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new HTPC build for PC builder / entertainment novice

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9 replies to this topic

#1 of 10 OFFLINE   SpacemanSpiff



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Posted June 25 2011 - 08:21 PM

WWYD: i.e., What hardware/software Would You want for this?

The setup: A new-ish Panny 50" GT25 receiving from a Verizon FiOS HD DVR (who's 1yr free offer is up) and nothing else (nothing HD anyway, just a DVD player, Wii, and VCR). Also, this is the only TV (besides the replaced CRT/paperweight).

The plan: Build a PC (and/or series of devices) with ...

- a PVR to record my saved stuff off the FiOS DVR AND to _become_ the DVR thereafter (so I'm thinking Hauppage int or ext ... preferences?)

- a BluRay player (prob supporting 3D due to the Panny, tho' no glasses yet)

- a feature (CPU, software?) that upscales SD DVDs

- a feature to cut commercials ... in the future (CPU consideration?)

- tuner card is optional ... still considering using the VZ HD non-DVR after I dump the DVR

- also needs to be able to digitize old home movies from VHS (the PVR does that?)

- later, support some way to select/play (permissibly-) ripped content without having to pop in a disc (or a VHS home movie) ... media server/NAS comes after that ... media extenders for future TVs even later

- sound card necessary?

- one remote to rule it all (prob Harmony)

Also, any suggestions on a 5.1 + 2nd zone internet-ready receiver to feed to, and some small-ish speakers? That will be in the mix quite soon.

So, I can build a PC no prob, but I only this week got clear that NTSC is video for America and PAL is EU (or something close to that). That's the level I'm at, so you can reply in that vein ... as to an amateur system builder with a 2-year-old's knowledge of HD & HT.

Again, the question is: What would you assemble (hard & soft) to build a setup that would best support the above? And why (where explaining is appropriate).



#2 of 10 OFFLINE   mattCR


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Posted June 26 2011 - 12:17 AM

The first question you have to ask before any of your questions can start is a simple one.

What kind of budget are you looking to stay within?

I could make a ton of different recommendations, but they may not fit your budget.   Some recommendations might be way below your budget.   Once you have a clear budget in mind, then the rest becomes pretty easy - it's easy to find "the best option at this price point" but if you start with no clear price point, you'll spend much more (or too little) compared to what you want.


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#3 of 10 OFFLINE   ArchMike



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Posted June 26 2011 - 04:26 AM

Do not spend less then $500.   Figure a decent Intel I3-2100 or about that for as low as you want to go.   Also remember, the more extenders you want to run, the beefier it should be.

#4 of 10 OFFLINE   SpacemanSpiff



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Posted June 26 2011 - 09:43 AM

Thx, Matt & Mike, for the replies so far.

@ArchMike: So that Intel is beefy enough to accomplish what I'm looking for with some room for the future?  So far, I've only read that an HTPC doesn't need much CPU UNLESS you're going to upscale or process out commercials (which I might want later), etc.  I didn't previously know the media extender consideration (thx!) but once I get to that point, the extenders will prob be connecting to the separate media server/NAS anyway.

@mattCR: I expected the budget question after I posted; I understand many approach it that way, but that's not my approach.  That's perhaps a bit mind-bending, so in the interest of connecting us all on this point to move forward, here's where I'm coming from:

I need bananas. Sitting in my kitchen, I have zero idea what they cost ($0.10-$5/lb?).  If I visit 3+ grocery stores, I'll pick the ones with the size & level of ripeness (features) I'm looking for at the best price comparitively.  But if I'd have to pay more for features I don't want (say, organic), I'll pass ... unless they are the same price.  So, I don't have a banana budget in mind  ... whatever it costs in the end, I'm going home with some darned bananas that fit my needs. I'm not going to skimp on quality (otherwise, a defective product is a waste of $$ anyway); I won't pay more for the essentially the same quality/features. But if someone has a great experience with organic bananas or "high-potassium" bananas and can articulate why they are better than regular ones for the price, I'm listening carefully and will assess.  I also don't understand the concept of something being too much below budget ... if I'm getting what I want for a lower price, I'm just saving money.

That said, I have these entertainment wants that I must solve somehow.  To summarize the rest of my thoughts to help us come together:

- I want whatever it takes to get my list done right without overdoing it. No idea if it costs $300 or $3000. I need to start with solving the problem.

- I DON'T want to name an arbitrarily price that ends up restricting choices, doesn't meet my needs, or gives me low quality I'll have to replace anyway.

- I'm mostly CLUELESS about possible features or quality products here (what's a good upscaler?). Talk me into something if you advocate it.

- In the end, I'm not going to blindly order what 1 person says. I'm going to assess everything for cost effectiveness and choose my sweet spot.

- At minimum, I need to know what level not to go below because I want it all to work.

- Affordability will be based on comparing final prices between the choices I/we can generate.

But if the budget question is still preventing us from moving forward, I can just say "cost is no object," even though that's not true (per above), but if that will start us off, let's go.  To take your phrase, "the best option at this price point," what I want is what I think most shoppers want with most purchases, "the best option at the lowest price point that covers my checklist, works well (together), and is not likely to break (fail/overheat) in the next few months."

Given the backdrop of WWYD, I imagine no one here will recommend higher-/over-priced options when reasonably-priced options will do just as well to "Get Er Done."  I imagine no one will recommend a hot-rod PC for MORE $$ than a non-PC solution with high-end component hardware (e.g., Oppo 93).

#5 of 10 OFFLINE   SpacemanSpiff



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Posted June 29 2011 - 06:33 PM

What I didn't imagine is that there are no more ideas on this. Looked into the Intel I3-2100 .... even the "T" version with lower W ... looks good.  So we have a contender for CPU.  Also beginning to wondering if I should keep any real-time encoding on this build or offload it somehow.  Any more ideas on the h/w & s/w necessary to get this done, for whatever it takes, without a lot of overkill? Requirements are still in the OP. Thanks!

#6 of 10 OFFLINE   mattCR


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Posted June 30 2011 - 04:18 AM

Well, there are too many questions for me to really figure out what your end goal is.

First, if you're looking at a case, decide right off if you need broad expansion (internal tuners or a better video card) or if you want slim and you'll make those items network/USB.
On the cheap end, NmediaPC makes decent cheap HTPC cases

Second, Bluray ROM drives are cheap; you can get them for about$69.   Get an LG or a LiteON, and prefer ones that are 4X or higher in speed because you may want to use that for a bit.

Next, are you planning on 'Cutting the cord" that is Over the Air and QAM, or are you looking at Cable Card type solutions?


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#7 of 10 OFFLINE   SpacemanSpiff



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Posted July 06 2011 - 06:10 PM

Thanks, Matt. Yeah, sorry, if I knew what I was talking about re: entertainment tech, this would be easier. I've read, but I'm "not quite there yet" + my delayed responses show the time I have available (i.e., this will take forever without help).

Tried to skip the "what do you want to use it for?" reply and give my goals via reqs in my 1st post.  In essence, I want whatever current hardware will achieve all those reqs, without overdoing it much (unless it's future-proofing it some).

For a case, I think, "Is the Intel I3-2100T enough to accomplish all this (e.g., acceptable video to my Panny, upscaling SD, transcoding/cutting commercials) so I don't need a video card?"

If I can get the right CPU to prevent video expansion/heat, then my case can be slimmer (but see below re: tuners), as long as it still cools well.  I hear quieter and lower power is better for HTPCs (no overclocking), and of course cooler is always better, but these can be at odds so I guess balance is called for: just cool enough.  So I am essentially building from the inside out.  Once I know the target innards, I can choose from cases that fit the innards I'll need. Thx for the tips for later.

Blu-Ray: Per above, my TV is 3D capable, so for the future I'd like one supporting 3D.  I haven't found the $69 3D BluRays ... only ~$125 ones.

Cutting the Cord: Probably not. OTA doesn't have enough of what my family watches (Latino soaps, Disney/Nick, NFL) and I don't know what QAM is (remember, I'm a novice).

Per my reqs above, "tuner card is optional ... still considering using the VZ HD non-DVR after I dump the DVR".  So "Phase 1" includes getting a DVR/PVR working in this setup (ext or int Hauppage, per above? please help?), then reducing fees via a non-DVR box from Verizon.  When the dust settles, I'd like the option of getting a Ceton 4ch tuner in this same box in the future if I want, so that's to be considered.

Had more thoughts on other h/w but this is already too long. Thanks!

#8 of 10 OFFLINE   SpacemanSpiff



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Posted July 26 2011 - 11:02 AM

I don't know if this will continue discussion or close it, but here's to trying again ...

Let me open up by cutting any Politically Correct crap and stating calmly, but firmly, that I think y'all may have forgotten what it's like to be a complete noob in this area, since you know a lot of stuff (stuff I wish I already knew) -- e.g., I think any gut feel on budget and cases, etc. (which put the cart before the horse for me) are based partly on past experience, of which I have none in this area.  I think I could have gotten to my present point 2 weeks earlier with some help.

For example, if I never bought a car and have zero idea how much cars cost in my state ($10K? $50K?), I prob need to talk with dealer about my needs in order to narrow the field, learn about types/options/etc ... I won't buy a car that day ... but I need more info from a knowledgeable person to enable any self-research ... call it pre-shopping, if you will.  Without knowledge, I'd be randomly throwing out parts and a budget number to offer something to chew on.  And Matt, I'm sorry friend, but I'm still bewildered at your statement that you couldn't "figure out what [my] end goal is" ... that's all in the original post.

Below are suggestions I wanted to know; the specific parts come easy, thereafter. Over the last 3 weeks of intensely making time for this (e.g., I should be working right now ... and sleeping more), I've learned enough to spec the following starting with only the information above (and basically in this order, just to give a window into the noob thought process):

- CPU: Intel I3-2100T seems powerful enough for my needs, found it's the min required to support 3D w/o extra GPU card/heat, and is low wattage  [thx for the start, Mike]

- mobo: a H67 seems good enough (Z68 is likely a waste) ... will probably go with Gigabyte or ASUS based on reputation (but have to count up my # of likely PCIe cards first)

- GPU: I hear the CPU's HD2000 should be fine for the above, but need to allocate one x16 space in case it's not (or maybe 2, because I hear they are double-wide?)

- RAM: 2 x 2GB DDR3 1333 seems good enough (vs. 1600) ... also influencing the H67 decision

- BluRay reader: a Lite-On 4x seems good enough [thx for the tips, Matt] ... also, drive length may become an issue, if the case ends-up tight

- HDD: my one reusable part is a WD10EADS (to be fair, that wasn't mentioned above; we didn't get to that level of detail) ... remember that I'll be getting real storage outside this PC later

- PVR: tunerless ... either the Hauppauge 1212 external or the Hauppauge 1414 (Colossus) internal ... for my 1st & 6th needs in the OP (#6 should really have been #2) ... folks really seem to like Hauppauge, tho' AverMedia got better ratings than the 1414; I found 1 person with both brands who reported comparative problems with AverMedia

- tuner (later, but need to keep space open now): the Ceton 4ch card (regardless of SDust and Hauppauge's new stuff)

to be ignored: non-CableCARD tuner cards (due to my fave channels) and solutions like AppleTV, Boxee, Roku, etc. ... I thought I needed something like that or these could be options ... but I got all that explained to me

- wireless LAN: a cheap Rosewill 802.11n is good enough until I can figure how to drop wires to this location ... gotta have some connectivity there for now ... tho' I might still have a working "b" card here

- sound: folks seem to agree the above is good enough for HD sound (a decent AVR to come later)

- OS: MS Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (I pretty much saw nothing else recommended)

- still not sure about remotes ... or even what a blaster actually is (I thought it was the IR receiver) ... maybe start with the iPod Touch for now

[credit to AVS's Assassin's Guide, Tom's Hardware, LifeHacker, 1 Facebook friend, and esp. Missing Remote for the uncredited info above ... and, of course, to Newegg & Amazon for reviews, price, and fact-checking ... and to the ability to live on 5hrs sleep for a while]

- PSU: adding all that up into the online PSU calculator came to ~340W ... the Antec Green (EA-380D) seems good enough

- Back to the mobo specs ... well, I'm clearly out of the ITX realm b/c I need more than 1 card ... in fact, I've got 4 here (a just-in-case future x16 GPU, wireless LAN, PVR, Ceton).  That forces microATX and turns out to be too many cards for H67 mobos ... and any GPU might be double-sized ... but maybe I'll spend more for the ext PVR ... and I should force myself to be wired (no Rosewill) by the time any Ceton would come, so I can live with 3 slots, if not 2.  So I'll see what's available from ASUS & Gigabyte with 3 PCIe slots, plus eSATA, and maybe firewire.

- Now what case fits these parts and fits in the cabinet and doesn't look like a PC? my first cut was a HEC but I'm told that won't fit the PSU (and I trust no "free" PSUs based on reviews) ... the 1414 PVR is NOT low profile ... and since I'm now more serious about Ceton than before, I can prob go bigger due to ousting the STB later. The jury is still out on this, but I'd rather not have the hunk 'o metal I shove all this into be the single more expensive item, so it should be <$100.  It just needs to keep it cool, quiet (fans), and look like a component. Looking at Silverstone.

Budget: Getting specific with all the above (non-future) parts came to ~$670 (vs. $790 for Z68-based parts, so I saved $$ there).  That makes my budget around $700.  More if I get the Ceton sooner.  More if I get a keyboard-type device.  In retrospect, it would be silly for me to start out by cluelessly saying my budget is $300, or even $500, because it wouldn't meet my stated needs.  I also wouldn't want to start with $700 before finding out if $300 could indeed meet my needs.

Open Questions:

  • BluRay Reader: Can a non-3D drive successfully copy a digicopy 3D movie for HDD-based playback? (3D drives are 2x more expensive)
  • HDD: Is the WD10EADS good enough?
  • Is there a good use for firewire?
  • is this CPU and GPU really enough for my needs?
  • would a good enough separate GPU take up 2 slots?
  • any other issues with this direction (before more specifics)? [like, I didn't think to ask if the PSU fit the case before]

#9 of 10 OFFLINE   jayjose01



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Posted August 01 2011 - 05:24 AM

Hi Spaceman, I know you already have most of the stuff settled, I just want to share some readings regarding custom HTPC. http://forum.xbmc.or...ead.php?t=94199 http://forum.xbmc.or...ead.php?t=94268 I also custom built my HTPC last year and planning to build a new one this year and I find the thread above helpful on deciding on the parts.

#10 of 10 OFFLINE   assassinhtpc



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Posted August 05 2011 - 02:34 AM

Since you're new to Mediabrowser I'd highly recommending checking out our blog. We're the largest HTPC company in the world and the first official Media Browser licensed installer in the western hemisphere. Our blog has 30+ guides to customizing and using mediabrowser as well as other HTPC functions and set up. -Assassin HTPC --------------------------- The Store: www.assassinhtpc.com (largest custom HTPC shop in the world) The Blog: www.assassinhtpcblog.com (over 30+ guides for optimizing your HTPC).