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Complex HTPC build - any help appreciated

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February 20, 2012 6:37:58 PM

Hi,

I plan to build a HTPC which will be quite complex, the main components I plan to use are listed below.

Processor: Intel I5 – 2500K
Graphics card: AMD Radeon HD 6850
Motherboard: [Currently unknown]
Power supply: 700W - [Currently unknown]
Soundcard: Esi Juli@

I plan to connect the PC to two separate TV/surround sound systems. The details of each are listed below.

System 1
Here I want to connect the soundcard to an amplifier/receiver via coaxial cable and at the same time run a HDMI cable from the graphics card to the TV.

System 2
In this room/system there is a newer amplifier/receiver that supports HDMI and I want to connect the graphics card to it and then, via the output on the receiver, connect a HDMI cable from the receiver to the TV. The receiver is an Onkyo tx-nr709.

Note: the systems do not have to work at the same time. I plan to be able to switch between the connections and therefore the systems via Windows 7. I also know that I will need a display port to HDMI adapter to connect to the graphics card to use two HDMI cables.

(Sorry I know this is long)

Ok so now the questions . . .

A) Is this possible? – I believe it to be so

B) Is this the best way to produce the best sound and video from the setup?

C) When playing the PC through ‘System 2’ will the soundcard process the sound and put/send it to the graphics card to output it via HDMI? If not how do I set it up? I believe it can be done if not with this sound card then maybe with another, which leads me onto my next question . . .

D) If I bought the ‘Asus Xonar HDAV1.3 Deluxe’ would I then be able to connect/link the graphics card with this sound card? Is this worth buying for a HTPC, would this be much better? – note I already have the Esi Juli@ from another PC.

E) Is there a way to make both the systems play at once with different media using windows 7’s multi-screen abilities?

F) Could you give any advice about other components to use?

Any help with any of the questions would be much appreciated.

Many thanks,
James
February 22, 2012 9:06:36 PM

Quote:
A) Is this possible? – I believe it to be so

I don't think that there is any possibility to output the sound via HDMI and S/PDIF coaxial at the same time. From my experience, Windows 7 only allows you to choose one or the other. It may be possible that you could run coax to both receivers using a splitter, but I'm not sure if that works or not. This will not allow you to use any HD audio streams such as DolbyTrueHD and DTS-HD.

Quote:
B) Is this the best way to produce the best sound and video from the setup?

Coaxial S/PDIF will provide digital sound for Dolby, DTS, PCM, etc. Of course, it cannot do the lossless HD audio streams from Blu Ray (DTS-HD, etc.)

Quote:
C) When playing the PC through ‘System 2’ will the soundcard process the sound and put/send it to the graphics card to output it via HDMI? If not how do I set it up? I believe it can be done if not with this sound card then maybe with another, which leads me onto my next question . . .

Your Radeon card will have audio hardware on the actual card that processes the audio and sends it out via HDMI. It is capable of sending the HD audio streams for blu ray, etc. Your onboard sound (or PCI(-x) sound card) is not involved in this process at all, and usually the onboard sound must be disabled in the BIOS for your Radeon HDMI audio to work properly.

Quote:
D) If I bought the ‘Asus Xonar HDAV1.3 Deluxe’ would I then be able to connect/link the graphics card with this sound card? Is this worth buying for a HTPC, would this be much better? – note I already have the Esi Juli@ from another PC.

The ASUS Xonar HDAV was a groundbreaking sound card several years ago, as it was the only way to get the HD audio tracks from blu ray incorporated into the PC's HDMI output. In my opinion, this card is a waste of money if you have any new video card with HDMI audio on board. Your Radeon HD 6850 will take care of this for you easily, and save you a wad of cash, too.

Also, I have heard people debate otherwise, but I am of the opinion that any sound being sent digitally is perfectly capable of being sent by either a high-end sound card or an onboard audio chip with equal precision. I don't think that an add-on card (such as your Juli@, nice as it is) in an HTPC has any benefits unless you are using the analog out (3.5mm/RCA) into a receiver. In that case, it appears that your Juli@ only does 2-channel audio for analog out.

Quote:
E) Is there a way to make both the systems play at once with different media using windows 7’s multi-screen abilities?

In short, no. You could technically show both systems with different videos no problem, but as I mentioned in section A), you can only have one sound output in Windows 7 (HDMI or S/PDIF or analog). Both audio streams would play on both systems. Also, if you're planning on using Windows Media Center, you can only have one instance running at a time.

The only solution I see for you is to make two different systems. Maybe you could step down the specs to reduce the price of each. If each computer is only driving one television, you can reduce the CPU to an i3 or an AMD Llano, maybe use the integrated graphics on the AMD, which would reduce power requirements, driving down the price of the PSU, etc. Just a thought. Or, you could just use your current specs to build just one system for now, as a learning experience, and then build another one later.

As for the motherboard, I tend to lean more towards ASUS or EVGA for Intel builds as they've worked out well for me personally, but I've heard good things about Gigabyte and MSI, as well.
a c 140 U Graphics card
February 23, 2012 11:57:12 AM

Sprinx gives some good advice, but a couple if items of note:

1) It may be motherboard dependent, but on-board sound does not need to be disabled in BIOS when using a graphics card for audio processing. I'm currently using both on-board sound (TOSLink) and an HD4670 HDMI output.

You cannot use them both simultaneously, however. There is a small program I use called AutoHotKey. I have this program running in the background and whenever I boot up the HTPC, I run a script that sets up a keyboard hot-key sequence (for instance ALT+F11). Using that hot key toggles the default audio output in Windows 7. In my case, from ATI HDMI to TOSLink and back.

2) As mentioned, you cannot use both systems at the same time, but depending on your usage (what do you plan on doing with this HTPC), there may be other options to building two separate systems.

3) As far as motherboards go, I agree with Sprinx's recommendations. Personally, I prefer Gigabyte and ASUS.

We really need to know what you system usage is going to be. If you're just looking for a central media center, your current selected options are way overkill. If you're looking for a gaming system, however, your choices are fine (sans the sound card).

-Wolf sends
Related resources
February 23, 2012 12:09:20 PM

Thank you very much for your information and you've made it quite simple for me.

However, I was having a rethink and if I bought a HDMI audio splitter, (please see link below for details) . . .

http://www.projectiondreams.com/htmlpages/movie%20magic...

. . . Would I be able to then output two different forms of separate media to the separate systems via HDMI, both coming from the graphics card?

I know that I would need a display port to HDMI adapter as the graphics card does not have two HDMI's. Is it possible to output like this from the graphics card, as they are different ports?

I presume that I will be able to also just play audio through the graphics card's outputs as well - is this true?

Finally if I couldn't show different media, would I be able to show the same media at the same time?

Many thanks again,

James
February 23, 2012 12:22:58 PM

I plan to use the HTPC for Media and light gaming. I’m also going to put a satellite TV tuner in the PC.

I hope this helps.
a c 140 U Graphics card
February 23, 2012 2:29:41 PM

If I remember correctly (not at home, so I can't verify), you're only going to get audio from the one active window. For instance, if you had two separate instances of Windows Media Player running two different media files, you'd only get the audio from the active window. To my knowledge, there is no way to get multiple active windows.

As far as getting the same to display on both systems, I don't believe that's possible either (with the possible exception of clone mode and non-maximized windows). Even so, you're not going to get audio in both rooms.

I think your best bet at this point would be to:

1) Use an extender in the second room. This connected to your main HTPC and gives you most of the same capabilities. Right now, about the only extender available on the market is the Microsoft XBox 360, but look for the upcoming Ceton Echo.

or

2) Build two separate, but smaller systems. If all you're looking to do is play media and light gaming, you don't need anything more than my HTPC specifications listed in my signature.

-Wolf sends
February 23, 2012 3:48:09 PM

Is it not possible to output a video to one source while playing audio to another? Is there no software which can do this?
Another question unrelated – does the quality/price of the Blu-ray optical drive effect the playback of the disc?
Many thanks,
James
a c 140 U Graphics card
February 23, 2012 10:03:40 PM

Quote:
Is it not possible to output a video to one source while playing audio to another?

Yes, you can certainly do that. What you cannot do is video AND audio to one source while playing different audio to another source.

Quote:
Is there no software which can do this?

None that I am aware of.

Quote:
Another question unrelated – does the quality/price of the Blu-ray optical drive effect the playback of the disc?

Not that I know of. I purchased the cheapest (or close to it) OEM Blu-Ray optical drive on Newegg. They were kind enough to include a PowerDVD 9 CD. I haven't had a problem with it yet.

-Wolf sends
February 24, 2012 8:57:54 AM

Thanks again Wolfshadw,

However is it not possible to use software like this . . .

http://www.multizoneaudioplayer.com/

. . . Or something similar to play audio to one output while playing different video and audio, i.e. a film, to another.

If anyone knows any way to do this it would be much appreciated, I'm willing to try anything as a media centre PC that can only play to one device at a time isn't that good to me.

Is it possible through running a version of Linux?
Or windows XP?

Anything that allows simultaneous playing, through two different outputs, of separate media, of any kind, would be much appreciated.

Many thanks again for your quick replies,

James
February 24, 2012 8:59:24 PM

JamesStopford said:
Thanks again Wolfshadw,

However is it not possible to use software like this . . .

http://www.multizoneaudioplayer.com/

. . . Or something similar to play audio to one output while playing different video and audio, i.e. a film, to another.


From the website, it looks like that only handles audio files (MP3, etc.) and doesn't do anything with video. As far as I know, what you want to do is not possible.

JamesStopford said:
I plan to use the HTPC for Media and light gaming. I’m also going to put a satellite TV tuner in the PC.

The best-working configurations for HTPC w/ Windows Media Center and TV tuning/recording involve either Cable TV or over-the-air broadcasts via antenna.

In my configuration, I have the cable hooked up directly to my ATSC / QAM tuners, and it captures all local high-def channels provided by my cable. I do not subscribe to anything other than basic cable (networks, PBS, etc.). If I did, I would only get those other channels (MTV, E!, Discovery) in standard definition analog.

If I wanted to view premium channels in HD, I would need to get a cable card tuner such as the one made by Ceton.

Over-the-air HD broadcasts are actually higher quality most of the time than cable, but this all depends on where you live and whether or not you want to get an antenna.

As far as satellite goes, from what I've read, there is not a wonderful solution for this, especially HD. Only recently have I seen anything that will work with HD Satellite:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
The Hauppauge Colossus will take the HD video from your existing satellite set top box and enable to you control the STB from within Windows Media Center. However, only one of these cards can be used in WMC. So, you would only be able to watch what you are recording. Plus, you would still need to keep your HD satellite STB next to your computer.

You could get the Colossus to record the premium channels and and then set up another tuner card or two to get the OTA HD local networks, if your house is in a good location.


Wolfshadw said:
Sprinx gives some good advice, but a couple if items of note:

1) It may be motherboard dependent, but on-board sound does not need to be disabled in BIOS when using a graphics card for audio processing. I'm currently using both on-board sound (TOSLink) and an HD4670 HDMI output.


Thanks for the correction, Wolfshadw; you are correct. I must have been thinking of when I installed my ASUS Xonar PCI card. That did require disabling the onboard sound in my BIOS. Now that I think about it, I can select between my ASUS card and my HDMI audio on my GTX 570 within Windows.

Also, thanks for the "auto-hot key" tip. I will put that on my current HTPC to switch between S/PDIF coaxial and the 3.5mm analog out, if I want to.

!