Building The Perfect One-Box HTPC?
This is really the Holy Grail of HTPC-building, is it not? Reader plbyrd wanted to see if we could eliminate all of the other components in a home theater setup, replacing them with this one machine. Depending on your home theater needs, the answer is that you can come close.
By definition, a Home Theater in a Box bundles everything you need—often including speakers, wire, connectors, a remote, a receiver, and a DVD player—in one package. Obviously, Maui doesn’t come close to that. You need to piece the system together, have your own speaker/sub setup, and get inventive when it comes to accessories like remotes. However, Maui does come closer than any HTPC configuration I’ve seen to filling the role of a single-box solution.
What It Does Right
Most obvious is the platform’s audio capabilities, which work to its favor in 5.1-channel speaker setups. The built-in amplifier does serve to replace your stereo receiver with quality output, so long as you’re able to stomach the fact that it won’t yet support Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA. When you’re watching Blu-ray content, you’ll get the equivalent of Dolby Digital or DTS output instead.
Next up are its video features. The 780M chipset, on which this platform centers, sports a Radeon HD 3200 graphics engine, itself including the Avivo HD video processing component. Avivo HD is comprised of several individual capabilities, such as HDCP encryption keys, functionality from ATI’s Xilleon chip, functionality from the Theater 200 component, HDMI audio output, and the Unified Video Decoder.
The Xilleon is actually a useful addition, enabling underscan/overscan correction that was needed to adjust the default Catalyst 9.6 video setting. Of course, you won’t be using the HDMI audio output in light of the D2Audio amp (and the fact that 780M only delivers stereo LPCM over HDMI). More important is the UVD 2.0 decoder borrowed from ATI’s Radeon HD 4000-series discrete cards. By enabling hardware acceleration of VC-1, MPEG-2, and H.264 decoding, Blu-ray playback is offloaded from the host processor to the GPU.
Moving on, the inclusion of a TV Wonder HD 650 PCIe card, sporting analog and digital tuners, opens the door to OTA digital/HDTV, analog cable, and Clear-QAM digital cable reception. Used with Windows 7’s Media Center, the stage is set for scheduled recording, time-shifting, and place-shifting. This is probably great if you’re paying for the $12 basic cable package or the $59 digital/extended package. However, it’s a little (lot) less ideal if you’re paying for premium content and are a do-it-yourselfer. In order to access those channels, you need a digital cable tuner (otherwise known as an OpenCable Unidirectional Receiver, or OCCUR). The good news is that ATI has one.
What It Does Wrong
The bad news is that you can only get it through SIs. AMD claims this is due to the legal requirements tied to protecting premium content. But that doesn’t change the fact that if you want to get those channels via CableCARD/ATI’s TV Wonder Digital Cable Tuner, you have to buy your Maui box.
The other notable weakness here is Maui’s I/O—specifically its I. When you buy a stereo receiver today, you’ll probably want multiple HDMI inputs and at least one output. The inputs are good for attaching DVD players, gaming consoles, HTPCs, etc, while the output generally runs straight to your TV. Well, the MSI Media Live board is loaded with outputs, including HDMI. But it isn’t equipped with an HDMI repeater—the component that’d let you connect a console, change inputs, and game through the PC. For more elaborate home theater setups, you really would want a receiver factored in, defeating the purpose of the D2Audio amp.
Unfortunately you ran into that DRM breakdown problem, where one snagged link in the hardware/software chain negated the high-quality features we're supposed to be enjoying through "easy" and "transparent" copy protection schemes. DRM will make criminals of us all, one way or another: if not by trying to get around it, then when we go on a bloody rampage out of frustration from trying to make it work.
I do agree in your choice of a dedicated receiver. I've got an Onkyo receiver connected to Yamaha speakers in a 7.1 arrangement that I use primarily as a source switch. Originally I had three DVD changers that I replaced with a HTPC. It's worked well, but now with a growing BD library I need to take a second look at my system. Unlike you, however, I chose to go with a dedicated gaming box alongside with passive PSU, passive GPU and a silent CPU heatsink for big-screen gaming. The multiple HDMI and audio inputs on the receiver helped out big time. I also have a dedicated BD player at the moment that I'll probably keep just in case.
ugly too. Q1) how to SET? the best res? and Q2) should I use HDMI or PC-input (D-Sub 15 pin) to connect? DVD player connected to watch movie look great. HELP... some one?
... Of course, nearly everyone makes these mistakes, because even home theater and PC enthusiasts tend to think that like the screen or PC, higher quality components is all you actually need for better results... which is true only after you solve all the acoustic issues in your setup.
I have started my quest for the holy grail of htpc 2 years ago and have found it about a month ago. I set for myself the following requirements:
-it must be 1 box that is able to handle ALL available media
-it must be user friendly and relative dummy proof: no switching audio formats and settings in between movies, just press play and experience the magic (a typical non-tech minded person must be able to play it all)
-it must serve as TV-VCR in it's highest possible quality
-the audio quality must be at high end hifi quality in such a degree that if you play FLAC from it professional hifi dealers are blown away
-video must be full-HD
-it must be able to play current videogames fluent in full-hd res
-it must be able to handle all bluray audioformats flawlessly including dts-hd, master and LPCM WITHOUT HAVING TO SET ANYTHING OR SWITCH ANYTHING in the settings of the htpc
-it must appear and look like a receiver, not like a pc in the living room
-the surround sound must meet THX reference standards and volume
my quest led me through (funny) the exact same products and their respective problems among many others. I was able just like you to get the digital passthrough to work with the Xonar 1.3 deluxe but with that card a few problems remain such as having to switch standards before playing it in the Xonar console, malformed LPCM that sounds flattened and lacking bass etc and last but not least the very slow hdmi-video switching of all Onkyo receivers so that wasn't perfect. Then I went to a hi end hifi seminar and listened to the professional audiocard of Onkyo and was totally blown away by the amazing crystal clear sound quality it produces in combination with a proper receiver that amplifies the channels seperately in a fully analogue way. That's when the light hit me. I rebuilt my entire htpc concept around this "analogue" setup and left the trail of the "immature hdmi" path. The result was amazing. 1 time calibration with the aid of Vista Ultimate built-in room correction and I was in the middle of the best htpc experience I had ever witnessed. I'm so happy with the result since it meets all the criteria of the holy grail. I also store and stream bluray content in full size on a 6.5TB windows drive at the speed of full gigabit (RAID 8*1TB) and play it with Arcsoft TMT 3. High dev TV functionality is provided with Firedtv, an austrian solution that allows digital satellite HD streams to be displayed directly on the pc with a modified version of DVB viewer as software (more userfriendly). For the analog amplification And all that in a fusion remote case from Antec é voila, there's your holy grail in a slim slick box ;)
Like most Media Center software users, I wanting to see a Digital PCI tuner card certify by Cablelabs; I don’t like to set top cable box. By-the-way, you cannot find the "ATI TV Wonder Digital Cable Tuner" anywhere. Sony no long lists that item. Also that item only uses the 1.0 unidirectional cable cards as opposed to the new 2.0 bi directional cable cards. Cablelabs is too slow bringing a digital cable card solution to the market.
Does any know when or where I can buy a digital tuner like the ones in current LCD TVs?