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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The HTPC is a powerful thing. The difficulty is finding the right software to unleash this power.


I am seeking software recommendations from fellow forum members to achieve each and every one of the HTPC functions listed below.


The prerequisite is that the software runs on a Windows OS.

The objective is to minimise the number of applications required.

Sound

CD Player

DTS CD Player

SACD Player

DVD Audio Player

Sound Player (MP3, etc)

Jukebox

Internet Radio

Digital Audio Recorder

FM Radio

Video

DVD Player

VCD Player

SVCD Player

Video Player (MPEG, AVI, etc)

Digital Picture Viewer (JPEG, GIF, etc)

Slide Shows

Line Doubler/Scaler

Internet Streaming Video

Digital Video Recorder (DVR)

Pause Live TV

High Definition Television (HDTV)

Standard Definition Television (SDTV)

Free-To-Air TV

Cable TV

Electronic Program Guide (EPG)

Content Creation

Producing DVDs

Producing CDs

Music Composition & Production

Video Editing

Photo Editing

Telephony

Hands Free Phone

Talking Caller Identification

Answering Machine

Video Phone

Facsimile

Internet

Web Browsing

Electronic Mail

Router

Protection

Anti-Virus

Firewall

Office

Word Processing

Spreadsheets

Databases

Games

Gaming with Surround Sound

Wireless Game Control

Control

Cordless Keyboard and Mouse

Remote Control (IR/UHF)

Voice Command
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
I have reviewed the HTPC FAQ and tested a number of applications. My application suggestions are listed below along with the functionality that can be achieved using this application.

ShowShifter

CD Player

DTS CD Player

SACD Player

DVD Audio Player

Sound Player (MP3, etc)

Jukebox

DVD Player

VCD Player

SVCD Player

Video Player (MPEG, AVI, etc)

Digital Picture Viewer (JPEG, GIF, etc)

Slide Shows

Digital Video Recorder (DVR)

Pause Live TV

ShowShifter via S-Video

High Definition Television (HDTV)

Standard Definition Television (SDTV)

Cable TV

ShowShifter via RF

Free-To-Air TV

ShowShifter with DScaler

Line Doubler/Scaler

Digiguide

Electronic Program Guide (EPG)

Internet Explorer

Web Browsing

Outlook Express

Electronic Mail

Norton Internet Security

Anti-Virus

Firewall

Microsoft Office

Word Processing

Spreadsheets

Databases

Microsoft Movie Maker

Video Editing

Dragon Naturally Speaking

Voice Command

Girder

Remote Control (IR/UHF)
 

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Scott- I recommend you do a search on "KISS".


That's quite a list - way too much stuff. I would strongly suggest you use one PC to focus on the "HT" aspects of HTPC - best quality sound and picture, then use a second machine for Office apps, telephony and content creation. (You can always network the two.) You're headed for a world of frustration if you want to do all that on a single machine.


You may be able to add gaming and PVR later without ruining your HTPC's stability, but it's a long shot at best.


EDIT: BTW- Not sure if you've used Naturally Speaking, but it doesn't work that well, and uses a ton of CPU horsepower.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Elvis,


Thanks for the feedback.


I can understand your point, that I am flirting with danger in terms of stability by trying to do so much with the one box. Stability is the reason why I'm endeavouring to minimise the number of applications used to achieve the desired functionality. The ideal would be to have a one box solution, but I'm prepared to compromise in the name of stability when I come to that bridge.

Control

Voice Control of the PC with Dragon Naturally Speaking is not something I personally have experimented with, but I have received very positive first hand accounts of this product. Although this app probably falls under the nice to have rather than the must have.

Content Creation

This is a nice to have and an area that I would consider removing in the pursuit of stability.

Telephony

Support for this is something that I would dearly love to integrate into the PC. Especially since getting broadband has meant I now have an idle modem just waiting to be put to good use. Perhaps the video phone is too great a step for the moment, but the other areas of functionality should be able to be covered by one application. I just haven't found a good one yet. Anyone?
 

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showshifter doesn't do hdtv and it does automatic descaling.


i tried in vain to add usefully telephony to my pc. i found that a good standalone phone is a much more elegant solution. but if you still want to try, you can use something like the ivm answering attendent for messages and netmeeting for phone calls. i wanted to route calls to computers throughout the house but found that this cannot be done with just a modem and requires additional expensive hardware. it may get easier once microsoft releases their SIP server in the fall.
 

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The advice from Elvis is practical and important -- like many who hang out on this board, I have several (~6) computers at home. My "HTPC" is the simplest of them (fewest installed apps, least tweaking, fewest users), because when I want to project a movie, it HAS to work. One of the PCs my kids use has games, MS Office apps, and an ATI AIW card that allows them to watch TV on a computer screen, but I don't define that as our HTPC. I think that many here would agree with that distinction.


I advise everyone that is starting out to have a clear idea about what they

REALLY want to achieve before they start assembling their first HTPC. You don't mention what your display is/will be, but I believe that a high quality display hooked to a simple HTPC is hugely superior to the best HTPC in the world attached to a 27" standard def TV (actually, the larger the display, the bigger the advantage to using an HTPC instead of a set-tip box).
 

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I am following the same path as Eggz. Building another PC for my HTPC with as little fluff as possible.


DVD playback scaling to 1080i

MP3 playback

PVR

CD playback

possible TV scaling to 1080i.

Maybe a game or two.


Otherwise there will be no overclocking, no weird apps, as little system utilities as possible. The main reasoning is that for me it's no biggie to piss for a minute or so to get things the way I want, but to replace my DVD player with this thing (which is my intent) it has to work flawlessly without pain for my wife. Because without a high WAF I'll be hearing no end of it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Ye110man & eggz thanks for the comments.


Ye110man:

In Australia the only way to receive a HDTV signal currently is through a set top box or a display with a HDTV tuners. The best way to display this information is direct to the display/monitor through component/DVI-I/VGA inputs. The only way I know to currently pipe a HDTV signal into a PC is through an S-Video input. (Are there capture cards that support component/DVI-I/VGA inputs?) I know that the use of the S-Video input will mean a drop in the quality of the signal, but this is the only way I know to use PVR functionality on the HDTV signal.


With ShowShifter it is possible to switch deinterlacing on or off. The deinterlacing plugin used by ShowSHifter is DScaler.


Thanks for the telephony suggestions. I'll look into those apps.



eggz:

My installation is currently setup in the bedroom. The display is a 17" monitor. The HTPC setup that I am looking to achieve probably doesn't meet the video/audio-phile requirements that other HTPC-ers have. I agree that it HAS to work and I agree the only way to ensure this is by sticking to the minimum number of applications required. I agree that my intention to include telephony in the HTPC may lead to instability, but this is something that I want to experiment with. I'm keen on the idea of being able to screen callers or have the PC silently receive a message/fax while I'm watching TV. Now I think about it, is it possible to setup a fixed phone to receive SMS? Is there a PC app to receive and display SMS?
 

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I agree with the other responses emphasizing the KISS principle. This being said, it is possible to do a lot of what you're looking for with a limited number of applications.


I use JRiver's Media Center for all my 'Audio only' tasks, which includes all of what you're looking for, but DVD-A and SACD (There is NO way to play SACD tracks on a computer for now, and there is only one software/hardware combo for DVD-A... which relies on a SB Audigy card :( ). MC can also do a lot more (timeshifting of analog TV, TV recording, DVD play back, CD-burning, AVI, Mpeg, etc.)


For DVD playback, I like TheaterTek (but you may want to use PowerDVD or WinDVD, or wait for TT2, if internal DTS/DD is desired)... this is an excellent specialized software which has better features than MC for DVD playback


For HDTV, I use the software that came with each of my HD cards (FusionHDTV and AccessDTV)


All of this is integrated with Girder and MyHTPC (and a pronto remote control)


Besides the JRiver software, I don't do 'content creation' on the HTPC (I will edit commerical out of HDTV, etc...), so I can't help you with this...


While I like MC9, you should also realize that the 'do-it-all' programs are rarely best in class in each category or any category at all (MC is an excellent audio product, but is not the best TV application I've seen...). If you're demanding, you'll be tempted to add a lot of dedicated tools, which will make your system much more complex...
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by Eiffel
If you're demanding, you'll be tempted to add a lot of dedicated tools, which will make your system much more complex...
Therein lies "the rub", scottx... most of us seek out best in class apps to address individual needs/functions, then use things like Girder and NetRemote to provide the "glue" and reduce the overall (apparent) complexity. Your method - do as much as possible with as few apps as possible - is foreign to most (if not all) of us, so your choices are to either (A) heed our advice and do things via tried and true methods or (B) blaze a trail for those who may wish to follow. If you choose the former, we're here to help in any way we can. If the latter, we'll all be standing by to say, "I told you so!" :D ;)


Best of luck! :)
 

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You might also want to consider the following: Although you have large list of tasks, you will in almost all cases, never do them at the same time. When you are playing a dvd, you won't be word processing. If you have a few 5.25 in front bays on your case, why not install your os and applications on a removeable tray (about 12-15 bucks with the carrier). I have several disks mounted in carriers. Each one is a stable OS and apps for a given task. I use one for surfing and installing demo software, one for HTPC and one for everything else. If you have 2 empty bays, you can even swap out data disks. The trays are IDE and the drives (well not the OS) are hot swapable.


Althernitively, my friend, who has 22 bays in his computer, has four drives with a stable OS and task specific apps. There are front mounted power switches on each drive. He just powers on the desired drive for a given task. This keeps the number of apps, drives, etc to a min. and lets the system be fast and stable. (he has dual xeon 2.8 with 4gb and 15k rpm drives, so I really don't know how much of a difference it makes, but you get the point)
 

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Way to think outside the box, Sailn! Sounds like a good path to take - along these lines, scottx, you could also consider a multi-boot system and/or task-specific virtual machines that wouldn't even require a reboot.
 

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showshifter has descaling on by default. you cannot pipe hdtv through s-video. as far as i know the only way to get hdtv on your htpc is with a hdtv tuner (which only does ota) or with the help of a dvhs recorder.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Thanks everyone for the input to date...


Elvis:

I choose Path B. However, I don't want to be seen not to be heeding advice on this point. I do take the point that many have made though and that is to keep it simple for the sake of stability. I am choosing to keep it simple by limiting the number of applications that I use. I understand this may mean some compromises, but I think these compromises are acceptable for the added functionality. I know this will be a more difficult approach, but I'll be taking it one app at a time. :)



Sailn:

Thanks for the suggestion. You're right it isn't going to be necessary to run all of these applications at once.


I like the idea of creating a multifunctional HTPC though removeable hard disks, but I am using a custom built case that only has one 5.25" bay and that is used for the DVD/CD drive. I have considered multi-user profiles and this would be the next step if I failed to achieve a stable system with the single profile. The only real advantage I can see of the profiles would be to limit what applications can be opened concurrently. Although that said I haven't experimented with the multi-user profiles as yet. If things turn out badly from a stability point of view with both the single and multi-user profiles then I think the next step will be partitions. I'll also have to have a closer look at the Virtual Machines that Elvis suggested.



Ye110man:

You can disable deinterlacing in ShowShifter if you so desire.


It is possible to purchase a HDTV set top box in Australia with an S-Video output. There is going to be a loss in the quality of the signal by using S-Video, but it is still the HDTV channel that you would be piping into the HTPC. I agree though that it would be ideal to get a HDTV PCI tuner card. AFAIK these are not available in Australia... yet.



Eiffel:

Thanks for the JRiver's Media Center suggestion. I'll look into this application more closely.
 

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Scottx, Yea I had the same problem. I use a Shuttle sn41g2 form my HTPC. It only has one 5.25 inch bay. My solution is that I didn't bolt the DVD drive into the case. I made a long set of IDE and power cables. If I need to play a DVD, I connect the DVD drive (you don't need the sound cable, in fact it is better to mute it because it acts like an antenna and picks up noise from the hard disk) to power and IDE. If I need a removeable drive, I unplug the DVD and slide in a removeable drive tray. It is possible to hot swap IDE devices, but I would be careful.


Another idea is to just extend and IDE an power cable out the back of your case (perhaps thru a card cover from a PCI slot) and just attach the drives that you need dirrectly (again, take care to do this carefully and all other precautions that a lawyer would make)


Elvis, take a look at connectix (sp?) They have a virtual pc product that lets you run a wintel mahine on a mac or several different pc system on a pc at the same time.
 
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