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Media Center PC

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  • TV
  • Media Center
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October 26, 2009 9:49:34 AM

Hi

Another system im working on, would greatly appreciate any advice on TV cards.


APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: As soon as decided on the parts BUDGET RANGE: <400

SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: watching movies, and TV, surfing web. To be hooked up to living room tv

PARTS NOT REQUIRED: monitor, speakers, OS

PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS: www.ebuyer.com, overclockers.co.uk, dabs.com COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: United Kingdom

PARTS PREFERENCES: No preference

OVERCLOCKING: Maybe SLI OR CROSSFIRE: No

MONITOR RESOLUTION: 1920x1200 (LCD TV)

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:
This is basically a set top box for watching, pausing and recording TV. It will need to pick up UK freeview and have the ability to play record HD when it becomes available. Will probably use Windows Vista/ 7 with Media Centre, or possibly GBPVR. Looking for recommendation on the following:

Digital TV cards (2 for now)
Case (low profile)
Motherboard, Ram, CPU combo

Many thanks


More about : media center

October 26, 2009 3:44:28 PM

Hi Gareth,

I've actually just completed my new HTPC, so i've got a fair idea of the things you're looking for. I actually used scan.co.uk, though i am a big fan of overclockers and ebuyer. Tend to use all three depending on what i need.

There's a few things I considered when building mine...

1. Component format
You say low profile case, well in most cases this means a micro-ATX motherboard with video and sound built on. Some cases may allow for low profile graphics cards BUT the case itself may have a non standard size psu that is not upgradeable, generally around 250-300W which may be a bit low for a more powerful graphics card.
I'd also suggest a usb dual digital tv tuner, many now combine signals from both tuners to boost the signal when watching/recording only one channel, then split to two when needed. They also ready for HDTV when it becomes available.
Would you like Blu-ray support now or in a year's time? Makes a difference of £50 to the build price with a DVD-RW only being about £15 at the moment.

2. Audio/Visual Output
Are you looking for an HDMI connection to your tv? 5.1 Audio to a surround sound system? Any other specifics?

3. How much storage space you require?
This maybe isn't as important to you as it was to me but I am very fussy when it comes to my DVD's for example so i took the .VOB files off the disks to preserve quality, dvd menus and 5.1 sound. Estimate on roughly 5.5gb per dvd if you want to put your entire collection on hdd, i have it all at the touch of a button. :) 
If you just plan on using it as a movie/dvd/blu-ray player then you will get away with a lower capacity hard drive, and indeed just a single drive.

4. Software
Vista 32 or 64bit? Windows 7 32 or 64 bit? Certainly drivers for WinVista x64 seem to be mature and in place for everything i can think of. I was intending waiting a year or so on Windows 7.

5. Aesthetics
Is this box gonna sit in front of the tv, in a cabinet, or behind the tv? In other words are you worried what it looks like!


TV Tuners:
The thing to be away of is the drivers for each tuner, if you're planning on using a 64-bit OS you may have a slightly harder time BUT i think manufacturers are finally taking the hint and making most compatible with x64. Try the following links to give you an idea of the kinds of features you can find in PC TV Tuner Cards.
TerraTec T5
Hauppage.com
AverTV

Case:
I found the X-Case 360 Black Home Media Case With 400 Watt Psu on x-case.co.uk, is this the kind of case you have in mind?

Hard Drive:
Not sure if you need one but you can buy 640gb 5400rpm (quiet and cool) HDD for about £42 now.

I spent quite a few weeks reading on various forums about the ins and outs of this type of system. Tom's has a good article on viewing HD media on integrated graphics solutions which is well worth a read. Blu-ray Done Right: How Does Your Integrated GPU Stack Up? . This might give you a starting point in terms of motherboard where you can decide which integrated graphics is best for you and work round that. Consider that your motherboard choice will then determine the ram and CPU, making it a bit easier to work around.

Kind Regards,
Jaffa

October 26, 2009 6:53:13 PM

Hi Jaffa

Thanks for your very detailed reply.

1. Component format
I suppose a low profile case is difficult to upgrade but the machine will really need to fit in with other living room AV equipment so a regular ATX case wont do. If I spot something stylish that isnt neccasarily 'low profile', takes full sized cards and has room for upgrades then all the better.


3. How much storage space you require?
I was planning to upgrade this as and when required but probably just go for 500GB to start with and upgrade later. This space would mainly be used for recording TV programs but not so much ripping DVDs so it should be enough for the time being.

Blu Ray may be usefull in the future but we rarely rent or buy films so its not a huge deal just to have DVD.


4. Software
I had thought of just using Vista 32 bit as didnt imagine there being much advantage going 64bit for a HTPC, but I could be wrong.

I will have Windows 7 for my desktop PC soon so will install that on the HTPC at a later date if it turns out to be any good.

5. Aesthetics
It will be on view next to the LCD TV so will need to fit in.


I do like the X-Case 360 that you linked me too, looks the part and is a reasonable price. I may go for that if all the other components fit into place.

thanks for the article link I will have a good read of that and see if it helps me form a decision on what card to get. Will the graphics card affect HDTV quality or jusy Blu Ray playback?

I would like to connect my machine to the TV via HDMI or DVI, but there are budget cards out there that should allow for this without breaking the bank too much.

Futureproofing is fairly high on my list, so I would like to be able to upgrade what I need to whenever. I could probably push the budget up to 450 if need be.

Do you mind telling me the specs of the machine you built?

Many thanks


Related resources
October 26, 2009 6:54:23 PM

Btw is that 640gb 5400rpm drive you mentioned 2.5"? I hear they run quieter.
October 26, 2009 10:19:12 PM

I'm in the process of waiting for part for my HTPC, but I went with nMedia 5000B because it matches everything around my tv and its only 5.4" tall

if possible I would recommend going x64; if you ever want to decode/transcribe/compress AV you will appreciate the higher ceiling on RAM...

IMHO -> the move to x64 will reach the mainstream soon
October 27, 2009 1:04:42 AM

My only current problem with going 64bit for an HTPC is that any decoder that is free that you can use on 32bit systems wont work on a 64bit yet. That may change sometime in the future but as for now its a problem. I know currently you aren't thinking you will be ripping dvd's to your hard drive but that may be a desire to you sooner than you think.

This was my main issue with going 64bit. Other than that its a great idea. Just try to identify any components you intend to install, such as the tv tuner card, sound card. etc... has a supported 64bit driver...
October 27, 2009 9:20:19 AM

My biggest gripe with 64 bit is its lack of compatability. I am going 32bit with now, I can always upgrade if I want to.

I am not particularly interested in ripping DVD's to my hard drive, and if I do the plan is to upgrade the storage space as and when so its not really an issue.
October 27, 2009 10:05:27 AM

Yes, I knew it wasn't an issue now but I am just informing you for if you decide to do it later you wont be telling yourself "I didn't know that was going to happen." ;) 
October 27, 2009 3:30:39 PM

Gareth,

The specs of my Media PC are:
Intel C2Q Q9400 (2.66Ghz)
4GB Kingston DDR2 667
1 x 640 Western Digital Green Drive (OS/Apps/Games/Downloads)
4 x Samsung 1.5TB in RAID5 (4.09TB Capacity once formatted - for DVDs/Video/Music) :D 
2 x LG SATA DVD-RW
NVidia 8600 512MB (Gigabyte SilentPipe3 - Passive Cooling)
500W Zalman ZM500-RS PSU
Wrapped it all in a Silverstone LC13-E Case

Backups: HDD Docking Station (Best 12 quid i've spent!)
I have around 6 more of the WD 640GB Green Drives now and they are pretty quiet and run very cool, use them as backup 'media' for my docking station on my Media PC. I don't fancy ripping over 400 DVDs again! :??: 

You asked about the HDD - it's a 3.5" model. 640GB Western Digital WD6400AACS Caviar Green

I'm looking to upgrade to an ATi 5-series graphics card BUT only if i can get one that's under 8" long. I also use my Media PC for light gaming (FIFA/Colin McRae/Need for Speed) rather than my main rig.

As for the debate over 32/64-bit, i can say this for sure: FFDshow64 decodes just about everything i can think of in terms of Video.
If you add the MediaControl 64-bit addon you can enable fast forward/rewind/skip section in ANY Video format. Sometimes Vista Media Centre has a bit of trouble with certain video types and will only allow start/stop/pause.
To be on the safe side, all of these things are available in 32-bit format. It's just nice to have access to all of your computers resources which is why i go for 64-bit.

The big problem I had is getting a motherboard with board with the Intel GX4500 graphics Chip, DVI/HDMI Video Output AND Optical Audio Out. I actually use a full size ATX motherboard (DFI Lanparty DK P45-T2RS) in mine, and added an NVidia 8600 to it.

If you are willing to drop Optical Audio Out then there are quite a lot of options as far as Intel 775 motherboards go. I'm hoping there's someone out there who can suggest one available in the UK which has all of the above.

Otherwise i would consider AMD build options. When you suggest that you wish to upgrade whatever/whenever i guess i would have to suggest going with an AMD AM3 platform. Intel i5/i7 have only just started to become available in MicroATX format but are still way to expensive.

You should be able to build a complete system fairly easily within your budget, if you like I can start on a list of suggested components tomorrow.

Kind Regards,
Jaffa
October 27, 2009 4:21:16 PM

Jaffa you are an absolute legend

I may go 64, I have access to both versions so its something I can upgrade to possibly, I too like to have access to as many system resources as I can, so I may go for this in the end.

The Audio isnt something thats too important at this time so yeah a 775 or equivalent board would do the trick.


One thing I notice on the AVERMedia site was the system requirements



* For TimeShift and Record in MPEG-2
o Intel Pentium® 4 2.4GHz with HT (Hyper-Threading)
o 128 RAM VGA card with DirectX 9.0c or above
o 512 MB RAM or above
o PCI-Express x1 slot
o Sound Card
o Windows XP/XP Media Center Edition/Vista/Vista Media Center Edition/7/7 Media Center
* For Dual Tuners Recording
o Intel Pentium® D 840 3.2GHz
o 1G RAM or above
* For HDTV (H.264) Single Tuner
o Intel Core2 Duo E6600
o 1G RAM or above
* For HDTV (H.264) Dual Tuners
o Intel Core2 Quad Q6600
o 1G RAM or above


Dual HD is definitely the way to go, or at least the possibility of adding it in the future so not afraid to beef up a little on the CPU. I think if I get a reasonably good motherboard with good expansion possibilities, and a good CPU I can start adding things like an additional tuner and blu ray at later dates. bang for buck is important to me and AMD are usually pretty reasonable. Plus a little overclocking can always help.

Do you think the graphics card benefits a HTPC system much when it is not used for games? Other than HD output at least.
October 28, 2009 11:12:01 AM

Gareth,

Have quickly came up with the following:

From www.scan.co.uk

4GB (2x2GB) Corsair Value Select, DDR2 PC2-5300(667), 240 Pin, Non-ECC Unbuffered, CAS 5-5-5-15 2
Scan Quickcode: LN21699
£66.16

Intel Core 2 Duo E7500, S775, Wolfdale, 2.93 GHz, 1066MHz FSB, 3MB Cache, 11x Ratio, 65W, Retail
Scan Quickcode: LN26187
£88.21

Gigabyte GA-EQ45M-S2, Intel Q45, Sok 775, PCI-E (x16), DDR2 667/800, SATA 3Gb/s, Micro ATX, VGA
Scan Quickcode: LN26529
£80.47

640GB Western Digital WD6400AACS Caviar Green, SATA 3Gb/s, IntelliPower, 16MB Cache, NCQ
Scan Quickcode: LN26809
£42.98

LG GH22NS50 22x DVD±R, 16xDVD±DL, DVD+RW x8/-RWx6 ,12xRAM SATA, Black, OEM
Scan Quickcode: LN28153
£16.66

Total from scan: £302.51 (inc p&p)


From www.x-case.co.uk

X-Case 360 Black Home Media Case With 400 Watt Psu
£67.78

Total from x-case: £67.78 (inc p&p)


These are just ideas, but probably the kind of system i would go for.

The only thing you need to decide on is your TV tuner card. Have you any preferences here yet?

I'll add a bit more information later but i have a fair workload this afternoon to be getting on with. At least this should give you some ideas.

Kind Regards,
James
!