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Cheapest HTPC

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April 21, 2010 9:06:04 AM

So, I'm very familiar with high performance computers. I know pretty much where any CPU or GPU falls in terms of performance and could compare any two systems in a matter of seconds. But when you only focus on one segment of the market, you sometimes neglect others.

What I'm looking to do is to buy a nice TV and surround sound system (receiver/component speakers), and I want to use a computer as the primary input source for both. Essentially, everything will connect through this computer.

So here is my question: What is the cheapest build that I can do that would allow me to play blue-rays and other media and not sacrifice any visual appeal.

I know my high end graphics cards and CPU's would be up to the task, but I'm not really sure if onboard graphics, or low end cards can handle blue-rays/other media. To be honest, I really have no idea of the what the capability of onboard graphics is, or what the requirements for blue-rays are. I will not be playing video games on this system. It will be exclusively used for the theater system/storage.

Also, it would be nice to have:
-at least 2 TB of storage
-if i could somehow input the digital cable box through my computer
-a remote control for the computer (can some control both windows and the digital cable that usually comes with a separate remote??)
-ability to transfer files (because all my computers are on my home network, and I would like for this computer to also be my media storage) while simultaneously outputting audio/video
-a very quiet computer
-low power consumption (although this is low on the priority list)


Question: Will I be able to record digital cable channels with the computer?

Please also include any cables I will need/recommendations on the best way to input/output the data to my TV/receiver!

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April 21, 2010 12:18:18 PM

Budget?

If you can wait a little bit, I'll suggest that you grab one of the CableCard tuners that are just on the horizon. Ceton has a 4 tuner card ($399) and Silicon Dust will be coming out with a CableCard HDHomeRun double tuner ($250). The Ceton is available for pre-order and will be released May 31st.

These new CableCard tuners can completely replace your digital cable box, though they do not support video on demand.

Give us a budget and we'll come up with the rest of the build. Right now, I'm thinking Intel i3 paired with an H55 motherboard.
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April 21, 2010 12:27:15 PM

It would help to have a budget, but even a cheap HTPC is capable of HD playback.

You could go with an Intel i3 and use the integrated graphics, or you could do something like Athlon II Regor (even 240 is enough) and simple 785g motherboard. This does not get you the full sound, but that can be done with the latest generation ATI cards - even the lower model.

I built a HTPC for $300 - $400 that is fully capable of HD playback.

You can record TV, but as suggested, the new cable cards are coming out that will let you record HD channels as well.

Get us the budget and we'll help you pick out some parts.
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April 21, 2010 4:52:29 PM

Ideally I'd like to spend around $300-400, but being as I want 2 TB of storage, I don't think that will happen.

There really isn't a budget. I just want something that will perform flawlessly *with the features I listed* for the lowest I can get it for. I'm expecting it will fall in the 500 or 600 dollar range, but if not, just build it how you think would be best.

Is this the same kind of card you're talking about: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
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April 21, 2010 6:05:38 PM

The 2TB of storage will set you back a bit, but it seems like it's doable.

I don't have time right now, but will put together a list as soon as I get chance.

No, that isn't exactly what I was talking about - the cablecards are new and will allow you to record the HD channels from Cable....right now, you can record the non-HD with a digital tuner like the one you listed, or the Hauppauge 2250, which I personally like.
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April 21, 2010 9:31:46 PM

This dual tuner card from Hauppauge lets you watch and record two different TV channels, and it doesn't matter if they're digital or analog.

So, it can record digital signal, but not HD??? I thought HD was just a quality standard..
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April 21, 2010 9:51:09 PM

The Hauppauge tuner will only allow you to record clear QAM channels. You won't be able to record any of your premium channels. That's what the new cards mentioned will allow you to do, but they haven't been released yet.
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April 21, 2010 9:58:27 PM

Okay, I think I'm starting to understand this a bit more.

What are the other signal types that most cable service providers transmit for premium/other channels? Is there a list of commonly used signal types around somewhere?

Seems like they are a little slow on the ball if they are just now releasing cards that can record these other signal types. Are there cards that have more limited functionality (such as the ability to only play and not record) already released?
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April 22, 2010 1:11:41 AM

Yea, everything I'm reading is talking about: "You can record HD with this card."

There is no mention of signal formats except on a few technical specs of products.

In terms of understanding what formats are used at different points as the signal travels from origination (broadcast) to destination (my TV), there is nothing. This brings up questions such as: Does a PVR translate the signal to another format before it reaches the TV? Still leaves me in wonder of all the commonly used formats as well.
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