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A new HTPC Source for my AV192R

Discussion in 'TAG McLaren Audio Owners' Forum' started by edward, Oct 18, 2005.

  1. edward

    edward
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    I said a few weeks ago that I’d report back with costs on my attempts to wean myself of my total dependence on Audiolab. I’m still using my AV192R but I have a new source, so…

    Until you’ve seen a decent HTPC in action, it is hard to comprehend just how good the user experience can be. Even some of the free software is amazing in what it does to make life so easy. I think however, that many TAG owners will be more interested in how the stuff performs. I’ll get to that in a paragraph or two.

    Firstly, you have to allow for the fact that I’m still learning this system. I’m using the wireless keyboard and mouse to control it like a conventional PC. Once you get the hang of a mouse that lets you move the cursor by waving it in the air, control really starts. OK, the mouse works on hard surfaces too but where is the fun in that? Xlobby provides an intuitive front end that allows you to scroll through pages of DVD cover images. Click on it and you get a page of notes about the film. Click the Play lozenge and TheaterTek 2 takes over as the player.

    TheaterTek 2 has pages of hot keys: V brings up the ability to adjust the about 6 different image quality parameters. Hop along the task bar and you can select from the audio options available for the file. S lets you toggle subtitles. Then there is the aspect ratio menu with its own little GUI to let you set default adjustments for each standard aspect ratio (so it fills the screen properly) or you can store them on a per-DVD basis. Are you getting a picture of phenomenal flexibility if you want to tinker?

    So how does it perform? We’ve set it up to put RGB direct to the projector and scaled it to match the DLP chip. Image quality is great but it does definitely show the limits of earlier chips – on a TFT screen with much higher resolution, every pixel was distinct. I needed to tinker a little to make the colours look the same as output from the FLR for no other reason than that I prefer the slightly richer colours than the default setting of the video card. OK, I miss the TAG’s OSD by doing this but I have another way of getting TAG output. Sound quality is definitely impressive. I’ve yet to try an audience on blind testing against my FLR but, frankly, I’d be very surprised if I didn’t get a spread of opinions across both. The flexibility means that cuing the same piece on this and the FLR is actually very easy. Yes I have tried it and they do sound different but no less acceptable. It’ll take more listening before I make up my mind, so don’t start queuing for my FLR just yet.

    One of the reasons for buying was to reduce the shelf space taken up by DVDs. Putting the DVDs to disk is easy. DVD Profiler will go out onto the net and grab the details and artwork for storage in a database on the hard disk. I’ve only got 300GB of disk in the PC but there is a gigabit link to a NAS up stairs for the rest.

    So what did I spend? Well, a bit less than £3.5, which is a lot for a PC. To put this in context: by sourcing parts at some of the keenest prices on the web I was up for about £2.5K anyway. When you consider that it doesn’t have amps or anywhere near the storage of the Chord, it quickly becomes clear why the Chord costs over £10K.

    I wanted a particular case with bays for a DVD and capacity for a Blu Ray/HD DVD capability in the future. I wanted a decent TV tuner and the ability to pull HDTV content when Sky makes it available. A web site for constructors made it clear that the case presented considerable potential for “learning opportunities”. My attempts to build a similar software arrangement on my NAS make it clear there is a lot of configuring to do. Add to this the fact that Phil delivered the system, configured it and showed me the basics of using it. (I’ve never gotten over the fact that Udo didn’t come and personally install my AV32R SP). Frankly, it’s probably the best spend I’ve made in a very long time. I would not be at all surprised to see the price of this offering jump by £500 or more before very long.
     
  2. alexs2

    alexs2
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    Hi edward...good to see you've taken the plunge,and also nice to see you're pleased with it.

    As you know,I've had mine for a couple of yrs now,and whilst the setup is different,the functionality is no less good,and as with you,one of the best purchases I've made in a long while,so much so in fact that you simply use it,without really noticing it,and it does exactly what you ask of it.
     
  3. GrahamMG

    GrahamMG
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    Just wait until you hook it up to a high res display, it really does jump out at you then..... Its a nice bit of kit, period.... best bit is that it don't need a trip to Huntingdon to fix it if it ever goes wrong...... Freely available parts and upgrades/both software and hardware. Now I wonder what might have been if TAG had continued development of the HTPC route........... BTW, I think Edward's case is a real beautiful thing, by far the best case I've seen UVEM use. Can't wait for ours to turn up on Monday, if it all goes to plan we will use them at Manchester and Hammersmith, quite a lot of in the know dealers are also turning away from the usual suspects on the plasma front when they realise what an extra £50 gets them!
     
  4. edward

    edward
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    Thanks Alex,

    Part of what puts this stupid grin on my face is the realisation that this level of performance is coming from a collection of commodity parts (OK, some of them are fairly pricey - sound card for almost £390, for example). I'm hoping to get a group reaction to the Uvem vs the DVD32FLR this Saturday. They assembled throng are not audiophiles but it should still be an interesting test. Whill it confirm my own suspicions? I'll wait and see.
     
  5. edward

    edward
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    Have to say, Graham, that I can't claim too much credit for the case. Phil pointed me at the Silverstone range, I chose one based on looks and required features. The review said it was a buggar to work with and a bit noisy. I looked at another that had a slight drawback in my situation. Phil said he'd make the other one work - and he did. I think he nobbled a fan or something because it’s very quiet for a PC (OK, compared to some of those in my office, Concorde was quiet). It’s the little blue TAG-like LED in the case that announces it rather than the sound.

    The anodised black front (silver is so 9/11, sorry) matches the rest of the kit well and the two stealth DVD bays almost disappear because of it. It does look like a high end bit of AV kit rather than a PC, so I’m pleased with its looks.

    It’s very easy to see why a plasma/projector exhibitor would go for them – and I’m not talking about scalers or punters nicking the DVDs or even the convenience of the thing. What I’m most interested in hearing from my Saturday crowd is their view on the difference in sound quality. I’ve had more time to play and I’m not sure whether it is because I’ve become so accustomed to the sound of the FLR that I still prefer it. Saturday will tell.

    When Santa finds me a nice big, high-res plasma and I get Steve Jones’ cast-off PJ, I’ll be a happy boy for quite a long while, I suspect.
     
  6. ChrisNic

    ChrisNic
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    You will just need to upgrade that power amp of yours Edward! :lease:
     
  7. memmerson

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    Hi Edward,

    I'm currently working on a HTPC project on my own which is coming along quite nicely. I'm using Zoomplayer+sonic codecs+FFDShow filters/Dscaler4+Sweetspot/MS MCE remote and Meedio although I might try out some other frontends.

    I'm still researching a more suitable case and a decent sound card though and I'd be interesting in knowing what you're using in yours? The Silverstone cases are quite nice and I also like the look of the Claritas ones too. I would also be interested in knowing if you are you using your HTPC as the DAC or if you are using the one in your AV192R?

    Regards,

    Marc
     
  8. Tantalus

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    Are you guys saying that you build one of these HTPCs or buy one (from say Uvem) and it would conceibaly replace the DVD32FLR and allow you to hold lots of DVDs on the drive?

    Does this mean that the soundcard outputs the audio to, say the AV32R dig input and the HDMI (if there is one) direct to plasma?

    Sounds too good to be true.
     
  9. alexs2

    alexs2
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    The only thing I would say about sound quality,is that the DVD ROM drive definitely limits the ultimate quality of CD replay,or at least does for me....I've tried the DVD-ROM drive in mine,using the soundcard(an Audiotrak Prodigy)purely as a digital throughput,which is what Phil and I originally decided on,into a Perpetual Technologies upsampler/interpolator,to feed the AV32R/DP at 24bit/96kHZ(what a mouthful!),and then compared that with a TEAC VRDS as the transport,feeding the same system from there.

    Unfortunately,no comparison,as the venerable VRDS leaves the DVD-ROM for dead,in terms of dynamics,detail,and even overall tonal balance,showing once again that a proper CD transport is way better then most DVD-ROM drives,even when re-clocked etc......for DVD performance though,the UVEM is superb,and with the ability to include new technologies as they arrive.

    What I'm saying is however not a criticism of the UVEM PC,more a reflection on what most DVD drives are capable of.
     
  10. Kenny Glasgow

    Kenny Glasgow
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    Philips have just launched their Showline Media Centre MCP9350i with a 250GB hard disk.

    Seems like the big boys are now getting in on the act
     
  11. alexs2

    alexs2
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    A few of the others,Sony included,have tried this before and done nowhere near as well as the bespoke PC makers,so it remains to be seen how well implemented the Philips is.

    As you've said though,the big players are now sensing a market,and Microsoft,plus the RIAA et al are very keen also,as it will make DRM somewhat easier to implement.
     
  12. edward

    edward
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    Hi Cheapskate,
    I’m afraid the amp probably won’t be much use to you. I plan to have it put in my silk-lined box when I depart for the big home cinema in the sky. My wife will doubtless insist that the undertakers stuff it into one of my orifices, along with the rest of my AV kit. (I’m not looking forward to those two M&K subs). If you find my tomb stone and you happen to have a digger and your Marigolds with you…

    Hi Marc,
    I went for the Silverstone LC014B – it has all the buttons you’d expect on a DVD player but I can honestly say I’ve not pressed even one of them yet. I’ve pressed the On/Off and the rest is software driven from the keyboard and mouse becuase I'm not programmed mt TAG remote yet. Its personal taste but the Claritas case looks far too much like it houses a DIY project, where the Silverstone looks like professionally built AV kit and it’s less than a third of the price. (I just have cheap tastes, so bargains are like sweets to me).

    I think MCE is a bit fussy about the devices it’ll tolerate but XP Pro SP2 also understands the remote IR commands (I think – haven’t used that yet either) so why bother with the pernickety version?

    I’m using a digital interconnect for the audio from the RME card, which probably explains why it sounds so good but it is definitely different from the FLR. Don’t know enough to really understand why. (Don’t know much about AV but I know what I like).

    Hi Tantalus,
    Yup, about 300GB worth on the disk in my Uvem but the 400GB of storage under the desk in my office will probably hold another 60 or so. I’ll put money on being able to find a film on this system and get it playing faster than I can find the original on the shelf, take it to their AV kit, take it out of its case, put it into the FLR and press Play. There is no compression – in fact I think the image is better that what I get through the TAG kit. The sound is slightly different but, as I’ve said earlier, my preference for the sound from the FLR might be subjective (I love my FLR).

    I think my 6600GT graphics card does output DVI but my PJ doesn’t accept it, hence the RGB.

    Oh dear! I’m running out of brackets. I trust this helps.
     
  13. alexs2

    alexs2
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    I think this probably comes down to the different levels of jitter via the 2 sources,with the DVD-ROM being likely to have far higher levels,which is supposed to give a flatter,more 2-dimensional aspect to the sound....certainly does via DVD drives here!
     
  14. edward

    edward
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    I think there are several reasons why Uvems are going to knock spots off anything made by the big boys:
    1. They might have R&D people who are as serious about this business as Phil is but they knobble them by expecting them to use a specific set or products. It seems to me that Phil is willing to put in whatever the customer is whatever the customer asks for and is willing to pay for – regardless of manufacturer. He did however give me some advice on where he knew we could skimp a little and invest the savings elsewhere for an overall better result.
    2. The big boys operate with very much longer supply chains: they need to fund R&D and Production with a margin before the wholesalers dip their beak and pass goods onto the retailers to have their share as well. To feed all these mouths and have a product out there at a price the market will stand means products have to be built at a much lower cost. Buying the way I did there were still manufacturers, wholesales and retailers in the parts supply chain but the percentages were not being applied to the valued-added product.
    3. I can’t see him being able to continue with it for much longer but Phil delivered and installed the system. I’ve phoned him at 6:30 one night and didn’t get an off-shore call centre or voicemail. Instead I got the man who lives and breaths these systems and he knew what I needed to do. It’s similar to the kind of support we got from Udo’s organisation – and no-one has ever done it better.

    Jitter might well be behind the sound quality difference, Alex (der - too much work – not enough time to think). Maybe I should have spent more than £33 for the DVD writer. But what should I have bought? Should I have asked Phil to find something that would understand TAG Synch link? I think he’d need to know there were a dozen customers wanting that before he’s even look at it – well, I would. Then I’d want the brightness of the little blue light to synch and… and…
     
  15. alexs2

    alexs2
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    I've always found the help(even before I bought,and impartial at that)from Phil to be excellent,and a breath of fresh air in an industry where getting a sale at any price is often the name of the game.

    On another note,I don't know of any drive that would interface with TAG's sync link,but DVD-ROM drives,and also their brethren in DVD players,have always been plagued with relatively high jitter levels,and in the case of DVD players,the associated video circuitry also.
    Even using a device which reclocks the data stream may not remove all of the effects(as I've found audibly here)but it does miss some of the point of the HTPC.

    It is possible to remove a lot of the effects of individual drives,but at some cost.

    In many better players,there is the option to switch off the video circuitry,and also good design helps,in isolating one stage from another,many of which are tricks which have been known to the hifi brigade for years.
     
  16. ChrisNic

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    If only you managed to get your projector screen sunk in the ceiling, she may have accepted it all then....

    I do find HTPC's interesting but I find myself rather backward in adopting new technology, I like the idea that one can replace a "reference" dvd player though, shows how things move on. Maybe when they become silent and HD is fully established I could be tempted to part with my hard earned on one. I can see things are going to become so up in the air shortly with regards to HD that I dont know where things are going with regards to video or audio. I will just stick to what I have got for the time being even if I do want to get my hands on a bryston!
     
  17. edward

    edward
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    She's always complaining I don't give her enough dosh each month. Says he doesn't know where it all goes. I'm sure she'd have a lot more if she wasn't slipping backhanders to visitors to beat me up about that screen or the horrible black boxes at one end of the lounge. Judging by the amount of grief I get from so many quarters, a lot of palms must have been greased.

    I did offer to get it flush fitted but she complained about the mess it would make when she had it removed for relocation in that silk-lined box. Damned if I do and...
     
  18. simon40

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    Edward,

    You're not alone with the suffering on the matrimonial front....

    They sure like watching the films and listening to the music, but...
     
  19. edward

    edward
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    Yeah, a mate with hundreds of DVDs has just redecorated the lounge at the request of his wife. The walls are white so he went out and bought white cables and stuff that would fit in nicely. His wife refuses to let him reconnect his surround speakers becuase they're black.

    There's a lesson here chaps - get a contract signed in blood at the outset of discussions on redecorating any area containing AV hit. There are AV-averse wives and there are worse. I guess I've no real grounds to complain.

    Simon and his wife have just given a verdict on the Uvem vs TAG source. Perhaps Simon will share that with us. I'll wait until this evening's crowd before reporting any opinions.
     
  20. edward

    edward
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    Well, the results are in.

    My usually very opinionated guests last night were remarkably reserved – just over half of the five women and four men voted. (I didn't vote).

    For image, one voted the FLR and best; two gave the prize to the Uvem and two said they though the image quality was the same. One did comment that the image from the FLR was slightly darker.

    For sound quality, none gave it to the Uvem. Three rated the FLR better and two rated them the same.

    All agreed that the overall performance was better than a big down-town movie theatre. Most expressed surprise at the quality of delivery that is possible with a PC and all thought the way of browsing, playing and controlling the system were better than the old manual loading ritual. One immediately saw the potential it offered if the family was able to use it from a non-privileged account so they couldn’t delete stuff or tinker.

    It would have been better to have had a bigger audience but by its nature that wasn’t going to happen. There was certainly nothing to be gained by asking for opinions from those who didn’t have strong views on the matter.

    Seems I’ll be keeping the FLR for a while yet but clearly the Uvem is going to see plenty of action too.

    Alex (or anyone else), have you ever tried comparing an HTPC against a proprietary DVD source (especially a TAG one)? If so, what sort of conclusions did you reach?
     
  21. alexs2

    alexs2
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    Only relatively cheap DVd sources,but against the cost of the DVD card in the UVEM,the players would be 2-3 times more expensive,and nowhere near as good.
     
  22. edward

    edward
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    That is the problem with trying to compare the Uvem with an FLR – they’re both in the same price range and they’re both sources for movie and music but the Uvem does so much than the FLR. From the little survey and my own assessment it is clear that it’s at least as good as the FLR for image quality (bear in mind that my PJ is fairly old now). For sound quality, the votes say it isn’t quite in the same league but for movies, it definitely more than adequate.

    If the fundamental problem comes down to flutter in the DVD player, would I be able to overcome this by playing material on my FLR and storing it on the hard disk in the Uvem? Is there an accessible way of doing this? I would have thought Hollywood would have demanded that Udo block any such use but is there a way of unblocking it and would it bring Uvem sound up to the same level as the FLR?
     
  23. Kenny Glasgow

    Kenny Glasgow
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    Edward

    There are various decrypting freeware available such as DVDDecrypter on the web. This strips out the Macrovision (or whatever) and allows you to save to your hard disc.

    I've heard that some of the newer Sony/Columbia/Tri-Star movies have tougher encryption and can't be saved.

    With regards to the legal side ,I don't know if doing this for your own use would be an issue but you never know..............
     
  24. edward

    edward
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    Thanks Kenny,

    Getting the stuff off disk from a PC DVD player is, as you say, fairly easy. The trouble is that the jitter from thsi device leaves its imprint on the version that sits on the hard drive/brown disk.

    I'm wondering if there is a way of getting the much less jittery stream that comes out of the FLR onto disk in the Uvem. Can I capture the video stream through my Sweetspot card and the audio through my RME card? Can they be stored in a form that allows the audio and video to be synchronised on playback?

    Is there some part of this equation that I haven't considered that would mean there is no benefit in doing this at all?
     
  25. Kenny Glasgow

    Kenny Glasgow
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    Edward

    I see what you mean now.... :suicide:

    I have no idea as I don't have a HTPC or a PJ, so any backed-up discs I've seen have been played on the FLR or other DVD player thru' to a 32"/36" CRT, 32" LCD or a 42" Plasma
     
  26. rhinoman

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    I thought that playing audio back after it was stored on the hard drive as opposed to direct from the dvd drive overcame the jitter issues.
     
  27. Kenny Glasgow

    Kenny Glasgow
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    John

    I think that the jitter is introduced during the load to the HD..??
     
  28. rhinoman

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    But if you use EAC in accurate mode to rip it will re-read the cd untill it gets it right.
     
  29. liam_b

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    When you rip a CD or DVD using a PC jitter does NOT exist in the data stored on the PC, whether its its stored in ROM, RAM, hard disk, diskette, it doesn't matter, to the PC its just data.

    Also CD and DVD both include ECC/CRC datachecking code, so if something is read from thr drive and has errors it can be (usually is) corrected by the reading drives ECC hardware decoder, DVD error correction is extremely capable, more so than CDs ECC.

    Jitter is a term used to describe the instabilty of clock/clocked signals which involve D-A or A-D conversions, technically jitter can't ever exist in a true digital system (ie PCs). The clock stability does not produce any effect to the system, indeed many PCs today use spread spectrum system clocks and don't even bother to mention this in the motherboard specifications, this 'jittery' clock doesn't cause any data errors or timing problem because everything is run against the same master clock.

    Jittered signals can only come into being at the exact point of the conversion from D-A or A-D.
     
  30. simon40

    simon40
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    Hi, this is the wife contributing to a male dominated site, how scary. So this is where you all report what you think of us females and our opinions! First of all Edward, thanks for your fantastic hospitality, it was great to put a face to the name.

    In terms of controls the uvem wins hands down, as it takes away the mystery of not knowing how the remote control works or can be programmed. (This I believe is a male only hereditry gene not to share remote control or to let the wife know how it works!!)

    I was impressed with the Uvem picture and sound quality and is definitely a good way forward. I felt the Tags picture was marginally better in terms of the blacks being a truer black and was a (very) slightly sharper picture. However, Simon has explained that the blacks can be set to match on the Uvem and also believes the Uvem picture can be adjusted to match or exceed the Tag - it's down to personal preferences. As for sound, it was very hard to tell any difference.

    At best this is only one person's opinon and is a personal preference.

    Once again, many thanks to Edward for his time and patience taken over the demonstration.
     

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