I've been watching these boards for a while and am at an impasse for my HTPC build. I can't decide between a set up using an AMD chip with discrete GPU or an Intel i3 with integrated graphics. Throw in waiting for Sandybridge and I'm at a loss.
My goal here is to spend less than $500 all in. I don't need to buy tomorrow and, if SandyBridge is the right way to go, am happy to wait until April when Intel clears up the SB production issues.
I'm truly stuck/confused by the most cost effective way to build out an HTPC that will last a good long while (four years) that is fully HDCP compliant, supports 1080 output (1080p and 1080i), handles 24fps, and supports audio bitstreaming to both 5.1 and 7.1 systems.
HTPC will be dedicated to media playback - music, movies, photos - and maybe a little internet surfing. No gaming, no video transcoding, no ripping. Video (movies, TV) via Hulu Plus, Netflix, and from my own collection (some avi, mkv, divx, xvid file formats - probably via either Windows Media Center or using VLC), plus DVD playback of both standard DVDs and Blu-Ray (sometimes from the disc media, sometimes ripped and played from a local HDD or from my NAS). My only other requirement is that the build not be too noisy (though I'm not obsessive about it) and that is not be a power hog.
I've got a top of the line home built i7 desktop in my home office that handles all my other computing needs.
Picking out the following parts won't be an issue: PSU, HDD (WD-Green 2TB), ODD (LiteOn), RAM, CASE, OS (Win7), Tuner Cards (2 dual AverMedia).
My TV is a year old 1080 Samsung. I'll connect via HDMI to the TV. Optical audio will be run to my audio receiver (Marantz) - either directly from the HTPC or from the TV. I've got an antenna for OTA TV. The whole house is wired with CAT-5, so no need to even worry about wireless distribution.
I want to ditch ATT Uverse. I've been researching HTPCs for a while, but this issue has me stumped. Any and all suggestions are appreciated!
One thing you have on your "want list" that makes the decision easy: 24fps.
Intel flubbed up when it comes to 24fps (actually, it's 23.976fps). Neither Clarkdale or Sandy Bridge are capable of outputting 23.976 properly. Read Anandtech's review here in which the problem is discussed. It is a hardware problem and isn't scheduled to be fixed until Ivy Bridge.
Therefore, I say you should go AMD with a discreet card. AMD/ATI cards can do everything you want, and quite a few Nvidia cards can too but you have to do a little research to find which Nvidia cards will work. The GeForce 430 is a good example of a nice Nvidia HTPC card, and it supports 3D blu-ray too. AMD/ATI support 3D (HDMI 1.4a) blu-ray on the HD6xxx series cards, but there are no low-end or medium cards released yet which are more appropriate for HTPC use.
If you want all of the post-processing capabilities available, you will need an AMD/ATI HD5570 or above.
I'm very familiar with Intel MB and CPU, but have little knowledge regarding AMD MB and CPU components. Any advice? I'd probably go with either a micro-ATX or a standard ATX size board.
With two dual tuners, my goal is to have a setup that can record up to three shows while watching a fourth. Or to record four shows while watching DVD/Blu-Ray/local video content or listening to music. Though with OTA TV, not sure I'll ever find four shows to record simultaneously.
ATM I think you should go with AMD. Cheaper and you have to get a discrete to utilize the Bit streaming audio anyways. I'm unsure if you'll need the 1.4a, since your TV would have a 3D function wouldn't it?
Check out my siggy for builds though! I just added HTPC/Office computer builds.
Since silence is a high priority in an HTPC, maybe consider a passively cooled card (assuming you have decent case flow), though you may find passive cards taking up more that one expansion slot. It will probably depend on the motherboard you choose if you can afford to lose a slot.
Or, do your research about the cards with fans to make sure they are quiet enough for you.
AMD motherboards... it's the same as Intel for the best brands. You can't lose with Asus or Gigabyte. The latest/greatest chipsets are the 8xx series. You can also still find some decent 7xx series motherboards, but look carefully because some are DDR2 and some are DDR3.
Oh, and about the tuners... definitely get 4 since you may need all 4 even if only recording 2 different channels. Let me explain. If you are recording two sequential TV programs on the same channel you will want to continue recording the first program a little bit beyond it's end time, but you'll want to start recording the next program on time when it starts, but before the first program has stopped recording thereby using two tuners for one channel. Two channels with sequential programs running like this will briefly take up all 4 tuners where they all overlap.
I highly recommend you set your HTPC up to record sequential programs this way. I didn't at first and it was very frustrating because the tuner would record the first 5 minutes of the second program at the end of the first program. The second recording would then start 5 minutes into the second program. Sometimes my wife would watch the first program and erase it and I would lose those first 5 minutes of the second program. Or, sometimes I would want to watch the second program first, but would have to fast forward to the end of the first recorded program to catch the first 5 minutes.
BTW, there is a trick to forcing WMC to use two tuners on sequential programs that's not very obvious. It likes to use only one tuner for sequential programs.
I could only pick one answer as the best answer. But all the feedback is really helping me to focus in on the right solution at the right price. Personally, I'd always been an Intel fan, but no more. I'm now moving to AMD. Maybe I'll go back one day, but for the money, it appears to be the best choice.
Now I've got to go find the right passive cooled video card that supports full HDMI and HDCP.
Good times! I will post my build when I finally pull the trigger. Now to find the TIME to get this project under way!