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New System Build - HTPC

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March 27, 2009 3:58:13 PM

APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: 2 weeks BUDGET RANGE: $1250 - $1500

SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: watch TV/Cable/HDTV/Blu Rays, some gaming, burn dvds/blue ray to HDD

PARTS NOT REQUIRED: Monitor (using 57" DLP 1080P TV)

PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS: I like newegg.com

PARTS PREFERENCES: See below

OVERCLOCKING: Yes SLI OR CROSSFIRE: No

MONITOR RESOLUTION: 57" DLP 1080P TV

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: - So I am looking to build an HTPC for my living room. It will be connecting to a 57" 1080P DLP TV. I want to be able to play some games, watch streaming movies, rip dvds to a library, listen to music, watch HDTV and Cable TV. PC needs to have digital audio out to connect to m receiver and HDMI to my TV.

So I need advice on the following:

Case - Was thinking of using the Antec Fusion Remote Max HTPC Case - comes with a remote and good quiet cooling. Plus has room to fix a full video card and multiple drives. Its $209.95 on newegg.com

Motherboard, CPU, RAM, Cooler - need advice - would I be able to overclock in an HTPC? If so I would like to make sure these components could do that and provide enough power to play games rip hdtv to hdds as well.

Video, Video Tuner Cards - need advice here. The main graphics card needs to be able to play some online mmos and rps games as well as run video to my tv thru HDMI connection or DVI. Which is better for picture quality? Tuner needs to be able to receive hdtv from cable connection.

HDDs, Blu Ray - Need recommendations here. I think the case can accomdate a WD 640gb system drive....and I was thinking of using 2 1TB drives for storage. I could go external if that is a better option. I would like to be able to rip dvds, blue rays to storage if possible.

Really need some help, I am technically savy on building systems just new to the HTPC arena.

More about : system build htpc

March 27, 2009 4:04:48 PM

I'd like DVR capabilities as well as those listed above. I welcome all comments.

Also Im not sold on that case so recommendations on any components are welcome. I have a logitech harmony 880 remote to use with any case that is recommended.
March 27, 2009 4:24:42 PM

A few questions:

Why do you want to overclock? Rule of thumb with HTPC's is keep it cool, keep it quiet. Overclocking will provide a challenge for both.

Are you planning on doing any video encoding? That will determine quad core vs dual core.

What exact games are you planning to play on this? This helps with video selection and onboard vs discreet graphics. For older mmo's you might be able to get away with onboard graphics.

For tuners, start by researching with this site: http://www.hdtvtunerinfo.com/

What OS are you running? Vista Premium? Do you already have a license?
Related resources
March 27, 2009 5:28:22 PM

Assuming video encoding and the need for an OS, here is a list to get you started:

Antec Black Aluminum / Steel Fusion Remote Max ATX Media Center / HTPC Case - Retail $209.95
Your case of choice.

ASUS M3N78-VM AM2+/AM2 NVIDIA GeForce 8200 HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail $72.99
Can play blu-ray and light games. Has optical out, and in contrast to 780G boards it can pass LPCM through HDMI if you want to go that route for blu-ray.

SiliconDust HDHomeRun Network-based Dual Digital HDTV Tuner Ethernet Interface - Retail $159.99
One of the better solutions for TV recording. You can opt for an internal PCI or PCIe card instead.

SeaSonic M12II SS-430GM 430W ATX12V 2.2 /EPS12V 2.91 SLI Ready CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified Modular Active PFC Power Supply - Retail $74.99
Modular, high efficiency, quiet, and can handle a discreet video card.

AMD Phenom II X4 940 Deneb 3.0GHz Socket AM2+ 125W Quad-Core Black Edition Processor Model HDZ940XCGIBOX - Retail $215.00
Highly overclockable quad core that can really crunch videos fast.

Patriot Extreme Performance 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model PDC24G8500ELKR2 - Retail $52.99
Good RAM with good timings.

Western Digital Scorpio Black WD1600BEKT 160GB 7200 RPM 2.5" SATA 3.0Gb/s Notebook Hard Drive - OEM plus adapter $69.99 +$4.99
An old HTPC trick... use a notebook drive (SSD would be even better) for OS and apps. Silent, but still 7200 rpm for OK performance.

Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EADS 1TB SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive - OEM $99.99
Big, cool, and quiet drive for media storage.

Logitech diNovo Mini Black USB Bluetooth Wireless Mini Keyboard - Retail $149.99
The keyboard is totally up to you, but this one has good "wife acceptance factor" and a small footprint.

LG Black Blu-ray/HD DVD-ROM & 16X DVD±R DVD Burner SATA Model GGC-H20L - Retail $109.99
Retail blu-ray drive that will include PowerDVD (needed for blu-ray playback).

Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit for System Builders - OEM $99.99
Includes Vista Media Center to run all of your media.

XIGMATEK nepartak - s983 92mm HYPRO Bearing CPU Cooler - Retail $26.99
If overclocking, this will serve you well (if it will fit). The fan is PWM controlled so should keep the noise down.

All of this is $1,347.84 before shipping. You can add an HD4850 video card if you need gaming muscle for ~$150 (easy to make up if you select a different wireless keyboard, cheaper TV tuner, or forego the aftermarket CPU cooler).
March 27, 2009 5:31:48 PM

I don't NEED to overclock, I was assuming i might need too, to keep costs of the processor lower. If I can do all of this within my budget or even less than i would love to do that, it would leave more money for tuner cards and HDs.

I dont honestly know if I need to do any encoding.....all i will be doing is recording music and dvd/blue rays to storage. Would that involve any encoding?

I play DDO online, doesn't require the best card on the market at all, but other mmo's might. Really I just need a video card that can run 1080P resolution which I believe is 1920 x 1200 on a 57" TV.

I would need to purchase Home Vista Premium for this box, i think its $99 at newegg.com

Any other questions.
March 27, 2009 5:42:14 PM

If you're not encoding video, then you could get by with a 45W dual core (4850e or 5050e) for ~$60 and can get the HD4850 with the money saved.

Actually, you could probably build this HTPC for under $1000 if you get rid of the 2.5" hard drive, drop to a dual core, drop the CPU cooler, get a $60 keyboard, get a non-modular power supply, and get a $100 tuner card.
March 27, 2009 6:01:49 PM

If I am recording HDTV to the hard drive and/or burning dvds/blue rays do I need to do any video encoding? I dont mind paying the money for the extras if I use it.
March 27, 2009 6:13:26 PM

The video encoding that I am referring to is taking a video and converting it to another format. For example, if you rip a 9GB DVD (MPEG-2) to your hard drive, then x264 encode it to shrink the video into a 1GB mkv container. Without a quad core, this process takes hours and hours.

If you are just recording HDTV or ripping dvds/blu-rays, then there is very little CPU horsepower needed and a dual core is just fine. If you do go dual core, DDR2-800 is the memory you'll need unless you get a Kuma based dual core. The other dual cores can't use 1066 RAM and will run it at 800 speed.

BTW, do you know if your cable company has clear-QAM channels? Getting HDTV through cable is tricky with an HTPC even if it is clear-QAM. You might need to research IR-blasters so you can use your cable set-top box to feed your HTPC. I'm afraid I don't have much experience with this since I'm using standard def cable and get all of my HDTV over-the-air.

Also, to answer your HDMI vs DVI question: they are equal in quality. HDMI can carry audio though while DVI does not.
March 27, 2009 6:38:44 PM

I guess I would be doing some encoding then and will go quad core.

I am not sure about my cable company and what I can get with Qam. I am researching it still. I have read thru some forums and most people can get at least basic HDTV. I am concerned about the digital HD channels tho.

I will have to research ir blasting have no idea what it is.

Honestly for now i'd be happy to get a cheap box that can just connect to my TV and receiver and I can watch dvds/blue rays and stream from netflix.....was kind of hoping to cut back on my cable bill and not use their stupid boxes for dvr.

I know I will have to keep some sort of basic cable service to get cable tv though.
March 27, 2009 6:48:43 PM

An IR blaster is a device connected to your HTPC, usually by USB port, and it has a cable that runs to your set-top box. You attach it to the IR reciever on the set-top box and your HTPC will essentially emulate the remote commands to change channels on the box. The video goes from the set-top box into a capture card on the HTPC.

In short, the HTPC changes channels on the set-top box just like you do with your remote instead of the HTPC changing channels through media center software.
March 27, 2009 6:52:54 PM

that's pretty cool. Im not sold on having to record TV on this box as I am not sure what I can get as far as TV channels go thru QAM or if I can get more by having at least basic digital cable.....ill have to test it all out.

I think mainly I am looking to build this machine to play some music and rip a bunch of dvd/blue rays to storage. I will prob download most of what I am gonna watch anyways.....if I want to record tv then I will add that capability later.

March 27, 2009 6:58:39 PM

Im interested in why you went AMD and not Intel with this? Also I think that 2.5" to 3.5" adapter is out of stock......I dont mind using a 3.5" disk and paying a little more.

So after some more thought...Id like to stay around $1000 and I dont need to include a tuner at this time. I would like to stay with a Quad core for the video encoding.

Any ideas?
March 27, 2009 7:46:39 PM

So here is the config I am looking at.

Antec Case - $210
Asus MB - $73
Ram - $53
Blue Ray - $110
Storage - $165 - (1 Os disk and 1 Tb storage)
CPU - $215
OS - $99
Cooler - $27

Total is - $952

Should be able to do everything I want for now. Do I need thermal compound with that Amd setup? Never done an AMD setup before.
March 27, 2009 7:52:22 PM

Well AMD's cheaper and for a HTPC unless your encoding video you don't need the extra 6mb of cache. The Intel's also run hotter at 125w actual for the Intel's and 95w actual for the AMD's.
March 27, 2009 8:17:05 PM

AMD has more options for HTPC as far as motherboards go: 780G, 790GX, 8200, and 8300 are all prime HTPC boards for AMD and are cheaper than Intel counterparts. Intel has the G45 (junk) and the 9300 and 9400 chipsets (good but relatively expensive).

AMD's cool and quiet feature is also better than Intel's speed-step IMO. The Phenom II's idle at 800 MHz, while the older AMD CPU's idle at 1000MHz. Intel, on the other hand, drop their multiplier to 6 so a chip with a 333 FSB will idle at 2000MHz.

AMD's new Phenom II's are tough to beat for performance per dollar. The Phenom II 940 is on par with Intel's more expensive Q9400 or Q9550. Plus, Intel's socket 775 is a dead end now for new builds because of the newer i7's.

I'm not an AMD or Intel fan (I have both), but I do like the best bang for the buck.

You can get a 2.5" HDD adapter from amazon or a local computer store. You can also just use a 3.5" hard drive or just partition the 1TB drive if you don't mind the clicks a 3.5" hard drive makes. 2.5" hard drives are gaurranteed to be quiet and cool though because they're meant for notebooks.

Don't forget a wireless keyboard for your build... doing everything with the remote sucks.
March 27, 2009 9:43:28 PM

As a Comcast subscriber, I only get a couple dozen channels through ClearQAM and most of those, I don't watch anyway (mostly public access). So what I did was connect the coax cable from the wall to the input on my cable box. The cable box output connected to my TV Tuner card's input. This essentially turns your TV Tuner card into a glorified video capture card (tuner functionality is no longer used) and the cable box remains the tuner. In this way, all the channels I want to watch (those not sent ClearQAM) are unencrypted before the signal gets to my TV Tuner card. With an IR blaster, I could use my MCE remote to change channels when watching TV or scroll through my movies/music. I can even watch HD channels through my PC, though I can't confirm it's still at an HD resolution.

I built my HTPC a little over a year ago using the following:

Case - NMediaPC 200BA
Power Supply - Antec SP 450watt
Motherboard - Gigabyte GA-965GM S2
Processor - Intel E6600 dual-core
RAM - 2x1GB Kingston DDR2-533
Graphics card - ATI HD 2600 Pro
Sound Card - BSpears B-Enspire 7.1 w/ Optical digital output
Hard Drive 1 - WD 80GB SATAII
Hard Drive 2 - WD 750GB SATAII
TV Tuner - AverMedia AVerTV Hybrid PCI-Ex1 White Box
Keyboard - Microsoft Wireless MCE
Remote Control - Microsoft MCE Remote
OS - Microsoft Windows XP MCE 2005

The HTPC is connected to my HDTV (Olevia 32" 720p) via a DVI --> HDMI cable (no adapter) and my projector (BenQ MP610) via a DVI --> VGA adapter and 25' shielded VGA cable. The audio is connected through the sound card's optical out to my crappy receiver.

I use my system to rip my DVDs to the hard drive and re-encode to DivX. The entire process takes about 2 hours (most of that is encoding to DivX) per movie.

A couple of notes:
1) I do not have a Blu-Ray Drive (though my system could handle it). The main reason is that my projector is not HDCP compliant.
2) In January, I swapped out my normal cable box for an HD capable box. Since then, I have not been able to use my MCE Remote to change channels on my cable box. Trying to relearn codes does not work.

-Wolf sends
April 1, 2009 4:10:49 PM

OK, so say I already have a Gaming/DVD-ripping high-speed machine... my object is to build an HTPC rig that will push HD video to my Toshiba 57" 720p, and probably music too. No OC, no games, no ripping, nothing but being a DVR & Media Server -- I already have a computer for that other stuff.

Trying to keep the cost as low as possible, in order to justify it to the wife -- if I've overkilled somewhere, let me know... cheaper is definitely better!!

Here's what I have picked out... let me know what you think, and what else I need:

hec Black 0.7mm Thickness SECC 7K09 Micro ATX Media Center / HTPC Case - Retail

ASUS M3A78-EM AM2+/AM2 AMD 780G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard

AMD Athlon 64 X2 5800+ Brisbane 3.0GHz

COOLER MASTER RR-CCH-P912-GP 92mm Sleeve CPU Cooler (Above CPU is OEM)

CORSAIR XMS2 2GB (2 x 1GB)

Western Digital Scorpio Black WD1600BEKT 160GB 7200 RPM

HITACHI 0A38016 1TB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive - OEM

Pioneer Black 20X DVD+R 8X DVD+RW

Microsoft Windows XP Media Center 2005 SP2B (Don't want any part of Vista, thanks.)

Logitech Cordless Desktop EX 100 Black 102 Normal Keys USB RF Wireless Standard Keyboard and Mouse



The DVR/TV Tuner is the part I'm new to... I want an internal card if possible -- I've been looking at:

Hauppauge WinTV-HVR 1800 MCE Kit 1128 PCI-Express x1



But as I said... I don't really know what I'm looking at, so any comments would be appreciated!!
April 1, 2009 5:05:57 PM

If you can confirm that your selected case can handle a stock HSF, you could save a little bit by going with a lesser retail processor (say the AMD X2 5050e @ 2.6GHz). That way, you wouldn't need a separate HSF.

I understand the desire for a dual hard drive set up, but it's just not necessary. Save money by going with just the 1TB drive and partition enough space for your OS.

I've heard a lot of people recommend the Hauppage 1800... until the Hauppauge 2250 came along. I've not used either so I can't comment. Just make sure you get something that has an MCE Remote (both of these do).

-Wolf sends
April 1, 2009 5:47:52 PM

I was considering going the partition route anyway... wasn't sure how much benefit there would be to a 2-drive system.

What's everyone's opinion of MCE's DVR function? Is it pretty much a TiVO-like interface?
April 1, 2009 7:18:00 PM

I haven't used it much, but when I recorded a couple movies, recently, playback showed a lot of ghosting. Not sure if I just don't have some setting properly set or if it's Microsoft's DVR format.

-Wolf sends
April 1, 2009 7:18:32 PM

I use Vista on my HTPC and have been very happy with the results. It looks like you fall into the www.mohaveexperiment.com category, though, so I'll let someone with Windows XP MCE experience answer that.

I use both a Hauppauge HVR-1600 and HVR-2250 in my HTPC and they work great. I can record 4 things at once with that setup.

If you're avoiding Vista because you "heard" it sucks, I'll tell you that I haven't had any performance or stability issues at all with Vista. I highly recommend either Vista or Windows 7 beta for a HTPC. Windows 7 works a lot better with multiple TV tuner cards. I had to hack Vista to get both of my tuner cards to work.
April 1, 2009 7:20:04 PM

Wolfshadw said:
I haven't used it much, but when I recorded a couple movies, recently, playback showed a lot of ghosting. Not sure if I just don't have some setting properly set or if it's Microsoft's DVR format.

-Wolf sends

I don't think your issues are Microsoft's fault. I record 1080i OTA with Vista and the playback quality is great.
April 1, 2009 7:39:56 PM

shortsfuff- I've been using the HVR-1600 for about a year and a half now and have never been satisfied with the standard cable picture quality (OTA HD is great). I've been considering purchasing either the HVR-2250 or the Avermedia combo 780. From your experience, does the HVR-2250 handle SD cable better than the 1600?

Shawngreen and Clearmoon- check out this site for good info on tuner cards: http://www.hdtvtunerinfo.com/



April 1, 2009 8:45:15 PM

I wouldn't know how the HVR-2250's SD reception is. I'm using both of its tuners for OTA HD - sorry. :( 
April 8, 2009 9:41:49 PM

I've got the AverMedia Combo M780 on its way to me from newegg. :)  Hopefully this will allow me to get QAM finally.

Shortstuff- the registry hack you mentioned to get all four tuners seen in VMC... is that required if TV Pack 2008 is installed?
April 8, 2009 9:47:00 PM

rwpritchett said:
Shortstuff- the registry hack you mentioned to get all four tuners seen in VMC... is that required if TV Pack 2008 is installed?

Nope. VMC should use all four tuners without a hack with the TV Pack installed. I considered using the TV Pack, but I often edit my recordings (cut out the commercials) and re-save them to the hard drive. The TV tuner pack records in a new format that isn't recognized by Vista Movie Maker IIRC.
April 8, 2009 10:02:42 PM

It's really easy to convert the wtv files to dvr-ms. I've used this free tool: ToDVRMS

Hopefully the software will get updated so conversion won't be necessary anymore though.

The only thing I like about TV Pack is that it adds the "HD" logo to hi-def shows in the program guide. It broke my ability to stop playback of mkv's though (you have to exit VMC to actually stop playback). You're not missing much.

Can you recommend a good program (free maybe?) that can shrink a hi-def dvr-ms to DVD size for burning? I've been holding on to my recording of the Sugar Bowl and would like to archive it to a single DVD for my father-in-law. I tried handbrake but it didn't get along with the files.
April 8, 2009 10:06:12 PM

It's been a while, but I'm pretty sure I've used the Vista DVD Maker to burn HD recordings to a DVD.
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