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Help with HTPC/NAS build

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April 18, 2012 12:59:20 AM

Hey,

So I've been doing some reading, and I'm looking to build a HTPC and NAS. I already have a desktop computer (i7, 6gb RAM). My requirements are:

- Having a central location for movies/tv shows/files/pictures etc, likely a RAID setup for the NAS
- Being able to stream to my HDTV, other computers, iPhone/iPad
- Being able to use XMBC/Boxee/Whatever to manage media
- low power/sound, as HTPC will not be used for gaming
- iPhone/iPad as a remote
- Start with 2TB space, maybe with the option to get more HDDs if required

My questions are:
- Do I need a HTPC for my needs? Or will a NAS be enough? I could also encode/rip, download, on my desktop and transfer those to the NAS. I guess for on-the-fly transcoding for certain files, I may need the HTPC right?
- If I want to stream things (Netflix, from the web, etc) I would need a HTPC correct? My desktop computer is likely power-hungry.
- Is there a difference between a HTPC and a media server?


Budget: $1000-$1200 (together combined)


Thanks!

// Mike

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April 18, 2012 1:30:24 AM
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mmilo said:
Hey,

So I've been doing some reading, and I'm looking to build a HTPC and NAS. I already have a desktop computer (i7, 6gb RAM). My requirements are:

- Having a central location for movies/tv shows/files/pictures etc, likely a RAID setup for the NAS
- Being able to stream to my HDTV, other computers, iPhone/iPad
- Being able to use XMBC/Boxee/Whatever to manage media
- low power/sound, as HTPC will not be used for gaming
- iPhone/iPad as a remote
- Start with 2TB space, maybe with the option to get more HDDs if required

My questions are:
- Do I need a HTPC for my needs? Or will a NAS be enough? I could also encode/rip, download, on my desktop and transfer those to the NAS. I guess for on-the-fly transcoding for certain files, I may need the HTPC right?
- If I want to stream things (Netflix, from the web, etc) I would need a HTPC correct? My desktop computer is likely power-hungry.
- Is there a difference between a HTPC and a media server?


Budget: $1000-$1200 (together combined)


Thanks!

// Mike



Hi there mike!

If you want to stream content to your HDTV I highly recommend building an HTPC rather than going with a NAS. The HTPC can run the XBMC media center and play the content directly via HDMI, I do not know of any NAS that can do this. An HTPC is nothing more than a compact PC, it can do everything that your desktop computer can; NAS are severely limited by their hardware and are usually running a closed platform so say goodbye to XBMC.

>Is there a difference between a HTPC and a media server?

A "media server" is loosely defined. As far as most software companies are concerned, a media server is a device that makes media available over a home network. Media servers often transcode media from a high bitrate format to a low bitrate to suit network conditions or endpoint playback capabilities. This is unnecessary, buggy, and deserving of spite. More often then not it will simply take a perfectly good MKV packed h264/AC3 packed video and turn it into a blocky MPEG2.2/MP3 abomination. The more traditional way of serving up media is to either share the storage location on the network so that anonymous users can access it (anyone with local network access) or have the media attached directly to the endpoint. This way, the endpoint simply accesses the media and plays it as intended or fails to play it at all. There's no middle ground where you're getting less quality than you should.

An HTPC is a PC which runs media playback software such as XBMC. XBMC is capable of accessing media stored locally, accessible directly over the network via network sharing, or accessing media indirectly over the network via a media server. My last paragraph indicates that you should avoid the last one for good reason.

The question you need to ask yourself is: do you really need an HTPC? I always have my desktop turned on (yay for fixed utilities) so my media is always accessible on my desktop. I used to simply access it directly over the network from a dedicated home theater device (Seagate Theater+) which handles all the decoding and playback. I later scrapped that and ran a 50 foot HDMI cable from my computer directly to my amplifier and then grabbed a 75 dollar media remote which works wonders.

$1,000-$1,200 is a lot to budget for something when your primary use for it is just streaming. If you're planning on using it to actually store and transport media or simply don't want to leave your PC on while you're watching something then you can probably build a decent HTPC for around 500-600 bucks (go with an AMD Fusion APU). If you don't mind having your PC on then you can go with a dedicated media player (I recommend the Seagate lineup. It's not perfect but the price is right. Don't use the PS3 or Xbox 360, the codec support is atrocious). If your PC has enough room for the extra hard drives and is close enough to your TV then you can just hook it up directly.

Summary:

HTPC: 500-600 bucks. mATX formfactor

dedicated media player: 120-150 bucks. Do your research first! There are a lot of low quality ones out there

Direct connection: 50 dollar 50' HDMI cable. Don't skimp on the cable, it's out of spec

I hope this helped!
April 18, 2012 2:16:49 AM

Pinhedd,

Thanks for your reply! It was definitely useful. The budget was with the assumption I may need both a HTPC/NAS.

I don't have fixed utilities (sigh), but power-aside, it sounds like a good setup would be to setup a XMBC server on my desktop for the TV to connect to (instead of a HTPC), and have that access the content on the NAS.

This may seem silly, but I'm not sure what this Seagate suite of media players is. Does it fit into the same category as (say) an Apple TV / Roku, except with HD space (so no NAS is necessary).
Is it an easy out-of-the-box replacement for the HTPC/Desktop?

Thanks again!
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April 18, 2012 3:14:36 AM

mmilo said:
Pinhedd,

Thanks for your reply! It was definitely useful. The budget was with the assumption I may need both a HTPC/NAS.

I don't have fixed utilities (sigh), but power-aside, it sounds like a good setup would be to setup a XMBC server on my desktop for the TV to connect to (instead of a HTPC), and have that access the content on the NAS.

This may seem silly, but I'm not sure what this Seagate suite of media players is. Does it fit into the same category as (say) an Apple TV / Roku, except with HD space (so no NAS is necessary).
Is it an easy out-of-the-box replacement for the HTPC/Desktop?

Thanks again!


Does your PC have enough space internally for additional hard drives? If so you should use them rather than buying a NAS. If you don't have space you should consider buying an external RAID enclosure and connecting that via eSATA or USB3 (if your PC has it). A mid range NAS will cost you about 200 bucks without hard drives. Anything cheaper than that is garbage. Even the mid range NAS that I've worked with leave much to be desired. The read/write and access times are very slow, about a full order of magnitude slower than an external RAID enclosure.

NAS sound neat but in practice there are almost always better solutions so unless there is a compelling reason to invest in one, I would avoid it for media storage purposes. Example in point, rewinding and fast forwarding videos served up from a NAS is extremely irritating because it simply can't read fast enough.

NAS that are advertised as having gigabit connectivity rarely actually transmit data faster than 100mbps and even that is subject to heavy delays due to the lackluster IO controllers and weak processors. The DLink that I used had read speeds of around 20MBps (160megabits per second) and write speeds of 15MBps (120MBps). Even USB 2.0 could handle that and still have time for a nap. The external RAID enclosure that I have has 4 2TB hard drives in RAID-0 and has read speeds in excess of 235MBps (1880megabits per second, almost twice that of gigabit Ethernet) and write speeds in excess of 180MBps. That's a 10 fold difference between the two with the 4 bay RAID enclosure costing half as much as the 4 bay NAS.

A NAS is basically a really weak computer with proprietary and often buggy firmware. If you don't explicitly need a NAS, don't buy one. There are a few good NAS out there but they are far more expensive and are still hard to justify

As far as dedicated media players go, they're hit and miss. None of them are as good as a well designed HTPC but they can be had for as little as $100. Here's an example of one of the better ones

http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/products/home_entertai...

They're basically a substitute for XBMC. They can decode a ton of container formats and support a ton of audio and video codecs. A lot of the decoding is done in special decoding hardware which means that the actual processing capabilities are very limited. I've never found one that I didn't have a gripe with but the price is right. They are smaller, easy to use and far cheaper than an HTPC. Some media players have space for internal storage but honestly they rarely put any effort into the IO capabilities and thus R/W speeds are crap
April 18, 2012 1:33:35 PM

Thanks once again for your help! I know you've typed out quite a bit. Given me more to read up on.

Since the main issue is connecting the HDMI cable to my desktop I may have to revert to a NAS after all.
April 25, 2012 12:15:18 AM

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