HTPC, necessary?

Discussion in 'Computers' started by pearlyred, Dec 29, 2006.

  1. pearlyred

    pearlyred Extra

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    Hi all,

    I'm just wondering whether a HTPC is worth investing in at the moment. I currently have a small HT set up in the living room, consisting of a HK receiver/DVD player, 5:1 Infinity speakers and a Panny 900u projector and an iPod hooked into the receiver. When the PS3 is released here in New Zealand I'll probably be purchasing one of those too.

    So, with all the Xbox's/PS's floating around these days, is a HTPC still worth having? What can it offer that the other items can't? Obviously the cost to put one together is a factor too.

    Ta
    PR
     
  2. Parker Clack

    Parker Clack Schizophrenic Man
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    Lee:

    I have been using an HTPC for a couple of years now. The advantages for me where that I could use it as a PVR, DVD player, surf the web, and more all in one box. I can hardly wait for the Blu Ray and HD DVD drives to come out (at a reasonible price) so I can have both in one box. Then I will add an HDTV tuner card to record Hi Def. The scaling of a video card is great too.

    The other major advantage to me is that I can upgrade pieces as they are developed without having to go out and get a whole new device. Add on several hard drives and you can archive your entire library. Then if you have another one in another room you can watch what is on the other one from whatever room you are in. I will record a show on my HTPC downstairs and then stream the video to my unit upstairs over my wireless network.

    So in my opinion yes they are worth having.

    Parker
     
  3. pearlyred

    pearlyred Extra

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    Hi Parker,

    Thanks for your reply. Has your HTPC now totally replaced DVD players etc in your house? Is the quality of video and audio comparable to that of the stand-alone players? How much is dependant on the quality of the video card and dvd drive?

    Could you give me an idea of what hardware you use for your HTPC and whether you consider it adequate/overkill/outdated etc for the tasks you mentioned?

    It's something I'd be keen to look at building, I just have to justify the costs to myself first. We don't yet have digital TV here, PS3 is not out until March 07 at the earliest and the first Blu-Ray player has only just hit the shelves here (at NZ$3,000 I won't be getting one).

    I'll be picking up a PS3 probably, as long as they sort out the 720p issue on movies (no way I'm upgrading the Panny yet, not long bought it) so need a clear idea of what I would use the HTPC for.

    I assume you have some sort of remote hooked up to use it?

    Sorry for all the questions, I appreciate your help.

    Lee
     
  4. Parker Clack

    Parker Clack Schizophrenic Man
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    Here's a link to the review I did on the model I have except I changed out the case to their ATX model and now have two hard drives and 1G of RAM.

    In answer to your question. Yes, I use it for all my DVD playback. I have it upscale the DVDs to 720p. SDTV looks great and it passes 1080i with no problem. The new video cards like the Nvidia 7950 will have no problem with 1080p so if you get a Blu Ray drive or a HD DVD drive you will be able to watch those hidef discs too.

    A great guy to ask all sorts of questions about what would be a good system to build is Matt Wright with 2 Parts Fusion. They build HTPCs but they are also great to get answers to questions about what would be a good model today. You can reach their site at http://www.2partsfusion.com and Matt can be emailed at matt@2partsfusion.com. Tell him I sent you over to him for questions about HTPCs.

    Parker
     
  5. Hanson

    Hanson Producer

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    In the days of NTSC CRT sets, running an HTPC on your TV could only be done by using an S-Vid out to scale to 480i. There really wasn't a whole lot you could do with it.

    With today's HDTV monitors, you can have a viable PC setup in your living room. My HTPC is the nexus of my home theater -- I record and watch hi-def, watch DVD's upscaled to 720p resolution, watch any number of computer formats including wmv, avi,and mpg, basically anything I can install codecs for. And if you think surfing the net from your couch is weird or something, you're living in the past -- both the PS3 and the Wii have web broswers built in. And although the video quality isn't great, I can watch streaming video from my couch.

    An HTPC is necessary for me considering I watch 90% of my programming through it (hi-def and DVD).

    OTOH, my wife hasn't taken the time to sit down and figure out how to fire it up for anything other than playing WeBoggle, so she mostly uses the Tivo and the JVC DVD player. So I can see how there is resistance to it. But if you know how to use a PC and you have and HDTV monitor, you'd be crazy not to have an HTPC.
     
  6. Gary_E

    Gary_E Second Unit

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    Lee,

    I’ve been kicking around the same question for a year now and finally took the plunge.
    I just built my first HTPC. My knowledge of PCs is limited so I started with a stock PC

    HP Pavillion model A1616N (PC only)

    PentiumD 820 Dual Core 2.8 GHz
    1 gig memory
    300 watt power supply
    250 gig sata Hard drive
    On board audio - Realtek ALC 888 chipset – Digital Coaxial output
    Light Scribe DVD burner

    Cost after rebates = $600.00

    UPGRADES
    •Additional 1gig memory $75.00
    •430 watt power $30.00
    •Additional 250 gig sata drive $80.00
    •EVGA GeForce FX7600 GT $110.00 (DVI -> HDMI Panasonic X54 series RPTV) (S-Video to RF modulator, broadcasting RF signal through my house over coaxial cable).
    •EVGA GeForce FX5200 $40.00 (VGA to monitor)
    •Hauppauge's WinTV-HVR-950 hybrid TV stick $60.00
    •Beyond TV $80.00
    Added second DVD burner NEC 3550 from previous PC
    Monitor from previous PC

    Total cost= $1075.00

    So far this configuration functions very well. I can view any media files I have stored on my home network as well as allowing me to capture, edit and view OTA HD. The PC is very fast and doesn’t break a sweat capturing or playing any files, including HD.

    I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the HP PC but would have liked a few more expansion bay slots. Overall, I’m very happy with this HTPC and I’m glad I took the step forward.

    Regards,
    -Gary
     
  7. Vivek_IVB

    Vivek_IVB Stunt Coordinator

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    To me, one of the most major benefits of an HTPC that an xBox/etc will NEVER be able to have is the ability to control my non-computer equipment over RS232. I say RS232 b/c it's a bidirectional interface where you can both control and see the current status of your equipment, as opposed to IR which is a 1way control-only.

    For example, check out this screen. I can see
    1) what my 777 DVD megachanger is playing,
    2) look at the whole-house audio and see which of my zones are on, see what the volume is, see what the current source setting is.

    And, for the HomeAutomation inclined among us, I can also see
    3) What the temperature is in our front yard (digital thermometer hooked up)
    4) Security System Status (this pic shows ArmedStay)
    5) Weather forecast

    Each of those text areas are actually buttons which, if pressed, will take you to the appropriate control screen. For an exhaustive look at that, check out my personal website with all my screenshots.

    [​IMG]
     
  8. Jason Kirkpatri

    Jason Kirkpatri Second Unit

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    ^ friggin' cool! That's a pretty neat setup.
     
  9. Kimmo Jaskari

    Kimmo Jaskari Screenwriter

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    One can also get some mighty impressive looking interfaces going with Media Portal on top of plain Windows XP.
     
  10. Vivek_IVB

    Vivek_IVB Stunt Coordinator

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    Nah, cool is when you can use your PDA cellphone to do it from a restaurant 100miles away from your house, so you can turn on the stereo and DVD player, and kick off a DVD for the grandparents when they babysit your kids. Or, when they call you to say "it won't work", you can respond with "don't worry about it - i'll just login and see what's going on, and kick it off myself. Ask the kids what they want to watch".

    Oh wait - I can...
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Or perhaps I want to pull up the security cameras to see what's going on, because (true story) the neighbor calls you when you're on vacation in Hawaii to say "I think there's a moving van in front of your house taking stuff out".

    [​IMG]



    At this point, i've got pretty much all the various disciplines automated and monitored/controllable (lighting, security, whole house audio, CCTV, HVAC, irrigation, video). Now I'm working on integrating them (ie, right now I have the house server turn off all the stereos/amps, lights, HVAC when I arm the security system and leave).
     
  11. Parker Clack

    Parker Clack Schizophrenic Man
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    Vivek:

    That is some cool stuff. Computers and home automation, video and audio systems, etc. are all meant to be working together anyway. I just like it when they put it all in one nice box for. Hence the good ol' HTPC or DMS.

    I can hardly wait to see what they come up with next.
     
  12. Jason Kirkpatri

    Jason Kirkpatri Second Unit

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    All good stuff, guys! I don't own a PDA or cellphone, but the connectivity options that you've shown are very interesting.
     
  13. Nick-R

    Nick-R Agent

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    I'm considering taking the plunge on a media server, though I'm not willing to go all out as of yet. This is what I'm thinking, let me know if I'm way off base:

    Currently, I have my home wired for networking and coax near the TV's I would want media to go to. I also have a home computer that I would use as a temporary server, that is hooked up to my router.

    The server would simply hold my ripped DVD's and music, to be streamed to the client PC's over networking cable.

    I'm hoping I can build a lower end computer to place in my home theater, and eventually one upstairs in the living room. These computers would have only enough drivespace to be used as DVR's, and DVD's would be streamed from the server.

    Now, a couple of questions:
    1. Would the custom interfaces be accessed from the server, or from each client? My interfaces would be fairly simple, as security/lighting wouldn't be included, and HVAC would be a one zone setup.
    2. Is it possible to record DVR type stuff onto the server, including HD, or would it be better to record to each client seperately?
    3. Is there any way to do this with one computer with my current wiring configuration (networking cable, coax)?
    4. I'm not interested in getting a PDA or tablet PC to control these things, right now anyways. Can the UI's be controlled with a harmony remote ( I have an 890), or something comparable? How else would you control it?

    Thanks for helping with my newbie questions. I only know just enough to get myself into trouble, so any help I can get is great.
     
  14. Vivek_IVB

    Vivek_IVB Stunt Coordinator

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    Sorry, just noticed this post.

    Yes, you could use an IR receiver ie USBUIRT to receive the IR signals, and have the system behave differently. My warning is that my screens are designed to be used with a mouse. I don't actually use a touchscreen or tablet in my HomeTheater, I use an MX850 remote plus a bluetooth mouse (so I can put PC in a different room). If you're going to use a remote, you'd have to design your screens differently, namely much more simple, so that a basic up/down/left/right would work for you.
     

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