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2012 Multi-room HTPC

Discussion in 'Home Theater PCs' started by DaveF, Dec 29, 2011.

  1. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    To summarize: 2012 brings a new job and move out of state, selling my current house and buying a new place in Virginia. God willing and the creek don't rise, next year could be a lovely year to do a multi-room HTPC system.

    But I don't know. I'm just starting the research. Most important is WAF (wife approval factor). This would replace a pair of TivoHDs, which my wife loves. And we're both Apple people; usability is important. If a Windows Media Center as DVR is markedly inferior to Tivo in usability, all the tech specs in the world won't matter: it will be veto'd by the master-planning committee.

    So I need to find video demos and reviews of a 7MC system in action -- something I could plausibly build and configure. A hyper-configured system that's brilliant in execution but unreasonable for a duffer is no good to me :)

    I believe there are some videos in this forum, but I don't recall what thread they're in. Pointers to those are appreciated.

    Other good links, be it YouTube or other are good.

    I need to know good or bad, how this compares to Tivo. Getting a false impression, spending over a $1000, and then being disappointed and having my wife mad at me is far worse than deciding up front this is not the system for me and aborting before I get started.
     
  2. mariotolico

    mariotolico New Member

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    mariotolico New Member

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  4. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    Links
    http://hd.engadget.com/2009/07/27/windows-7-media-center-review/
    This indicates I build a 7MC HTPC, set my Xbox into Extender mode and I'm done. DVR on live TV at both locations. Rip Blu-rays to HTPC and Xbox can see the whole library. Matt's described this before but I've never had time to watch his videos. This Engadget review is really impressing me. I still don't know how it feels compared to Tivo, but the appearance looks pretty comparable.

    But there are some major weaknesses. The top two might be deal-breakers.

    • Only one Live TV buffer, so when you change the channel you lose it.

    • Can't record the buffer.

    • Configuring the display is still a mess. Things don't act as you'd want, it's a mystery to figure out what Microsoft's idea of a monitor or built-in display is, etc. All we want to do is to be able to turn off overscan for goodness' sake.

    • Settings for single recording are still useless, can't even record extra on a show without extending the entire series.

    • Still no resolution pass through, so everything is scaled to one resolution.

    • Grid guide still won't take up the entire screen.





    http://www.engadget.com/2010/08/05/tivo-premiere-vs-windows-7-media-center/

    Very positive comparison of 7MC compared to Tivo Premiere. But we watch live TV, sometimes toggling between two tuners, and sometimes using both multiple TVs. This might make an HTPC unworkable for my wife and my usage. Which would be a bummer, because otherwise I'm getting pretty excited about what a 7MC can do and also the project itself.



    Double-ugh. Confirming the inability to record a program from the start that's in the live buffer. And the 7MC tuners don't crank along in the background 24x7? We enjoy Tivo's "Suggestions", but it sound like Windows Media Center only records what it is programmed to record, and if there's in the queue, turns off effectively.




    But here WMC gets a potential win, though I won't know if it matters until I get a new place with cable and see if it has copy restrictions enabled.







    http://www.hometheaterforum.com/t/299750/how-to-make-your-windows-media-center-a-real-hd-machine

    (comments TBD)
     
  5. mattCR

    mattCR Well-Known Member
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    I've tried to post several videos.. I think I'll try to relink them in this thread, hold on
     
  6. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    I recall you put up some build and demo videos, but I haven't tracked them down yet. If you can cross-link some, that would be cool.
     
  7. mattCR

    mattCR Well-Known Member
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    Check the thread right below this one, I bumped it back to the top ;)
     
  8. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    Link added to my previous comment.
     
  9. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Well-Known Member

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    As long as you have multiple tuners installed, you should be good to go. The Infinitv 4 has four tuners built in as part of the M Card setup. Installing multiple single or dual tuner cards into your HTPC should accomplish the same thing.
     
  10. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    I'll have to search for clarification on that. I think they were using a dual-tuner setup, but only had one channel of live TV. My inference was that's a limitation baked into Windows, only running one tuner of live TV at a time. But perhaps not.
     
  11. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    I've had some ongoing concern and confusion, based on the Engadget review and Tivo comparison, on live TV with an extender. There's been some discussion in the Ceton thread, and my concerns are mostly allayed, summarized in this comment:




    Quote:

    Originally Posted by mattCR /t/305703/the-ceton-digital-cable-quad-tuner-pc-card-and-why-you-should-seriously-consider-it/60#post_3884239

    As far as live tuners; you have as many recording as you want (well, up to twelve) and as many as 5 live tuners (1 in the main, and then 4 extenders)
     
  12. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    Having addressed some feature concerns and technical questions, I should back up and consider my goals. I do have some specific hardware purchase ideas, but it would be good to stay away from purchase decisions until I've confirmed my general goals can be achieved.

    I thought I was going to build this system last year, summer of 2011. That didn't happen. This year is looking realistic, maybe this Spring, with a new job, new apartment, and new cable subscription.


    In a previous thread, I'd outlined some goals:
    http://www.hometheaterforum.com/t/299750/how-to-make-your-windows-media-center-a-real-hd-machine/30#post_3806894


    I'm going to revise the goals, to try and be more realistic and higher level:
    * High WAF :)
    * Dedicated hardware for replacement and upgrade to my two TivoHD units (living room and bedroom)
    ** 4 tuners minimum
    ** use with cable subscription (hopefully FiOS service)

    ** Always on, 24x7 operation

    * Quiet, even silent, operation

    * Future-proof to add third room extension for possible future "media room" after home purchase
    * Master "brain" unit in one room that controls & streams all tuners, programming, media; simultaneously streaming any content to other rooms

    * All units operable by Harmony One or other Harmony remotes
    * Serve as digital library for all my content, approximately

    ** 100 hours HDTV
    ** 100 Blu-rays
    ** 200 DVDs
    ** 400 CDs
    ** 10,000 Photos

    * Standard HDMI connection to HDTV and receivers for A/V; 3D capable for future-proofing

    * Integration with online services (e.g. Hulu, Amazon Instant, Netflix, NBC.com)


    * Simpler configuration desired.
    ** Willing to adjust storage file formats to simplify setup: Convert DVD / Blu-ray to iPhone / iPad use would be nice, but is done infrequently
    ** Do not want to spend 6 months converting content from disc to HTPC

    * Budget: $3000 max, $1000 target (excludes cable card subs, or other subscriptions needed)
     
  13. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    Some thoughts on budget assuming a 3 year usage.

    Option 1:
    Keep current pair of TivoHD's
    $22/mo for 3 years
    Total: $790

    Option 2:
    Upgrade to Tivo Premiere: 2 * $100
    $20 + $15 / mo for 3 years
    Total: $1460

    Option 3:
    Upgrade to Tivo Premiere: 2 * $100
    2 x $400 Lifetime subs
    Total: $1000


    Assuming no subscription-guide subscription for a 7MC system, and assuming it's as good as Tivo's service, then I can spend about $800 - $1000 up front for a 3 to 5-year system and be basically breaking even. Maybe if I called Tivo, I'd end up with a cheaper upgrade price as an existing customer.

    And as a fun personal project, and hoping to enjoy my movies and music more with a holistic solution, this is worth spending $1000 - $2000 to achieve.
     
  14. mattCR

    mattCR Well-Known Member
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    Your budget is definitely doable. And you'll have some advantages with Media Center you simply don't with TiVo. (you're comment about movie/video storage is definitely one of those). Let me think for a bit on how you might best accomplish your goal.
     
  15. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    I've already started collecting hardware ideas at NewEgg, to get a sense of budget. It's taken some effort to change my thinking from fastest-CPU-I-can-afford to a adequate-and-efficient. This should be publicly visible

    HTPC Wishlist
    https://secure.newegg.com/WishList/MySavedWishDetail.aspx?ID=19266106
     
  16. mattCR

    mattCR Well-Known Member
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    I just get "this wish list is empty"
     
  17. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    Hmm...I'll try to fix that this evening. Don't quite understand NewEgg's lists.

    If it were expected to be worthwhile, I could wait on Ivy Bridge. The one preview I read made it sound designed for HTPC use.

    Here's my list, a collection of possible basic hardware choices


    [​IMG]
     
  18. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    I roughed out a complete system to check realistic cost: about $1600 with extender. No effort was made to save cost, but a few items are on sale. I already have Windows 7 and an Xbox 360, so it's closer to $1300 for me.

    It might be missing additional software costs (for going beyond 7MC) and a RAID, if media size requires more than a simple hard drive.









    Item



    Cost



    Details





    Tuner



    $300



    Ceton InfiniTV 4





    Case



    $100



    SILVERSTONE GRANDIA GD04B





    Remote IR Port



    $37



    Antec Mult-Station





    Motherboard



    $125



    GIGABYTE GA-Z68MA-D2H-B3





    Power Supply



    $60



    Antec NEO ECO 400C





    CPU



    $150



    Intel Core i3-2125





    RAM



    $45



    G.SKILL Ripjaws X 8GB F3-12800CL9D-8GBXL





    Hard Drive



    $250



    WD Caviar Green 3TB IntelliPower





    Blu-ray



    $110



    LITE-ON 12X BD-R with 3D





    Power Cable



    $5



    Link Depot 6 ft.





    WiFi Card



    $20



    Rosewill RNX-N180PCe 802.11b/g/n PCI





    Keyboard & Mouse



    $100



    Wireless





    Windows 7



    $100



    OEM





    Extender



    $200



    Xbox 360 4GB





    HDMI Cable



    $10



    Monoprice.com





    Total



    $1,612
     
  19. mattCR

    mattCR Well-Known Member
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    I like the build a lot, that's basically what I've done. I will add a few things:

    (1) Remember to include a Microsoft MCE Remote - unless you already have something like a harmony to configure
    (2) Use Win7 HP for the most part. You can use pro, but there is minimal (no real) benefit in this application
    (3) Is that a BD-Writer? I'm assuming so. That's a nice benefit, but it won't come with burning software, and as a reader, I often find you're better with cheap BD-ROMs which can be had for about $65.
    (4) The powercord that comes with the Antec is already 6 feet and measured. I'd use it, save your money ;)
     
  20. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    Cool, thanks!

    I've got a Harmony One, and will buy some appropriate IR receiver module. I might get a Microsoft MCE remote kit to help with setup to start (rather than the generic remote I linked above).

    I've got Win7 HP. I bought the 3-license family disc for Parallels on the Mac last year and have a license or two to spare.

    I'd be OK with a BR reader. But that particular BR writer was recommended at AVS; there was a note that some other BR readers now throttle or prevent ripping, and this one was known to work well and fast.

    I didn't realize the case came with a power cord. And I probably have some packed away at home.



    I'm uncertain what to do about hard drive space. I estimate I need 5TB to rip my library, or about 1.5 TB if I transcode / recompress.
    * My wife and I watch special features.
    * It seems silly to take the great BR quality and reduce it with lossy transcoding and decompression.
    * Ripping looks like maybe an hour per disc. But transcoding / recompress is like 4 hrs per BR movie?

    This is beyond my current knowledge: how to reasonably setup and use 5-6TB of disc space in a Windows system. Buy two 3 TB drives and tell Windows to pull content from two drives? Do I need to setup a RAID? Is that affordable? Searching NewEgg for RAID cards is not encouraging. Cheap ones have bad reviews. Good ones are 20% of my budget. Any comments are welcome.


    I'm reconsidering 4GB over 8GB RAM. MS suggests you only need 3GB for a head + two satellite system.
    (I wish Microsoft had useful information about their Media Center system. Their info is barely more than hand-waving.)
     

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