New HTPC: Please review and comment...

I currently have Comcast for my internet and cable provider. I rent two HD/DVR receivers from them (for $11/mo, each), and that let's me record TV in the bedroom and in the living room. The problem with this setup is I can't watch shows from one DVR on the other receiver. I also hate the GUI provided with Comcast's HD/DVR box. This spurred my interest in building an HTPC... I like the idea of expanding my storage space, accessing the data in other rooms and on other devices and having a cleaner UI. The machine will be used for playing BluRay/DVD, watching Cable, streaming shows/music, and internet playback via Flash/Silverlight.

That's the build. I wanted to keep the build around $1000, at most, so I had to make a couple decisions I'm unsure of. Of course, I over-shooting my budget with the current configuration, so if you find a way to save some money, I'd love to see it!

1) The A8-3850 was picked for the cost, as well as the GPU. I know it's not as fast as an i5, but for the cost and the purpose of my machine, I figured this was a good move.

2) I'm considering going fanless for the PSU, to keep the noise level down. Is this a wise move, or should I go with a cheaper modular PSU (like an OCZ ZT) to help remove some of the extra cable? I've owned some of the OCZ ZT before and I'm comfortable with their reliability. My concern is sound versus airflow.

3) I picked a 64GB SSD for the OS and other applications needed to get the machine to function, but for video storage and playback, I choose the Western Digital AV-GP 1TB. Generally, I would go for a minimum of 7200RPM, but this drive seemed to get some buzz during my google-fu. Is 5400RPM sufficient for what I want to use it for?

4) Currently, I own the some Yamaha receiver that has six speakers (four surround, one center, one sub) and I'm kinda happy with it, but I wouldn't mind getting rid of the extra-large receiver and just plugging speakers directly into the HTPC. I figured I might be fine with a Asus Xonar DX. My receiver uses push-down terminals and simple audio cables with the red/black lines. How do I take six speakers and push them into that card? (Dumb question, I'm sure...)

So, what are your thoughts? Any advice?
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  1. What size are you consindering? miniITX, microATX or normal ATX?

    1) I would by an i3 and separate graphics card: pasive hd6450 or hd6570
    2) Good fanless PSU is a SeaSonic X-Series.
    3) For storage and playback 5400rpm is sufficient. If you plan to run the machine 24/7 consider buying enterprise level HDDs like WD RE4 / RED (if 5400) or Seagate ES.
    4) No need for dedicated sound card. Onboard audio will be enough, connect it to your receiver 5.1 input with mini jack -> 2 x cinch cables (3 cables will be required - front, rear, sub + center)

    Remember that if you go with fanless video card and PSU you will need a good airflow inside the case. I think what you need is a microATX board and a good quality case (thick steel to make things quiet). For that some additional fans will be required. Also a good idea is to look for a case with built-in infrared receiver to use a remote. It is also possible to use one working on radio frequencies and then its receiver is plugged into USB port.

    I don't know about recording/watching cable on PC and what hardware is needed. Maybe someone else can help.

    I noticed your pcpartpicker link after writing all this... :)
  2. 1) Your APU is more than adequate. If you're only planning on having video content available in one other room, then I'd even recommend dropping down to the A6-3500 Triple Core processor. The graphic capabilities are still good enough and you'll want one extra core for each additional room you want to dedicate a tuner to. This also drops $18 off your current total.

    2) I wouldn't worry so much about going fanless. Maybe I just have terrible hearing, but I can barely hear my HTPC with both PSU and graphic card fans running over ambient sounds and not at all over the sound of TV/Movies.

    3) I'm wondering why you have two 1TB drives listed. If your intent was to RAID those drives, ok, but if not, the a single 2TB Western Digital Caviar Green drive knocks $70 off your price.

    4) Specifically what Yamaha receiver do you have (make and model). There's no easy way (if there is any way at all) to use your Yamaha speakers directly connected to your PC. I do agree with Bejusek in that you do not need an add-on sound card at this point. Depending on your receiver, you may be able to use the HDMI out from the motherboard to the receiver for audio that way.

    -Wolf sends


    I would also note that you will require some sort of Media Extender to make available the content stored on your new HTPC to the secondary room. Unless you already have an XBox or PS3, I would hold off until the Ceton Echo is released (end of 2012).
  3. Thanks for the replies, guys.

    I'm probably going to stick with the A8 since there's a chance I might want to extend the HTPC content to spare bedrooms in the future for guests, or maybe even extend it to a TV near the pool table so we can watch games while we play pool. (The extenders do allow for live streaming of HD channels, yes?)

    Since being fanless isn't a concern, I'm going to be swapping that PSU with an OCZ ZT 550W PSU. I love the ZT series because they're affordable and modular.

    You raise a good point about the two 1TB drives. I picked them because I read some decent reviews about them... but it does make great sense to get a single 2GB drive. I can get the 2TB Caviar Green for $100, or the AV-GP for $116. The reason I originally picked an AV-GP drive is because Andatech (I think) touted their longevity in 'always-on' environments.

    As for Media Extenders, I'd be interested in getting an Echo so I don't have to move the Xbox to another room, or have the netbook hooked up to the TV in the master bedroom.

    I'll find out which model Yamaha receiver I have when I get home tonight.

    Thanks for the help so far.
  4. Quote:
    The extenders do allow for live streaming of HD channels, yes?

    Yes. It's a matter of assigning one of the Ceton Tuners to each extender. Please note that the last time I checked, the Ceton Tuner assignments were static (once assigned, always assigned) and not dynamic (assigned as necessary). So if you're looking at more that just a couple extenders, you may want to consider another cablecard option or maybe more than one Ceton Card.

    -Wolf sends
  5. Oh, weak. Just so I understand, if I have four tuners (without extenders) then I can record up to four simultaneous channels. If I add an extender, then I'm limited to three channels of simultaneous recording, while one is dedicated to streaming video to the other extender? I'm guessing it's still possible to stream recorded video to a laptop without dedicating a tuner?

    What other card options are there? I picked the Ceton card because my friend has one and he seems to like it...
  6. No, you still have four tuners. It's just that those tuners that are assigned to extenders are only available to those units. So in your example, the main machine would have three tuners available for simultaneous recording/viewing and the one extender could also be used (at the same time) for either recording or viewing. All tuners can still record and all recorded content is still available to all units.

    Also note that you do not have to assign a tuner to an extender. It's just one capability if you wanted to watch live TV one some other device (in another room).

    Other options would be:

    Hauppauge WinTV-DCR-2650 - Two Tuners - $100
    SiliconDust HD HomeRun Prime - Three Tuners - $160
    SiliconDust HD HomeRun Prime 6CC - 6 Tuners (requires two cablecards) - Currently out of stock

    -Wolf sends
  7. Hey Wolf

    My Yamaha Receiver is an HTR-5830 and it hooked up with four NS-AP1600S speakers, one NS-AP1600C and a YST-SW011 subwoofer.
  8. Ok. Looking at the specs for your receiver, it doesn't appear to have any HDMI inputs. It does, however, have S/PDIF Optical (2) and Coaxial (1) inputs. Unfortunately, the motherboard you've opted for does not have S/PDIF optical outputs.

    Option 1) Switch motherboards - I was looking at this Gigabyte GA-A75-D3H, but it costs about $15 more (after rebates).

    Option 2) Go with a Windows 7 compatible sound card like the ASUS Xonar DX you previously mentioned, but if you do not already own this card, I really can't see spending $90 for it; especially when you can get similar (if not identical) performance for only $15 more

    btw - I'm using on-board S/PDIF coaxial out from my motherboard to my receiver (Onkyo HT-S3200). It works just fine for me.

    -Wolf sends
  9. There is no need to change anything. Use 3 jack to cinch cables, and connect them to the 6CH Input on left hand side at the top of the receiver. Just as I wrote.
  10. I thought the HTPC and the sound card provide a way to remove the receiver from the setup altogether, so I'm left with one large box instead of two. :[
  11. The only way you're going to have just a single box is to remove the Yamaha Receiver and speakers and get a set of PC speakers.

    Looking a bit closer at Bejusek's solution, it looks like that would work without getting a different motherboard. Using a set of three cables like the one shown here:

    Each cable would connect to the 6 Channel input on your receiver as follows:

    Green PC output to Receiver Front
    Black PC output to Receiver Surround
    Orange PC output to Receiver Subwoofer and Center

    Otherwise, it's my suggestion of adding the sound card or getting a different motherboard.

    -Wolf sends
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