Building a laptop for a somewhat elaborate home theater - please help

Discussion in 'Computers' started by steveKlein, Jul 19, 2006.

  1. steveKlein

    steveKlein Agent

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    Hey guys... I'm new to the whole HTPC world, but definitely am interested in personal video recording without paying for a service like TiVo. That, and I've heard that an HTPC offers far, far more options than something like TiVo.

    In any event... here's my setup.

    I will be using an Onkyo AV receiver with a Samsung 40" (or possibly 46") LCD 1080p TV and a very nice 5.1 speaker package from Ascend Acoustics. I'll also have a 400 disk DVD changer, a couple of gaming consoles, satellite TV box, and xm radio in the setup. The equipment rack with these pieces (and presumably the laptop I build) will be located in an adjacent closet to keep my setup "clean". I will be controlling all of the equipment, as well as things like room lighting, ceiling fan, and air conditioning via my Philips Pronto NG TSU 7000 remote. Phew, all done with the background. Now to the nitty gritty...

    This system I build for use in my home theater... what do I need!?

    There's a couple things I'll be using the computer for:
    - TiVo-like DVR features
    - Playing music from my PC through my speaker system


    I'm not building a system from scratch, but rather using a 3 year old formerly top of the line Dell. I figure this system, with a couple of tweaks, should be more than enough for a good HTPC system. Here are my current computer's stats:

    CPU: Pentium 4 2.66 GHz

    RAM: 512MB (cannot recall if it is DDR or SD; either way, I'll probably make it 1GB if I need to since it's a very cheap upgrade, right?)

    OS: Windows XP Professional Service Pack 2 (Will Media Center Edition do anything Professional won't do?)

    DVD Burner: 4x Sony DVDR/RW with Nero Burning Rom (this is fine by me...)

    Hard Drive Storage: Plenty; 240 gigs or more

    Video Card: ATI Radeon 9700 Pro (Do I need to upgrade this, or just add like a Hauppauge card? The Radeon 9700 pro appears to have S-Video out for what it's worth. I really can't imagine having to upgrade this, even though it's about 2-3 years old). Do I even need to add a card, or can I just get some software and use the card I've got right now?

    I imagine I will need to upgrade to the following: wireless keyboard/mouse, some sort of "pvr/tv tuner" card like a Hauppauge 350 (what's my best option here), and some piece of software so I can do all the "TiVo" functions (unless this is included with the card).

    - Wireless keyboard/mouse (I need something with a range of at least 25 feet and something that doesn't need a line of sight so IR is not an option... I'm assuming I'll want RF. Anyone got suggestions here? I've heard the Gyration ULTRA GT Mouse/Keyboard is good... and can be had for $50 or less)

    - Most importantly, and what I'm most in the dark on, something to record TV. I'll have a DirecTV HD sat box, but I don't need the DVR box if I'm going the HTPC route, do I? Or do I have to have that too, and just use software on my laptop?

    Where do I start? What kind of options will be available to me? I've used my parent's TiVo from time to time over the last year or so and love being able to pause live TV, automatically record tons of shows, etc. etc. etc. Is there anything I take for granted by using TiVo that I will not get out of a HTPC?

    Sorry for the questions if they seem elementary... I consider my setup to be fairly elaborate, and I just want to make sure I can use TiVo-like features!

    Thanks in advance for the advice guys...
     
  2. Rommel_L

    Rommel_L Second Unit

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    Laptop as a HTPC for $2000? Not possible. Laptop for your other needs and upgrade your PC (for HTPC) for $2000? It's doable...
     
  3. steveKlein

    steveKlein Agent

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    okay. i edited my original post. i realized upgrading my current pc and then getting a seperate laptop is my best option because a laptop can't be doing any tivoing when it is with me outside of the home!


    now any pointers?
     
  4. Rommel_L

    Rommel_L Second Unit

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    Let's just assume you're going to be spending $1300 for the laptop and the rest for the HTPC....

    What's the model# of that old Dell PC? I need it so I can figure out exactly what kind of Pentium 4 cpu (yes, there are many kinds), RAM, etc.

    Start Googling "diy htpc". It will give you ideas on what components you want/need, etc.
     
  5. steveKlein

    steveKlein Agent

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    It is a Dell Dimension 4550. I'm pretty sure the 512MB ram is DDR SDRAM but can't really give you details beyond that.
     
  6. Andrew Pratt

    Andrew Pratt Producer

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    For steaming your music I'd recomend just using iTunes and picking up a Roku Soundbridge. They're slick to use, cheap and have a digital output so you can use your AVRs DAC's.
     
  7. steveKlein

    steveKlein Agent

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  8. Rommel_L

    Rommel_L Second Unit

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    Steve,

    Download and run CPU-Z. It will tell you what version of Pentium 4 and RAM you have running right now...
     
  9. Scott L

    Scott L Producer

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    For reliable HD-DVR you'll have to stick with your provider's DVR option, especially with Satellite.

    It's only about $4-7 extra a month.
     
  10. Sami Kallio

    Sami Kallio Screenwriter

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    Scott is right, there are no HD cards out there that can decrypt the HD signal so you are stuck with the HD DVR that your provider offers if you want to record HD.
     
  11. Scott L

    Scott L Producer

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    For OTA and QAM (Cable) there are actually a handful of cards that can grab and even timeshift HD. For 8VSB (Satellite) there are no known consumer options available.

    Here are the non-8vsb cards I'm talking about:

    https://www.digitalconnection.com/st...20TUNER%20CARD

    Their software isn't perfect and many cable companies put 5c encryption on everything they send out (which is technically illegal), making it impossible in many areas for it to even work. I wasn't able to get a reliable signal at all, telling me that my Comcast provider encrypts everything. [​IMG]

    I'm with Comcast's HD-DVR box and although it's not flawless, it does the job. I would really love to transfer the raw .TS streams to my compy for editing and archiving but I guess the "powers that be" will keep signing my pay check until Jack and Jane K. Viewer start to go for the remote so they can get back to commentators who don't "frighten children", who don't "eat their own dandruff", who don't "pop their whiteheads with a compass they used in high school".

    Sorry ;>
     
  12. steveKlein

    steveKlein Agent

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    Down the line, can we expect TV tuners to be able to record in HD? Is this something that will come around with technology... or is there some reason that it hasn't and likely won't be developed?

    Oh, and here are the results of my CPUZ test:

    CPU:
    Intel Pentium IV, 2657.8 MHz
    Family F, Model 2
    Northwood mPGA-478
    Frontside Bus: 133MHz
    Bus Speed: 532MHz

    Mainboard:
    Intel i845PE
    Bios - Dell A08 9/23/2003

    Memory:
    Type: DDR
    Size: 512MB (256x2) (like I said, will upgrade this to 768MB, or 1 GB, or even more if need be)
    Frequency: 133MHz
     

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