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What to put into a dedicated Theatre computer?

2936 Views 36 Replies 13 Participants Last post by  EvanFriedman
I started t o hook up an old P2 in my theatre equipment room to control my Liteolier Compose whole house lighting control system. Then I started thinking that I should have Windows XP for still photo slide shows. Now I am thinking that I need a DVD drive. I am using DVD Profiler to keep track of my DVD's. I needed to scan a DVD on my private office computer, to get a listing of that particular DVD. I usually simply scan the bar code, but none was on record. So, I thought it would be nice to move the DVD records into the theatre equipment room. That way the titles could be browsed on the screen, as well. The computer will hook up to my Runco scaler directly through a bypass connector. So far, I've got a need for a horizontal case, a P4, a network card, a zip drive, and a DVD drive. Is there a specific display card I sould be looking at? What about using the computer as a DVR? What size hard drive should I install? What software should I look for? Any other cards that would be useful? What is the current sound card of choice? Any other suggestions? I'd appreciate any help.

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Thanks Mike, I would have never thought of that.
I think what Mike was trying to get across is that the questions you asked have been addressed in multiple threads on this forum. It definitely takes a while to do the search for the information that's already been posted, but, at least in my case, the search process has typically ended up being as helpful if not more so than one person's response to your question.

Good luck.
Ya what sangel said. It just seems to me that these questions have been asked dozens of times. The answers are out there to all your questions.
I think this is a valid thread. I too am a member, have been for almost two years, but am just now researching a HTPC. I have a Marquee 8500 coming next week (YEA!!). Up until now my old Zenith wasn't worth using with a HTPC. Perhaps Evan has searched the META FAQ and has done searches in all of this section, as I have, only to get more confused. There are an assortment of recommendations, each one embellished with tech terms I am unfamiliar with. And some of the info may be outdated. For example, this thead's component listing http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showt...threadid=33314 was last updated in January 2002 and the last post was last April.

Thanks much :)

edited to remove some of sarcasm
I have searched the issue on this forum. What I found was assorted mentions of using existing cards and computers. Some people are trying new cards, but there doesn't seem to be follow up. I would like to assemble a computer for home theatre use ONLY. I have no other application in mind.

Sound card: I have a computer with an Audigy card. Some other cards have been mentioned, but I failed to see a clear advantage over what I have already used. There are some discussions about SPDIF vs optical.

Display card: I have heard of some uses for ATI, Matrox, Hercules, and some brands I haven't heard of. I don't have any specific need for playing DVDs, but perhaps if my Proceed PMDT is cranky, it may have some use. Some of the cards mentioned are very old, but perhaps they are fine. Some of the newer ones mentioned are usually brought up due to existing problems. Do I just pick my theoretical guess, or has someone found a great card that I should think about?

DVD drives: I haven't seen anything here at all. Do I assume they are all the same?

Wireless mouse/keyboard: I have seen some mentions of Bluetooth wireless components. That's OK. I even have an old X-10 wireless remote mouse. Big mentions for Logitech and down with Microsoft.

Software: Well there's Zoomplayer. This seems to be mentioned alot. I suppose it's the DVD software choice, or is it?

There are no comprehensive threads that I found. Perhaps, I've missed a few that someone could send me a link for. In fact when I reviewed my search, most of the time this particular thread came up on top. I can search choppy bits and pieces, but nothing that entails the entire device. I know that these questions come up alot. Perhaps because there isn't a direct answer presented anywhere. I don't think there is an "ultimate" set up for everyone, but there must be some common factors that we could all benefit knowing.

That is my motivation for asking the question. Its not that I haven't searched, its that I have.

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Evan, I'll take a stab.

The reason you're finding it hard to get specific recommendations for what to do / use is that there are sooooo many variable out there, not the least of which is people's personal preference, that there really is no right answer. Ask 12 people and you'll probably get 12 different answers.

You'll see reports of one person with a system that has all kinds of trouble countered by a report of a person with a nearly identical system that has flawless playback.

I reread your original post a couple of times and I still wasn't 100% clear on what applications you wanted to run and what their priority was. Giving as clear information as you can helps.

To try and answer your specific questions.....

Sound cards. Lots of people use the M-audio cards and the various flavours of SB. The final choice will depend on how you are going to connect (SPDIF or analog) and whether you care about generatin 5.1 sound via S/W or not.

Video cards. Much like the industry, pretty split between ATI and Nvidia here. Again, each family has a specific set of features so depending on how you are going to connect (DVI, VGA, YPbPr) there are many choices. If you go with the higher end cards from either company there's not much to choose between them.

DVD drives. There are some that have been reported to be problematic but generally speaking there's not much to choose between them. Any of the major brands should be fine. You might want to get a burner if you don't already have one.

Software. Again, this will boil down to personal preference. There was a poll on this a while ago. All of the big ones have trials of some sort.

Hope that helps.
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Evan, Jim, welcome to the HTPC forum. While I do strongly suggest that you spend some time browsing and searching the posts here and at HTPCNews.com I'll be glad to answer any questions I can. One caveat though, I consider myself a newbie so take my advice with that in mind. I have been researching HTPC's for about 3 months so I am at least familiar w/ the lingo and with what is most often recomended.

ATI cards seem to be the most recomended as they have the best TV output, most go for a 9600 non-pro (no loud fan). For HDTV resolutions Powerstrip is a necessity althugh S3 (remember them?) seems to be back from the dead with a new DX9 video card that was designed for HDTV resolutions. It has not been released yet AFAIK and the only review I have seen was of a beta version with buggy drivers. Only time will tell. For those using projectors I think it is not as much of an issue since they usually are designed to be connected to a computer.

There are a few good PVR/DVR apps on the market, most notably Snapstream's BTV and Sage TV. I am going to use Sage since it supports multiple tuner cards and networking. Sage 2.0 has just been released to beta and it looks awesome. Use a HW encoding card such as the Hauppage WinTV PVR 250 instead of a SW card like the TV tuner on the AIW cards.

For an HTPC use at least 2 drives. One for the OS and applications and another for storing TV shows, video, DVD's and music. Format the storage drive w/ 64k blocks. Size depends on $$'s, the bigger the better since video takes a lot of storage space. A number of people here have built dedicated storage servers with RAID volumes in TB+ sizes.

Another popular use for HTPC's is music serving. While they do that particularly well, outputting the sound through a sound card still has a ways to go (IMHO). The M-Audio Revolution 7.1 is popular as is their high-end pro cards. Most pass the sound thruogh S/PDIF to the reciever or pre/pro but that works only for DD, DTS, and CD audio. Windows sounds and game sounds will be absent. (Soundstorm chipsets from Nvidia have the unique ability to encode Windows and game sounds into DD 5.1 streams but do only AMD processors).
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Check out the support forum on myHTPC.net. I learned a lot there. Use vga or dvi out of your video card, svideo and composite look terrible. You dont really need a sound card. A motherboard with spdif out will be just fine hooked up to a DD-DTS reciever. I guess get a hard drive bigger than you ever expect to need.
Another perspective - what to leave OUT... Lots of disk space. Build a second machine to serve as a media server & tuck it away wherever. Run Linux, allocate a bunch of RAM to caching a software RAID5 array, and setup Samba to make the drives accessible via the HTPC. Ripped DVDs, audio files, even PVR'd content can all be stored on this remote media server (which doesn't need to be fast or special - just have lots & lots of disk space.) By remoting the mountains of disk space you'll need, you can keep your HTPC cooler and quieter.
WOW. Lots of great info. Thank you all!!!! :)

I'm a little lost with some of the terminology (spdif, S/W, PVR/DVR) but I'll catch on.

Not to hijack Evan's thread, but the Marquee 8500 I'm getting has BNC input only. While I'm intending to view mostly dvds, I'd like to channel all my components (cable tv, beta, vhs, videodisc, laserdisc, dvd players) currently going to my very old Pioneer receiver which has one RCA video out through a HTPC then out to the Marquee. My computer is a Gateway 700XL with a Dazzle Hollywood Bridge for digitizing old videotapes and camcorder video. The Bridge goes into the Firewire input. My video card is a 128MB DDR ATI Radeon 9700 with TV-Out. And I have a Creative Audigy sound card.

Will I be able to do what I want without a lot of expense? Would it cost a lot to get another system with the hardware needed? Anyone here build HTPCs??

Edited to add "cable tv" to list.
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S/PDIF = Sony/Phillips digital interface. Comes in two varieties - Optical, also known as Toslink and Coaxial, which looks like an RCA stereo jack. It is a method of transfering digital music data between components, e.g. a CD player and a reciever.

S/W = Software

PVR/DVR = Personal Video Recorder/Digital Video Recorder (Think Tivo)

OK, good news is ATI sells a DVI > Component dongle to connect the Radeon to the Marquee but read some posts here for issues with that. I'm not familiar with the dongle.

For the rest, The HTPC will have a DVD drive so no need for a standalone but I would consider archiving the beta, vhs, videodisc, and laserdisc to hard drive, at least in the long term. I'm not aware of any good solutions for connecting those to a PC. Maybe others here can help on that. (I threw away my vhs when I got an HTPC, never had any of the others).
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Some threads you might get some info from. Like jvincent said, if you can tell us what you want to use it for, it'll be easier to get info.

1) Here's one where I discuss my client/server setup. I have 3 other PCs in the house, my HTPCs are ONLY for TV/movie/music usage. This could give you some info as to what s/w does what. http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showt...hreadid=350209

2) How I was going to build my client on the cheap. Anyone can dump big bucks, but that doesn't mean it is going to be a better fit for you. There's a better thread a bit later [somewhere near 10/12/03], but I can't find it. http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showt...hreadid=310039

Not to insinuate that others haven't written great threads, only that I remember my questions & posts the most.

Good luck.
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The other way to get a lot of disk space is to put it on an ieee 1394 bus. I do this on my HTPC. The video is from a satellite feed to a mpeg dvb pci card. There are two 160 G disks on the Ieee 1394 bus. The video streams directly to the disks . When I want to watch it I use a prisimIQ

I was very surprised at how robust the iee 1394 bus is. on a typical night I'm recording a show, strreaming another to the prisimIQ, and copying another to disk BTW the prismiq is on an ethernet line, it uses the ieee 1394 only becaus the video is stored on a disk on an ieee line

Another advantage to this method is the OS never gets out of datte, because there is no OS
See, there is benefit in actually answering people's questions with other than the "use the search" response :) For exactly the reason some have mentioned that there are no definitive answers because there are so many variables and personal preference, is exactly why NOT to use the search. The search is good for looking for specific information (like searching for "RADEON" to find ATI specific information). But searching is not that helpful when you're looking for "fuzzy" information -- like people's preferences and their decision making reasoning. I know I make a lot of my decisions based on opinions - not just statements. I like to read threads where people explain their decisions - especially those that go against what the majority is choosing. And people's (and the group as a whole) opinion changes over time, so reading about a post that was made 3 months ago, really doesn't give the current state of the HTPC arena.

I'm all for using the search, but sometimes it leaves you with more questions than answers - especially when you're looking for general information.
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Jim in Cincy- On a Marquee, you're far better off with a VGA to RGBHV (5 BNCs) breakout cable. A really long one is going to be expensive, but you can get a short one and use BNC extension cables. (Easily DIY'd.)

For all your STBs (Set Top Boxes), I'd suggest the PDI Deluxe card from PMS . The PDI Deluxe is a capture card- you connect analog components to its inputs, and it captures the signals (brings them into the HTPC and converts them to a digital signal.) From there, you can deinterlace them (convert them from 480i to 480p) using Dscaler and sharpen/resize (using ffdshow) if desired for the best possible PQ (picture quality). This card has 2 S-video inputs (either of which can be used as 2 composite inputs with the correct adapter) and a component video input (which can also be used as 3 composite inputs) - you should be able to hook up all other components- beta, vhs, videodisc and laserdisc. (You have videodisc AND laserdisc??? Are you referring to the old RCA videodiscs that briefly competed with the laserdisc format in the late 70s/early 80s? I didn't know ANYONE still had any of those...) Skip the DVD player, though; sleonard is right - you'll want to use your HTPC for playing DVDs. If you buy the PDI deluxe, you should consider the PDI Deluxe + XCard combo as it will get you the best possible DVD playback - pure digital from the DVD to the video card (with deinterlacing and sharpening/processing/scaling all done in the digital domain; no conversion to analog until you're ready to send it out to the Marquee.
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Some quick IMHOs:

DVD drive....most are created equal, but some are more equal than others...I prefer DVD/CD-RW combos currently....good price performance ratio. I have a Memorex DVD/CD-RW combo drive which works flawlessly and is quiet for DVD playback.

I suggest a minimum of 2.4 GHz P4, 256MB RAM and as much hard drive space as you can afford. I currently run 1 120GB drive and 2 160GB drives, plus a firewire external device which has another 480GB. Hard drive space is desired for ripping DVDs to the hard drive, and recording/ playback/storage of HDTV files, which consumes ~8GB per hour. Faster processors are desired for Windows Media HD and post processing of DVD files, which can enhance the DVD viewing experience.

Most members here prefer Radeon cards for best media playback picture quality, although from recent readings, nvidia may be making inroads to improving their HTPC use as well.

You'll need a SW DVD player, the usual give-aways work fairly well and are pretty similar in performance, although you might find alternatives in Theatertek and Zoom Player, check their respective sites. I've been a long time TheaterTek user and find it perfect for my needs.

Sound cards: I prefer the M-Audio line again because of price/performance ratio, check the REVO or DELTA lines. There are lots of choices and lots of opinions in this department, a little research will go a long way.

Depending on your display device, you may need Powerstrip to configure the correct timings to connect your PC. If your display device accepts standard PC resolutions, you may not need it.

If ATSC HDTV is available to you, you might want to comsider an HDTV capture card, MyHD MDP-120 seems to be the card of choice right now.

You may need SW to defeat Macrovision on DVDs, I prefer DVD Region Free.

I don't do PVR, but again, there is plenty of info out there.

Hope this helps you get pointed in the right direction.
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I'm looking at putting everything together in a horizontal case that will easily fit on my equipment wire rack shelving. So far, I've come up with a P4 3.0 GHz. with 1Gig memory; 120 Gig HD; DVD drive; 7 in one media reader/ floppy drive, network card, Zip drive (it's a long story), ATI all in wonder 9700 with remote, as the 9800 is too much money ($580.00 CDN), Sound Blaster Audigy 2, Windows XP Pro (or the new Media XP if it seems better, but I don't see that now).

My immediate use is simply to program my lighting system, allow digital photo slide shows on my projector, play the odd DVD/DVD-R/DVD-RW/CD-R/CD-RW. My Proceed DVD Transport will play the majority of DVDs in my system.

I have yet to begin my voyage of discovery for applications. I hope that I won't find out that the system will be lacking in some area. I hate having to upgrade shortly after building a system.

Does anyone see any possible shortcomings with this package? I would cough up for the 9800 if there seems to be some future use that I haven't considered that the 9700 couldn't accomplish. Am I missing anything?

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Originally posted by EvanFriedman
Does anyone see any possible shortcomings with this package?
The Audigy cards resample any signal below 48KHz to 48KHz. This means you're fine with DVDs, but for audio CDs, there are issues. Some people can't hear the effects of the resampling. Others can (and find it unacceptable.) For this issue, it comes down to (A) How good is your audio gear? If you're an audiophile who has spent a fair amount of money on good quality gear, you're much more likely to be effected. (B) How demanding are you WRT audio performance? and (C) How much time do you spend listening to 44.1KHz sources (audio CDs)?
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