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  A few questions about HTPC's... 
 
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A_Pickle Jun 19, 2008, 04:36pm EDT Reply - Quote - Report Abuse
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I'm trying to design a good little Media Center/Home Theater PC here, and I want to have some good 7.1 surround sound capabilities, good HD video quality, and the ability to watch HDTV on the PC. I have a few questions, as I'm somewhat new to the idea of it, and so I have a few questions and clarifications, if possible.

Now, as far as I know, ATI cards basically pwn Nvidia cards hands down as far as usefulness in an HTPC, being that they come with their AVIVO HD software free with the card (do you have to download this, or is it a featureset implemented at the driver level?). From what I've read, AVIVO HD and PureVideo HD are both on pretty equal par in terms of offloading work from the CPU and doing some nice video post-processing, but from my understanding PureVideo HD is a $50 software add-on from Nvidia where AVIVO HD comes free. Am I right there? Or am I way off? And, are these cards capable of outputting 1080P 120 Hz video to a TV, or is the 120 Hz thing reserved only for stupid home entertainment mantlepieces, or does that 120 Hz stuff take place inside the TV?

Secondly, TV tuners. What... do they do, other than let you watch TV on your PC? Do you still need the receiver box from your cable/satellite company, or does the TV tuner sorta take it's place? WTF is ATSC, NTSC, and ClearQAM? Any personal recommendations? This is an area in which I'm a total n00blet, and I need some SERIOUS help here. My geek skills are horrid here. :D

Finally, what's all this HDCP stuff? I mean, I know it's bullshit DRM whereby a studio can elect to have their HD content downsampled to SD quality if it is to be played on a monitor connected to the PC via a non-encrypted interface. From what I've seen, most studios haven't elected to do this, but media companies are typically jerks. Is DVI an HDCP-compliant interface? What about DisplayPort?

I think that's about it. Thanks in advance, folks. :D


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Dr. Peaceful Jun 19, 2008, 06:53pm EDT Reply - Quote - Report Abuse
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Edited: Jun 19, 2008, 07:17pm EDT

 
>> Re: A few questions about HTPC's...
A_Pickle said:
...Secondly, TV tuners. What... do they do, other than let you watch TV on your PC? Do you still need the receiver box from your cable/satellite company, or does the TV tuner sorta take it's place? WTF is ATSC, NTSC, and ClearQAM? Any personal recommendations? This is an area in which I'm a total n00blet, and I need some SERIOUS help here. My geek skills are horrid here. :D
...


I am in similar learning curve as you are for HTPC's. I can clear up few of your questions. And I have a few to ask, too.

TV tuner cards, of course, is for you to tune into TV, either in air, cable or whatever provider you have, so you can watch it or record it with your computer. You may still need equipment from cable and satelite provider to make it work. ATSC is the current standard for digital TV. All those TV selling terms - 720p, 1080i, 1080p are related to ATSC standards. It is going to replace NTSC, which is the analog TV standard for north America and few other countries. PAL is the other analog standard, primarily used in Europe. But you still need to be compatible with NTSC / PAL, since a lot of existing videos (DVD, VHS, etc) are still encoded with these standards. QAM tuner is a type of digital tuner, where QAM is a description of the method of transmission, not formats unlike ATSC / NTSC / PAL which defines both. It's used by some cable providers.

Another thing be aware of is there are significant difference between building a PC that doubles as a TV / media center, and building a media PC that accompanies your TV. If it's a PC, hook up to PC monitor, which you use part time for watching TV or HD videos, you can build yourself a large desktop, with the top of line gaming vid cards, CPUs, etc, all standard ATX parts. However, if building a media PC (a true HTPC) that sits under your TV, which will conform with other AV equipment so no one can tell you have a PC there, that's an entirely different challenge. You see, desktop are easier to build, and may be cheaper, too, but doesn't look good under a TV. Media cases are more expensive, and tighter in space inside. Smaller space, meaning you have to sacrifice some of the features, may have to deal with heat issues, and for some need to deal with a tiny and weak PSU that you can't easily replace. I've been dealing with SSF case before, and trust me it can be pain sometimes.

Here are my questions. So there are few OS out there that supports media PC features, Win MCE, MythTV, etc. Which one are better? What's your experience? Is using Linux better? Any difference between Vista's MCE feature and the original Win XP MCE?

Also, there are software that supply with the vid cards, like A_Pickle said above that does some media functions. There are also such software that comes with TV card that does media stuffs. There are software out there that you can install into regular windows OS (XP) and make it kind of like MCE. There are even software that come with the case, which in addition of controlling the media LCD and buttons in front, also give some media features. I am a bit confuse, too. What are all these different from each other? Are some of these necessary, when you already have a media OS like MCE?

Also remotes, same, there are standard MCE remote, remotes that comes with TV card, remotes that comes with case, do we need to use all those? ;)

A_Pickle Jun 19, 2008, 10:14pm EDT Reply - Quote - Report Abuse
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>> Re: A few questions about HTPC's...
Most remotes suck. The exception to this rule is the logitech remotes which, are pretty cool but needlessly complicated. Then there is the usual Media Center remote, which is spartan in design and features, and then there's the Gyration air mouse remote, which is probably the best/cheapest MC/HTPC remote out there.

I luuurvz it.

I've done some research about TV tuners, found that the ATI Theatre 650 and the Nvidia DualTV are... pretty much the best ones, supporting both ATSC and NTSC with FM tuners. The Nvidia has the benefit of having two TV tuner inputs, though, so you can record from two signal inputs.

I've also found that DVI can be an HDCP-compliant video port, as well as (obviously) HDMI and DisplayPort. The latter two are ALWAYS HDCP-compliant, though, whereas it's optional for hardware makers using DVI-D ports.

As for 120 Hz televisions, any signal can output to them and get the 120 Hz treatment -- it's all done in the television itself.

Which still leaves my questions of whether or not PureVideo vs AVIVO stands... researching. :D

Beavis Khan Jun 20, 2008, 08:25am EDT Reply - Quote - Report Abuse
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>> Re: A few questions about HTPC's...
My advice? Don't bother. All the HTPCs**t is so hackish and so full of "it-sorta-works-but-not-really" cases that it's just not worth the trouble. Get a good cable box with Firewire output if you want to record HD video. Get a PS3 if you want to play media. If you want to hook up your computer to your TV, go for it, but the whole HTPC concept is really a pipedream IMHO... :|

____
"For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong."

- H.L. Mencken
Dr. Peaceful Jun 20, 2008, 11:12am EDT Reply - Quote - Report Abuse
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>> Re: A few questions about HTPC's...
Beavis Khan said:
My advice? Don't bother. All the HTPCs**t is so hackish and so full of "it-sorta-works-but-not-really" cases that it's just not worth the trouble. Get a good cable box with Firewire output if you want to record HD video. Get a PS3 if you want to play media. If you want to hook up your computer to your TV, go for it, but the whole HTPC concept is really a pipedream IMHO... :|

I kind of feel somewhat in that way, too. You can stick a PC to a TV any time, especially for LCD TVs, this is piece of cake. You can make a PC to tune TV any time, just stick a card in. For media playbacks on TV, you have tons of stand alone players out there, cheap and no brainer to use. Unless you're getting Bluray players, which are still quite costly, but for now up-convert DVD players are still a good alternative. For media playbacks on PC, you can play any media files as long as you have the software and play any disc as long as you have the right drive, even Bluray-ROM's are not that costly. For gaming, you can game in PC or consoles, with display of your choice, monitor or TV works for both.

The only benefits for a dedicated HTPC are:
1) DVR (digital video recorder) function.
2) For the heck of building one. ;)

That's all I can think of. Any other things that you must have a HTPC for?

A_Pickle Jun 20, 2008, 12:37pm EDT Reply - Quote - Report Abuse
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>> Re: A few questions about HTPC's...
Quite honestly, I have to disagree. I love my HTPC. I wouldn't trade it for a conventional home entertainment setup, ever. A standard cable receiver doesn't allow you to surf the internet, and few of them have any good-sized internal DVR hard drives. You can make a good, media center/home theater PC for about $600 -- that's all that mine cost. You can make a flat out badass one for about $1000. With that, I can have Blu-Ray AND HD-DVD 1080P playback (with AVIVO HD video decoding and image correction), up to 7.1 surround sound output with an ASUS Xonar sound card, most any ATSC AND NTSC TV channels (and usually an FM tuner to boot).

With these, you can watch movies and listen to music and watch picture slideshows over your home network -- basically icing the need for a CD changer or anything like that, with a much more elegant solution that offers you better connectivity to more music. You can stream 1080P video from a computer on the network to your LCD HDTV hooked up to your media center. You can surf the internet, and tune in to internet podcasts, internet radio, and internet media channels like YouTube, Hulu... or even SouthParkStudios.com and TheDailyShow.com. Media on demand -- at the cost of your internet, for less than the cost of a traditional home theatre setup. My HTPC has a measly Radeon HD 3650 in it, and it plays GTA: San Andreas at 1080P. The game's an absolute blast to play on the big screen.

And, to say that media center PC's "sorta work but not really" is... somewhat erroneous. There are some home theater features that are still completely absent from the HTPC scene (but, diligently, other hardware makers are working to provide these missing features).

I hate consoles, and I hate typical home theater boxes like Onkyo receivers and what-have-you.

Beavis Khan Jun 20, 2008, 12:56pm EDT Reply - Quote - Report Abuse
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Edited: Jun 20, 2008, 01:01pm EDT

 
>> Re: A few questions about HTPC's...
A_Pickle said:


With these, you can watch movies and listen to music and watch picture slideshows over your home network -- basically icing the need for a CD changer or anything like that, with a much more elegant solution that offers you better connectivity to more music. You can stream 1080P video from a computer on the network to your LCD HDTV hooked up to your media center. You can surf the internet, and tune in to internet podcasts, internet radio, and internet media channels like YouTube, Hulu... or even SouthParkStudios.com and TheDailyShow.com. Media on demand -- at the cost of your internet, for less than the cost of a traditional home theatre setup. My HTPC has a measly Radeon HD 3650 in it, and it plays GTA: San Andreas at 1080P. The game's an absolute blast to play on the big screen.


I can do just about all this on my PS3 for ~$400. Not to mention play GTA IV. *shrug* Believe me, if I wanted to have an HTPC still, I would. As Dr Peaceful mentioned, it's just not worth it for me aside from the enjoyment of building another computer. Maybe I'm just old, but there are too many annoyances to make it worth my while. Sure, the PS3 has some annoyances too, but by and large it's a much better media playing experience than Windows. Edit - and despite more than a little idiocy, my HD DVR cable box is a much better playback/recording experience than Windows too. Lack of being able to save everything forever isn't, surprisingly, a big deal in my book.

I hate consoles, and I hate typical home theater boxes like Onkyo receivers and what-have-you.


Yeah, we know. I'm a PC guy first and foremost, and not a huge console fan either, but I'm not going to pretend a PC is better at everything because of it.

____
"For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong."

- H.L. Mencken
Dr. Peaceful Jun 20, 2008, 03:02pm EDT Reply - Quote - Report Abuse
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>> Re: A few questions about HTPC's...
A_Pickle said:
Quite honestly, I have to disagree. I love my HTPC... My HTPC has a measly Radeon HD 3650 in it, and it plays GTA: San Andreas at 1080P...

Jeez, you got one already?! It's just one day since your first post. ;)

A_Pickle said:
...I hate consoles, and I hate typical home theater boxes like Onkyo receivers and what-have-you.

So do I. I don't have any console, nor do I planning to get one. Home theater boxes are usually over priced sh*ts. ;) I would like a PC instead any day.

My point of argument is more of a conventional tower PC with TV / HD media capability vs. a specialized SSF HTPC box. The former is better for a traditional PC desk setup, while it can also do media PC functionalities. The latter is specially built for using with the TV, as a dedicated piece of home theater / entertainment equipment.

A small HTPC box, though looks nice and conforming to AV equipment, it will restrict your choices of parts due to its small size. One have to be concern with heat, power consumption, and noise. The more quiet, the cooler and the lower the power consumption, the better. But, that means you will have to sacrifice on some "departments", such as video and PSU. No doubt such HTPC can do well on playing media, but likely sucks on gaming performance. Moreover, such setup will likely cost you more dollar per performance you get. You pay more for being small.

A tower PC, will give you the freedom to put any parts in it. Including the latest and greatest vid card, so it can be an excellent gaming machine, as well as media PC. But what sucks is that it may look out of place sitting next to a TV. It may be too noisy and too power hungry for long duration usage. Other than that it champs a small HTPC box in every other way.

Obviously, if you have the money, you can have both. But if you have already a tower setup, you may need to think twice why actually need another PC, just to do a few more thngs, which they can very well be done with the tower. I think that's part of the reason the HTPC concept is not taking off much yet, but this may change in the future.

A_Pickle Jun 20, 2008, 06:38pm EDT Reply - Quote - Report Abuse
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>> Re: A few questions about HTPC's...
Beavis Khan
I can do just about all this on my PS3 for ~$400.


No offense, but a PS3 can do 80 GB at most. And that's the $500 model. And while I'm sure you can surf the internet, how good is the PS3's browser, and how easy/elegant is it to surf the internet with it? Does it have good Adobe Flash support? Javascript? AJAX? I've never trusted browsers on specialized devices, and I never will. I can't do other stuff, like Skype or Google Earth, or Celestia. And frankly, the network sharing of mis really, really, really nice -- it's easy to find a specific album or song with... a keyboard. And a decent search feature.

My HTPC has a 500 GB hard drive. Cost me a grand total of $645 shipped from Newegg, piece by piece. Granted, PS3 hardware is more powerful and "cheaper" (in that Sony eats some of the cost for you). But on the flip side, I can use my little media center as a helluva dedicated game server, or even as a listen server while posing as a spectator. Provides a nice, stadium-esque view of an ensuing LAN battle.

Beavis Khan
Not to mention play GTA IV


I'm more than happy to wait for it. If Rockstar doesn't want to support my platform, I won't reward them with my business. I surmise that this isn't the case, as they have done so with each previous release of Grand Theft Auto. I would also not be surprised if it comes with some bonus features that are either not offered, or require payment to receive on the console platforms. And if I want to play with a controller, I'll get one of those as well.

Beavis Khan
Maybe I'm just old, but there are too many annoyances to make it worth my while.


There might be some initial setup issues (weren't many to speak of in my current HTPC), and I think that Microsoft's network sharing can... at times... suck. And Vista's permissions settings seem to have some issues. That, or my Cisco Catalyst XL EN switch has issues forwarding such packets. Or maybe I need to get off my ass and update the firmware.

Either way, I'm much more inclined to figure out how to solve these issues on the computer, and then have them work from then on, than have to deal with analog electronics. I just like the workflow of digital, onscreen stuff WAY more than that of knobs and buttons and switches. That's why, largely, I can't stand standard home theater crap -- it's all a bunch of RCA cables and big, bulky black boxes, and I just get the feeling most of that could be condensed into a PC, which would be much easier to manage and output video and audio of equal quality, be cheaper, and smaller.

Dr. Peaceful
Jeez, you got one already?! It's just one day since your first post.


Yeah, it's a desktop tower with a Pentium E2200 CPU on an Intel G965 chipset, a 500 GB SATA HDD, two DVD+/-RW burners, an ASUS ATI Radeon HD 3650 (passively cooled), and Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit. I wish I'd have gotten a nice HTPC case instead -- right now the tower is sitting on my carpet, and I have a sneaking suspicion that's the reason that it's literally barfing dust out of every orifice. If I had gotten a nice, small, media center case, I could've had it sit just above my printer, on the table on which my TV is sitting on.

I dunno. I really think that this is an area where PC's... excel. I don't find them bothersome in the least. Anyways. I'm gonna go to play Civ II in 1080P. :D

I'm just trying to make one for some other folks, and they want the ability to watch TV, and they liked the idea of the HTPC, so I'm building one for them.

Adam Kolak Jun 20, 2008, 06:59pm EDT Reply - Quote - Report Abuse
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>> Re: A few questions about HTPC's...
Those specs look fine to me for a HTPC, and I would think you could purchase an IR remote control for not too much money which would be great for navigating through Windows Media Center. My new laptop came with a little IR remote, and it's perfect for using Media Center. Having an HDMI port helps a lot too.

If your were gonna get a console for media I would the Xbox 360 would be the best option because you can use it as a Windows Media Center Extender and keep your PC in the office. It does streaming audio, video, and pictures perfectly. And it's not at all hard to find remotes for the Xbox 360. They got one for $20 that does everything you would need.

Adam Kolak
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DFI LP P35-T2RS | Xeon Quad @ 3.2Ghz | 4GB DDR2-1000 | 8800GT 512MB | See Profile

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