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Possible to build HD HTPC on the cheap?


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21 replies to this topic

#1 of 22 OFFLINE   Buzz Foster

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Posted March 17 2008 - 07:28 AM

I have an ASUS A7N8X mobo with an Athlon xp 2400+, one or two gigs of ram, and 750GB hard drive space. The video card is nothing special, but does have DVI out.

I am thinking that it would be worth the money to buy one or two of the tuner cards I have seen that can get analog cable + OTA HDTV and onboard encoders and ditch DirecTV completely. I'm essentially paying $100/month to watch "The Soup", and a bunch of programming that is free OTA, anyway. (And CBS is downgraded to standard def on satellite, anyway! Geesh!)

I do have a network connection behind the set. Is this enough of a system to pull it off? Could I maybe up the processing power and RAM and get away with it? Would I need XP Media edition, or will my existing XP Pro installation be enough?

Thanks!
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#2 of 22 OFFLINE   Parker Clack

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Posted March 17 2008 - 10:27 AM

If you want to continue to use Windows for your PVR you are going to have to have a Media Center Edition version of the software. There are some great third party programs out there, in particular Power DVD that does Hi Def.

I have an older HTPC that has an AMD Athlon 64 3200+, Socket 939 mobo with a gig of RAM and it records my SDTV great. I am not sure what you need at a minimum for recording HDM though.

I just picked up a Gateway HTPC that has a quad core AMD chipset with 3 gig of RAM, a terabyte of HD space and a Blu-ray/HD DVD combo drive. I got it all for around $1,000 which as far as I know is the cheapest HTPC out there with a combo HD drive.

Once you go to an HTPC for your PVR you will never go back to using a service like Tivo where you have to pay for the EPG again. Take the $100/month you have been spending and put it towards a new PC that you know will have the necessary software, horsepower, etc.

Parker

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#3 of 22 OFFLINE   Ken Chan

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Posted March 17 2008 - 11:35 AM

I run BeyondTV on plain XP, and it works pretty well.

Recording HDTV is not a problem; the tuning hardware generates the bitstream, which any modern hard drive can handle. The CPU does hardly any work. Playback is the issue, especially to deinterlace 1080i. That's where the particular video card and its drivers come into play.

With a "full" HTPC, there's DVD playback, which is mostly solved if you have the right video card and a decent DVD player program. And support for a remote control.

#4 of 22 OFFLINE   SethH

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Posted March 17 2008 - 11:48 AM

I would upgrade to Vista Home Premium. It's a very good system overall and SP1 is due out in the next few weeks.

#5 of 22 OFFLINE   Parker Clack

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Posted March 18 2008 - 04:09 AM

Seth:

Have you heard whether SP1 will have the ability to play Hi Def DVD within Media Center? As it stands now you have to drop out of Media Center to be able to use Power DVD or Beyond TV.

"I tried to get my medical records from the company but they say they

are confidential and can only be released to other insurance companies,

pharmaceutical​ reps, suppliers of medical equipment and for some

reason the RNC."
 


#6 of 22 OFFLINE   Buzz Foster

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Posted March 18 2008 - 05:41 AM

I guess I should specify that I am not looking for Blu-Ray in my system, yet. Right now, this about the alternative to $100/mo Directv. So, there is no reason to worry about upgrading the existing system for that.

Ken:

In an older thread, I looked for a reccomendation for a video upgrade for an older system, and I got this suggestion: Asus N6200 8X AGP. Unfortunately, it didn't work with the system I was upgrading, but I still have it new in the box, and it is beyond the GeForce 4200ti that is in the system I want to use. Will this new 6200 card be enough? That would be great if I could actually end up using this card.

Also, what kind of hard drive speed do I need? This system is ATA-100. I could capture video on ATA-66 on it without a hiccup (that was the original use for this system...analog video capture and editing). I'll have to look and see what the current drives are rated for, but I think they are ATA-100, as well.

The maximum CPUs I could put in it are these: Athlon XP 3000+(333 MHZ FSB)(Barton), Duron 1800 (Model 8)(Applebred), or Sempron 3000+. What is in there now, I have double-checked, and it is an Athlon XP 2400+ (Thoroughbred). It has one GB of Crucial PC2100 266Mhz DDR RAM. Is a CPU or RAM upgrade going to be necessary?

Also, something I would like to do would be to take recorded programs and convert them to a mobile Divx format that I could play on my Zen Vision W. Can the system be set up in such a way as to do those conversions automatically and send them across the network to my desktop system?

And does BeyondTV support tv show downloads? I know some programming is available online (like "The Soup"!), and it would be nice to be able to watch extra programs.
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#7 of 22 OFFLINE   Ken Chan

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Posted March 18 2008 - 10:12 AM

If you're just watching TV, a gig of RAM is plenty. The 2400+ CPU should probably be fine as well.

For hard drives, ATA-100 and ATA-66 are the interface (or burst) speeds, which tell you virtually nothing useful except for the approximate age of the drive. The real variable is Sustained Transfer Rate. Having said that, once again you are probably fine with that too. You should definitely get a tuner card with a hardware encoder to handle the analog signal. (Since the card does the work, the CPU is not an issue.) It will probably be in the 6Mbit/s range. OTA HDTV is (I forget) 20ish Mbit/s, straight out of the air and onto the drive. So that's about 3Mbyte/s. A slow ATA-66 class drive might be 10Mbyte/s, so that's plenty. Compare those bitrates with what you successfully captured before.

The problem is the video card, especially with 1080i HDTV. nVidia brands its video processing as PureVideo; looking at the support matrix the features you want for High-Definition Content are MPEG-2 Decode Acceleration, Spatial-Temporal De-Interlacing, and ideally Inverse Telecine. So that's a minimum 7600 GT or 6800 Ultra.

BeyondTV will automatically "ShowSqueeze" recordings into DivX (not sure if it's the exact flavor you want, and that's when CPU power will matter). I don't recall any support for downloading shows, but if you place the video files in the right directory, you can watch them through the interface.

#8 of 22 OFFLINE   Buzz Foster

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Posted March 18 2008 - 11:46 AM

It looks like I can improve speed on the FSB with some new RAM, so I think I may do that to bring it to 333mhz. If I can find a cheap XP 3000+ 333fsb, I may grab it, too.

I think I found a video card: 7600GT. However, I am totally lost on tuner cards. I need a reccomendation there for one that will work with PCI bus, and hopefully has a remote (or will work with a Harmony).

After that, I'll likely be picking your brain for software help.
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#9 of 22 OFFLINE   rjsimmons

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Posted March 19 2008 - 04:32 AM

Your system will probably work fine for SD (standard definition), but I would be amazed if it worked for HD (high definition) material. You run into several problems with HD material.

First, it will require significantly form space on your hard disk to hold the recordings. 250GB disk will hold about 30 hours.

Second, playback requirements really require a more powerful/advanced video card. The 7600 you mention may work, but it will be on the edge. There are a number of newer cards out that will not break the bank (the ATI Radeon 2400 models come to mind), but he most inexpensive are all PCIe not AGP.

This can be compensated for by faster CPUs, but you are short on this as well. The AMD 4200 is probably at the low end of acceptable here.

I have seen a low end system specified using current (or at least recent) parts) that came in at about $300. It was AMD based. Look over recent posts in the AVS forum under home theater computers.

Good luck.

(I like the Sage interface, by the way. Great software and minimal system requirements. Very flexible. You can try it for 30 days free.)

#10 of 22 OFFLINE   Buzz Foster

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Posted March 19 2008 - 07:21 AM

WinTV-HVR-1600?

A pair of these and the video card above should do the trick?
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#11 of 22 OFFLINE   Ken Chan

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Posted March 19 2008 - 10:29 AM

I didn't notice that you need AGP. If you look at that support matrix, it's mostly PCIe, with AGP to the right. They don't even list the 7600GT AGP, and for whatever reason, sometimes the support is different for the PCIe and AGP versions. You might want to contact nVidia to make sure. Also, they will charge you an extra $30 for PureVideo ($20 for the video part, $10 more for Dolby Digital 5.1). There is a 30-day trial. ATI's competing "Avivo" is "included"

Yes, that Hauppauge should work. I'm using another model with dual analog tuners on one card successfully. Depending on what you're trying to do, and how the 1600 works, you may need two (or more). You may want to check the BeyondTV forums to see what people are saying about that card.

#12 of 22 OFFLINE   Buzz Foster

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Posted March 19 2008 - 04:26 PM

It looks like the video card(s) I bought for my new system last year are the best at what I want to do, and reasonably priced. Ironically, I have discovered that my Crosshair doesn't care for having all four memory slots filled, so I have some spare memory, 2GB of DDR2 800 PC6400 with no system to love it.

A reasonably priced AM2 mobo with a 16x PCIe slot, and two free PCI slots, a processor, and the tuner cards should give me what I want.
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#13 of 22 OFFLINE   Parker Clack

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Posted March 19 2008 - 06:14 PM

Hauppauge told me they will have a dual tuner version of the 1600 to be released some time in April. I am waiting on that one myself as I love the 500MCE I have but want QAM and I would rather just have one card.

"I tried to get my medical records from the company but they say they

are confidential and can only be released to other insurance companies,

pharmaceutical​ reps, suppliers of medical equipment and for some

reason the RNC."
 


#14 of 22 OFFLINE   Rommel_L

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Posted March 29 2008 - 05:22 PM

Buzz,

I hope the link below helps you on your research...

link

#15 of 22 OFFLINE   Chris

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Posted March 30 2008 - 10:23 AM

Here's the cheap, but incredible combo:

AMD 780G Chipset Motherboard (which has DVI out) $90
LiteOn BD-DVDROM (BlueRay/DVDROM) $130
160G ($54)
Athlon LE-1640 ($50)
2G ($50)
HDTV Tuner ($50)
Vista Home Premium ($118)
Cheap Case: $40

There you go, total media center, with full blue-ray 1080P functionality and you're under $600. Or if you want really cheap, you can ditch Blueray, save $100.
My Current DVD-Profiler


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#16 of 22 OFFLINE   rexb

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Posted April 07 2008 - 01:53 PM

I don't know if this is wrong to piggyback my question on to this thread - - this is my very first visit to the HTPC forum, and you might stick a dunce cap on me and send me back to do some basic reading (hmmm... where_would_ I go to do that, anyway?)

- - and I don't so much care about creating an HTPC "on the cheap" I wouldn;t mind paying what it takes!) - - what I really want is networkability!

I have two Insight Digital (Motorola DCT 6416) HD-DVR boxes in my home (one in my "true" HT room in the basement, based on an Optoma projector, and another in my living room on my 55" RP), and we would like to add the same capability in our bedroom.

I grate, a little bit at the thought of having to pay_another_ $15 a month for box number 3 - - but more than that, I am really annoyed by having shows recorded on the DVR in the living room, but wanting to watch them elsewhere.

Can I put together an HTPC - - either visible in the bedroom, or maybe even concealed (ceiling? easily accessible - - or closet? enough space and wiring easily directed through attic) so that content on one device could be viewed (even if not remotely controlled) on any of the other three screens (not simultaneously)?

Am I explaining my question clearly enough? Dos this question have any out-of-the-box (even kinda) solution? Hardware plus software combo? Better direction for me to pursue, software wise?

I should add that my home is extensively Cat-5 wired (I pulled all the cable myself when we built the house in 2003, so I can find it all easily), and I can bring hardwired networking pretty much from anywhere to anywhere in my house. Ironically, I have never actually used it, computer-wise, because wireless emerged right about that time, and made it quite unnecessary for me to have wired networking from one room to another in my home.

If this question should NOT be piggybacked here, or if it should not even be in this forum, can you direct me to where I_should_ post it?

Many thanks in advance,

Rex, from Indiana

#17 of 22 OFFLINE   Kamokazi

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Posted April 08 2008 - 01:15 AM

Rex, you may want to check out Media Center Extenders. They are devices that connect over your home network to a PC running Windows XP Media Center Edition or Windows Vista Home Premium.

This is a good place to start looking:

Newegg.com - Network Digital Media Player, Wireless Media Player, Network Media Player, HD Media Player, Wireless HD Media Player

I personally haven't used one (although I am starting to think about it) but I believe it's the best option for what you are trying to do. And they do work wirelessly or wired, I would generally recommend wired as it is a much more stable connection.

Also, when getting into HTPCs, I found these forums extremely helpful:

The Green Button - Your Media Center Community

#18 of 22 OFFLINE   rexb

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Posted April 08 2008 - 03:29 AM

Thanks for the reply, and the links. I'll check them out.

Off the top of your head - - and perhaps this is how I should have asked the question in the first place - - if I can configure a network with a Media Center PC, and it connects to the two HD-DVR Motorola boxes - - do you think that their storage is organized in some readable fashion - - that is, will I be able to "see" in directory fashion what is stored on their hard drive?

I fear that they use some "operating system" that is not directly readable by Windows XP nor Vista (the scourge of the earth!)

Yet, surely not every HD-DVR set top box maufacturer has reinvented the wheel and developed their own proprietary "operating system" have they? Hopefully there are just a few "standards" and someone has created third party software in conjunction with Windows Media Center to be able to read (write?) to their disk?

Thanks again,

Rex

#19 of 22 OFFLINE   Ken Chan

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Posted April 08 2008 - 10:22 AM

I doubt the cable companies make it easy to get content from their DVRs from a generic PC. They want that $15 per month. The solution is to go with third parties, whether it's Windows Media, BeyondTV, etc. With them, you have tuner hardware in a main PC that does the DVR functionality. Then with another PC (or dedicated hardware), you can access the stored content over the network and display it wherever that other PC is. Since they don't have to do much work, those satellite PCs can be smaller and quieter.

#20 of 22 OFFLINE   Buzz Foster

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Posted April 11 2008 - 06:29 PM

Ive decided to upgrade my old series 1 Tivo (lifetime sub) with a network card and larger hard drive and hook that back up to the old cable and antenna, and turn off the satellite completely.

I can hook my backup PC to the system and stream video over the network to it.

SD, but I am rapidly deciding that Tyler Durden had it right, and I don't really care any more about having the best system on the block.
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