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Questions about HTPC/Media PC

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September 12, 2007 2:15:54 PM

I've been curious for a while about HTPC's and media PC's and such... from what I gather it's one that you use to watch videos/tv with?

I'd like it if someone could explain that more to me.

Also, I've wanted to build for a while now a computer for watching movies on my 32" Plasma TV, but didn't know how to go about it, or whatever..

So if someone culd enlighten me that'd be great.

Thanks in advance.

More about : questions htpc media

September 12, 2007 4:50:47 PM

I think I'm more confused now than I was before.

All different kinds of cards, and onboard video, HDMI, 1080P, encoding, decoding, all this business... what a mess.

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September 12, 2007 5:18:32 PM

Start with what you want to do and go from there, do you want to record & watch tv? Then you'll need a tv card, and a big hard drive. Want 1080p resolution, or to play games on it? You'll probably want a fairly new video card. I would recommend looking for quiet and fanless parts where ever possible. If you just want to watch movies and don't care about performance, a single core-1 gig of ram system will do fine. Want to do HDTV with it - you'll need higher end parts....
September 12, 2007 5:29:53 PM

Just don't get discouraged - that article makes it all seem way more complicated than it really is. In fact most plain jane PC's will display beautiful 720p (1280x720) resolution on your tv - either thru a vga plug on the tv, or with a cable that converts DVI on your PC to HDMI into the tv. I use XP pro, a Hauppage PVR150 card (with their software), PC surround speaker set and a plain old ATi video card to my Toshiba 42" LCD.
a b x TV
September 12, 2007 5:39:32 PM

I just finished my HTPC build and I'm fairly happy with it. Yes, it's primarily used as a media (DVD, MP3, File) player. Adding in a TV Tuner Card allows you to also watch TV.

The components for my build:
Case: NMediaPC 200BA
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-965GM-S2
Memory: 4x512 Meg DDR2-667
Processor: Intel Core2Duo E6600
Graphics card: ATI HD2600 Pro
TV Tuner: AVerMedia AVerTVHD MCE A180
Sound Card: Auzentech XPlosion 7.1
Hard Drives: 80 Gig OS/Application Drive
500 Gig Media Drive
OS: Windows XP Media Center Edition

Other Components:
Windows MCE Remote
Windows MCE Keyboard
BenQ MP610 Projector (native resolution 1024x768)
2.1 Computer Speakers

Future Components:
Large 720p/1080i LCD TV (37" - 47")
Surround Sound Receiver w/ multiple Audio outputs and Digital Audio Input.

The purpose of this rig is to watch DVDs, listen to music and encode my media library. The components I have are probably overkill for what I need it to do.

-Wolf sends
September 12, 2007 7:31:45 PM

My office area is right behind 'family room' in the basement and I just converted my main pc into a dual role pc/htpc.

EVGA 680i mb
e6400
2*1 gb ddr2-800
ati hd2600 pro
xbox 360 hd-dvd rom
twinhan sat card
xp pro with a patch to allow my mce wireless keyboard to work
gonna also try vista and see how that goes

Works great - for in the office, video one goes to my monitor and and my computer surround speakers are plugged into the analog connectors on the mobo.

Second video out on the 2600 goes to my a/v process or (outlaw 990) along with a digital audio connection. Feeds my 52" toshiba dlp tv and 7.1 surround system very nicely.

If you are wanting to do HD-DVD/Blue Ray playback I found that I either needed to go to something in the ATI 2600 (2400 would likely do as well) or the nvidia 8600 like cards when I first started with an amd 64 x2 3800+ with an ATI 1650 or Nvidia 7900 video card as the cpu had to do all the work and the 3800+ could not keep up (hddvd would pause, skip and/or just die). The e6400 with the 1650/7900 worked okay (cpu useage was still substantial though) but with the e6400 and the 2600pro someone can be watching an hd-dvd while I work on the computer without a problem....

September 12, 2007 10:14:51 PM

So if I had a 32" Samsung Plasma LCD, and built a system like this:

GA P35 DS3L
Intel E4400
EVGA 8600GT
1GB DDR2800 RAM
Thermaltake 430w PSU
WD 250GB HDD
Sony NEC Optiarc 18x DVD Burner (SATA)

Case??

Would that play dvd's on the tv well enough? I don't have cable, and if I did get it I don't really foresee myself getting HD TV package with it, because I don't really watch TV... just movies.

Also... would it work to play like AVI files if I downloaded a video from a friend or something? (You know... friend... torrent... it's all the same)

I hear so much about encoding and decoding but I don't understand what it means, can someone help me out with that info?

Not too worried again about HD, and also not really worried about Blue-Ray... just want to be able to watch DVD's / videos with it and maybe play some music now and then.

Thanks for the advice and such thusfar, and thanks for any additional information you can offer.
a b x TV
September 13, 2007 12:29:44 AM

Oh yeah. That rig will play just about anything and not even break a sweat. If all you're doing is downloading and playing or dropping in a DVD and playing it, no problems. However, if you want to backup DVDs that you own, it might be a little under-powered (CPU).

Encoding and Decoding:
In order to create DVDs, you need an (en)Coder.
In order to play DVDs, you need a Decoder.
These programs are commonly known as CODECs (enCOder and DECoder). CODECs are also file type specific. So to play an AVI file, you'll need an AVI CODEC. In order to play a DIVX file, you'll need a DIVX CODEC. Most File Player Software programs (like Windows Media Player) come with the most common CODECs. Some, you'll need to search the web for. Most encoders are free to download. I had some trouble finding a free DVD decoder (my search-fu was weak), so I just bought one. Many DVDs actually provide one and if I bothered searching through mine, I could have found one. NVidia also has a DVD player software package called PureVideo, but I'm not sure if you get that when you purchase an NVidia graphics card.

So to sum up, it's a good rig for playing video files.
Windows Media Player includes most codecs you'd need for playing video files and there are other media players out there.
You may need to find a software package to play DVDs.

Hope this helps

-Wolf sends
a b x TV
September 13, 2007 2:51:24 AM

To the OP,

Since you are interested in doing video encoding, you should checkout www.videohelp.com for some guides.

DivX is a popular codec to use, but it currently has problems with Windows Vista. There is a free version an the $20 version. The $20 version has more options to improve image quality. Just get the free version to get comfortable with encoding.

XviD is another popular codec, but is not as mainstream as DivX. I don't use this so I don't know if it has any issues in Vista.

Video encoding is more of an art than a science so you will need to do a lot of experimenting to determine what programs (whether free or commercial) works best for you. I use a few free programs and it would be a bit complex to tell the steps I go thru. Basically, you will need at least 3 pieces of software:

1. The codec itself. One of the two I mentioned.

2. A DVD ripper. This type of program decrypts the copy protection on the DVD and copies the "VOB" files to your hard drive. I use Smartripper (an older program) and DVDFab Decrypter 3.0.5.0; both are free:

a. Smartripper Link
b. DVDFab Decrypter Link

3. An encoding program. There are many programs both free and commercial each with their own quirks. I use a combination of DVD2AVI, VFAPIConv-en, and VirtualDub; all free. It is a multi-step process and is not for everyone, but I like the quality. You should tryout a simple encoder such as SimpleDivX; click below to download it.

SimpleDivX Link

The website also has a guide on how to use it. Here's a direct link:

SimpleDivX English Guide

-----------------------------

As Wolfshadw have stated, you might find the E4400 (2.0GHz) to be a bit slow, but it depends on how much performance you demand.

I tested the SimpleDivX on my PC which I forced to operate at 2.0GHz to simulate the C2D E4400 CPU. However, I have 2GB of RAM while, you only plan of installing 1GB of RAM. Therefore, my performance may be a marginally higher than what you would experience.

To perform the test I ripped chapters 29 and 30 from The Matrix using Smartripper which allows you to rip individual chapters, while DVDFab will only allow you to rip the entire movie. Chapters 29 begins when Neo and Trinity walks into the secured building armed to the teeth to rescue Morpheus. Chapter 30 ends with the scene on the roof of the building when Trinity shoots an agent in the head to save Neo. The runtime is 5 minutes and 55 seconds.

Settings I used in SimpleDivX (refer to the guide so see where I am entering the settings):

Video
Source Format: Custom
Frames Per Second: 23.976
Inverse Telecine / Deinterlace: IVTC
Output Format: PAL 2.35:1 Widescreen 704x304

Audio
Audio Format: MP3
Bitrate: 192
Samplerate Conversion: 48000Hz

Codec
Create a 2 pass video file with MP3 audio (2 Pass method gives better quality, but "doubles" the encoding time)
MPEG4 (DivX)
Pass Options: Do both passes.

Compression
Bitrate: 1500

--------------------------------

If I didn't mention an option, I left it at default. You should experiment with SimpleDivX to get the feel for encoding. Use Smartripper to rip a few chapters from a few movie. It will be faster than encoding the entire movie to find out if you screwed something up.

--------------------------------

Anywaste, with my E6600 set to the same clockspeed as the E4400, 2.0GHz, it took 4 minutes and 2 seconds to encode this 5 minute and 55 second action sequence. Action sequences generally takes longer to encode because there's a lot of video motion. Overall, the quality isn't that bad considering that this program doesn't really allow you to play around with DivX's codec options.

Okay let's try this with my E6600 overclocked to 3.0GHz...

(killing time by picking my nose... ooooh, now that's a nice big one...)

Alright, the encoding is completed. This time it only took 2 minutes and 55 seconds to do both passes and provide a playable movie. That extra 1.0GHz shaved off 1 minute and 7 seconds, or about a 38% performance gain.


a b x TV
September 13, 2007 4:01:21 AM

pous said:

Case??


The case depends on your personal ethestics and any particular requirements for your setup. Oh yeah, depends on your budget too.

My new HTPC, which I will build next year, must fit an ATX motherboard (like you), and it must have enough bays to install at least six drives.

1 DVD-Burner / or Blu-Ray Burner
1 Hard Drive for the OS
4 Hard Drives to store all my media files (all 1TB drives)

Initially, I will only install two 1TB drives (RAID 1 array), when they start getting full I will install two more 1TB drives (also in RAID 1).

I have two cases at the top of my list:

1. SILVERSTONE Crown Series CW02B-MXR Black Aluminum ATX Media Center - $399



2. ZALMAN HD160B Black Aluminum ATX Media Center - $288



Both of those fit my initial requirements. They are also both black and come with a remote control which is nice to have for an HTPC.

I like the Silverstone 'cause it looks nicer to me, and it has a 120mm rear fan. Most HTPC cases use smaller fans which causes more noise. The case itself is tall enough to install my Scythe Ninja CPU heatsink which I currently have (I will upgrade my current PC to a Quad Core and want a better heatsink). The multi-function LCD screen is a nice touch.

I like the Zalman because it is $111 cheaper and it has an exhaust vent at the top of the case which allows for better cooling. It also has a multi-function LCD screen as well. However, it is too short to fit my Scythe Ninja heatsink which means I will need to buy a new heatsink to fit this case ($40 ~ $50) on top of a heatsink to cool a Quad Core CPU. The Zalman has two 80mm fans that will definitely be too loud for my taste so I'll have to replace them with quieter 80mm fans ($20 ~ $30). Have to buy a new heatsink and quieter fans cuts the price difference between the Zalman and the Silverstone to about $50 ~ $60.


------------------------------------------------


If I had a very limited budget, then I would probably consider the NZXT DUET SLV Silver SECC Steel/ Aluminum HTPC which is selling for $80. However, it is silver (not black), it has two 80mm fans which needs to be replaced, and the low height means it will not fit the Scythe Ninja heatsink, so I'll need to buy another heatsink.



September 13, 2007 9:15:27 PM

jaguar,

I just thought I'd chime in about a newcomer to the HTPC market that you might like. Check out the Moncaso line of cases made by Moneual. I just purchased the 832P and it's pretty sweet. All aluminum, remote included that can power on/off PC, some sites include the matching keyboard, VFD, full size ATX, full size PSU, 6x 3.5 bays (if you don't install the 80mm fans in the blow holes beneath the HDD cages, 4x if you do). www.quietpcusa.com is usually the least expensive site to get them (no keyboard though). I don't know if a tall HSF will fit in these cases though.
a b x TV
September 14, 2007 2:09:31 AM

rwpritchett said:
jaguar,
Check out the Moncaso line of cases made by Moneual. I just purchased the 832P and it's pretty sweet.


Thanks, but....

The MonCaso 932B seems to be tall enough to install the Scythe Ninja, but it only has 5 drive bays. The 7" LCD screen is nice, but I really doubt I will use it.

The MonCaso 832B does have 6 drive bays, but it is definitely too short for the Scythe Ninja. Two rear 60mm is unacceptable to me. Installing quiet 60mm fans will reduce noise, but it will also increase internal temps because of low RPMs.


a b x TV
September 14, 2007 2:19:07 AM

rwpritchett said:
jaguar,

6x 3.5 bays (if you don't install the 80mm fans in the blow holes beneath the HDD cages, 4x if you do).


The SILVERSTONE Crown Series CW02B-MXR allows for the installation of 92mm fans underneath the drive cages, thus allowing for all 6 drives to be installed even with the fans. That's the main reason why this thing is 8.9" tall.
September 14, 2007 3:15:19 AM

here's a list of functions, let us know which ones you want the htpc to do:
1. record TV series automatically (as long as you remember to have computer on at right times)
2. record mutliple TV shows at same times (i.e. two)
3. store video library and watch on demand
4. store music library and listen to on demand - if you have your computer audio connected to stereo system.
5. store your digital camera pictures.

As a bear minimum you need your current computer which has a video card that can output to your tv, and a TV tuner card (Hauppauge pvr 150) that comes with pvr software, and itunes. A wireless mouse/keyboard would be nice to control the computer from the sofa.

typically, quiet pcs are used for this purpose.

if you want something more fancy let us know.


hope this helps
September 14, 2007 3:19:59 AM

oh and let us know what inputs the plasma tv has. Does it have a vga input? If so you can use an old p3 1ghz (assuming that you dont need blue ray yet). let us know what types of TV input options you have and what video card you have and the current computer you were hoping to use for this purpose. We can let you know if it will do the job you want.
September 14, 2007 3:23:17 AM

as for encoding, I dont recommend using the pvr computer for that purpose. encoding can tax the system and may cause problems when the computer is trying to record tv at the same time.
September 14, 2007 10:51:06 AM

Personally, I wouldnt get too attached to how much storage space you need in an htpc: once youve had it for more than 12+ months- yo wont have enough whatever (Im @ 1tb after 18 months). I'd look at getting a nas (network attached storage) plugged into your home network- then you can access all your media across the network without having your htpc on 24x7- most avi / divx / mpeg4 files even stream fine wirelessly with a good router.

For a nas, there are a few good brands. Personally, I'd recommend a Synology: the functionality you get as standard is superb (you mention torrent- check the 'download station' functionality. http://www.synology.com/enu/products/DS207/index.php. I've got one these, and about to get a 2nd: and Im accessing the media from 4 pcs, 2 tvs and 3 audio points: so its a completely scable solution.

Also, if its going to be doing is playing / recording media & general light computer usage (the wife uses ours for internet shopping & email.. bah) then an on old pc will do fine. Im using my 4 year old P4: it does everything I need and I cant see any reason too upgrade any time soon (apart from the vista looks nicer, meh). But then again, I'm not someone who gets hungup on HD- we have that streamed through the house via a different method so its not an important consideration for my HTPC at the moment. When it becomes important, then I'll upgrade.

The case is really a metter of choice- the Antec Fusion http://www.antec.com/us/productDetails.php?ProdID=15738 is very nice (but then, Ive yet to build an Antec in the last 3 years I didnt like). It only takes a m-ATX; but for a HTPC you dont need s-ATX: what do you miss? In general, the more your use of the computer moves away from media, the more you need to upspec the components and the more liekly youll need something not an a m-ATX board.

My only other pieces of advice- try & stay away from cases with riser card solutions (these do restrict you), and cooling is important (better cooling = less noise = good for htpc). Oh, and having lots of bling on the front is irritating (the 1st thing you'll be doing is disconnecting the hard disk light). Apart from that- all a matter of taste.
a b x TV
September 15, 2007 7:05:38 AM

Surferosa said:
Personally, I wouldnt get too attached to how much storage space you need in an htpc: once youve had it for more than 12+ months- yo wont have enough whatever (Im @ 1tb after 18 months). I'd look at getting a nas (network attached storage) plugged into your home network...


Nah, my apartment is not really big enough for a Primary PC, HTPC and a NAS. Therefore, a HTPC case with six drive bays is important to me.

As for why I am looking for a case that can fit a full size ATX motherboard, I will be upgrading my current PC to Penryn and I will get a motherboard with the X38 chipset to ensure compatibility. Getting a m-ATX case means my current mobo will go to waste. Beside, I don't know of any m-ATX case with a six drive bay capacity.


September 24, 2007 5:07:11 PM

smelly_feet said:
here's a list of functions, let us know which ones you want the htpc to do:
1. record TV series automatically (as long as you remember to have computer on at right times)
2. record mutliple TV shows at same times (i.e. two)
3. store video library and watch on demand
4. store music library and listen to on demand - if you have your computer audio connected to stereo system.
5. store your digital camera pictures.

As a bear minimum you need your current computer which has a video card that can output to your tv, and a TV tuner card (Hauppauge pvr 150) that comes with pvr software, and itunes. A wireless mouse/keyboard would be nice to control the computer from the sofa.

typically, quiet pcs are used for this purpose.

if you want something more fancy let us know.


hope this helps



I'm looking at building a simple very low cost system store video library and watch on demand and store music library and listen to on demand. its going to an LCD TV. right now i am using my laptop and i am running out of harddrive room and would like a more fixed setup. hooking up and un hooking the laptop is getting old. and please bare with me, I am **sigh** a Noob
!