go analog, a great DAC. Just no digital in.

Check here for a good guide.


Interface: You'll find lots of recs for bluetooth keyboards, or gyration mice, etc. They are all pretty pricey. For my money, the most flexible setup by far is a cheap Lite-On wireless IR keyboard (SK 7551, 7500, etc.) combined with a JP1 remote by One for All such as the 8910 or 9910. Unfortunately, the former are hard to come by but you can still find 'em on eBay for
 

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Some suggestions:

www.exactaudiocopy.de for ripping music

Dvdshrink for ripping movies, drives are cheap enough to house uncompressed wav files.

LAME for MP3s if you must...
www.xlobby.com


I second the P4P800 board suggestion! And second the 2.4 Mhz minimal recommendation also (as one of my htpcs is a P4 2.4C with P4P800 board). You can lean out the OS if the computer is a dedicated htpc.


Local area computer newsgroups are often a great source for hardware....
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tedd
www.exactaudiocopy.de for ripping music

Dvdshrink for ripping movies, drives are cheap enough to house uncompressed wav files.
I wholeheartedly second the EAC recommendation for ripping audio, though (unless you're planning to use Windows Media Center as your OS) you might as well compress to lossless FLAC (no sense wasting space). EAC can be set up to do it as part of the rip to save time. Both Winamp and Foobar (excellent, free music playing software) can handle FLAC no problem, it's open source (always good), and can carry tags.


Also second Xlobby as a frontend. Learning curve is a little steeper than myHTPC (both are free), but development is still going strong (not true for myHTPC) and it is WAY more flexible and robust.
 

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Go to a surplus computer store or a thrift shop and buy a used P3 600 or better with 256M RAM ($100). Buy a used MyHD card on eBay ($130). Add a PCI RAID card ($25) and a couple 200GB drives ($170) and you are in business for a total of $425. This assumes you already have WinXP SP2.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
sensibull...


WOW!! :eek: Thanks for all the info!! That's what I was looking for. Sounds like I can buy a new computer with all or most of that equipment without having to buy stuff all over Ebay. I have 2 old computers sitting in my closet right now that I thought I could use, but by the time I upgrade them enough I might as well buy a new one.


Tedd...


Thanks for the links! I like the xlobby! I'm not sure how much music I will put on the computer, but after loading movies and finding it really cool, I might move music on as well.


I am printing everything now so that this thread doesn't dissappear on me!! :D
 

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Have to ask what computers are collecting dust? If they are PIIIs, they make a good music server for your receiver. Couple with a touchscreen monitor and you have a pretty cool setup.


The thread "I love XLobby" by Mooneyass is one of the more impressive setups I have seen to date. Here's a pic from it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Tedd...


One machine is a PIII 750mhz with a shot hard drive or something like that(continues to give Blue Screen of Death during a diskfix or defrag)


and the other is a PII 333mhz Celeron.


I love that Mooneyass touch screen pic!
 

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On the subject of ripping the DVDs to a storage array...


timtimes brought up an important point about backups. I wonder if you could find a reasonably priced tape backup drive. Also hopefully the tapes aren't astronomical.
 

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If you wanted you can take that P3 750 machine, get a raid card and make that into a dedicated storage machine.


Then Slowly peice together a HTPC.


I was running a P4 2.8ghz 800mhz FSB, 512mb ram, 40gig HDD, Asus P4P800-E delux mobo, and a Nvidia 6600GT I think in total for all that I paid under $500, so you really havn't said what your budget would be but if you can manage $500 I'd go with that recomendation for bare min.


- Josh


P.S. I love the "ART" you have hanging all over your theater, If I had anything like that my wife would kill me, unless that "ART" is of your wife :)
 

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You can go here and get a decent Athlon 64 3200+ whole computer(DVD writer drive ram CD, Hard disk video card) for about $400 delivered. That is as cheap as I have ever seen a decent whole computer.

http://www.compusaauctions.com/cgi-b...4&noMoreSubs=N



You really need at least a 3.2 Ghz or equivalent to do ffdshow justice. I use an athlon 3200+ and I consider it the bare minimum.


62607807 COMPAQ Presario sr1230nx Minitower, AMD Athlon XP 3200+ 2.2GHz, 512MB, 160GB, DVD+/-RW, CD-Rom, WXP $345.76 - Closed

62607806 COMPAQ Presario sr1226nx Minitower, AMD Athlon 64 3200+ 2.2GHz, 512MB, 120GB, DVD+RW, CD-Rom, WXP $354.00 - Closed

62666065 HP Pavilion a430n Minitower, AMD XP3200+ 2.2GHz, 512MB, 160GB, DVD+RW, CD-Rom, WXP $392.00 - Closed

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62688221 HP REFURB1: Pavilion a822n Minitower, AMD Athlon 64 3400+ 2.4GHz $476.00 - Closed

62717305 HP Pavilion a530n Minitower, AMD Athlon 64 3200+ 2GHz, 512MB, 200GB, DVD+RW, CD-Rom, WXP $388.00 - Closed

62718173 HP Pavilion a530n Minitower, AMD Athlon 64 3200+ 2GHz, 512MB, 200GB, DVD+RW, CD-Rom, WXP $392.00 - Closed

62748402 COMPAQ Presario sr1226nx Minitower, AMD Athlon 64 3200+ 2.2GHz, 512MB, 120GB, DVD+RW, CD-Rom, WXP $396.00 - Closed

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62834314 HP REFURB1: Pavilion a822n Minitower, AMD Athlon 64 3400+ 2.4GHz $455.00 - Closed

62862939 HP Pavilion a350n Minitower, P4 2.8GHz, 512MB, 160GB, DVD+RW, CD-Rom, WXP $408.11 - Closed

62862938 HP Pavilion a832n Minitower, Intel P4 540J, 3.2GHz $647.00 - Closed
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
umdivx...


I've though about using that P3 machine, but I'm not entirely sure what's wrong with it, and if I put a new hard drive and bump up the RAm and graphics card, and possibly a RAID card... it might be worth buying new!!

Thanks for the compliment on the "art". Actually it's not pictures of my wife, it's pictures out of a calander I had called "Silicone Valley"! :D My wife suggested I should use them as artwork... GOD I love her!! :D :D


mpgxsvcd...


Those seem like pretty good prices! I was actually looking at an HP Pavilion a1120n. Seems like it has pretty much everything I need to get started. I don't know that I had a budget other than cheap!
 

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You can do a lot with a little, but it really does depend on what you want to do with it.... I have quite a lot of dvd's, and while having them all on a hard drive would be great, space-wise [and of course cost-wise] it just doesn't seem a valid option -- especially when at that point it would be most wise to have a RAID array. Nothing could be more horrid than taking the time to have ALL your dvd's ripped to disk & then have it crash!


That being said, and considering you want this done "cheap", I'd consider this:

I have a dvd rack right next to my projector screen [well, right next to it when the screen is pulled down]. It's not really any more 'work' looking through the rack of dvd's as it would be looking through a menu on the htpc front-end. And then, really, all you're doing is putting in a single dvd...something I don't find to be any hassle at all, really.


So, unless you're SET on having all your dvd's on your hard drive, just set up a decent system without having to worry about all of the drives, etc. And the thing is, with a 4 disk array for instance, the decibals/noise only goes up with the number of drives you have running in the computer...of course for me it wouldn't matter, as my projector sounds like an F-16 Falcon flying overhead!!! ;) ;)


You likely really could make a decent htpc out of your p3. Obviously it could be better, but like you would be, I have a meager P3 in my HTPC and have been pleased-as-pie. It's 1ghz and I have 512mb of RAM. You really don't need much more than that for all too much. If you'll be encoding HD content and stuff, then more might help. I have an old-school laserdisc player that I run through a hauggpage capture card [and digital cable when I use it] that is all filtered through dscaler. This seems like the only area that I could use more cpu power in, as the filtering/scaling could be yoinked a bit higher if the cpu power was there...but overall it's pretty dang acceptable. Oh yes, and the VCR is run through the capture card as well. And just to clarify, all of this is output through the vga connector to the projector. The music I have on the HTPC easily fits on a 60gb hard drive [that also has the os], so unless you have hordes of music to store, a nice jukebox can be set up on a very meager hard drive.


So anyway, yes, you could do a system with your P3...and quite cheap. If you have a motherboard and RAM already, all you really need is a hard drive, video card (again, you can go pretty cheap...many of the older ATI's do very well), and a capture card...and unless you plan on storing your DVD's on the hard drive, a small one will be more than adequate. The only true 'name-brand' add-on would be the sound card, and those are even cheaper than when I got mine. I have an M-Audio DIO, and I think that was like $90 when I got it...I think they have a lower cost one now...or go with whatever else members recommend here. I got almost all of my equipment for the HTPC on ebay, and as long as you buy from sellers with good feedback ratings you should be fine.


As a closing point, though...I use my HTPC mostly for dvd viewing. I don't watch tv much, so as far as HD content goes, I'm not in much need of the extra power. If that's something you're interested in down the way, then you may want to spring for a more powerful system.


I hope some of my ranting helped! :)
 

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umdivx


Thanks for the compliment . "Art" is not of my personal attributes. I've let MaximAvs do whatever he wants in regards to the decor of the lounge/ HT. If it keeps him happy, it's all for the good :) And to totally honest, I like the vibe the "art" gives the room.


Kath

Keepin' MaximAvs happy is a full time job.....
 
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