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Toys Hardware Hacking

Building The Ultimate Home Theater PC 252

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the yes-please-give-that-please-yes dept.
planetjay writes "Tom's Hardware takes a closer look at Building The Ultimate Home Theater PC." The article considers noise, aesthetics, and remote control. See also recent Ask SlashDot on MythTV extras and my favorite DIY PVR Resource"
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Building The Ultimate Home Theater PC

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  • Pointless (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Work Account (900793) on Thursday October 06, 2005 @02:45PM (#13733455) Journal
    You can get a great digital projector, receiver, speakers, and DVD player off of eBay, all reliable Japanese products, for about $1,000.

    Why enforce unreasonable requirements upon the system such as "it must be a PC."?
    • Re:Pointless (Score:4, Insightful)

      by barcodez (580516) on Thursday October 06, 2005 @02:55PM (#13733525)
      I have to agree; maybe I'm getting old, or get paid too much (ha ha, I wish), but I'm inclined just to buy something that just works.
      • by goombah99 (560566) on Thursday October 06, 2005 @04:21PM (#13734334)
        A DVD does not contain more information content than the number of pixels on an SVGA screen. An HD-TV broadcast contians less information than an XGA screen. Thus going to higher resolution screens not only does not increase performance. Actaully the reverse is true it degrades it. When you go to higher resolution projectors you either have to use a subset of their pixels, which proportioanlly throws away the majority of the lumens, or you have put up with the ugly and noticable artifacts of interpolation (jagged edges on fast moving high contrast edges, and the poor rendering of fog and smoke). Additionally, all else being equal, denser pixel projectors waste more of the surface area to the dead zones around the pixels and also tend to have more variation and lower contrast.

        Now there are two important exceptions to the above statements. First, generally all else is not equal. When you pay buttwads more for a high end high pixel projector you almost always get upgraded components everywhere else. Better color control, better contract control, better uniformity, better interpolation, .... thus to comapre a cheap SVGA to one of the higher end machines is not an even handed comparison that will allow you compare the effects of resolution alone. Second, while the information content of a DVD is indeed equal to the number of pixels on a 800x600 projector, the aspect ratio is not. Thus the optimal projector for 16x9 movies is WGA and the optimal projector for 4x3 is SVGA.

        My guess is that most people are best off buying a WGA projector for two reasons, first it's optimal for wide screen movies and adequate for full frame movies. But more importantly, manufacturers are not treating WGA as a low-end product like they do SVGA. They may be putting in the higher wuality components into their WGA and WXGA projectors. And it's those components, not the useless improved resolution that you want to buy.

        Fo me all I'm interested in are DVDs but many folks are keen on HD (By the time HD becomes mainstream your current pojector will have bunred out anyhow so need to look ahead in your current purchase). And for them a WXGA or XGA projector is the right choice. For everyone else WGA or SVGA.

        Things to look for in the following order of importance are 0) DLP 1) quiet 2) RGB or digital inputs 3) contrast 4) lumens 5) darkness control 6) color fidelity 7) optical, not digital keystone correction 8) a short throw range for most people's rooms also reuires a sharp offest angle (see keystone correction above) 9) some zoom 10) ability to work upsidedown

        If you want to disagree with me just fine but make sure you dont claim there is actually more information on a DVD than an SVGA/WGA can support
        • by miltimj (605927) on Thursday October 06, 2005 @05:39PM (#13735115)
          Wow, you really have no clue. No, I take that back.. you know enough to be dangerous and give bad advice. (For starters, there's no such thing as "WGA".. perhaps you mean WVGA (854x480)?) Allow me to elaborate:

          An HD-TV broadcast contians less information than an XGA screen.

          HDTV is considered either 720p or 1080i (and in the future, higher resolutions such as 1080p, etc). 720p is WXGA, which is more pixels than XGA. So both variants of HD resolution contain more information than an XGA screen.

          Thus going to higher resolution screens not only does not increase performance. Actaully the reverse is true it degrades it. When you go to higher resolution projectors you either have to use a subset of their pixels, which proportioanlly throws away the majority of the lumens, or you have put up with the ugly and noticable artifacts of interpolation (jagged edges on fast moving high contrast edges, and the poor rendering of fog and smoke). Additionally, all else being equal, denser pixel projectors waste more of the surface area to the dead zones around the pixels and also tend to have more variation and lower contrast.

          WTF?! Denser resolution projectors are better assuming you have a decent deinterlacer and scaler. Sure, if you feed it through a crappy processor you're going to get crap. But I can say from experience that the exact same DVDs through my 720p projector look quite a bit better than my old 480p projector. The real area that it shines is HD, but I'll get to that later...

          A good deinterlacer practically eliminates any "jaggies", and a good scaler will blend the pixels together and interpolate the information to the point that the resulting image looks much better than the original. Upconverting DVD players exist for a reason, and it's not just marketing hype.. it works (better picture), even on WVGA displays.

          How does higher resolution imply "more variation" (whatever that's supposed to mean), and lower contrast? They have very little to do with each other. Many CRT projectors are 1080p+ and have amazing contrast (not even comparable with most 480p digital PJs).

          Second, while the information content of a DVD is indeed equal to the number of pixels on a 800x600 projector, the aspect ratio is not... But more importantly, manufacturers are not treating WGA as a low-end product like they do SVGA. They may be putting in the higher wuality components into their WGA and WXGA projectors. And it's those components, not the useless improved resolution that you want to buy.

          Again, DVD is equal to WVGA (480p), not SVGA. I can assure you that 480p projectors are considered "low end", and that higher-quality components are not in them. About the best 480p DLP projector you can buy right now is around $1500. The cheapest 720p DLP is about $2500 - I'll let everyone guess which has the better internal components. Secondly, increased resolution is not useless, and is, in fact, the most important factor (assuming everything else is generally equal, as you stated that caveat as well, and it's important to note).

          Fo me all I'm interested in are DVDs but many folks are keen on HD (By the time HD becomes mainstream your current pojector will have bunred out anyhow so need to look ahead in your current purchase)

          Perhaps we need a newsflash, but HD is most certainly mainstream right now. I live in an average-sized metropolitan area and can get every OTA channel in HD, and another dozen or so cable channels in HD. At least half of the TVs in the Big Box stores are HD capable. You're missing out immensely without HDTV (though of course, if you don't know what you're missing, carry on.. just don't say there's not much of a difference or it's not commonplace because it is).

          Things to look for in the following order of importance are 0) DLP 1) quiet 2) RGB or digital inputs 3) contrast 4) lumens 5) darkness control 6) color fidelity 7) optical, not digital keystone correction 8) a short


          • BZZZT sorry sir but you cant put 10 pounds of dog poop in a 5 pound bag.

            You get more than roughly 360,000 pixels out of a DVD. Therefore no matter how hard you try you can't increase the resolution. You can have an infinitely dense pixel array but there's not going to be more than 360,000 pixels worth of information there. The only thing interpolation can do is smooth it. But to smooth it in space requires it also to smooth it in time (because of interlacing). As result interpolation ALWAYS neccessar
            • Wow. It's quite obvious you've never experienced the difference between a progressive scan 480p DVD player, and a good upconverting 720p DVD player. Otherwise you'd realize your statement is nonsense.

              It sounds great in theory that you can't make it look any better, but that's just not the way it is in the real world. So perhaps you can see for yourself (as you obviously don't have the various equipment to compare for real, or you wouldn't be saying what you are), see the following link:

              Post-processing [htpcnews.com]
        • "If you want to disagree with me just fine but make sure you dont claim there is actually more information on a DVD than an SVGA/WGA can support"

          Ok fine, I'll claim there is less. You also said:
          "Second, while the information content of a DVD is indeed equal to the number of pixels on a 800x600 projector"

          How does a DVD with a resolution of 720x482 equal the number of pixels on an 800x600 screen?

          Other than that good info, thanks.
          • picky picky :-) these resolutions come in certain ranges and things are not exact of course. just finding the closest one. also as it turns out horizontal resolution is not an exact science because it's not actually pixelated but is a continuous signal with finite bandwidth. and odd details of interlacing adds some wobblyness to things too.
    • Re:Pointless (Score:4, Interesting)

      by StarvingSE (875139) on Thursday October 06, 2005 @02:55PM (#13733527)
      Because none of those can provide DVR-like capabilities, which is the point of connecting a PC to your home theater.
      • So throw in a $200 TiVo and he's there.

        There's more than one way to skin a cat.

        For many people the best choice is to either hire somebody else to skin it for you, or just buy one that has already been skinned.

        Oh, sure... you can get fresher cat meat doing it yourself, and probably at a much lower cost too, if you don't mind tracking stays through back-alleys... but not everybody who wants to eat cats has that kind of time on their hands.

        Metaphor, consider yourself stretched!!!
        • Re:Pointless (Score:3, Informative)

          by hcdejong (561314)
          TiVo only works in the US and UK. Also, an HTPC allows easy playback of material downloaded off the internet (unlike TiVo), and it's more flexible (I've seen HTPCs with 6 tuner cards, for instance).
    • not to troll , but how reliable is eBay ?
    • Re:Pointless (Score:4, Interesting)

      by decipher_saint (72686) on Thursday October 06, 2005 @02:56PM (#13733536) Homepage
      Until the receiver can stream video over the network or allow custom web-enabled apps to run on my TV the HTPC still has relevance.
      • AFAIK, D-Link and netgear and others make a wireless media box for $300 that'll stream video (divx et al), and mp3's across your wireless network. 54mbit is plenty of bandwidth for mpeg4 video.
        • Except, to the best of my knowledge, none of those media centoer boxes will stream VOB files. This means that if you want to watch DVD movies from a central server, you will have to convert them all to mpeg2 files.
          • Re:Pointless (Score:3, Interesting)

            none of those media centoer boxes will stream VOB files. This means that if you want to watch DVD movies from a central server, you will have to convert them all to mpeg2 files.

            And they won't either. The DVD consortium won't license such a device, so anything that does something like that will have to be homebrew or slightly grey market. Someone tried doing it before - they built a $20k DVD jukebox that basically stored DVD images on a disk array and streamed it over the network. They couldn't get licens

    • Why PC? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Mr Guy (547690) on Thursday October 06, 2005 @02:56PM (#13733542) Journal
      It depends on what your goal is really. The PC requirement is there for content delivery. The PC is a media repository. With a proper network connection and a good client server architecture, the PC adds an amazing degree of flexibility.
    • Probably because you can do a lot more with a PC like transfer files across the net, organize you data, upgrade, add new features, connect to P2P, etc.. DVD players tend to be locked-down devices. Having used my (linux) laptop for movies and music for the past few years I find conventional CD/DVD players irritatingly dumb.
    • You can get a latte at Starbucks for, shit, like $4.50. Why enforce unreasonable requirements upon the system such as "it must play music?"

      With a PC you can do different stuff. You can serve your music to other nodes on your home LAN, you can reprogram it at will if you use Myth TV, you can do a bunch of stuff that is tied to the fact that underlying everything is a PC, as opposed to some inscrutible and closed embedded system used by an OEM. Unless the Japanese start selling recievers running linux...

      How

    • You can get a great digital projector, receiver, speakers, and DVD player...

      Which of those products will record and store shows? My definition of "home theater" includes a whole lot more than "watching shit I got at Blockbuster."
    • Re:Pointless (Score:4, Informative)

      by w3weasel (656289) on Thursday October 06, 2005 @03:21PM (#13733734) Homepage
      i built mine, on the cheap... it looks like maybe you havent discovered the value of a PVR. In an entertainment system with a $700 dollar projector (DLP), and a $300.00 'home theatre in a box' (DVD+surround sound unit), you could add DVR functionality for around another $300 if your requirements are low.

      Having said that, once you get a taste of watching your favorite Friday Night Sci-Fi epic on the day and time of your choosing... and commercial free ... now how much would you pay.

      I'd sooner watch my PVR on a 13inch tube than suffer through 20 minutes of commercials, and countless household interruptions of my favorite 40 minute program viewed on your big-projector.

      Not that I'd have to do that, mind you, since i did get a cheap DLP and already had a good stereo. Trust me, live with a PVR for a week, you'll never go back.

  • by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Thursday October 06, 2005 @02:47PM (#13733467) Homepage Journal

    If you want just a cheap player without recording or TV the Philips DVP-642 DVD player can play regular DVDs, MP3, MPEG4, divx and xvid. Dirt cheap at places like Best Buy. Or get an Xbox with mod chip and Xbox Media Center.
    • CyberHome CH-DVD 300 [cyberhome.com] has played anything and everything I have thrown at it.

      All region DVDs, NTSC, PAL , all combinations of home burnt CD/DVD +/- R/RW , all types of picture CDs, mp3 cds, VCD, SVCD, everything, even corrupt DVDs which a 300 $ DVD player wouldn't play.

      Only thing missing are DivX , Xvid etc and lack of DVI output. but for 20$ I am not complaining.

    • I got one off of Amazon cheap and they can be found even some stores like Target. They can play just about anything you throw at it. I've been using it to watch a lot of shows that I record in MPEG-2 on my PC. No need for buying computer hardware and the licenses that come with it (on Windows at least) when you can plug in this DVD player for under seventy dollars and play it all. There are limitations, like no GMC or QPEL, but if you already have a fast PC then you can convert them with out those features
    • Actually, this is exactly what I did. I was thinking about throwing together a MythTV setup for a room that needed something to play music and watch DVDs but I thought I'd give this a try first.

      The divx/xvid thing is cute, but I've noticed that unfortunately content that is too large for the TV resolution is clipped rather than scaled -- not to mention that certain audio codecs won't be played back, so if you've got an xvid/ogg movie you hear nothing. So care must be taken in encoding/reencoding content

  • THE UNEDITED VERSION (Score:5, Informative)

    by planetjay (630434) on Thursday October 06, 2005 @02:48PM (#13733473) Homepage
    Tom's Hardware takes a closer look at Building The Ultimate Home Theater PC [tomshardware.com]. "Hype aside, is it really possible to build a PC that is quiet and does everything that a high-end remote-controlled set-top box can do? And don't forget it's got to look good in your living room, too." I say YES! [planetjay.com] It was kind of refreshing to see them mangle some hardware forcing it into a small/slim form factor HTPC case, although it was less than refreshing to see them choose Windows MCE 2005 as their OS/PVR software. See also recent Ask SlashDot on MythTV extras [slashdot.org] and my favorite DIY PVR Resource [byopvr.com]
  • Cheap? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MindStalker (22827) <mindstalker@gmDALIail.com minus painter> on Thursday October 06, 2005 @02:53PM (#13733509) Journal
    So has anyone figured out how to build a TiVo equivelent for $200, untill then I'm sticking with my TiVo.
    • They are getting MUCH more restrictive with how and what you can record.

      Also, considering that there's free and open source software out there (http://www.mythtv.org/ [mythtv.org]) that turns any PC into a PVR, TiVo's backs are against the wall and recently they have been breaking things and limited what you can do with the shows you record.

      They also recently added more commercials/advertisements that show up when you FF/RW.

      Just a heads up. I know my one friend is wary he paid so much for a lifetime subscription, and o
    • Exactly, I had a friend the other day ask about that. I told them to get a TIVO. You would have to spend over 1K before you could get the same performance as a tivo. DirectTv tivos cost 99 dollars. Tivo's are much cheaper and easier to use/maintain than a DIY solution.
    • Re:Cheap? (Score:3, Informative)

      by ploss (860589)
      So has anyone figured out how to build a TiVo equivelent for $200, untill then I'm sticking with my TiVo.

      Remind me in a few years, when the cost of your Tivo + subscription is more than you would pay for a linux + myth box. Also, I'd rather not be at the whim of some company who can reintroduce (their own!) commercials into the programming with the flick of a switch, and will also likely have intense pressure to support things like the broadcast flag.

      Anyways, don't just blow off the other solutions becaus

    • by Mr Guy (547690) on Thursday October 06, 2005 @03:15PM (#13733688) Journal
      Unless I missed something, which is possible, you don't get free listings with TiVo. The last time I looked, the lifetime package was about another $200.

      TiVo does have an advantage in ease of use, and it can win on cost, especially if your content provider includes it with your service,.

      It loses on DRM, expandability, and configurability.

      You can build a solid HTPC for around the same cost though, with some homework. If you have a computer to scavange, so much the better.

      $120 gets you a PVR500 with two tuners, that does encoding on board.
      ~$100 Large Hard Drive - Hard drive size, like in TiVo, is directly related to how much you want to record and how you want the quality. Unlike with TiVo, on a PC you can use network shares to distribute this as much as you want, and add more if you want conveniently.

      The rest is just a mini computer to run the software and do the display. $50 mobo with onboard S/PDIF out, $50 AMD CPU, $50 bucks of RAM, case and PSU depends on whether you want to go with cheap or pretty and quiet, call it another $100, remote control about $20. DVD burner $30.

      Average HTPC that holds more, higher quality video than TiVo, about $500, and you end up with complete control of your content (at least, for now).
      • Why have a hard drive on it at all. Just boot from a compact flash card or a usb drive. Use your home server to store the videos.
      • by jonfelder (669529) on Thursday October 06, 2005 @04:26PM (#13734392)
        I hear a lot of people talking about this, but I've never seen an implementation that works as well as Tivo. Take MythTV for example. This is a group that has tried to make an easy to install linux distro based on knoppix and MythTV.

        http://mysettopbox.tv/ [mysettopbox.tv]

        They even are working on producing a reference system to make it super easy.

        http://mythic.tv/product_info.php?products_id=44 [mythic.tv]

        On this page they also detail a whole list of problems with their "reference" system. Some of these issues are minor...others like not being able to watch live tv are in my opinion major.

        My point here is that despite what people say, the home brew PVR is not easy to do. I know I've tried. I've also had friends who have tried. Furthermore, many people who claim it's easy to do typically do so by making serious sacrifices. I've seen and experienced a wide array of issues. Some of these issues are related to playback...both audio and video. For example there can be crap on the screen, sometimes the playback stutters, sometimes the audio is out of sync, etc. In the case of my friends who said they got it working, I went over there to watch TV and they had all sorts of issues getting stuff to play (similar to things I experienced).

        In the case of the system detailed above (with more people working on it for more time than I'd care to spend) they still lack the basic function of watching live tv.

        Contrast with Tivo where you plug it in and it just works. Granted a homebrew HTPC has potential, but as of yet I've not seen that potential realized.
        • MythTV has been my Linux trial by fire. I have used Unix for years as a user, and set up a Linux box 5 or 6 times over the last ten years. Each time it has ended in heartbreak. Every time Linux has imploded and become unusable, or I couldn't figure out how to do something that should be trivial and gave up.

          I installed Knoppmyth this time around, and admit the initial installation was cake. But then I had to spend countless hours researching and configuring the myraid of little things; playing all my video

          • Actually, I run linux on the desktop and am a linux system administrator by trade. However, I believe it's linux Multimedia that's not ready for prime time. Other people may think differently, but in my opinion multimedia support is one of linux's worst points. Linux is great if you want to run open office, firefox, thunderbird, etc...and you get to do so in a relatively secure virus/spyware free environment. However, you want to start playing video...recording video, playing DVDs, etc and things get ug
        • Easy way to do install MythTV-
          Install Mandriva.

          Go to Easy URPMI [zarb.org] to setup your URPMI sources. The only one needed for MythTV is PLF Free. Use URPMI to install MythTV. Follow instructions from MythTV Wiki docs to setup. It is pretty easy if you have a basic clue in setting up a Linux system.

          Almost all sound issues are due to a crappy onboard Sound Chip, avoid generic AC'97 sound like the plague. Realtek Audio chips will be ok. Video issues are usually a horsepower issue. If you are not using a PVR350/2
          • Getting MythTV installed is not the hard part. The hard part is getting it to do what I want it do, and get it do it without crashing. That is correcting the over/underscan on my TV, getting the right resolution and frame rate, getting it not to skip, getting the audio to sync, getting brightness, contrast, and black crush correct, etc. etc. etc.

            Peoples' mileage may vary, but in my experience getting everything right and having a perfect picture displayed with perfect audio was an overwelming challenge.
  • get sth more (Score:2, Informative)

    by in-tech (912144)
    what about doing it yourself? build your own system, mini-ITX http://www.mini-itx.com/ [mini-itx.com], use your own custom enclosures http://www.protocase.com/ [protocase.com], what else, ... for silence http://www.mini-itx.com/projects/mega-itx/ [mini-itx.com], plus the harware from ebay http://ebay.com/ [ebay.com] will do fine.
  • by VitrosChemistryAnaly (616952) on Thursday October 06, 2005 @03:04PM (#13733609) Journal
    Okay, I fail to see the big deal. This thing doesn't offer much more than my TiVo. To be the ultimate it needs to be able to record more than one show at once.

    Put that in a "component" case and I'll be happy.
  • by HerculesMO (693085) on Thursday October 06, 2005 @03:10PM (#13733651)
    The one that's IDEAL for YOU.

    I know the arguements about MythTV and MCE and blah blah blah. The simple fact of the matter is that you have to use what you are comfortable with. If you are comfortable paying $13 a month (or whatever Tivo charges now) in addition to $100-$200 for the set top box with no control over what happens to its software, then that's the option you take.

    If you are comfortable using Linux and feel confident in setting up MythTV to work properly, then you get yourself a cheap system and build a MythTV HTPC.

    And if you are comfortable with Windows (as I am), want something simple to use for your family and friends, then you go with Media Center Edition.

    I'll even voice my praise for Media Center because while it may not be the most powerful, most bug free, fastest, or even prettiest (compared to some skins from Meedio), it works pretty simply and has a nice remote.

    I know the arguements about them all, and I've tried them all. MythTV, SageTV, BeyondTV, Meedio, and finally MCE (it took a long time to get to this point). Before that, I used ReplayTV and then Tivo (both of which I modded with hard drives and sold for a profit on eBay). MCE for me, is the best solution there is. It gets the TV times, changes the channels on my cable box, records easily, and has a GREAT remote. And in the end the fact I can surf the web on my TV or some other stuff on my television (in my bedroom) makes MCE a winner.

    If you want a SILENT solution, it's pretty simple. Get yourself a Shuttle box, get a nice mobile processor (Sempron should do just fine), replace the bearing fan in the Shuttle with a Silen-X fan, and your PC is deadly silent. Then just learn how to use the STANDBY feature of your PC, and it's completely silent. A good hard drive is also key, as the crappier ones will make more noise. Then buy a $15 sound card with an optical out so you can pass sound to a proper reciever. Get a passively cooled video card with TV out (unless you are doing hardcore gaming, in which case you aren't really building an HTPC), and a copy of Windows MCE (or MythTV or whatever you want).

    The total cost for my box, with the OS was around $350 -- and it runs perfectly though with Windows on it, I have it set on a schedule to reboot once a week. I know the Tivo users will always say how cheap it is in comparison to have their box and just make it easy for themselves but in the end.. I can browse the web, check my email, play some games, check the weather, set an alarm, AND watch and record television for my $350 budget. You paid say, $300 with the lifetime subscription for for $50 more, I have oodles more features and STILL have a snazzy remote.

    So go enjoy Tivo... I'm happy with my solution.
  • by alhaz (11039) on Thursday October 06, 2005 @03:12PM (#13733666) Homepage
    Does anybody know if current CVS of MythTV is usable, and if so, does it still thoroughly suck for ATSC?

    I spent days getting 0.18.1 working with my PCHDTV card only to find that the mpeg demuxer is right next door to non-functional and it had a tendency to crash if it accidentally caught wind of an encrypted stream, which are ubiquitous on my local airwaves.

    It was a total PITA to use and i was actually more comfortable tuning manually and using mplayer. At least mplayer's demuxer isn't all choppy on an Athlon64-3500.

    So i asked around on the irc channel and found out, yeah that's basically the state of things.
  • For those of us who aren't Linux fanboys, BeyondTV is working out very well for me. I have a HTPC set up in my basement, on the other side of the wall from the media room, so that the cables can come through the wall and plug into my A/V receiver and projector. A satellite receiver feeds S-Video into a Hauppauge MPEG-2 encoder in the HTPC box, and it's all controlled by a Harmony universal remote. Video quality from the satellite on about a 100" screen ranges from awesome to so-so (mostly depending on how c
  • by hal2814 (725639) on Thursday October 06, 2005 @03:14PM (#13733678)
    So I guess the PIII 450 with a Radeon TV out card that I plugged into the RF Modulator so I can watch torrents of movies and shows on my 29" Sanyo TV doesn't count? Did I mention it's hooked up to a fancy-schmancy 10-year-old-$200 surround sound system?
    • I'm not sure I believe you. I'd be surprised if your PIII 450 can handle decoding most of the torrents available for download. I know my Celeron 466 couldn't handle MP4's (or similar) with greater than 320x240 resolution.

      I actually did use my Celeron as a PVR and it almost worked. Encoding was fine (with a hardware encoder), but decoding was a little iffy.
  • If the link is slow use the Coral Cache [nyud.net] link.
  • I have a good MythTV setup now, utilizing an old 900 MHz Athlon, a PVR-250MCE, a NVidia GeForce 4MX. It works just fine (requisite note about time versus money here... I have more time than money). The thing I'd really like is to get rid of the tower case. I spraypainted my ugly beige case a nice black, but what I really want is one of these:

    http://www.silverstonetek.com/product-case.htm [silverstonetek.com] (Scroll to Lascala Series).

    These look sooooo nice! Unfortunately, nice == $$ in this case (no pun!). I'd really prefer th
    • >> The thing I'd really like is to get rid of the tower case.

      Don't be hard your yourself. IMHO their case selection in the project was their big -- really big -- mistake.

      --Richard
  • More Than Just DVR (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheFlyingGoat (161967) on Thursday October 06, 2005 @03:19PM (#13733719) Homepage Journal
    For everyone that's posting the 'Whats the big deal?' posts, a HTPC is far more than just a DVR. I have mine running XP with Meedio [meedio.com]. Once there's a linux alternative that is as flexible as Meedio I'll look into switching.

    The DVR capabilities of a HTPC are great, but you get a lot more features without any added cost:
    • The ability to download shows and run them from the HTPC, similar to the DVR but without requiring a capture card. Also provides a nice interface to give show/season/episode info.
    • The ability to load all my movies onto the server (I encode as xvid to save storage). Browse movies by genre, title, etc and have the cover image on screen. No need to load a disk.
    • Weather info
    • Emulators. Mine has NES, SNES, Genesis, and N64, but there's many more. I have 2 wireless controllers and can play any game I want, at any time, without having to hunt down the actual cartridge.
    • Home Automation. You know, controlling lights, thermostat, cameras, etc.
    • RSS feeds for news, sports scores, etc.
    • Streaming Shoutcast stations for a wide variety of audio.
    • Neat tricks like having callerID info pop up onscreen so you don't have to look at the phone itself.
    • Email. You can read/send via POP/SMTP or Exchange.
    • Lots more [meedio.com].


    I'm helping a friend build his right now, and it'll run about $1100 with 600GB of hard drive space. With that he gets a HDTV DVR and everything above. Compare that to the cost of a DVD player and a DVR and it's comparable, but you get far more functionality and flexibility from a HTPC.
    • I second your nomination of Meedio. It's a solid front end. Read my previous comment on Meedio here. [slashdot.org]
    • Dang. Does it do your taxes for you too??
  • Pure Digital Path (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bloosqr (33593) on Thursday October 06, 2005 @03:21PM (#13733736) Homepage
    I've been looking into going this route actually not for the sake of having a PC as a TVset-top box but because I think it offers more options than standard receivers, besides the obvious (Universal DVD-ROM drive can play all and new codecs unlike standard dvd players, simple instant digital access to any music libraries, cheap route to HDTV, cheap upgrade to new technologies as they come out).

    The main issue I have been having is that currently all receivers except for the really high end ones (meridian, tata) offer only analogue out for the surround channels. That is the dvd is decoded either in the player or in the receiver and you get analogue out from their DAC. If you want to do anything to this signal you end up having to do another A->D->A swap. An obvious example of this is using pro-audio equipment for home theatre use to equalize out room anomalies. People spend tons of money on speakers and , but one of the largest factors in sound is simply the dynamics of the room which can cause peaks and dips depending on what and how your room is arranged. You can purchase an 8 channel 1/3 octave 31 band digital equalizers for pretty cheap (in the grand scheme of things for home theatre) from alesis which would be brilliant to fix these anomalies. Furthermore, you are no longer dependent on the DAC that you happen to get w/ your receiver, but you use whatever DAC you want (and these things aren't really that expensive but pro-audio dacs that are cheap are actually the same DACS that only come in >$3k receivers for instance). I haven't done this yet, but the idea is to use something like VLS (or maybe a hardware decoder solution but that would take a bit of coding) and output it to an ADAT card (basically a digital format that looks like toslink but w/ 8 channels) which then goes into a cheap Alesis equalizer which then goes into the amps. All in all a swanky upgradable preamp glued into a DVD player w/ HD upscaling and pure digital outs and room equalization on a level that simply doesn't exist in any level (even those $10k TATA preamps) all for hopefully about $800 or so. And you get for free everything else you expect for having a PC as your main home theatre box aka universal codec player, upgradable, music center, networkable etc etc.

    I haven't actually done this yet I admit but its something I've been toying recently.

    • Creative Soundblaster cards have a "digital out" mode where they produce a 2-channel spdif signal for each pair of speakers (L/R, SL/SR, C/Sub). People knock the soundblasters for two reasons - the DACs tend to suck and they tend to upsample 44.1Khz to 48Khz. If you got all digital, then the DACs don't matter and if you want to play back CDs, you can probably bypass the resampling hardware, especially under linux -- and if you can't you should be able to software upsample to 88.2KHz and then the card itse
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Buy the local 20-plex and live in the manager's office.

    Don't tell me you weren't thinking it :)

    You just know some /.'er is reading this from a theater manager's office.
  • by cexshun (770970) on Thursday October 06, 2005 @03:25PM (#13733780) Homepage

    I see these all the time and the hype is amazing. Yet, the more I try to consider building one, the less reasonable it is for myself. Frankly, I have not found a video card capable of producing high enough quality video for videophiles or a/v heads. And 6 channel on board sound? Hardly tolerable.

    The big and bad units are expensive for a reason. A DIY PVR just will not compare to a decent mid-range unit.

    I can't remember the link, but there was a site that had screenshot comparisons of all the main tuner cards with pros-cons. Frankly, they all looked like crap. I would never put the output stream through my HD projector.

    So, to answer the question quite bluntly:
    Hype aside, is it really possible to build a PC that is quiet and does everything that a high-end remote-controlled set-top box can do?
    No, not even close. While the software for it is there, PC hardware is hardly capable of producing anything remotely comparable to high end . Comparable to a budget model or upper end of the low quality units? Sure! The joy of DIY? Yep! High end? Hardly...

    • I assume you were looking at a review of analog capture for standard-definition television, which in a lot of cases is not so hot in the PC world. Digital capture, however, is better. If you use an HDTV capture card and a DVI or HDMI output to your set, the video will be as perfect as the transmission, and on par with anything else you can buy. Onboard sound is fine, as long as it has a digital out. (You may have to scrounge for a soundstorm mobo, though)

      This is the one area where HTPCs had an edge-- I
      • Quite correct. I have stopped my research so perhaps the digital units have improved. However, being a HTPC, watching/timeshifting television is not it's only function. I don't care what card you're using, a DVD will look nowhere near as good as a decent unit.

        A HTPC will give DVD quality roughly equal to that of a PS2 even with digital HD outs. For most people, this is good enough. But when you're someone who complains that a projector has 'poor blacks', then this will not cut it.

        I'm not saying a DIY HT

        • Agreed, and I hadn't thought much about using the thing as a DVD player. I'd be surprised if there isn't a way to go pure-digital on that, though-- straight from the DVD's bitstream to the TV via a digital input. I'm not sure how a digital source can deliver "poor blacks" to your set, unless it was defective.

          It would still be much easier to just use a standalone DVD player. For me, it was solely about being able to record HDTV shows, with bigscreen PC gaming thrown in as a secondary benefit.
          • I dont think thats what he means.. most of the "high end" dvd players and receivers do upsampling so while you do want the pure digital out for video (which does exist via dvi/hdmi) what you also want is something that makes standard DVD look better than it does on your HDTV. I'd like to see how standard software upscalers fare against hardware upscalers. Given the processing power of most cpus I wouldn't be surprised if it could be done pretty easily in software.
    • Every night, I go to sleep thanking my lucky stars that I am neither an audiophile nor a videophile.

      Good enough is good enough for me. You go ahead with your $2000/foot virgin silver de-oxy-ozonated hand rolled +2 vs. lousy sound speaker cables.

      I'll use some nice heavy gauge lamp cord and be just fine.
      • Go with the lamp cord. Boutique audio cables are separated only by the particular electrical phenomena that they use to justify their rediculous prices, phenomena that are real but have no effect whatsoever for audio. Here's a short list:

        -skin effect losses (real but completely irrelevant for audio frequencies, i.e. 20 kHz)

        -directionality (The microscopic crystal structure of the copper has some effect on currents running through it. Audible? No freaking way. Unless you are an idiot and put a diode inlin
    • by TheFlyingGoat (161967) on Thursday October 06, 2005 @05:10PM (#13734835) Homepage Journal
      I can't figure out if you're trolling or just uninformed. If you select the right components and software you can get far better quality with a HTPC than AV equipment for a given price.

      Any of the video cards that use the HDMI connection or have component out (most of the Radeon cards) will produce excellent results. I'm using a GF6200 with component out running at 1776x1000 resolution (to compensate for overscan) and when I play uncompressed HD video it actually looks better than the component output of my HDTV decoder box.

      As for your audio statement, that's just plain stupid. Use the coaxial or optical SPDIF output right off the motherboard and you bypass all of the crappy audio in a computer system. By running digital directly to your receiver, you get the best quality sound your receiver can handle. Far better and cheaper than running shielded audio cables from your high-end DVD player to your receiver.

      Unmatched results (unless you own a scaler) by using ffdshow to scale your DVD's to HD quality in realtime. It sounds like you just need to do more research on the subject.
  • by RedR (880377) on Thursday October 06, 2005 @03:32PM (#13733849)
    Heya, I was a bit let down with this and the hardware and software selection that Tom's went after on this. I've had much better results avoiding Windows MCE by using SageTV, or GB-PVR or BeyondTV, or for those real diehards, MythTV. Some of the complaints that Tom's had are very easily solved by going with hardware that's slightly larger and more standard than the micro or mini ATX stuff. Anyway check out byopvr.com, they've got some really great how to's on building your own HTPC on the cheap or all out. Enjoy, RedR
  • by KillShill (877105) on Thursday October 06, 2005 @04:11PM (#13734242)
    ultimate swiss bank account.

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  • Nice article, but I stopped reading after the M$ word. Sorry, but my trusty Series2 Tivo and Phillips DVP642 can do all that at a fraction of the cost of his equipment.
  • I'm hoping we see some new alternatives for remote controls crop up. I'm still using two ATI TV Wonder remotes and a pile of USB recievers (all first gen) to control my medianet. The range is beyond pathetic, the control pad is 4-directional (what I wouldnt give for analog), the remote is huge but it does have decent linux support. And its RF. The advantage is that the remotes and dongles were $6 a pop on ebay and hus cheap enough that I can litter the house with dongles for decent coverage.

    I'd like to
  • I'm actually in the process of pitching "MythTVr" - a mini-itx pre-built solution, based on MythTV. I'm up for comments and suggestions!!

    http://www.mythtvr.com [mythtvr.com]

    - Jordan
  • I have an upcoming project, and I'm deciding on what equipment to get. I want HDTV, and I would like to record it, just like standard TV. The HDTV PVR from DirecTV costs 700 bucks.

    My choices are: Pay DirecTV, or build a system. The best HDTV card for over the air seems to be the ATI HDTV Wonder. It is recognized by the latest version of XP Media Center Edition, and can record the HDTV feed. But, you need a Direct X 9.0 compatible video card to run the ATI card at all.

    For those of you sticking with Myt
  • I can empathize regarding the pain associated with the enclosure.

    I'm looking to make a small Via nano-ITX MythTV silent client box in a Silverstone LC-08 case and have run into difficulties between the mobo and the case -- an earlier thread on the issue is here [slashdot.org]. Unlike other designs, this has HD MPEG2 decoding hardware with a low power budget.

    Basically, Via changed the mobo layout at the last minute and it no longer fits in the LC-08 case. Silverstone supposedly will have new cases ready this month (Oct

  • 99% of all "build your own home theater PC" articles think that interlacing is something to discard or throw away. Do that with actual video material (not film, but real video) and you lose half the temporal information. I don't care how much you post-process, you can't get back fluid motion if you threw it away at some point in the pipeline. Everything looks like a 30fps "computer video".

    For the uninformed, true interlaced video contains 50 (PAL) or 60 (NTSC) *different* images per second. Don't believ
  • I'm curious why we have these stories anyway...

    "Ultimate Home Theater PC"
    "The Best Portable Laptop"
    "Portable Music Player Roundup"

    It seems like these stories have a shelf-life of about three to six months, before it's obsolete due to something newer being on the market.

    Just me babbling...
  • I prefer the ATX form factor, SageTV and Haupagge TV Tuner combination in my own homebrew PVR [blogspot.com].
  • If you want to walk out of a store, plug the device into the wall, get it up and running in mintues, timeshift and view music/pics from your PC then get a TiVo.

    If you want to *maybe* spend less money (EASILY more), do a lot of tinkering (which can be loads of fun, or not), timeshift, play games, view music/pics, surf the web and do some spreadsheet, then make a MythTV/Freevo/MCE/etc pc.

    I'm still happy with my lifetime sub series 1 tivo. I've had it for 5.5 years, added a hdd etc. It made a seemless integ
  • No MythTV, they just had some weird Microsoft product. Also, their motherboards did not seem to have an S/PDIF connector. Also, it was not hi def.

    My HTPC uses an Asus P4P800-VM, with a pchdtv.com hi def tuner. I have MythTV installed, though I use bit torrent + mplayer a lot more.

    Unfortunately, I spent a LOT more time playing World of Warcraft than playing media. (Cedega rocks)

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