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HTPC vs. Dedicated DVD Player, Sound Cards, and Remotes

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April 26, 2009 7:04:52 PM

I am considering building a home theater PC in the near future but have begun to wonder a few things...

First, dedicated DVD players advertise all kinds of fancy-pants features like HD upconversion, progressive scan, etc. I was initially planning on getting rid of my DVD player and just using my HTPC to play DVDs. Will the HTPC have the same playback quality and features as a dedicated unit?

Next, I'm curious about sound cards. If I route the sound to my home theater receiver, how important is the quality of the sound card in the system? Could I get by with an integrated sound solution since my receiver will be doing the majority of the work? I'll definitely want something with a digital out, but is there anything else I should look for?

Finally, does anyone have any HTPC remote recommendations? I think I will primarily be using XBMC for my media center needs. I've played around with their iPhone remote app, and it works great, but I'd prefer a dedicated remote.

Thanks for the advice!
April 27, 2009 6:36:44 AM

What are your system specifications? The motherboard, CPU, video card, ram, etc. This will determine if you can use the onboard audio, since some motherboards have optical toslink built in.

In my opinion, I prefer a HTPC over a DVD player, because the computer might be able to play other formats that are not supported by the player. All you need is the right software. What you can also do on a HTPC is convert HD content. Some video cards have to the power to up convert standard 480i videos to the higher resolution of the TV. But the CPU is also important, slow CPU can cause bad playback. All ATI Radeon cards HD2000 and up can support HD decoding (almost certain, but not quite lol). I don't think the 2900XT can though.

The sound card isn't need if you have a high quality motherboard with nice audio features, but like many other onboard solutions, they tend to have crackling noises or static noises when playing music, movies, gaming. That is the main reason people might have the need to upgrade sound cards. As long as you have a nice receiver it'll decode the sound sending it to all the other speakers.
I personally have the Diamond XS71 7.1 sound card and love it! For such a low price yet such nice features such as SPDIF out./in. It plays movies and HD content's sound flawlessy and sounds great on my speakers and Yamaha receiver. Even though the sound card can only output 2 channel SPDIF PCM, the reciever does a real nice job of sending it to the other speakers. It sounds great overall.

Don't hesitate to ask more questions!
April 27, 2009 12:19:48 PM

I haven't built the computer yet and likely won't in the very near future, so I do not have system specs. I do know that I will want to keep costs down as much as possible. I would probably choose a middle-ground C2D CPU and would definitely find a mobo with optical out or some other digital source for sound.

Now that I think about it, could I get away with an integrated video solution as well? I obviously won't be doing any gaming on the PC and this will cut down on costs and will potentially allow me to find a very small form-factor case. For instance, would I be able to pull off fancy video quality tricks with either <http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...; or <http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...;?
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April 27, 2009 12:30:18 PM

Don't go with any 7XXX chipset boards for an HTPC. The Asus you linked would be a good board for an HTPC though. Here's the chipsets to look for if you plan to use onboard video:

Intel: GeForce 9300/9400
AMD: GeForce 8200/8300 or AMD 780G/790GX

The best combo for HTPC going right now is an AMD X2 5050e paired with a 780G motherboard.
April 27, 2009 12:32:55 PM

Soundcard will be important here. Assuiming you have a Spdif output, you can output either 2.0 PCM or 5.1 DD/DTS (assuming your sound system supports DD/DTS decoding). If you do not have a spdif output, you have to use analog, which is far less supported (but does allow for easy 7.1...)

Video wise, you will probably need a codec pack to enable viewing HD movies on your PC. You also need GPU support. Every ATI card from the 2000 series up supports HD decoding, but for AGP models, this standard was not always implemented, and depended on the manufacturer. NVIDIA supported from the 7000 series up, but some cards did without the HD decoding to save some cash.

The "best" option would be a HDMI connection for sound, then DVI/HDMI to your moniter for video. The issue is the only way to use a HDMI connection to your sound system would be the ASUS HDAV1.3 (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...).


The question is how exactly you plan to hook everything up. Do you plan to route sound from your PC to a dedicated sound system, or just take whatever is outputted from the PC. What GPU do you currently have? Etc.
April 27, 2009 12:40:00 PM

I will be running audio output to my home theater receiver which supports DD/DTS, so I'll want a digital output. However, I didn't necessarily think I needed a great sound card since my receiver will be doing most of the audio work. Is this correct?
April 27, 2009 12:48:35 PM

Personally i like having an upscaling DVD player on hand. I have 14 Grandchildren, (I'm 37) :(  Most of them are through marriage though.
Anyway the point is i do a lot and i mean a lot of camera work, School plays, Birthday parties, Family get togethers, Christmas etc.
Now it used to be a complete pain having to convert it all to DVD format to watch on the bigger of the TV. Happily having the upscaler i can get really good image quality by just straight burning the files to a data disc and letting the upscaler do the rest.
It gets the files off of the hard disc and on to something i can share around the family and it suits me better than running cables across the living room.
I'm not Anti HTPC and my PC is capable of acting as a blu-ray player if needed, have to say though that unless I'm borrowing something in blu-ray format it doesnt really matter to me.

Mactronix
April 27, 2009 1:17:41 PM

OK, kind of a dumb question here... If a mobo has an HDMI output, does this carry both video and audio or is it isolated to one or the other?
April 27, 2009 4:20:56 PM

spritemv said:
OK, kind of a dumb question here... If a mobo has an HDMI output, does this carry both video and audio or is it isolated to one or the other?


As I haven't checked up on the HAVD1.3, I don't really know (I've been told yes...). Some GPU's also have a DVI-HDMI converter that will carry audio and video over the HDMI connection, but I don't know what quality will be transmitted.

If your sound system supports DD/DTS decoding, a standard optical digital output will be fine. Even onboard will suffice for digital, and almost every soundcard out there has a digital output jack.
April 28, 2009 12:20:52 AM

As long as it has HDMI, it should carry sound as well. Also +1, a dual core CPU from AMD and a nice 780G will be great for a HTPC. The HD3200 has DXVA that'll decode videos even if your CPU can't handle it.

AMD Athlon X2 4850e 2.5GHz - 56.00, + Free Shipping.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

That 5050e is around 60.00 but a .1Ghz isn't really gonna make a BIG difference in my opinion. Plus this one ahs free shipping.

ECS A780GM-A AM2+/AM2 Black Series- 60.00 after MiR.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

More expensive, but it supports the new AM3 CPU, and 140W Phenoms
ASRock A780GXE/128M AM2+/AM2 AMD - 80.00
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

No need for any video card, these boards all have native HDMI out. But since sound is important and you want a sound card its up to you. Here are a few I've listed.

DIAMOND XtremeSound XS71DDL 7.1 Channels 24-bit 96KHz PCI Interface Sound Card - 50.00
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Very nice card, I don't even have the DDL edition, yet it sounds amazing. It even comes with optical out. Here is the one I have if you interested. I thought that 50.00 was too much for a sound card. So I got this one.

Diamond XtremeSound 7.1/24 bit Sound Card ( XS71 ) (Not the Dolby Digital Live) - 35.00
http://www.amazon.com/Diamond-XtremeSound-Sound-Card-XS...

^ Don't hesitate to try it, I was thinking when I bought it, AI should have gotten the DDL Edition! Since I was going to be watching lots of HD and Blu-ray. Thing is, you don't need the Dolby Digital Live one. I heard it even slows down some games. The main component when haveing HTPC sound in my opinion is the reciever. A nice one can do the decoding job and the channel conversion.

So I decided to prove this and go to my friends house, to try out his home theatre setup. He had a 65" Sharp Aquaos HD LCD TV. And a Yamaha HDMI 7.1 Channel A/V reciever with Paradigm speakers. The sound was phenomenal. It was so loud with the reciever and everything the computers volume was about a 10%! Blu-ray movies are so clear and crisp. Hope this helped! Good luck!
April 28, 2009 4:59:56 AM

Remote for HTPC.... I use Logitech DiNovo Mini... It runs bluetooth upto 10 meters. You have total control of your HTPC.

http://www.logitech.com/index.cfm/keyboards/keyboard/de...

My audio goes to 7.1 Receiver. I don't care much about TV audio since i prefer excellent 7.1 audio. That is the HD Movies , Music , and Games. My entire Entertainment ROOM is emersed in 7.1 Audio....

SPDIF optical output is limited to 5.1. If you are happy with 5.1 then don't bother with 7.1 audio option.

HDMI (if your receiver has the capability) can support 7.1.

If your receiver has no HDMI feature one option is to use the PC sound card to drive the receiver through its PREAMPLIFER INPUTS to produce 7.1. You need a good sound card for this ( High SNR rating).


April 28, 2009 12:18:23 PM

Due to the fact your receiver will be doing all the decoding/upmixing, even the motherboards Spdif output will suffice, if your mobo has one. However, this limits you to 5.1, as that is the best Spdif cables can carry. If you want 7.1 sound, your only real option would be the HDMI output on the HDAV1.3 from ASUS.
April 28, 2009 12:19:34 PM

Thanks to everyone who has provided their opinions so far. I've actually seen that DiNovo Mini before. It looks very cool, but unfortunately it'll be a bit out of my budget for now.

Do I need to enable an option somewhere to have my video card enhance the video quality or does it happen automatically? I was just trying to test it out with the 8800 GTS (G92) 512MB in my desktop computer, which I assume offers this upconversion. Do I need to do anything other than opening the video in VLC or XBMC?
April 28, 2009 7:58:39 PM

Never tried with video, as I use my LCD moniter for everything. I would imagine whatever HD decoder/program is used would allow for upconversion...
May 1, 2009 4:31:45 AM

I use Cyberlink Power DVD Version 7.XXX for HD-DVD, Blue-Ray, and Regular DVD. This software dont upscale standard DVD movies. Blue-Ray , HD-DVD Disc are awsome and i get 7.1 Audio(feed to my receiver).

Version 9.xx has the upscaling feature & more...
http://www.cyberlink.com/products/powerdvd/truetheater-...

Check what goes with your Blue-Ray Drive. If its the latest version then you may get an upscaling PowerDVD.

I run my setup(made it work) on the following Video cards...ATI 3870 512, ATI 4870 512, ATI XOC 4890, 8800GT OC 512 GTX-280.
May 1, 2009 7:17:28 PM

What do you guys think about installing a small SSD to reduce heat and noise while running my media off a NAS drive or off my other computer's storage drive over my home network? Is it best to play the media locally or does it not matter?
May 2, 2009 12:23:56 AM

I have a Gigabit LAN(Wired) at home so it don't take a performance hit for network base drive. I can't comment on wireless network which is a lot slower.

If you have a good network you can place the network base storage outside your media-room.

SSD drives are very expensive and i use the money for something else. The density is also limited. I use TERABYTE drives for media storage.

When watching Blue-Ray or playing HD Media my receiver(120W /chan) volume is set between (-)15 to 0db with options of +25db more. THX is recommended to be played at 0-db or close to 0db.

At that level of other sounds don't matter. The sound of the fans and drive from the PC don't matter. Can't hear it. Well again thats me...

You decide whats good for you.
May 24, 2010 8:41:09 PM

Hi, I use the iPazzPort from Unisen-USA. It has so many features. It is totally remote (wireless) up to 33' away and it is a fully functioning handheld Internet Remote Controller. The unit is priced at $39.99 and can be bought on their website or eBay.
!