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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I need some advice on upgrading my now 4 year old HTPC.

I've been a little out of this HTPC business since I built it back then (just enjoying what I have built), and with all the new technologies and techniques since then I need some help.

My dilemma (as you can discern from my existing system) is that my mobo has no PCIe, and thus I can't just simply upgrade my video card as might be the solution to all of the questions below. Thus if I am to move to PCIe, and must replace my CPU, mobo, RAM and video card. So therefore, the questions I have are geared around not having to upgrade unless I need to, but whilte still achieving adequate playback potential.

What I use it for and how I use it (in order of importance):

HD file playback (MPEG2, h264 (see question #2 as it is not for playback of h.264 from HDDVD or Bluray)

Theatertek 2.4, Purevideo with HW acceleration enabled through a 6600GT, with some detail enhancement and noise reduction through the Nvidia Control Panel
DVD playback

Theatertek 2.4 & FFDShow - I really like what FFDShow can do better than what the TT/Purevideo combo can do for pq, but I only use it on DVD due to my CPU. I don't need any more than some Lanczos luma sharpening, some Blur and NR, and resizing to twice DVD size.
Other file playbacks (ex. divx, avi, etc.)

Theatertek 2.4 & FFDShow OR Media Player Classic (if can't play with TT)
Xbox media extending

Just starting to explore this, but not sure of it's uses at this time other than theoretically expanding the Xbox 360s 20GB drive to the size of a PC via streaming media (audio and video). Any insights?
Questions I have:

1. Big question: Is upgrading my existing hardware to the proposed system (detailed below) going to provide me with any benefit that I can not achieve with my existing hardware and the Media Player Classic, Haali Splitter & CoreAVC combo that presumably is able to play h.264 very efficiently?

Right now, I can play most .ts files smoothly (even some labelled as h.264) with Theatertek/Purevideo. However, I cannot for others labelled h.264 (why? - is it because some are MPEG2 and others are something else like mkv or something? This is where I am really lacking knowledge, and thus what I am most confused about). Do I need to just use the CoreAVC combo to achieve smooth playback of these h.264 files without needing to upgrade any hardware?
2. I have an Xbox 360 with HDDVD addon. What pq benefits would I get building a PC with a Nvidia 7600GT video card, as recommended in this thread ?

I'm thinking none, as that thread details how to get your HTPC to playback HDDVDs, which the Xbox 360 with HDDVD addon is fully capable of doing on its own. However, is the true benefit of going the super-PC route that you can play HDDVD files, without necessarily requiring the disk they originated from?
3. If in Question #1 the answer is that I should be ok with the CoreAVC combo on my current hardware: What impact would upgrading to the proposed system below have for my uses (just fishing here for any practical reason to upgrade)?

Does the fact that the 6600GT not support inverse telecine and bad edit correction have any signficant influence on this?
4. What impact does the difference between 512 DDR2 533Mhz RAM and twice that amount have for my specific video needs?

I've read that there is no benefit above 512mb, but is this true? (purely a cost savings question here).
5. What recommended critical system components would you require to use FFDShow on HD .ts files (bypassing Purevideo HW)? Can this be used on h264 files as well using the CoreAVC combo?


6. What is the recommended best way to achieve superior pq with DVDs?

Is it still DScaler's inverse telecine version of the codec through Zoomplayers customized media playback, or is just using the CoreAVC combo good for DVD as well?
7. I've read that CoreAVC will soon support GPU hareware acceleration. What does this mean for my existing system setup's ability to play h.264?


8. PowerDVD: I have read that using this option (although when I built my HTPC PowerDVD was inferior to almost any other player) allows offloading to the GPU for h.264 playback. Is this the best option to go with for an all around player for all of my uses? What version should I be looking at getting?



Existing Critical System components:


P4 2.8C 800Mhz 512K CPU o/c'd to 3.02

P4P800-SE mobo

No name 1GB DDR 400mhz RAM

BFG Nvidia 6600GT AGP o/c'd to 575/1.25

Proposed Critical System components:

Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 1.86Ghz 2MB cache CPU

Translated into a solo CPU, what Ghz does this equal?
Asus P5B-E mobo

Mainly because of the firewire ports and the optical SPDIF out that I need
Corsair 512MB DDR2 533mhz Value RAM

MSI 7300GT (350Mhz) 256MB PCIexpress

Should I make this a 7600GT so that it can do inverse telecine and bad edit correction, or is that not anything to worry about?
Sorry for the long post.
 

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I wouldn't worry too much about inverse telecine and bad edits, but more about the processing power of the video board. If I'm not mistaken, the 7300's are a bit underpowered. When you're shopping, make sure you get one with HDCP now, unless you want to buy another board in a few month again.


Your mobo is high-end, which is fine, but I always thought that the CPU should be more expensive than the mobo. Your memory, on the other hand, is below specs. Go for DRR2-800. You could probably build a more balanced system and still spend less.


I'm afraid I'm not qualified to answer your other questions, but I'm sure others can help. Good luck.
 

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The E6300 is an excellent overclocker, 3+ GHz, but you'll need to spend a little more on memory. A good DDR2-800, 4-4-4-12 memory should overclock to 1GHz and is what you need to OC that CPU to its potential. Kingston Hyper-X is about the only fast 256MB stick and expensive so it makes more sense to go 2x512MB for only $40 more and have many choices.
 

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Your current system is hopeless for playing back interlaced 1080i h.264 content (MBAFF encoded).


Bad edits in hidef streams (mpeg2 only as far as I know) are not handled very well by any videocard - or at least not by NVIDIA videocards. DScaler5 w/ IVTC hack is still the best for 24 fps mpeg2 movies however. Your current system should be okay with that.


For the upgrade, I would recommend at LEAST 1 GB of RAM. The E6300 should have no trouble decoding h.264 1080i content. The videocard won't matter as much, but I would recommend a minimum 7600GT card for more flexibility with VMR9 modes. Some people have had success with a 6600GT PCI-E card too - but I don't have much information on that.


All your hardware concerns should be addressed with the equipment you outlined plus my recommended upgrades.


For software playback, many people have had success using Zoomplayer, TheaterTek, Media Player Classic (MPC), and even PowerDVD. However, with an E6300 CPU you can do everything in software for most h.264 movies (CoreAVC being the best for performance). High-bitrate Bluray may be problematic even with GPU acceleration, but so far we haven't seen those yet.


Good luck.
 

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look at these sites..


interesting reviews about the new core 2 duo processors and overclocking...


i believe the feeling is you need a core 2 duo overclocked in excess of 3.0 ghz inorder to avoid needing a monsterously high end video card for complex high bandwidth video playback.


apparently the new e4300 series core 2 duo overclocks like a banshee, and costs less than $200...


read these before you buy..

Anandtech


and

toms hadrware
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by heartsurgeon /forum/post/0


i believe the feeling is you need a core 2 duo overclocked in excess of 3.0 ghz inorder to avoid needing a monsterously high end video card for complex high bandwidth video playback.

That's only for Bluray discs that are insanely high bitrate AVC - for vc1 or normal bitrate AVC a much slower speed is fine. For HD-DVD, a core2 e6300 even at stock speed is capable of playing anything and everything, and even without any graphics acceleration.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by maxleung /forum/post/0


Your current system is hopeless for playing back interlaced 1080i h.264 content (MBAFF encoded).


Bad edits in hidef streams (mpeg2 only as far as I know) are not handled very well by any videocard - or at least not by NVIDIA videocards. DScaler5 w/ IVTC hack is still the best for 24 fps mpeg2 movies however. Your current system should be okay with that.


For the upgrade, I would recommend at LEAST 1 GB of RAM. The E6300 should have no trouble decoding h.264 1080i content. The videocard won't matter as much, but I would recommend a minimum 7600GT card for more flexibility with VMR9 modes. Some people have had success with a 6600GT PCI-E card too - but I don't have much information on that.


All your hardware concerns should be addressed with the equipment you outlined plus my recommended upgrades.


For software playback, many people have had success using Zoomplayer, TheaterTek, Media Player Classic (MPC), and even PowerDVD. However, with an E6300 CPU you can do everything in software for most h.264 movies (CoreAVC being the best for performance). High-bitrate Bluray may be problematic even with GPU acceleration, but so far we haven't seen those yet.


Good luck.


Thanks for the advice.


I can play MPEG2 1080i 1080p stuff no problem with TT and PureVideo, but not the h.264 stuff.


It was recommended to me that I should be able to just use PowerDVD with GPU acceleration and be able to play h.264 stuff. Would this be true? Likely not as you are saying it is hopeless, but just confirming.


Is it true there is no use building a system to play HDDVD or Bluray since I have the Xbox 360 to play those?


Finally, do h.264 files look better than MPEG2 1080i stuff? I know it takes up less space, but does it look better (i.e. does it have a higher bitrate)?
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by arfster /forum/post/0


That's only for Bluray discs that are insanely high bitrate AVC - for vc1 or normal bitrate AVC a much slower speed is fine. For HD-DVD, a core2 e6300 even at stock speed is capable of playing anything and everything, and even without any graphics acceleration.

I dont' need to play HDDVD or Bluray. I just need to be able to play h.264 1080i or 1080p files and mkv files.

What's the minimum hw I need to do that (while trying to leverage my existing hw)?


Does this stuff look better than MPEG2 1080i or 1080p files?
 

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And also remember, the decoders will get better. They'll become more and more efficient. While I believe a E6300 would be fine (overclocked), I'd probably go with a E6600.


I'll be building a new system in a few weeks, and haven't decided on whether to get the E6300 or E6600. But either way, it's going to be water-cooled and overclocked.


What sucks for me is that I want a R600, and they aren't out yet. Guess I'll go with on-board video until it comes out.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by taz291819 /forum/post/0


And also remember, the decoders will get better. They'll become more and more efficient. While I believe a E6300 would be fine (overclocked), I'd probably go with a E6600.


I'll be building a new system in a few weeks, and haven't decided on whether to get the E6300 or E6600. But either way, it's going to be water-cooled and overclocked.


What sucks for me is that I want a R600, and they aren't out yet. Guess I'll go with on-board video until it comes out.

But do I need an E6300? Or is maybe just upgrading my CPU from 2.8 to 3.2 enough to play h.264 1080i or 1080p files (not HDDVD or BluRay) with PowerDVD and GPU assistance with my 6600GT, or the CoreAVC+Haali+MPC combo?
 

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Good question. Most people I know have had good success with the older Athlon X2-3800's. I think some people can do it with 3.2 GHz P4s and GPU acceleration (not many though - hopefully someone with that system can confirm), but if it were me I would upgrade the CPU. GPU acceleration for h.264 still seems flaky to me - you have to be very very careful which videocard you buy for that. A 7300 probably won't have enough juice for h.264 decoding!


But with a recent dual-core processor the videocard won't matter as much - and you won't have to worry as much about stupid driver issues that always crop up when ATI and NVIDIA release new drivers.
I still have issues with incorrect video levels and color saturation whenever I try a new driver for my videocard, even if I don't use h.264 GPU acceleration! Ugh!
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by maxleung /forum/post/0



But with a recent dual-core processor the videocard won't matter as much - and you won't have to worry as much about stupid driver issues that always crop up when ATI and NVIDIA release new drivers.
I still have issues with incorrect video levels and color saturation whenever I try a new driver for my videocard, even if I don't use h.264 GPU acceleration! Ugh!

Will this processor be sufficient?

Intel® Pentium® 4 Processor 531 with HT Technology

Processor internal clock speed:3000MHz

Planar clock speed:800 MHz


I'm thinking no.
 

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to reiterate,

you can now buy a e4300 core 2 duo from newegg for
 

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I see that the e4300 is currently $1 more than the e6300 at Newegg.


Since the e6300 can also reportedly overclock to 3Ghz+ on stock cooling, albeit with more expensive memory, does the faster fsb of the e6300, assuming both chips are overclocked to similar speeds, have any significant advantage for HTPC use?


Also, if an e6600 were running at similar speed, would the extra 2 MB of cache have any significant advantage, for HTPC use, over the other two?
 

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this is a area of great concern, and several really interesting and relevant articles have been written about just what your interested in.


read this:
video playback


and the other mentioned articles.


i am probably misquoting them, but in summary.


the video card and the processor you pick is very important (duh!)

you need a really fast processor and a high end video card to be sure that you can playback complex, high content HD video

for technical reasons that i am not smart enough to understand, the e4300 overclocks better/easier than the e6300 (this is addressed in at least one of thearticles)


warm up the credit card
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by heartsurgeon /forum/post/0


this is a area of great concern, and several really interesting and relevant articles have been written about just what your interested in.


read this:
video playback


and the other mentioned articles.


i am probably misquoting them, but in summary.


the video card and the processor you pick is very important (duh!)

you need a really fast processor and a high end video card to be sure that you can playback complex, high content HD video

for technical reasons that i am not smart enough to understand, the e4300 overclocks better/easier than the e6300 (this is addressed in at least one of thearticles)


warm up the credit card

excellent. however, does this still apply if i have an xbox 360 with addon to play hdvds?


do i still need such a better cpu and video card to play h264 downloaded files?
 

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with HTPC's, i probably would avoid overclocking alltogeather. You might end up with some video corruption here and there, so on and so forth. A STOCK E6600 and some DDR2-667 will playback everything just fine. (no point in getting DDR2-800 with 100% price diffrence for the little gains you get)


As for video card, i'd probably get something DX10, which right now is the 8800 series nvidia cards. They're not cheap, but they'll do damn near everything in hardware.



Your selection of mobo is correct. The Asus is top shelf right now.


The whole point of an HTPC is that it's quiet. old pent D systems are far from that due to the heat they generate (unless you're using some phase changing hardware).


My HTPC is an old athlon 2800+ 2gb DDR400 ram, 2x 120gb, nvidia 6600GT and a 500w antec psu. I can playback high bitrate files no problem and still having it record 2 shows in the background.
It's old stuff, but not underpowered for what you want to do.


It makes you wonder though, these set-top HD-DVD and BlueRay players... do they have 3+ghz decoders in them? I'm gonna guess not (short of the PS3 and Xbox360).
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
I just downloaded and tried CoreAVC on my system (P4 2.8 O/C to 3.02), and with the Haali and MPC in VMR9 I got h.264 files to play and fairly smoothly, although seeking through them is hit and miss.


This will suffice for me right now as I had some h.264 files I wanted to be able to play and this will handle it for now.


As stated, I have an Xbox 360 for the HDDVD media.


I don't think I need to upgrade any hardware right now, other than maybe a CPU upgrade to a P4 3.2Ghz and o/c that, as my CPU sits about 60-70% while playing. CoreAVC is amazing!


I don't know why people are buying these higher end video cards for h.264 playback (other than, of course, for HDDVD).


P.S. I don't need to worry about heat or sound from the fans, as my HTPC resides in a separate room.
 
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