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Advice: Building an HTPC

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May 12, 2006 10:58:59 AM

I’ve been thinking about building a HTPC system, but the more research I do the more questions I have. I’m posting this in hopes that I can get some recommendations, suggestions, and ideas from other members of this forum.

Primarily I would like to use the HTPC to play DVD’s, record and playback TV, store and playback MP3’s, play streaming internet music and video. Secondly I do like to play games, but don’t consider myself a hardcore graphics gamer (no first person shooter, think GalacticCiv 2, Rise of Nations, Neverwinter Nights)

Here is what I’ve come up with so far. Your comments are much appreciated.

Case: Thermaltake Bach VB8001BNS
I like the black case, but am not sure about the noise the case generates.

Power Supply: Anything quiet and powerful enough to support configuration, I’m guessing that I would need at least 500W. Any recommendations?

Motherboard: Either the ASUS A8N32-SLI Deluxe or A8N-SLI Premium
Mainly chosen for ASUS’s cool and Quiet Technology. Anyone with first hand experience with these motherboards? I’ve never really cared about the noise level before, so I have no experience in building a PC with noise level in mind.

CPU: Athlon 64 3700

RAM: 2 GB, could I get away with 1GB?

DVD Drive: not speced yet, but a DVD-RW

Storage: 250-300 GB SATA Drive.
Does anyone reading this have experience with using a RAID setup on a HTPC? I would hate to loose all my MP3’s and videos to a HD crash.

Graphics Card: ??? A relatively new nVidia PCIe card with 256MB RAM
I know there are many options for this component; I’m guessing that a graphics card using nVidia chip sets will be more stable when used with a MB with nVidia chipset?

Personal Video Recorder Card: Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-500 MCE
This is where I have more doubt. Do I use the MCE version of the Hauppauge card, and then use Windows MCE, and a separate MPEG decoder card, or do I use a non-MCE card with the MPEG decoder built in using XP Pro OS? What additional software will I need on an XP Pro system to provide the functionality I listed above?

Sounds Card: Need advice

LAN: Most likely use an 802.11g wireless LAN card to connect to home network.

Additional Concerns:
What is the maximum distance the video output signal can travel from the PC to the TV?
What are my options regarding audio output? Will I need to send the sound card outputs into an amplifier to boost the signal to provide audio to speakers throughout the house?

Is there anything I failed to consider?

Thanks for your time.

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May 12, 2006 7:57:52 PM

Wow that's a lot to absorb. Since noone else commented yet I will give it a go. Looks like you are off to a great start, let me offer some recommendations / comments:

-if the fan noise is unbearable (more likely yes than no), get a ZALMAN FAN MATE 2 Fan Controller and a 3-pin y-adapter should help slow down the rpm's on the 60mm fans.

-Either of these PSUs should have no problem handling your power requirements (A 120mm fan is a must for a quiet HTPC):

SPI ATX-400PN-B204 $41 shipped
XClio 450BL at $47 shipped
Antec TPII 480 $75 shipped
Antec TPII-550 a steal at $80 shipped.

The SPI is a 400w rated unit that approaches / surpasses performance of most 450w units. The xclio I have not used, but am cuious about since it seems to be well recieved and has good reviews / ratings. The TPII antecs seem to have great price / performance, a bit overkill for your setup but nontheless good deals.

-Ditch the SLI mobos that have a northbridge fan and get a fanless board like ASRock 939Dual-SATA2 Socket 939 ULi M1695 which is well suited for HTPC since it is fanless heatsink, performs great w/ PCI-E and is full ATX so you have room for your sound card / capture card. Did I mention it was cheap? $72 shipped.

-the 3700 will be fine, but since you are considering a dual-tuner maybe an X2 will be in order so you can record one show, record / playback a show and run a dvd-backup all at the same time and the cost difference is only about $60 nowadays.

-1gb should be fine for light gaming / htpc.

-For raid setup if you are worried about disk failure get two of the same disks (like 2 x 300gb) and set up a raid 1 mirror in the raid firmware - you have to hit a key after post to enter configuration, add the two disk "physical partitions" and create a single mirrored "logical volume" which should be described in the manual. You will also need to install the windows driver on initial installation with "F6" and a driver floppy (which you make with the mobo cd driver disk)

-GPU - check out the HIS Hightech H160PRQ256N Radeon X1600PRO 256MB 128-bit which is both quiet and exhausts the air out the back to help case cooling a bit. It also has tv-out as well w/ both component HDTV & svhs output pigtails.
The Arctic Cooling "NV Silencer" aftermarket coolers are great for nvidia cards that perform identical to HIS brand, if you don't mind a bit of work to install.
There are fanless cards, are really quiet, but heat buildup makes me worry!

-the PVR-500 MCE is not a bad choice, since most GPUs can perform this and you have a very high-power CPU for software decoding mpeg decoding is practically a non-issue. GB-PVR is one of a few free PVR programs that can use the Hauppauge PVR series cards and works really well, and as a bonus GBPVR works with the Media MPV for remote PVR access over a network. See "Building a PVR in 3 Or So Steps for About $200" from byopvr's articles for an example. The dual-tuner / capture capability is nice to have in a single card, even if you don't use it right away you can add a second tuner in the future for recording / viewing seperate channels at the same time.

- sound: since gaming is not a priority the Turtle Beach TBS-3300-01 7.1 Channels 24-bit 96KHz Montego DDL for $85 is nice for good sound, SPDIF in/out optical connectors on the rear of the card is nice since most newer surround sound receivers have optical inputs.

Video signal: not sure, I use 10' max for longer cables that need to be routed along the side rails of my entertainment center, but only have NTSC :cry:  so 3', 6' and 10' runs. I do use a 20' run from my laptop in case my media player is flakey and can't play the media (old dvdrom drive)

for audio input, depends on what you have to connect to, most receivers have coax or optical for digital audio i/o and NTSC/SVHS/component for video i/o, like this jvc

so you are covered with the sound card and that video card above.

For multi-room audio, man that is a good one. You can get some ideas from crutchfield's "Multi-room Audio" links but a cheaper way may be to get a small, quiet networked PC with decent speakers and put it on wireless to access a network share, for PVR network function I know mythtv under linux can do that and for windows sagetv has the placeshifter and Beyond TV can do it with their "link" addon. GB-PVR unfortunately does not have that option *yet* only w/ the MediaMPV... All those options add up quick for the commercial products!

Well I hope I was able to give you some ideas.
8)
May 12, 2006 8:31:57 PM

I'm looking into this too.

Quote:
This is where I have more doubt. Do I use the MCE version of the Hauppauge card, and then use Windows MCE, and a separate MPEG decoder card, or do I use a non-MCE card with the MPEG decoder built in using XP Pro OS?


You can use a non-MCE card on MCE. Same OS, few extra things.

I looked at GB-PVR and it looks like it'll get the job done if running on XP Pro.

If you can afford it, go for a Core Duo machine. Little expensive for the setup, but they hardly need any cooling and are powerful.

I'm planning to get a Silverstone Media Center case since they make some of the best. Plan to do the LC10M with 4 hard drives. One for the OS and then probably 3 250-300GB drives in a RAID5 so I don't have to worry about loosing data.

I plan to probably get an ATI All in Wonder video card. Maybe the X1900AIW if it'll fit.

I also do plan to have about a 2TB network share (one day) attached over the network to hold even more video. I don't trust wireless though for streaming TV. Can be to easily interupted and doesn't really have the bandwidth yet for HD content.

Of course I might just stick with my hacked Xbox. Can stream video over the network with it just fine and it supports 1080i with component cables so hey. Just thinking I might want to play games on the T.V. at some point.
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May 12, 2006 8:44:14 PM

Unless you have money to waste, I would recommend getting a lower model athlon64 cpu, say the 3000 or 3200. Even with dual tuners, a 3700 is way overkill. You won't notice a difference in recording or playing back tv when using one of the lower model athlon 64s. As doolittle said, one GB of RAM should serve just fine.

I'm going to use an intel 2.8 Ghz chip alongside a dual tuner card when I build my HTPC.
May 12, 2006 8:53:25 PM

Here goes, mine started out as a project because I got my hands on a few good deals including WMCE 2005. The HTPC consists of this, and I will throw in what all is used and how it works if you are interested. Its nice to get opinions and viewpoints of someone elses experiences.

Windows MCE2005
P4 3.0ghz w/hyperthreading 1 MB cache socket 478
ECS P800CE ATX Mobo
1 Gig Mushkin level 1 Black
2 x WD 120GB in Raid 0
1 WD 320 all drives are SATA this one stores all TV,Music,DVD’s, videos, etc..
Thermaltake Mystic HTPC case. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E1681...
Ultra x-finity 500 watt PSU
BFG 6800GT OC AGP
EVGA single TV tuner PCI
TDK DVD-R+R burner
Turtle Beach USB SPDIF adapter.
Microsoft Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.

The whole thing is cooled by a Corsair Hydrocool external watercooling system with Koolance GPU & CPU blocks. I made the hoses a little longer than normal so I could move the pump/fan/ radiator away from all the other components. Basically so I cant hear it.

The whole system is hooked up to my Aiwa 600w Dolby and DTS Home theater system with 10” powered sub. And an Akai 42” Plasma HDTV via DVI cable (12ft long you can go much longer, I have seen 100ft DVI but they are very very expensive) to my video card and fiber optic cable to my receiver. I also have DirecTV satellite.

I must say I now cannot live without this thing! I have been working on it for quite some time. And I think I am finished with it. I may add more HHD space as needed but it picks up the slack for my DVR’s upstairs. Here is what I do with mine.

1. Rip DVD’s to HHD using DVD Shrink – works great!! No loading DVD’s individually :D 
2. trailers and gaming movies, anime, home movies – all in video folder along with DVD rips MCE controlled.
3. All pictures, make nice slideshows or screensavers of all of your pictures – MCE controlled.
4. Record all my favorite shows with very few clicks of the remote, you can record an entire season with about 3 button pushes – MCE
5. Music! Play all my MP3’s etc…
6. I even play some games when I feel lazy and want to lay in the LoveSac or kick back on the couch, it runs pretty much everything.

I have LAN parties in my basement with my friends about every month so this is an added bonus because it does everything, I share the video folder and people just upload videos from the internet to my folder and we all kick back and watch whatever, the party never ends!

There are 3 fans in my HTPC not including the PSU which has a 120mm in it ( a must)
It is dead silent. 1 Gig of ram works fine in this setup. I have no complaints.

I would go for the Hauppauge cards ( you will get what you need for DVR functionality with this card) or something other than the EVGA, the picture quality is not the best. If you do I highly recommend buying Nvidia GPU’s because of all the cool features in their Pure Video codec’s I love them. Makes setting up your audio easier as well.

I use the onboard audio with the Turtle beach USB adapter and OMG it sounds great and was only 29 bucks. Cheap fix for optical, the onboard SPDOIF on my Mobo was DOA that’s why I went this route, the creative cards were expensive and no optical outs on the back of the pci card.

My router is very close to my entertainment center so I just chose to do without a wireless card, but would eliminate 1 more cable. And I game on it and wireless is not ideal.

Sorry to ramble but I love mine and I hope you enjoy yours, I know you will though!
May 15, 2006 12:52:06 PM

I just wanted to say thanks for all your helpful advice. Looks like I'll have to rethink my plans and incorporate your suggestions.

Cheers!
!