how many people here actually run HTPC's?

Discussion in 'Computers' started by Tony Loewen, Mar 30, 2005.

  1. Tony Loewen

    Tony Loewen Stunt Coordinator

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    I was just curious, how many of you guys out there actually use your computers as the hub of your home entertainment? I was a little shocked by the apparent lack of people doing this by the last essential software thread that was out. When I first started down the HTPC road, this was the first forum I found that had anything to do them. I have since found that, as far as HTPC setup and tweaking go, this forum is severly lacking in this area. Is that because very few people who visit this forum have, or want to have, HTPC set-ups, or is it just that nobody talks about them here.

    Any thoughts would be appreciated.
     
  2. Jason Harbaugh

    Jason Harbaugh Cinematographer

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    I've had one for 3 years now hooked to my FP. About to do a major overhaul on it. Starting to get pokey. I also plan on putting together a second just for music and file serving...built out of an old speaker too. [​IMG]

    This forum does lack the conversation pertaining to HTPC's but I'm just as much to blame as I rarely discuss it. I did a whole lot 3 years ago though, here and at AVSforums.
     
  3. Ian-Fl

    Ian-Fl Second Unit

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    I started using my three year old PIII as a media center and ran into all sorts of problems.
    I built a HTPC five months ago and have never looked back.
    I'm ripping DVD's, boosting the resolution through ffdshow, downloading TV torrents, watching some TV with a TV capture card, overclocking my graphics card and generally having a great time with my media under one roof.
    I'll never go back to a DVD player because it seems so one dimensional as if it's perpetually stuck in first gear.
     
  4. Tony Loewen

    Tony Loewen Stunt Coordinator

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    Good to hear from you Jason(edit), also Ian. It took me so long to write this I missed your post. (/edit) I spend alot of time over at avs as well, they seem to get alot more indepth on new codecs, different configurations, etc, plus they get stop-ins from alot of developers. I would think that it would be a good idea to start up some discussions here as well, as HTPCs are starting to get alot of press, and people who are interested shouldn't have to buy a very limited prebuilt box from Dell or Gateway, hook it up to their TV with Svideo or Composite with prologic sound. They should be able to get helpful information on how to do it theirselves alot better, and most often, cheaper. That's what I wanted to do.

    I had a pretty good computer that I had got a couple of years ago, and found that I really wasn't using it enough to justify having it. So instead of just letting it be used to check email and send instant messages, I decided I would put it to work, to a good purpose. Very little cash later, I have a kick-ass setup that will beat out any denon upscaling dvdplayer anytime. It was so good that I had to get a decent display to kinda show it off, you know. So I started looking into just what it would take to build my own theater. I live in Northern Manitoba in a remote community, and our nearest town is over 3 hours away by the crappiest gravel road in the province. It, like most of the roads up here, have "Danger. Winter Survival Gear Recommended" signs at both ends. I'm not sure if there's a movie theater in Thompson or not. I don't think my closest theater, worth watching anyway, is until I get to Winnipeg, 1100 km away. My wife and I liked to go to the movies before we moved up here, and I wanted to see how close I could come to building my own around this kick-ass HTPC.

    I spent a little over $2K cdn on a sanyo z2 for a nice big hi-def picture. I learned how to build my own screen with BO cloth for around $30, got a friend of mine to weld up a home made ceiling bracket for the projector. Put to use a good sound system that I already had. Picked up long enough cables so that I could keep the computer in another room, so that I wouldn't have to worry about the noise from the fans and hard drives. I also got a $25 sound card so that I could output digital bit-perfect audio that will rival a high-end stand alone CD player. I got some freeware programs to rip my entire CD collection to lossless audio so that it's the exact same quality as on the disks. I had to get a bigger harddrive so I could start putting my dvd collection onto the drive so that I didn't have to thumb through dvd cases and load each disk. I bought a 300 GB external hard drive to start with, but now it's all filled up. Right now I'm trying to find out how to make a media server just packed with big hard drives for cheap.

    Most of the programs that I use are freeware. There are a few exceptions, but those exceptions (really, I think about $30 for zoomplayer was all that was necessary) are definitely worth it. But at the end of everything, here's what I got. Go to the computer and set start up xlobby, my front end. I right click on the desktop and set the 2nd monitor, my Z2, to primary display. Then, whenever I want to watch anything, I go to the theater/bar (my basement) and turn on the projector. Or, if I'm watching TV on the big screen and decide to watch a movie, I hit a button on my remote to switch inputs from the sat receiver to the HTPC, and I have a menu screen that looks awesome and is fully customizable, and I can navigate better than most any dvd menu. I can look through my cd collection to play a song, cd, playlist from the computer on the sound system. I can look through them by album cover. I can go back and look through my dvd collection, also by cover art. If I see a movie that catches my eye, I can press a button and read the writeup on it, just like you flip over the box at the rental store. If I feel like watching, press another button, and I have that dvd playing on the big screen at 98" diag, that looks, in my eyes, much much better than most theaters. My wife and I watched Robots at FP last weekend when we were down in Winnipeg, and I honestly couldn't stand the picture quality with the juddery pans and almost "flashing" display. Also, the sound lacked the feel of my theater room because I set up the sound system properly for my seating location, and have acoustically treated the room to vastly improve the sound response. This, once again, is something I learned to do by researching these forums about acoustical treatment and bass traps and learning how to build these for next to nothing. Now, my wife says she's spoiled. We both can't go to a theater and feel the same way we used to anymore, at least about the movies themselves [​IMG] I can get a real time weather report, view photographs, listen to internet radio... I could even set up the HTPC to be used as a hi-def tivo with virtually unlimited storage space.

    This is all stuff that I learned was possible by hearing other people talk about how they did it. It took some time to set up, but everyone was very helpful along the way. By far, one of the best things I have done with my time, and I still can't believe how little it took to get it where it is now. And more beautiful about it, if something better comes along next year, hell next month, I don't have to buy another piece of equipment. Just a minor upgrade, example HD-DVD blu-ray drive, and I am still at the leading edge without having to fork over anything except the cost of the drive.

    That's why I think people should talk about it.
     
  5. Ian-Fl

    Ian-Fl Second Unit

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    Something I'm curious about is dual-core CPU's are to be introduced this year. Two CPU's in one sounds like a big performance boost. Terminator II extreme edition will have compression artifacts after I'm done with it.
     
  6. Tony Loewen

    Tony Loewen Stunt Coordinator

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    right on.

    Holy crap imagine the detail, you could choke out ffdshow for all it was worth. Hey, you know of any good software emulators for like xbox or ps2? I would like to at least try some of these out, I'm not really much of a gamer, but I think playing any kind of video game that has characters as big as you and sound coming at you from all angles would be pretty cool. I still have to find a way to get a controller over to the next room. You know if it's possible to use an extender usb cord with a Wireless controller hub? I think that would be cool if I could get a wireless xbox, playing it at 7 feet wide. Cool.
     
  7. Francois Caron

    Francois Caron Cinematographer

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    2.4 GHZ Shuttle SS51G connected to a Sanyo PLV-Z1 and my ten year old home theater system (still going strong). I even made USB to RJ-45 converters so that I can easily add a keyboard and mouse at the living room couch. The screen is a "modest" 73" 16x9 BO screen mounted on a stretched, unprimed cotton canvas to give the blackout cloth better support.

    The satellite box still goes through the receiver, but DVD playback and games are played off the computer with all six audio channels connected to the multi-channel input of my HT receiver AND to one of the two channel inputs for Dolby Surround decoding, all via my custom-made Canare Quad-Star interconnects (don't use cheap cables -- too much crosstalk). And I can still watch TV while surfing the Web by simply turning on my WinTV USB module and display it as a PIP window.

    My sister can't stand my system. After a stay at my place, she has to go back home to her twenty inch set with tinny sound. [​IMG]

    And no, I don't get out much either. [​IMG]
     
  8. Tony Loewen

    Tony Loewen Stunt Coordinator

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    I'm seeing a dangerous trend that we're all canadian here [​IMG] It's awesome to hear that other people are doing this as well. Sounds like you got a decent set-up. My wife is down south right now staying at my parent's place. She is almost 8 months pregnant with our first kid. (I'm on full alert to head down anytime). She say's it's hell staying there with only a crappy old 27 in with a blown speaker. My parents, god bless them, wouldn't even buy themselves a dvd player (what do I need one of them for?) I got them one for Christmas, nothing fancy, just to bring them into the 21 century.

    Francois, what kind of soundcard are you running? You find you get decent sound using analog to separates? I went with the chaintech, although to do it again, I would look for an Envy chipset with coax out. 30ft long toslink cables aren't cheap.
     
  9. Kyle McKnight

    Kyle McKnight Cinematographer

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    I'll be building a mini-itx system soon for one. It'll be my media box for networked music, pics, videos and DVDs.
     
  10. Francois Caron

    Francois Caron Cinematographer

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    Tony, the sound card is a 6.1 channel capable Creative Labs Audigy 2 (not ZX), and I get VERY decent sound out of it. The card itself is very good (high dynamics, no noise), the 16 foot cable run maintains a very clean signal right to the receiver, and I've found out the six channel input on my receiver is connected directly to the amp section, avoiding any A/D/A conversion.

    I once brought my computer and cables to my favourite a/v store where they let me plug it into a Sharpvision 12000 DLP projector and an EXTREMELY expensive sound system just to see and hear how it all sounded.

    Coral Reef Adventure never looked or sounded so good. [​IMG]
     
  11. Tony Loewen

    Tony Loewen Stunt Coordinator

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    good stuff guys, good stuff. I have already converted a few ppl over the the dark arts of HTPC. I can't tell you how addictive it gets, trying to always squeeze more out of it. It's awesome.

    Francois, I am trying to fix up an older panasonic SA-AK78 (the dreaded F61 error) so I can use the discrete input with analog out of my old sound card on my next box. Either that or prologic for zone 2 audio. It was a decent little amp, not too bad for sound. I was just wondering what kind of quality people are getting running analog out from a sound card. thanks.
     
  12. Francois Caron

    Francois Caron Cinematographer

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    Tony, if you'll be using standard 1/8" stereo headphone connectors on the sound card and you'll be making your own interconnects, try RatShack's solderless connectors, part number 274-869. Take out the screws and they become great solder type connector with enough clearance to use them one next to another on a typical sound card. Most plastic connectors out there are so wide that you can't fit them properly on most sound cards.

    As for your receiver, have fun with the transformer! [​IMG]
     
  13. Tony Loewen

    Tony Loewen Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks Francois. I have been checking things over, and it looks like the transformer is alright. I'm not sure what things are supposed to be, it's hard to find schematics or even specs for this thing. I have the power supply unit out of it, and by putting a jumper across the little 6v contactor relay, I'm getting what looks like decent voltage levels out of it. With 116.8 v input, I'm getting 23.6 v across 17-16, 23.6 v across 15-14, 14.0v across 13-12. That looks to me like 2 - 24 v supplies and 1 - 15 volt, and they look within reason. On the lower half, from 11-10 I get 6.45 v, from 9-10 I get 4.46 v, and from 9-11 I get 7.42v. A couple of those are a little out from a 5 volt supply, but nothing is shorted or opened. It's hard to figure out what I'm supposed to be getting, I can't find any info on the transformer.

    I'm starting to draw out my own schematics for the contactor coil to find out what is picking up and dropping it out, but it's slow going. I thought I found a bad cap, some electrolyte spit out of it, but when I took it off the board and threw it on the tester, it passed everything. Back to the drawing board.
     

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