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Help with a home media project

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February 21, 2012 7:07:59 AM

Hello all, I really am in need of some help with this project I am realy hoping to get off the ground soon. I want to build an HTPC type computer and after researching for the last couple of weeks I seem to be going in circles and need some guidance to keep me on the right path. We recently ditched Directv and now use a PS3 for Hulu, Netflix, Vudu and discs. I store photos and home movies on a Buffalo NAS and stream to the PS3.

My wife and kids are getting fed up with the current setup and I have been asked to come up with something better. At first I envisioned a central server or HTPC that could supply 3-4 televisions. I learned about media extenders and although those seemed to be exactly what I was looking for, no one is making them anymore.

After upgrading my current PC I have leftover a:

Gigabyte GA-M57SLI-S4 motherboard w/ Athlon 64 X2 5000+ 2.60 GHz (Can be upgraded to a four or six core CPU)
6 GB of RAM
NVIDIA Geforce 9600 Video Card

Whatever I come up with live television is a must for the wife and kids. It needs to have storage for DVD's, both standard and Blue Ray, music, photos, home movies, etc. For me a PVR function is a must. I would like something that is very user friendly. I don't mind installing software and codecs but I don't want something that will require constant attention and updates. I also don't need anymore phone calls from my wife because she can't figure out how to get a movie playing while my two year is screaming and I'm at work.

What is the better option a server with HTPC's at each television? Or a central HTPC with say an Apple TV with XBMC at each television? How beefy of a system do I need to build to get good performance all the way around?

I think I am leaning toward the central HTPC. If I do that how much power does it need to have? Where should I put my money?

So any guidance in this project would be greatly appreciative. I guess I just need to narrow down the options. And I apologize in advance as I am sure many of these questions have been asked before. I am just overloaded right now with information and need someone to guide me through this mess.

More about : home media project

a b B Homebuilt system
February 21, 2012 12:42:01 PM

Google "Ceton Q and Echo". While the "Q" may not be what you're looking for, the "Echo" is the extender you're looking for when connected to you central HTPC. Unfortunately, they have not been released yet and no word as to when they will be (or cost).

Your system does not need to be overly powerful. See the specs of my HTPC in my signature.

-Wolf sends
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February 21, 2012 2:22:49 PM

I have similar family requirements in my household. Here's what my environment looks like (not necessarily the best setup but maybe somewhere to start).

I have a Windows Home Server 2011 where all my music, photos, documents, home videos, movies and recorded TV are stored. All clients are backed up here too. It has an ASUS E35M1-I motherboard in a Lian-Li PC-Q08 case. Sitting next to this is a SiliconDust HDHomeRun Prime CableCard tuner (I have Comcast) which sits on the network. It has 3 tuners. I also have an older HDHomeRun which right now can tune the unencrypted channels (networks). This is all in the basement.

At 2 of 3 TVs, I have an HTPC. One is a i3-2100/H61 with an HD5670 video card running through an Onkyo AVR to a plasma TV. It is wired to the network. This is in our living room. I have a Logitech remote that makes life easy for the kids/mom who want to watch TV and movies. The other HTPC in the bedroom is a G620/H61 hooked directly to an older plasma. It has a Microsoft MCE remote. Both HTPCs have an SSD which makes it "appliance" fast and a small notebook drive for live TV buffer and caching recorded TV before it is swept to the WHS. They also have their own ClearQAM tuner cards. They also have IOGear wireless keyboards. At the third TV, there is an old Linksys extender I got off eBay a couple of years ago. This is good enough for the kids to watch TV and DVDs. It doesn't play MKVs which most of my movies are in. Other goodies is a cheap fax modem in the server with W7CallerId that displays caller id on all the HTPCs/PC, a UPS for the server/routers/switches/Vonage, and a wireless network camera for looking out at the driveway. I am currently messing around with HTPC/WHS access via my WP7 mobile.

This has grown organically over the years. It's taken a lot of work and tweaking to get it setup and stable but now it's WAF is very high and even the little ones can use it. It's great having cable, PVR, music, movies, etc. all centralized in one interface (WMC7).
February 21, 2012 4:47:19 PM

Thanks for the responses everyone. I am an active member of some other forums and understand how frustrating it can be when people ask questions that amay have been answered before. I really didn't want to be "that guy but I really was lossing it last night!

admir00 said:
A server is a good idea if u have multiple TVs to stream to.
You could use your current PC, use it as storage and let it it stream to something like this:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
which would be hooked up to the other TVs.


I'm really on the fence between the server and HTPC. The biggest reason is I have never done a full server before and would love to try something new. But I have to step back from that because I don't think that is a good reason and I don't need to experiment. That device you linked to is somewhat what I want. The only problem is that device doesn't do local network streaming.

Wolfshadw said:
Google "Ceton Q and Echo". While the "Q" may not be what you're looking for, the "Echo" is the extender you're looking for when connected to you central HTPC. Unfortunately, they have not been released yet and no word as to when they will be (or cost).

Your system does not need to be overly powerful. See the specs of my HTPC in my signature.

-Wolf sends


I know, I saw the Ceton Echo the other night. It's exactly what I am looking for and should have mentioned that in the original post. I think I am looking to build something for the now with an eye to upgrading to the Ceton Echo's down the road. Unless I can be convinced there is a better way.

When you say "overly powerful" what should be my focus for a central HTPC. I was told that I should look at a minimum Quad core CPU if I want to stream to more than 3 TV's. Is that true? Does it make sense to say the motherboard, CPU and power supply are the most important when planning on streaming to multiple TV's and having multiple drives for storage?


Dougie Fresh said:
I have similar family requirements in my household. Here's what my environment looks like (not necessarily the best setup but maybe somewhere to start).

I have a Windows Home Server 2011 where all my music, photos, documents, home videos, movies and recorded TV are stored. All clients are backed up here too. It has an ASUS E35M1-I motherboard in a Lian-Li PC-Q08 case. Sitting next to this is a SiliconDust HDHomeRun Prime CableCard tuner (I have Comcast) which sits on the network. It has 3 tuners. I also have an older HDHomeRun which right now can tune the unencrypted channels (networks). This is all in the basement.

At 2 of 3 TVs, I have an HTPC. One is a i3-2100/H61 with an HD5670 video card running through an Onkyo AVR to a plasma TV. It is wired to the network. This is in our living room. I have a Logitech remote that makes life easy for the kids/mom who want to watch TV and movies. The other HTPC in the bedroom is a G620/H61 hooked directly to an older plasma. It has a Microsoft MCE remote. Both HTPCs have an SSD which makes it "appliance" fast and a small notebook drive for live TV buffer and caching recorded TV before it is swept to the WHS. They also have their own ClearQAM tuner cards. They also have IOGear wireless keyboards. At the third TV, there is an old Linksys extender I got off eBay a couple of years ago. This is good enough for the kids to watch TV and DVDs. It doesn't play MKVs which most of my movies are in. Other goodies is a cheap fax modem in the server with W7CallerId that displays caller id on all the HTPCs/PC, a UPS for the server/routers/switches/Vonage, and a wireless network camera for looking out at the driveway. I am currently messing around with HTPC/WHS access via my WP7 mobile.

This has grown organically over the years. It's taken a lot of work and tweaking to get it setup and stable but now it's WAF is very high and even the little ones can use it. It's great having cable, PVR, music, movies, etc. all centralized in one interface (WMC7).



Dougie it sounds like you have a general setup similar to mine. The only difference being since I am starting new I would like to keep each client the same so there are not multiple systems to learn for the kids and wife. And yes the "WAF" is important. In the past she hasn't approved of many of my projects and the costs associated with them!

My main TV will connect through a Denon AVR and another through a Pioneer AVR. The third and fourth future televisions will be stand alone televisons with no AVR. I like that HdHomerun. I was going to use one or two of the Haupauge internal tuners on a central HTPC. Question, if you have a central tuner such as the HdHomerun why the need for other tuners at the client end? How does it work when say 2 or 3 televisions are watching Live TV at the same time? Also if I were to have 1 or two of the HdHomerun connected in the basement can you schedule recordings at any client in the network?

I have a couple of scencarios in my head that need clarification.

Server with WHS---Doesn't need to be super powerful? Focus on PSU and hard drives?
HTPC w/ Win7 as a central device----Again doesn't need tons of power? Focus on motherboard, CPU (Cores?), RAM
Clients to either a server or HTPC-----Should have a somewhat stronger CPU? Needs a good video card? Smaller hard drive?

So far this has helped and I hope to hear more from people. Again thanks for the help!

Mike
a b B Homebuilt system
February 21, 2012 6:25:06 PM

Quote:
When you say "overly powerful" what should be my focus for a central HTPC. I was told that I should look at a minimum Quad core CPU if I want to stream to more than 3 TV's. Is that true? Does it make sense to say the motherboard, CPU and power supply are the most important when planning on streaming to multiple TV's and having multiple drives for storage?


When I say your system doesn't need to be overly powerful, I mean that my system, with a quad-tuner, is running on a AMD Athlon II X2-240 processor with 4 Gig of RAM. It's been known to record two shows while simultaneously watching a third (that's about all I've ever needed to stress it) and it's never even hiccuped.

As far as streaming to other systems, I've heard it said, for each stream to another system, you want one CPU core and one GIG of RAM. I would amend this statement saying for each currently active stream to another system... So with wife and kids looking to watch some TV at probably the same time, I'd definitely recommend going with a quad-core and a minimum of four GIG of RAM. I'd probably also mention to make sure you're running a Gigabit network and your motherboard in the central HTPC supports it.

-Wolf sends
February 23, 2012 5:23:36 PM

Honestly, I already had the ClearQAM tuners and since we watch/record mostly network TV (which is ClearQAM) I figure why not use them. The three tuners in the SD HomeRunPrime get used for channels that must go through the CableCard tuner. I used a program called Guide Tool to make the ClearQAM tuners the priority for ClearQAM channels. That gives me 6 tuners available for each PC: 1 local ClearQAM, 2 network ClearQAM and 3 network CableCard. This keeps conflicts, especially recording conflicts, down to a bare minimum.

With the network tuners, the client app will just get whatever tuner is available on the network. Each client *thinks* the tuner is local because of the driver installed locally. My HTPC are configured to see all six tuners and the one that gets used is based on the priority assigned for each channel (again Guide Tool makes this easy). You schedule the recordings locally. WHS has a add-in for WMC that'll archive the recordings when they are done automatically to the WHS box. Anything recorded without a copy-protection flag can be watched on any client. Anything recorded with copy-protection can be watched on the client that recorded it and any extenders of that client. The actual recording files can reside on the server w/o issue.

If you are just serving up the media, then the server doesn't need much power -- it's open SATA ports you are after and low power draw (hence my choice of E35M1-I -- six SATA ports, mini-ITX, e350 1.6Ghz dual core). If you plan to do more like video transcoding, host a website, etc. you want something more powerful.

Clients need to be powerful enough to deal with applications that doesn't make use of the GPU (Netflix for instance). But, even a G530 is powerful enough to overcome that obstacle. E350 or Atom/ION -- not so much. I think the ultimate performance enhancer for any client is an SSD boot drive. It makes a huge difference for WMC operations like loading the guide, browsing music/movie libraries and just general interaction via the remote. I recently had to go back to a HDD on one machine because the SSD went flaky and I hate it -- too much lag for what you want to act like an STB/appliance.

I've also heard the one core/1GB per extender thing too. My i3-2100 HTPC handles one extender going and the HTPC going at the same time with no hiccups.

All my stuff is wired. No wireless. I had too many issues with wireless.
February 24, 2012 7:34:13 AM

Thanks everyone for the responses. I have started upgrading my office computer and thus the HTPC/Media Server build will begin shortly. I decided to give the apple TV's a try with the XBMC software. If Ceton comes out with their media extenders later this year I'll switch to those. But for now the the Apple TVs seemed to be the best for the money.

Today I went over to Microcenter here in Minneapolis and picked up some goodies. For my office computer I got:

Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3H-B3
Intel I5 2500K processor
OCZTech 120 Gb SSD
16 Gb of Corsair Ram

I'll keep my existing 500 Gb drive in the office PC and use the 120 Gb SSD for the OS and programs. Still trying to decide what I want to do for the video card in this machine. For now I'll be using my old XFX Geforce 9600 GT. Hopefully that will get me by for a while.

While I was at Microcenter I also picked a cheap case for the HTPC/media server and a Phenom II X6. My plan was to use the new AMD chip in the old motherboard coming out of the upgraded PC. But Microcenter had a bundle deal going and I ended up getting a new motherboard just for buying the AMD processor. So for the media server I'll have :

GigabyteGA-78MLT-s2P mATX
Amd Phenom II X6 1045T
4 Gb of Kingston RAM
Seagate 1.5 Tb drive
3x 500 Gb drives

Since this machine will be more for streaming I'll use the onboard graphics. I have an old screen I'll hook up to it for maintenance. I'll add more storage/less drives when the prices come down. Today's shopping spree bit into the $1500 budget I was given by my wife.

Next on the list will be two Apple TV boxes. I'll figure out what I'll do for my tuner cards or HDHomerun later.


Is there a differnce between the newer/smaller HDHomerun and the older one?
a b B Homebuilt system
February 24, 2012 11:26:41 AM

Looking at Newegg, I only see three HDHomeRun devices. The Dual (ClearQAM/ATSC), The Prime (CableCard - Three Tuners) and the Prime 6CC (CableCard - Six Tuners). To which are you referring?

-Wolf sends

P.S. I'm in the Twin Cities as well.
February 24, 2012 2:23:01 PM

Yes, those are the most current ones as far as I can tell. There are several of these on ebay:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/SiliconDust-HDHomeRun-HDHR-US-N...

I actually grabbed one last night for $38 w/ Free shipping. I figured the price is right and this way I can test everything out and if I don't like it I'm only out $38 instead of $90+. I still can't figure why the Elgato brand tuners are selling for so much when they are basically the same thing.

Cool, so you know how boring the winters can be and how a project like this can really lift the spirits! I also like having Microcenter within driving distance. Microcenter beat the prices on both Tigerdirect and Newegg on everything I bought yesterday.
a b B Homebuilt system
February 24, 2012 2:59:36 PM

Well, I had been *cough*cough* saving money *cough*cough*, buy going out to the Braemer Golf Dome to keep the swing ready for Spring, but since that burned down...

Actually, I had forgotten about that version of the HDHomeRun Dual. From what I can tell, there is no difference between that version and the latest. I think you got a steal! Elgato is probably just playing with the accepted $50/tuner model that Ceton seems to be pushing.

-Wolf sends
February 24, 2012 3:23:24 PM

My buddy was talking about hitting there about a month ago and then the news about it collapsing! Can't really complain about winter this year. I coach both of my son's hockey teams and we never had one chance to skate outside. The ice never took. We tried once and it was horrible.

There are a few of those older tuners available. So no loss in quality or function by going with the older ones? If not I'll probably pick up one or two more at that price.
a b B Homebuilt system
February 24, 2012 5:05:19 PM

I've never tried one of the older models (or any of the SiliconDust line up), so I can't say.

-Wolf sends
!