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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Time for me to de-lurk and ask some advice


I'm a techie type by nature (a physician by profession) and recently threw together an inexpensive HDTV HTPC with 'special bargain' components from various sources (Thanks, Anandtech Hot Deals!) It only took an afternoon to slap together, and I couldn't be happier with the result, especially considering that it came together way under budget.
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$200 Athlon 1700+XP barebones sys (Outpost)
$300 MyHD HDTV tuner/recorder card (Digital Connection group buy)
$ 80  80GB Maxtor Diamondmax HD (Staples) 
        (actually less: $129 - $10 instant rebate
        - $40 mail-in rebate - $40-off-$200 coupon)
$ 77  512MB PC2100 SDRAM 
$ 75  2 3.1 sets of Cambridge Soundworks spkrs
         (One on E-bay from manufact.; the other
           from Outpost. $30 and $35 respectively 
          - GREAT sound to my ears,  though I'm
          sure the true audiophiles are groaning)
$50   Lite-On DVD player (Dell)
____
$782 (plus under $50 in shipping)

[edited because -d'oh!- it was a 80GB drive, not 60.  That seems to be the new price point - there are a lot of deals on that size at AnandTech Hot Deals now]
(I also used an 4x AGP ATI video card and a PCI SoundBlaster I had lying around, but since they aren't the latest models, I doubt they would've cost $50 together incl s/h on eBay)


I realize I chose some components that weren't the 'preferrred choices", but I enjoy hacking with hardware, so anything I replace will easily find a home in my next project anyway. I don't watch much TV, so I'd rather emphasize flexibility and cost over bleeding edge performance

MY QUESTION: What should I add next?

CURRENT USAGE AND PLANS

I still need a Dolby audio card/box, and though I am very happy with my 2 sets of Cambridge Soundworks speakers, wired as a 6.2 , they are computer-style with a combined center and subwoofer. I suspect I'll eventually want a "real" surround sound set-up [Recommendations?]

Multimedia/Data server The system replaces the central server on my house LAN for video, audio, software, etc. (which has been far more useful than I thought it'd be - I even have $50 webplayer LCD boxes in the bathrooms now)


The CPU can digitize/process videotape library largely unattended in its idle hours. After digitizing a 6hr tape, it only takes a few minutes of remote human intervention [from work] per show to tweak video and audio [i.e. pick suitable moments for the noise reduction software to analyze]. I got the routine down pat with my old NTSC DVR, and not only is a central server more convenient than a tape library, but some of those old tapes really need some clean-up in CooleditPro and VirtualDub. I've gotten pickier since the 80's and my old VHS tapes haven't always held up well. Once digitized, those old shows and family memories are almost future proof. [Even the old commercials are a treasure - they make me feel like a kid again!]

Massive Storage Using DivX4 fast motion encoding and 22kHz MP3 stereo, I get VHS quality at 150-250MB per hour. With prices dropping near $1/GB, HD storage already as cheap as tape, but I've almost filled the 60GB and anticipate filling another one this month, so storage expansion may be a real issue in a year.


Fortunately, I only avidly follow one or two shows, because off-the-air recording, even with recompression at a lower fidelity, would make it all too easy to max out my storage.


I'd hate to move to SCSI since cheap ATA133 drives more than fast enough. I have 2 empty ATA/IDE ports, and plan to add one or more PCI ATA controller cards (or use one of my old computers as a auxillary server)

DVD-ROM? I firmly believe in backups, but I'm not sure I trust any of the current formats for long term archiving, so I'd rather mirror to another HDD until the DVD-ROM wars settle out. What's the latest word on DVD-R formats (and digital copyright management?) As one of the rare few who accepted that CDs wouldn't last forever back when they first came out, I'm also interested in ways to back up my DVDs for my grandkids to mock.

SOFTWARE: I've had CoolEdit Pro for years, so I'm very fluent with it, and I've been using VirtualDub long enough that I've long since forgotten my original wishlist of features. What benefits can I expect from programs like D*scaler and the commercial offerings (surely they must have advantages).


My current methods aren't exactly seamless. Though the "work for minutes, wait for hours of processing" cycle on my old Celeron-based NTSC DVR suited my schedule, I'd be thrilled to pay for a solution that was better integrated and equally versatile. The commercial software I'v seen still requires post-processing by VirtualDub to turn out the kind of compressed video I want.
 

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If you do any recording with the MyHD card, at 8G per hour you will run out of space very quickly.


Ripping DVD's will cost you 2-4G per DVD.


Mirroring is much better than trying to burn DVD's for backup.


I don't see how you get your VHS collection into the computer, but a compatible capture card and dscaler are very useful.


Which O/S?
 

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Sound:


Before I can give a good answer, do you want to move to a receiver and real speakers, or stick with your cambridge setup? I'm not sure I understand you here...


Massive Storage:

Not sure what motherboard you have / how many PCI slots but if you start buying up 120gig HDs and extra controller cards, you can fix that problem. Also, due to their low price, some people here use Firewire enclosures or removeable drive bays like really large disks. Simply fill up a hard drive, label it and put it on the shelf.


DVD:

You are correct, no real clear winner has been crowned.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
My concern -archaic as it might be - is "stiction" and other problems with long-stored HDs. I know I'll probably have to change media in 10-20 years anyway, because DVDs will be archaic, but by then DVD players will read at 1000x, and the CPUs will probably convert DVDs to holograms in seconds. Or somesuch.


As I understand it, DVD compression (MPEG2) isn't the most efficient, so I should be able to improve on the 2-4Gb figure you cite (though I'd probably loe the interactivity). I'm impressed by some of the newer compression algorithms (i'm usually pretty jaded


Personally, I just hate the idea of losing something due to time and the loss of market demand. Last year, a friend located and bought me a "lost film" from my childhood ("Why Man Creates") that was already ancient when I was a kid. Since then many people have begged me for copies of this lost classic. I've had strangers email me. [I tell them it's now available again from the distributor - but no one can promise how long it'll be available.)


It's the quirky stuff, not the market hits, that I miss. I could care less if I never saw Star Wars: A New Hope again, but there are a couple of short films from that era, whose tapes are beyond redemption, that I'll shed tears over

Quote:
I don't see how you get your VHS collection into the computer, but a compatible capture card and dscaler are very useful.
I'm mostly still using a $30 NTSC Iomagic PVR card on a Celeron for archiving because it handles VHS just fine. The new computer is much faster, and the MyHD card can input NTSC as well (or better) but I have the process down to a ritual that's well suited to spare moments of my time, separated by long stretches where I do my job, and older PC crunches the numbers


The old machine runs Win98SE because that's what the PVR's bundled software ran on. It suffices. Linux might be better, but the last I checked, the capture software wasn't quite up to snuff yet. I hold great hopes for the future - VirtualDub and D*scaler are feature rich examples of the best of Open Source, IMHO.


The process I use goes like this:


1) At night, I stick a 6-hour VHS tape in the VCR, and set the PVR software to record. It uses 2-2.5GB per hour of content.


2) During the day, I log in in idle moments, and:


a) Cut the AVI into 1-hour episodes in Virtualdub

and trim commercials out (they are in predictable locations, so this takes under a minute) I tweal the video with Virtual dubs filters, if needed,

b) save the audio as WAV, and use CoolEdit to normalize it. I pick a .5-1 sec silence for the noise reduction to analyze and apply to the entire audio track (works for all but the worst)

c) save the results to an AVI [DivX4 fast motion and 22kHz MP3 (=150-250MB/edited hour)


3) CPU processing is usually finished by bedtime. I delete all the workfiles, reboot and stick in another tape. If it isn't finished by bedtime, I do it in the morning.


It's almost a batch mode cycle, and I suppose I could automate it -- leave the commercials in (they have a certain charm years later), and write a script to auto-detect a suitable "silence" for the noise reduction filter to analyze. Auto detecting commercials doesn't seem reliable enough to me to risk, but since I know how long each episode is supposed to be +/- 15sec, I suppose one could spot most errors at a glance at the end of the day.


My first archivall AVIs took me hours, but I chalked it up as learning time, and now I can guess the right settings immediately. An expert could do better, but I'm happy.


I'm really surprised more people don't do this. I gave my old collection of The Equalizer (an 80's show) tapes to a friend once, and for a moment I was afraid she'd have my child on the spot.


That would have been tough to explain.


But I suppose I could just chalk it up as yet another "second generation video artifact".
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Namlemz -


Right now, I'm fairly impressed with the speakers I have, though I know that this will inevitably fade. I can't guess when (and I'm not eager to rush it), but if I know what I should be looking out for, I'll be in a better position to spot and snap up a bargain when I see it.


I have SPDIF out with Dolby Surround on the MyHD card, so I've been keeping half an eye peeled for a bargain on an external decoder box. As I said, I don't watch much TV. The AV tech actually interests me more than the content (I make humorous clip/music videos as a hobby)


Am I already behind the times? Should I be looking at some other coding/connection that is so real that Dolby himself comes through the wall, kicks my butt, and pleasures my wife?


I refuse to throw money around just because I can. What would I learn from that? (Not much, if my friends are any judge. I love how they smirk at -yet rely on- my DIY nature. They talk the talk, but couldn't solder an SMD to save their life)
 
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