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Should I convert to a HTPC? And why?

1526 Views 22 Replies 17 Participants Last post by  v1rtu0s1ty
I have my theater built & complete but have been pondering with installing an HTPC. Can anyone share their reason's and recommendations (computer spec's)on doing so.

Also what additinal wiring and other items of importance.
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Because it's somthing Else to play with...

And you can play Halflife and Far cry and Doom on your Theater and have a really bad ass DVD player.

And you can use it to control the lighting curtains and such for cheap.

I built mine with what I had laying around other than the tuner card and case (cooler master cavalier), an old 533 Aopen Pro MB with a 2.8 P4 and 768 megs of ram thus far and 120 gigs of space so it's very baseline, but does what I want for now...
If you're a tweaker they are great because they are quite tricky to get running perfectly but allow limitless control.

I have considered it but WAF plays a role in my household.
Flow chart:

Are you married?

If no and you like to tweak? Sure, but you don't have to.


Will your wife ever want to use it without you?

No and you like to tweak? Sure, but you don't have to.


Then don't do it.

Seriously, HTPCs to me are a major PITA and when I want to watch a movie, I want to just swap to that input on the receiver, pop in a dvd and go. Not fiddle with settings and other crap. (or BSOD or any other PC related issues).
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HTPC is cool! I'm using MythTV on top of Linux. Check out my website at http://restricted.dyndns.org . Read the top most blog I wrote as of March 26, 2005.

Some links included are:


As for movies, I created an .iso image files of my original dvd movies and copied them over to my mythbox. Then I'm using a third party application that's being called my myth to play a movie I want to watch. If I remember correctly, it's the Xine player.

And yes, the guys here are correct about tweaking. I've done so many troubleshootings and configurations but at the end, I'm very ecstatic about the result. The month I stop tweaking was the month of May this year. Then, last time I reconfigured again was last thanksgiving. I bought a 250G Western Digital so I can have more space. An hour of hdtv recording is like 6 to 7gigs of filesize.

I'm also using this mythbox to watch over-the-air hdtv broadcast. Go read my howtos, you'll see most of the hardware I used.

About wiring, my Nvidia 6600 GT card has a VGA and DVI output. I've used both of these ports to drive HDTV and I don't see any difference. Quality just blows me away! :D For the sound, my gigabyte motherboard has a physical SPDIF port. I configured my audio in Linux to enable the 5.1 sound. Then in Mythtv, you will have to tell it in the configuration to use SPDIF passthrough. With this, 5.1 audio from shows like House, Numb3r, CSI are sent as raw data to the SPDIF port, then my Yamaha is able to understand the stream.

If you are like me, loves to hack, HTPC is fun! Once I move to the new house, I will buy another HDTV PCI card(Dvico Fusion HDTV Gold Plus) and hook it up to my existing HTPC. This way, I will be able to simultaneously record shows that are currenlty in conflict. Oh I forgot, I have also played the Unreal Tournament 2004 demo in my HTPC. http://restricted.dyndns.org/ut2004.jpg

Oh my, my SVS sub tightens my chest everytime there is a bomb explosion! :D

Lastly, for my case, I'm not converting to HTPC. But I will add this box to my new dedicated home theater next year. I'm actually in the market for find a projector.

Trust me, you can do it!!! ;)
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I've been giving a lot of thought to a HTPC myself.

From my perspective there are only a couple of things that it can do that other cheaper solutions can already perform.

Those are surf the web, download programming and create a house wide area network for storing/distributing material from a central location. For me the only real item of interest is the futuristic concept of being able to download first run movies for a fee on opening day. If you go to the HTguys podcast there was discussion of this concept by Joe Kane.

I have a great desire to time shift programming but it's hard to justify a PC when the HDtivo and Sony HD DVR are available for much less than a quality PC. Building a "backup library of your DVDs" is interesting but I'm not sure of the benefit. While not legal the notion of joining an all you can eat DVD rental service for 10 bucks a month and burning a "backup" to your hard drive of all the movies you receive for future viewing could be a real savings compared to subscribing to cable or satellite. But the break even payback might be a couple of years.

So I'll probably get one anyway just to add to my list of toys.
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Originally Posted by BIGmouthinDC
For me the only real item of interest is the futuristic concept of being able to download first run movies for a fee on opening day. If you go to the HTguys podcast there was discussion of this concept by Joe Kane.
That's a very cool feature! However, it's going to be those big guys(Paramount, Warner, etc) who'll decide on it if they want that to happen. If that happens, the public theaters's profit for sure will go down because most people will rather watch on their dedicate home theater. :D I'm definitely sure that that feature can be done in mythtv as I have also configured my mythtv to play RTSP stream from defconf.org. I hope, it will happen!
This might sound weird, one of the reasons I started to use an htpc was to make things simpler for my fiance?!?!

Using sagetv software....we can play all our pvr'ed shows, music, videos, dvds, pictures through one single interface....no switching inputs on receivers and tvs. And add a sagetv client pc somewhere else, and it performs identically to the server. The server is in the ht room, the client is in the bedroom. She doesn't know much about computers either. But in order to get it to work smoothly, it has required significant efforts on my part, and I'm experienced with computers.

For the last 8months, I've been exclusively using sagetv, and we have not once had to return to livetv(satellite set top box) or external dvd player. But it is certainly not for everybody....
I agree about using the HTPC to simplify the setup (to the end user that is). My system controls the: projector, video switcher, dvd, pre/pro, lights, and satellite.

I use a custom touch screen interface that my wife approved so that everything is made simple for her.

for me the advantage is having 400 movies (without any compression) at the touch of a button and without the annoying menus or FBI warning.

I think today there is a lot of info about the HTPCs to make them fairly easy to setup but they are not plug and play into a theater.

overall, I am very happy with mine. My wife loves being at home with a friend and having any movie from the library to play.

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I have 3 microsoft media center pc's that I built. One for each TV. They all access a central server for stored DVDs, music and misc videos. All my dvds are converted to iso and use a plugin called My Movies to access them. I cant imaginge watching tv without one anymore. My wife loves it and even my 4 year old son can navigate around and choose what he wants to watch. They also make great pvr's without the expense of paying a monthly fee, and you can upgrade the disk space with ease, unlike a tivo or any other dvr.
Is anyone using an HTPC to control lighting? Just wondering what hardware/software is required.
I try to delete all my "misc videos" before my wife finds them...


How is that Windows ME?

Also, are there any GOOD DIY HTPC cases (that don't have a loud fan), or do you just use a standard mini-tower? Finally, how quiet can you make an HTPC these days? It seems all of the good video cards that have the power to make PC games in hi-rez have LARGE fans on them.
DO you mean MCE (Windows Media Center Edition)?

ME (Millenium Edition) SUCKS!!!!! I wonder if M$ even supports it anymore.

I heard the MCE is pretty good.
I am really happy with MCE. Microsoft really suprised me with it, thought it would be really buggy. It has been rock solid for well over a year. Its technically XP pro with a different frontend to launch. I bought all my stuff from http://www.pcalchemy.com/index.php I have silverstone case that is pretty quite. I have no fan on my video card and use seagate hard drives that are virtually silent. Use larger fans that spin slower, but move the same amount of air. A good quality case will allow for propper air movement and will not rattle. Check out http://www.thegreenbutton.com/community/default.aspx This is a great forum dedicated to MCE. Alot of info there, with people willing to help.
I've been dealing with computers since 1982 IBM PCjr, and have built countless PC's for myself and friends. While I could never live without a PC for games and such, I absolutely hate the sons of beaches now. So get one! :)
My HTPC gives me aspect ratio control on a per-movie basis. I can properly pillarbox 1.66:1 movies that were transfered with 4:3 frames and trim off the black edges the telecine operator thought would be covered by over scan.

I can get my 3 Netflix DVDs, buffer them, ship them, and have the next 3 arrive when I finish watching them so I don't run out of movies and don't need to pay for the 6-at-a-time plan.
I have spent the past 16 months building a dedicated home theatre room. Having spent the past 4 years delighted with dedicated PC-based audio, I figured it was time to build the ultimate THPC.

The quest was to have an all-in-one media station to power my new Pioneer 50" wall-mounted plasma monitor -- digital audio, tv, DVR, internet, photo display, etc.

I sufficiently researched each and every component in my system, from speakers, to cables, to displays, to software apps to wireless keyboards, and assembled what I thought was best of breed.

Well, eight months later, I am on my 4th video card in pursuit of clean component connectivity and have about given up. Don't get me wrong -- I love the integration, but unless you want to tweak for hours and still end up with a "fragile system", don't put all your eggs into the HTPC basket.

For starters, the display ratios from PC monitors to HD TV monitors are not equal -- there are boarders around the plasma that cannot easily be eliminated with video card resolution settings.

Second, there are some software (industry codec licensing?) constraints around sending DVD signals to a HTDV (resolution limiters).

Third, software is not ready for prime time -- Windows Media Edition and the latest version of SnapStream are good, but still are prone to "glitches".

And finally, PCs are headaches -- driver compatibility, OS updates, virus protection, hardware reliability and all the woes of PCs will play a factor in the reliability of your media center. The concept of instant on and 99.9% reliability will certainly be a challenge.

Like I said, if you want to tweak, this is your venue, but if you want the simple life, keep the DVD player and TiVo!

I am happy to post my specs and apps...
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Well I don't mind doing the tweaking here and there but my HT is movies only. I wonder if the HTPC is worthwhile? That being said I was hoping to use it more for programming the intros and trailers. And perhaps intergrating the lights.

Oh well back to the Pronto to tame some of the macros for the time being. :eek:

Thanks for the insight. :)
I too have struggled with the question HTPC question for my Custom A/V customers with the question being cost for a dedicated PC or Video resolution problems when converting VGA to Component when remoting a PC to the HT. Another issue when remoting a PC is cordless Mouse & Keyboard distance limitations. Gryrations mouse/keyboard have 30' RF range with Air mouse.

We're testing Buffalo Technologies Theater Link product which is Bridge between Ethernet network and HT. It's a first generation box that has some technical issues but does the basics of playing audio, video, pictures and very basic web surfing. Looking forward to the replacement model.

I was just looking at VGA to CAT5 Balun ( http://www.svideo.com/vgacat5.html ) I want to test asap.
i have 330 movies on my htpc.....I can turn my entire theater on with the press of a single remote control button, the lights dim, the system turns on all my components and launches Meedio....

with the remote control, i can scroll through my DVD library, and chose which movie we want to watch..we can see ratings and a movie description....

when we're done, one press of the remote, and the entire system turns itself off.

if someone else in the house wants to watch a movie on their computer..they have access to all the same movies as well...

someday, i'll add the PVR functionality as well....

it really is amazingly organized, and a cool way to watch movies. the wow factor is definitely there....

on top of all of that, you can do image processing with ffdshow to enhance the movie image quality....

plus, it's another chance to spend money on electronic stuff, and claim it's "for the family"
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