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Is this HTPC build a pipedream?

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February 28, 2007 9:45:00 PM

I just recently bought a nice big lcd hdtv. I'd like to build a HTPC that'll play/burn dvd's and, more importantly, record tv shows (in HD and non-HD). I don't intend to do any gaming on this at all. Basically, I'd like to limit it to playing/recording/burning/standard HTPC stuff, and be able to occasionally surf the web and check emails and do basic office stuff.

I also would like to be able to watch one channel while recording another one. If that means two tuner cards or one card w/ dual tuners, I want whatever works best. I'd also like to be able to record HD content (from at least one if not both tuners...if it's possible). If I don't need to, then I don't intend to overclock.

Also, if it's possible, I'd want to network it to the other computers so I can remotely watch what's recorded on the HTPC on a pc in another room. I don't have any spare parts to cannibalize, this build would be from the ground up from scratch. Suggestions on an OS would be great too.

I get digital cable (Time Warner) with the HDTV package.

My budget on this is in the $500 - $800 ballpark, maybe $1000 if necessary. (at this time it's too expensive for me to consider blu-ray or HD-dvd...or is it?).

Hopefully there's enough background info here for your (infinitely bigger) brains to munch on. I've read a few guides, but I'm really interested in the real world (not lab) experiences this forum has. Any and all suggestions are greatly appreciated and I look forward to reading them. Thanks!

More about : htpc build pipedream

February 28, 2007 10:08:04 PM

You could put a machine together for around less than a $1000, probably between $800 and $900, with an AMD AM2 X2 dual core 3800

MOBO http://www.newegg.com/product/product.asp?item=N82E1681...
CPU http://www.newegg.com/product/product.asp?item=N82E1681...
This Antec is a nice case, quiet and a good PSU http://www.newegg.com/product/product.asp?item=N82E1681...
This Rosewell would save you about $30
http://www.newegg.com/product/product.asp?item=N82E1681...

You should get a 60GB to 80GB for your OS/Programs and a 320GB for storage, video files repquire a lot of storage. At least 1 GB or RAM preferably 2. You can get a good DVD burner for $30 and a FLoppy for $8. You can get by with an inexpensive video card, maybe a 7300GT and an ATI, no really familiar with ATI Don't really know about tuner cards but checking out newegg would be a good way to see what will fit into your budget. A wireless router and wireless card for a PC would be about $80, PC cards are about $40 maybe less. Never tried playing music or video over a network so don't know how well that works.
February 28, 2007 10:21:16 PM

I agree with g-paw on all elements except for Storage, HD recordings before they are compressed are huge 8-10 gb /hour from the tv cards ive seen anyway, so i recomend getting huge storage and a very good cpu to encode to HD Divx. 500gb is more what i believe you will need, that athlon is plenty for encoding divx.
Related resources
February 28, 2007 10:33:20 PM

Quote:
I agree with g-paw on all elements except for Storage, HD recordings before they are compressed are huge 8-10 gb /hour from the tv cards ive seen anyway, so i recomend getting huge storage and a very good cpu to encode to HD Divx. 500gb is more what i believe you will need, that athlon is plenty for encoding divx.


I agree but I was trying to stay within budget. For a bit north of $1000 I'd go with the Intel dual core 6400 and 2 GB of RAM but I think if you're trying stay much under $900 your best bet is the X2 3800. Never looked at 500 GB hdd so don't know how they're priced but 350GB should be a start give the budget.
February 28, 2007 10:36:50 PM

I am looking to build the same type of system. Basic system does not change. I would get 2 DVD-burners. Maybe with light scribe if you care about the titles. More HDD is much better, 1 for OS aqnd 1 or more for data.
For the rest try this site Snap Stream looks at the Haugphage TV tuner and the software choices. You should find the answers. You might also want XP MCE aand a free upgrade to Vista MCE.
February 28, 2007 10:57:49 PM

G-paw and Yay, thanks for the quick replies. Now at least I have a place to start from.

Any suggestions (from anyone) on decent/reliable tuner cards? What experience have people had with the tuner software re: ease of use for recording/playing content? And would MS MCE be the best OS for this?

Thanks again for the quick responses.
February 28, 2007 11:01:01 PM

Hey, thanks alcattle, you must have posted while I was replying to the other posts.

One other general thing, I'd also like this HTPC to be as quiet as reasonably possible w/o breaking the bank. I've seen sound absorbing foam that can be placed in the case panels to muffle sound...is it any good? or even necessary?

Would the sound foam make it too hot for the hardware?

I realize I've asked a ton of questions... but I'd like to do this right b/c I don't have extra cash-money to carelessly toss about.

If I have multiple storage harddrives, do they all have to be the same size? *should* they all be the same size? or can I mix and match?

Thanks!
February 28, 2007 11:35:17 PM

Your biggest issue will be capturing HD channels from a digital cabl box in full resolution. iif you have to link in through s-video or something the resolution will likely be compromised vs. firewrie link or other high speed link that some boxes are able to use.

1 hour HDTV 1080i will run 4-8GB, so if you want to archive stuff you may want a large set of diskd. plan on that.

Second, the whole capturing thing - your digital cable will most likely not work with a PC tuner unless some new development has occurred recently - I think cable card is stil a bit of a pipe dream at this point in terms of adoption. - don't quote me on this just the last i heard it was only going to be allowed in oem systems or something -

You need to find out if you can transfer undegraded viseo from your cable box to your PC. my motorola 6412 through Shaw cable in Canada allows me to transfer full 1080i or 720p through the firewire port as they do not disable it here - I've heard some cable firmms do but can not independantly confirm that. a search of the AVSforum website will list a lot of information for capturing from a cable/satellite box to a TV where it is possible, and I would search there for your particlar box to see if there is a driver to alolw wndows to see it and capture video off of it.

when I capture video from my HD-PVR DCT terminal, it is in real time - I can not just transfer a recorded file from one to the other (not relevant if your box is non-pvr).

On the hardware front I went with an amd setup x2 3800+ and the horsepower is enough for all playback of hdtv content no issues with a 6600gt graphics card.

If I did it over i would do a low end core 2 duo as the nvidia 590 raid setup is horrible fo write performance a apparently te ICH8 fron intel hauls ass. I wait for files to be stored from other computers for a long time, but it is fast enough to encode in real time. But CPU wise the 3800+ x2 is enough for home theater use at this point.

If you are going to archive you will want a redundant array - or risk losing hours and hours and hours of recorded data. I went raid 5 as I felt that it offered fault tolerance of loss of a whole disk with the highest ratio of storage space to parity space as compared to simple mirroring. this kept costs down as I run a 1.45 TB array with 6x 320GB drives in the main machine. If you are just going to record, view, delete - hell go raid 0 or single disk, unless you are going to do a lot of editing then go raid 0 i'd guess ( i don't use this particular machine for edits i leave that to a slower cpu 3200+ with dual raptors on it then transfer it back to the theater server).

Okay I rambled farther than i thought i would. bottom line decide if you NEED to get your digital cable to the PC somehow, problem solve that as it will be the biggest hurdle, then set the rest up either for archiving (more storage and redundancy) or simple playback (less storage but maybe raid 0 for speed though i am unsure if you would even need that).

And have fun.
March 1, 2007 4:25:36 AM

HDD's do not have to be the same size, although raid is a different story.

Keep with a single 120 or somthing for OS's drive. But you will need alot more for the actual recording.

OS: I recomend windows xp with "media portal" installed, i have used MCE and i cant tell the difference between this open source project and MCE. At least have a look. also it doesnt require a dedicated pc, but performs great from what i have used.

Dont know about foam but there are plenty of cases out there wich are quiet, anything from antecs series should do the job, remember fewer bigger fans eg 12 cm are quiter than 4 8cm fans.

I do believe i saw an article with a few plugs wich were rather expensive but worked with recording cable HDTV, never though of bookmarking.
March 1, 2007 11:22:42 AM

As a follow up to hdtvguy, you should be sure to get a mobo with onboard firewire. Almost all the new mobo come with at most 3 PCI slots and you'll be using at least one for the tuner card, possibly one for a wireless card, and maybe the 3rd for a sound card. The problem I've found is that most boards with onboard firewire also come with SLI, which you won't need, making the boards a bit more expensive. On the other hand, given the limited number of PCI slots this extra cost is pretty much unavoidable.
March 1, 2007 12:03:52 PM

Quote:
If I have multiple storage harddrives, do they all have to be the same size? *should* they all be the same size? or can I mix and match?
You've got some folks giving you some good advice ^^^, although I didn't see a couple of your quesitons answered, I believe. If you have a raid array of different sized disks, it will format using the smallest size. So what the other posters are saying is run your OS from one small disk, but make sure your raid array is composed of all the same size, or you'll waste space.
edit: Also beware, I would imagine hdtvguy is running his raid from an add-in card, because RAID 5 really is illusory if it is mb or software driven --neither one of those will be able to rebuild the array if it fails. RAID 10 (1+0) is the only one that will save you, in the event of a failure from a mb driven array.

Regarding the noise: The two biggest factors with noise are your fans and the hard drives. The size fans you use will depend on the case chosen. Most "desktop" style media cases won't take 120mm fans, or a huge cpu HSF, like the Tuniq Tower. High quality, low noise fans, regardless of size, are needed, and keeping your internal temps down (good airflow) will reduce their need to kick in. Use Western Digital WhisperQuiet hard drives. They are very quiet. If you use a Raptor for your OS, expect more noise from it. The other issue from hard drives is "strumming" -- resonant frequency hum caused by hard drive vibration. Consequently, again, the type of case you choose, and how the hard drives are mounted, will affect this. Sound deadening panels can help, but only if you have room, which most HTPC cases do not.

TV Tuner recommendation: If you are not going to be capturing HD content over-the-air (OTA), then I would recommend a good analog card with two tuners, running from the pci-e slot, which is faster because it has a dedicated bandwidth. This one currently has the highest picture quality in the "under $200 range:

http://www.vistaview.tv/index.php?option=com_frontpage&...

If you want HD capture capabilities, this is a very good HD card:

http://www.fusionhdtv.co.kr/ENG/products/

As one of the other posters said, internal HD cards, like TIVO, are in the domain of the broadcast companies. If and when they become available, you'll probably have to rent them from the "cable guy."
March 1, 2007 12:21:39 PM

Forgot to mention in my previous post that the Antec Sonata II is a pretty quiet case with a 120mm fan and the hdds sit on rubber washers. Also to reduce noise you could get a mobo with passive cooling, i.e., no fan. If your budget becomes a problem, I suggest getting a good case and mobo and if necessary 1GB of RAM upgrading as soon as you can afford it wiwth another GIG and a single core CPU with plans for upgrading to a better dual core in 6 months or so when you can afford it. Nice to get everything at one time but if you're looking at something more high end, upgrades are the way to go. This is one of the advantages of building your own machine.
March 1, 2007 12:51:15 PM

why not wait untill the ATI 690G chipset is released then you can have HDCP/ HDMI built into the motherboard and not have to drop 150 on a Video card and you have reduced noise due to no video card fan.

Its gonna be huge for the HTPC sector.
March 1, 2007 2:05:35 PM

Quote:
I also would like to be able to watch one channel while recording another one. If that means two tuner cards or one card w/ dual tuners, I want whatever works best.


Even with 2 tuners, there is no software/hardware combo that I know of that will allow you to watch TV in one window while recording a 2nd program in another. Of all the PVR software I've used, the tv program has to be running in order for it to record and there is no way to have two tv windows open without causing conflicts with either the software itself or with the video codec/driver. I think the best you can do is probably a dual tuner card or two seperate tuner cards and PVR software that allows for picture in picture, and even then the question would still be if the software allows to record one picture with while watching the other. Now, you can record with the HTPC and then switch back to viewing tv as you normally would and watch whatever you want; with this setup, the HTPC and TV would act independently with the HTPC essentially acting as a "VCR".

Now, hooking your HTPC up to the Time Warner cable box is another story altogether. If you just run the cable coax into the tuner card, you will only get the channels the tuner card itself is able to decode, typically 125 for analog or however many HD channels Time Warner offers. Typically with this setup, you cannot recrod all the channels that you can view thru the cable box simply because you have run the coax to the TV tuner card and are not decoding the cable signal with Time Warner's box. So, depending on which Time Warner cable box you have, specifically if it offers video out, you can run the video out of the cable box into the tuner card and use the PVR software to switch inputs from the tuner to an "aux" or "s-video in" or however the PVR software you choose is setup. The caveat with this is you are now controlling/channeling whatever you are watching on the HTPC and PVR software with the Time warner cable box and will only be able to watch just that channel on both the HTPC and regular tv and record only that channel on the HTPC, this is simply because you are now decoding the cable signal thru the Time Warner box and video outing it to both the HTPC and tv.

Another way to get around it all is to pay Time Warner for a 2nd digital cable box and hook it up solely and specifically to your HTPC then you can watch record whatever on the HTPC and watch whatever on the TV as the signals will not be shared and seperate/independent of each other.

To do what you want with just one cable box or using just a tuner or dual tuner card is the silver bullet and every HTPC owners dream! It is also exactly what the cable and broadcast companies do not want to happen unless they can market and profit from it. Can you say DRM? Can you say licensing and intellectual property?

Getting a 2nd digital cable box is probably the best/easiest way to do what you want.

Good luck!

*Edited for grammar and spelling*
March 1, 2007 4:47:36 PM

Thanks for all the really great replies. They've given me quite a bit to think about. For the most part, the guides that I've read don't go into great detail about the "why's" of what hw or sw they used, but only the "how's." All your feedback is really appreciated.

There's no immediacy to this build, but like all other things, I'd like to build it sooner rather than later.

I will have a second digital cable box in another room, hooked up to a regular tube non-hd tv. But if I hook the HTPC up to that tv/cable box, I think that defeats my purpose for having the HTPC to begin with. I know TiVo has dual channel recording, and I realize there is proprietary sw and licensing and all that stuff that allows TiVo to do that, I just think it'd be more fun to create that on my own, not have to pay monthly fees, to upgrade as I need/want, and to just have the personal satisfaction of having done it myself (with the help of everyone here, of course).

Maybe I'll build a basic HTPC for that other tv/cable box first to get experience. Then I'll try for the homerun for the newly purchased tv.

Are there any other suggestions to add to g-paw's earlier list of recommended equipment for a decent basic HTPC?

Thanks again for all the feedback!
March 1, 2007 6:04:00 PM

There are wireless receivers that connect to a TV or home theater receiver that connect to a wireless network. I don't know if they broadcast back to a computer or if they do HD but would be worth investigating. I think building a good PC now while looking further into how to do what you want is a good idea as well as the fact you are approaching this as a hobby project. From what I've read, and I have not been doing a lot of research recently (no money :(  ), we have technologically a way to go before a computer can be used as a primary source of video and a lot of the current solutions are still expensive. This to me means it's best approached as a hobby, something you do when you have the time and extra money
March 1, 2007 6:28:01 PM

Quote:
Even with 2 tuners, there is no software/hardware combo that I know of that will allow you to watch TV in one window while recording a 2nd program in another
Actually, the card I recommended allows you to do just that. I do.
March 1, 2007 6:31:01 PM

Quote:
why not wait untill the ATI 690G chipset is released then you can have HDCP/ HDMI built into the motherboard and not have to drop 150 on a Video card and you have reduced noise due to no video card fan.

Its gonna be huge for the HTPC sector.
Interestingly enough, this board just got released, and comes pretty close to doing of what you speak:

http://www.pcper.com/article.php?aid=370&type=expert&pi...
March 1, 2007 7:48:33 PM

Quote:
Even with 2 tuners, there is no software/hardware combo that I know of that will allow you to watch TV in one window while recording a 2nd program in another
Actually, the card I recommended allows you to do just that. I do.

Well how about that. Nice find. Thanks!
!