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Building an entry level HCPC - component advice wanted!

Discussion in 'Desktop & Laptop Computers Forum' started by RichardH, Apr 11, 2002.

  1. RichardH

    RichardH
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    Hi all. Have been given the go ahead on a projector by the other half, and with budgets in mind, it seems it's going to be the ubiquitous Panny AE100. So, I think I'll build an HCPC to run it - only other option seems to be one of the DVD players with VGA out, but info on the quality seems a bit scant.

    I have no problem throwing a PC together, and already have a few handy components available (Liteon 163, SDRAM). I have also read up the thread on components over at AVS Forum. However, I do have a couple of queries.

    This box will be for playing movies and running TV to the PJ only - not for music duties. In this case, do the audiophile sound cards make that much difference - most of the posts I've read comment on their improvement to CD Audio, MP3s etc, but not much mention of 5.1/DTS stuff. For the cheap option, had been looking at an OEM SB 4.1 with digital out. One other point - what about all the new formats (DTS ES etc) - do these get passed through to a compatible amp OK?

    I have a really old TV capture card (Miro PCI one, with composite and SVideo in). Any ideas if that will work OK? We will have a TV in the room, too, so I doubt this will be used much, but with the world cup coming up.....

    Already found from Mr Lightfoot that the Radeon VEs seem to be OK, so that's VGA sorted.

    I was also intending to use the same motherboard as Gary - ECS K7S5A (along with a Duron 950/1000) - mainly because it takes SDRAM, and I have a 128Mb stick spare (and DDRRam is a bit pricey at the moment). Anyone know if it's Athlon XP certified - I would assume not, but I guess this machine doesn't need to be future-proof too much, anyway. I assume the Durons have enough grunt to process everything OK?

    Software. Now this is where I'm a little unsure what to go for. Interested in what OS works best, and also a base set of software to do the do. My Liteon is already region free, and I have DVDGenie and PowerDVD available. Any better configuration? I have a mix of R1,2 and 4 DVDs, so both PAL and NTSC needs to be handled.

    Finally, controlling it all. Do most of you guys and gals just assume you're going to slam the movie in and that's it, or have you bothered with remote control. I'm thinking of the rest of the family, more than anything - it needs to be reasonably slick to operate - any hints would be appreciated. Seen mention of the IRMan, but only seems availabe in the USA.

    Sorry about the long post - hopefully any answers will be helpful to others, too!

    Richard
     
  2. Shockabuku

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    Hi Richard. A few bits of help (I hope!)....

    MOBO
    You're in luck...the ECS K7S5A mobo supports processors up to XP2000+. You may need to download the latest bios updates from the manufacturers website though.

    SOFTWARE
    My own preference is PowerDVD 4 on Windows XP. Having had too many crash-prone ME/98 boxes in the past, I rebuilt all my machines (8!) with XP when it was first released & haven't had to do a single rebuild...not even a restore from Ghost. You lose a few fps when gaming on XP, but with a decent processor/graphics card this makes no difference, and you may not be using the machine for games anyway. XP is the stability king of the Windows camp. There's also the benefit of pukka Directshow WDM drivers which are meant to improve TV card picture quality.

    PowerDVD is also very stable, is easy to incorporate into a girder/IRman remote solution, has decoding for DD/DTS/6.1/"7.1"/DPLII etc, and produces an image as good as anything I've seen. Not the cheapest option though.

    You'll also need Powerstrip (free download), which allows you to ouput a custom resolution to the projector. There are a number of posts here & on AVS detailing the recommended settings. Your Radeon VE should handle them just fine.

    Also, get a copy of DScaler (another free download). This is a software deinterlacer that you should use in conjunction with the TV card. Check their website for compatibility with your card though.

    SOUND CARD
    If you're planning on sending a bitstream to an offboard processor/amp, then you'll notice less difference, but imho I'd still go for one of the M-Audio cards. The quality of these cards is generally a lot better than your average SB. If you fancy doing the processing on board the PC, then go for a Delta 410, otherwise the Audiophile 24/96 should do the trick. If you need to save dosh, then you could still go for the SB...depends if you want to get the absolute best quality that you can. The SB will pass the full digital signal just like the M-Audio cards (all channels intact).

    REMOTE
    If you want to use a remote to control the PC, look into Girder (free!), a slightly scary but very powerful bit of software for interfacing between your PC and an IR receiver like the IRman. I bought an IRman from the states for $30 or something. Just check out the web site.

    Think that's about it. Hope it helps, & feel free to ask if you need any further info.

    Cheers,

    Mark.
     
  3. RichardH

    RichardH
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    Yup, v useful. Notice the IRMan is actually posted from the Netherlands, so should be reasonably quick delivery if I get one. Girder looks fun :confused: - sure it'll be fine once I have it going.
    Hmmmm - sound card is the biggest decision - £20 SB is the no brainer, I guess - throw it away when I want to upgrade - or do I bite the bullet and do the beefy one!! I assume in both cases it's a coax cable to the amp for decoding.

    One more thing is occupying me at the moment - cabling. I wish my wife had announced the desire for a PJ BEFORE we had the ceiling put in and the plastering done :eek: - but as it is it shouldn't be too bad. Obviously need a decent long VGA cable, but I'll be running the speaker cable at the same time. I was intending to run the power cable to the PJ's ceiling position along a different route from the VGA - anything else I should be watching for, interference wise? Any other hints and tips appreciated.
     
  4. Shockabuku

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    Both the M-Audio Delta 410 & the 24/96 have coax digital outputs. Dunno about the soundblaster, but I seem to recall that the Audigy Platinum (with the 5.25inch bay unit) had optical plugs on it...worth checking though. What sort of quality is the rest of your kit (amp/speakers)? Obviously, the more fancy that stuff is, the more you'd be recommended to get the better sound card.

    Regarding the cabling, if you're using a long length of VGA, make sure it's well screened & of good quality. I'm using a 10m Lindy cable. Cost £38. Triple screened/gold plated etc. No ghosting to speak of & I'm very pleased with the image.

    General rule of thumb for avoiding interferance with multiple cables is to ensure they don't run parallel...they should cross over at right angles. To be honest though, I don't tend to follow this rule...more like spaghetti junction in my room! So long as you always use good quality cables then interferance shouldn't be a major problem.

    Depending on the location of your HCPC within the room, you may also want to try & silence the bugger. The Enermax EG365P-VE psu is a favourite for quiet but effective power delivery. Has also been known to improve picture quality (particularly on S-Video input) due to reduced interferance. QuietPC have some rather nice near-silent cooling solutions & would be worth a look.

    Check out this page for some details on the Unicol ceiling mount for the Panny AE100. I visited the factory a couple of weeks ago & was fairly impressed. I'll be ordering one soon.

    You may want to consider the Hoya FL-D filter for the Panny too. I got one from Jessops for £20 or thereabouts. Improves contrast, cuts out some of the over-blown green, and also reduces screen door a little. You'll need the 55mm version for the AE100, although it doesn't fit exactly (I use electrical tape to fix it in place...picture here.

    If you want a fancy case, Thomas Chuchlik is organising a Powerbuy of the ultra-sexy DIGN case here. I have a silver one on order. Makes your PC look just like a piece of hi-end a/v gear, and even includes an IR sensor and a VFD. Very nice.

    As you're using a TV card, you may want to check out DigiGuide, a very cool online TV listings service. There are add-ons available that will allow you to automatically record shows to HD using Showshifter or Snapstream.

    Final tip is to get a copy of Norton Ghost (or similar), and create a backup image of your HD once everything is configured. You soooo don't want to have to rebuild & re-tweak everything should it go belly-up! :eek:

    Blimey, that was a bit of a brain fart. I think it covers most things that I had to investigate when building my HCPC. All jolly good fun, and there are lot's of people here & on AVS that have been very helpful to me.
     
  5. RichardH

    RichardH
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    Thanks for the "brain fart" (LOL) - all useful.
    My system is in flux at the mo' - may end up being the existing AV setup of Yammy A5 + Misison M71 cinema pack plus a sub, or a combo with my hifi (Linn Sondek - Naim 32.5/250 - Shahinian Arcs), or I might chop in the Naims and get a shiny new AV monster amp. Either way, I think I'm veering towards the decent sound card.

    Room the PJ would go into is an L shape - the main area is 24'x16' odd, so plenty of room to hide the PC and disguise the noise. May do some quietening down later on - I'll stick with quiet case fans for the mo, and maybe shoving a quiet fan into the PSU.

    Thanks for mentioning Ghost - have been a long term user of that and the excellent Partition Magic - both great utilities. Also interesting re Showshifter etc - might invest in a larger than planned HD.

    I'll leave you alone now, as I think I have things reasonably clear in my head - first thing I'm going to do is cable up the room and run some cat5 round to where I think the HCPC is going to sit - another omission when laying the room out!

    R
     
  6. Shockabuku

    Shockabuku
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    Nice hi-fi kit Richard. Those Arcs are serious beasties! How about another 3 of those for centre/surround duties?! Yummy! Perhaps a tad pricey though :D

    Probably worth thinking quite carefully at this stage which way you're gonna go in the future. It's a decision that I recently had to make, and it's a tough one. Should I ditch the good quality hifi stuff & go for a system that does both music & movies, or keep things separate? In the end, I worked out costs etc, & decided to trade in some of my hifi kit for fewer, but better boxes. Got rid of my Denon a/v amp, Musical Fidelity CD Player, and Mission speakers. Bought some Sonus Faber Concerto speakers for the front & Walls for the back. Kept my Cyrus Power amp for the front & bought a Q-Power for the rears, and then opted to do the processing on the PC (saving £2k on the TAG that was tempting me!). There's always some sort of compromise in any system, and mine is that the PC is not quite as good as my old X-Ray CD player, but then I have saved a whole wedge of dosh, and I still have excellent sound quality for music, and sublime Movie sound quality (those Sonus Fabers are the canine's conkers!).

    Decisions decisions! :D
     
  7. RichardH

    RichardH
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    Glad someone's heard the Arcs - nice aren't they - bought 'em second hand a few years back. Had them running 2 channel a/v before I got the yammy (you guessed it - second hand). Great flood of sound. Also (for floorstanders) fairly unobtrusive in a room.

    Difficult one, isn't it - I'm rather attached to my old school hairshirt system (took me years to buy a CD player), but now I have wife and kids, they'd probably cope better with an integrated amp with remote etc, rather than a mishmash of both.

    BUT - processing on the PC - wonder if you can get a soundcard to output all the channels for DTS ES and DD EX - then I could use the Naims for front channels and pass the centre and 3 or 4 rear channels to the analogue inputs on the A5 for amplification only. This could get interesting!!! (And no longer an Entry level HCPC - ARRRRGGGHHHH!)
     
  8. Shockabuku

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    hehehe...hate to mess up your life even more, but the M-Audio Delta 410 will output up to 10 channels! I'm using it in my setup...check out the link on my sig for a few more details. Sound quality, particularly on movies, is superb. I have the sound card feeding my power amps directly. Sweet :D
     
  9. Shockabuku

    Shockabuku
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    Oh...and worth noting that the Delta 410 drivers have full bass management, phantom centre capability, re-routing of 6.1/7.1 etc etc. Many of the features you'd expect from a "proper" processor. Not bad for £250. Program a Pronto or similar with Girder and you even have a natty remote control for your "hifi & av" system too :D
     
  10. RichardH

    RichardH
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    "hehehe...hate to mess up your life even more, but the M-Audio Delta 410 will output up to 10 channels!"

    >> You just messed up my life! So this card plus Power DVD will decode all the formats around, all I need to do is amplify it all?

    Sounds tempting - continue to run the Naims for CD and front A/V duty - no need to switch PC on for LP and CD listening, and run the A5 simply as an amp for the centre and rear channels. Only pain will be balance between fronts and the rest of the system. Hmmmmmmmmm.
     
  11. Shockabuku

    Shockabuku
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    YES!!! :D :D :D

    Great solution, though as you say the surrounds won't match the fronts in tone. You know you want to :D
     
  12. RichardH

    RichardH
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    I'm tempted - and Millennium Music have the 410 for £229.95 at the moment. Just wonder about the "Heath Robinson-ness" of it all - having to adjust 2 volume controls, etc.

    Time to stroke the chin, I think....
     
  13. RichardH

    RichardH
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    ....One more thing, Mark. What processor are you running to do all this processing - I started off with an entry level spec, and now all these ideas have come up, I wonder if it's worth throwing a decent processor at it if I'm to do the decoding on the PC.
    TIA
     
  14. Shockabuku

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    Hi Richard. The processing is effectively being done by PowerDVD 4 and the Delta 410 drivers. All happens pretty much automatically, though can be tweaked. The 410 drivers actually allow you to set crossover levels on all speakers, plus set phantom speakers, distance from listening position to each speaker etc etc. It's really cool stuff.
     
  15. Rob.Screene

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    I decided against using PowerDVD and the 10 channel soundcard because:-
    a) I already had a £1000 processor/amp
    b) The drivers to control master volume wern't released.
    c) I thought it's be uncomfortable being on the bleeding edge of the HTPC audio revolution.

    I think Cliff Watson announced the drivers are now available here or on avsforum.com I know they've been in beta for a while and I think most of the major bugs have been addressed.

    I'd certainly think about spending £90 more on a 6 channel+ soundcard now if I didn't already have a high-end decoder, but did have some fine power amps.

    Just think someday, someone may even publish a Dolby Pro-Logic 2 decoder software package, using 2 in, 5.1 out. Or perhaps just a kludge to utilise PowerDVD 4/XP's built-in Dolby Pro-Logic 2 decoding for 2-channel DVD's.

    Rob.
     
  16. Shockabuku

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    Indeed, the ideal would be a nice little bit of software that sat there doing nothing but decoding any signal you feed it. I suspect the licensing of such a product (DD/DTS etc) would make it quite pricey though. As you say though, if there was some clever person who could write something to force PowerDVD to decode an incoming signal from a source other than DVD/CD....that would be nice!

    The Delta drivers are pretty good now. Master control volume works a treat & I've configured Girder so that I can control volume from my Pronto. Each little tweak is bringing it closer to a "proper" a/v system in terms of usability.

    I agree with you on the processor thing though...I already had one good power amp, but no processor. If you already had a very good processor, I'm sure you made the right choice in sticking with traditional separate components.
     
  17. RichardH

    RichardH
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    Mark - sorry, unclear post before. When I said "processor" I was referring to CPU - I was going the cheap 128Mb RAM + Duron route, but am wondering if a bit more RAM and CPU horsepower is a good idea if I'm decoding the DD/DTS on board.
     
  18. Shockabuku

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    Ah, I see...

    A decent Duron should be fine. Anything over 600mhz should be ok for DVD playback/decoding, though with CPU prices so low, I'd recommend at least an 800 or preferably 1ghz for a bit of future-proofing. Having said that, if you're planning on using DScaler, it's pretty CPU intensive, so the latter would be advisable.

    Memory-wise, 128 is bare minimum. Depends on OS, but Windows XP needs at least 256 to run properly. ME/98 would be ok with 128 (just about), but personally I'd go with the stability of XP & get a little more ram.
     
  19. buns

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    Pardon my intruding if this is already clear! Or if i'm totally wrong!

    Richard,

    The use of the 410 as a processor is limited to only dvd's. It cannot process an external signal from a vcr or a LD player.


    Shockabuku

    Sorry if im wrong and questioning you, just wouldnt like someone to buy omething under false ideas!

    You seem to be the only 410 man, so you get all the questions!

    What the 410 does is basically acts as a multichannel preamp......in other words on its own, it does no processing? So as you suggest, you can play about with individual channel levels, delays or whatever. But the only way you can get a multichannel signal output, is via a software dvdplayer hence off dvd's?


    As Rob said, we certainly seem to be verging interesting times on the audio side of hcpc. The video seems to have settled nicely, but there really should be no good reason why we dont just do everything in the computer. After all, is that not what the likes of the tag actually is?

    To draw parallels to the video situation. To play a dvd, you need a card to output. The output is in the form that will be used by the picture making machine! If you want to simply scale a source through the hcpc, you need (for quality sake) a separate card with which you capture the signal, then it is processed and comes out as with the dvd signal. So in a perfect world, that what we would want for audio.......The dvd player can output through the card in the analogue domain, directly to the power amps, as Shockabuku is doing. In general, even the hi tech hcpc'ers among us seem to be neglecting this processing ability. Why!?

    Admitedly things are tough in this sense at the moment, but if no one jumps on bord it will never happen! Who will be the first to start using an audio 'capture' card?! When will the hcpc norm be to have multichannel audio outs?

    I have great dreams for 10 years time! I wish i could be there now!! (but no older!)

    :D

    ad
     
  20. RichardH

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    buns - thanks for the comment, but I had realised that. Not *that* bothered about DPL processing for video etc. I would be running this setup (IF I did it) in the following way:

    > Naim pre/power for Vinyl, CD audio, etc. with sources straight into the 32.5.

    > DVD on HCPC, decoded by PowerDVD, front 2 channels out to 32.5 and thus on to hifi speakers. Centre plus as many surround channels (and LFE?) as are currently available decoded by PowerDVD out to my old Yamaha A5 into the external decoder inputs. Only query there is that if I want the DTS ES rear channels, I would have to use the A5's front channel inputs and amplification - as long as the level can be adjusted, that won't be a problem.

    I'm still unsure whether to do it this way, or dump the Naims for an A/V amp that can handle music well, and severely reduce the number of big black boxes I have.
     
  21. Shockabuku

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    Hi Buns,

    We need to be careful with terminology like "processing". If you mean that the Delta 410 actually does no "decoding", then you're spot on. It cannot accept a compressed bitstream from an external source & decode it, as that obviously requires the DD/DTS/whatever algorithms that PowerDVD probably paid a packet for & I'm sure M-Audio don't want to pay! You'll need an external processor to decode these signals.

    The Delta does, however, have 2 analogue (RCA) inputs. You can happily connect something like a TV/VCR/Playstation to these inputs & route the uncompressed analogue signal through two of the analogue outs direct to (in my case) the power amps & speakers.

    Of course, as you say Buns, the Holy Grail for HCPC audio is some kind of decoding card or software that will decode a signal from an external source. Apparently, you can't do anything with Dolby for much less than $50k, so perhaps the manufactuers won't be in too much of a hurry to do this. Alternatively, I'm sure some clever person (not me!) can work out a way to hack the relevant PowerDVD dlls to accept an incoming bitstream from somewhere other than the onboard DVD/CD drive...? Alledgedly :D

    Fingers crossed, one day it'll happen. Until then, if you have lot's of sound/video sources, then a hybrid PC / traditional component system may be the only effective way of doing things.
     
  22. chris thomas

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    After a bit of advise please lads, i,ve just ordered a sony vpl w11ht pj and have a toshiba sd210e dvd player,sound side i have a ****ty sherwood 925 amp, mypc is a athlon xp1700 and i,m using it with 128 ddr memory on the k7n 420 pro m/board.
    My question is should i use my toshiba sd210 to feed my sony pj with the component connection or upgrade my pc and put a dvd drive in it and possibly more ram and upgrade graphics card,also really do wanna upgrade sound other than my ****e sherwood,any advise would b appreciated and shokabuku, i,m after a picture quality equal 2 the canines conkers m8;)
     
  23. Rob.Screene

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    I had a Sherwood 925, it was the first affordable Dolby Digital 5.1 receiver. I quite liked it!

    I had clean pass-thru and acceptable decoding. I think I used it's pre-power links to drive two 2-channel class-A amps for L, C, R channels.

    I'd say if you're serious about HTPC's and getting the best, then get a 5-channel power amp (i.e. no Dolby decoder or receiver). Keep the Sherwood 925 to do the dolby digital and pro-logic processing for the digital feed from your HTPC, plus use it's 5-channel pre-outs to do the Dolby-Digital decoding and send to the amp (it does have 5-channel pre-outs doesn't it?) and it will sound superb. The Sherwood's amps won't be used as they're the weak point. Also the 925 won't handle DTS, but tha wait would be worth it.

    In 6 months time, the 8-channel output soundcard; the Delta 410(£240?) should have nice and stable drivers and all the bugs sorted out so that PowerDVD 4.0 or some later software player will give you 8-channel analog output straight into your 5-channel power amp, plus a sub-woofer direct channel.

    On avsforum.com many state this is the cleanest DTS/dolby digital decoding performance there is, even considering the TAG and Lexicon processors of this world.

    A bonus, is that PowerDVD currently does Dolby Pro-Logic2 decoding for 2-channel DVD's and I'd bet in 6 months time there is something which allows you to use that for other sources.

    There was a thread on here discussing using the 410 and multi-channel analog output recently.

    regards,
    Rob.
     
  24. chris thomas

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    Thanks very much rob,sound side sorted, what about the picture side , any ideas ?
    all the best chris :rolleyes:
     
  25. buns

    buns
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    yeah......i know loads about everything.....except the picture......so whats the best card? Any ideas where the radeon 7200 may be located or are they al gone now?

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  26. RichardH

    RichardH
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  27. Shockabuku

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    Agh! Paid £250 from them just a few weeks ago. I hate it when that happens. :mad:
     
  28. Shockabuku

    Shockabuku
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    Buns - it's not clear which model it is, but this ATi Radeon on ebuyer might do the trick. Judging by the price, I'm guessing it's a 7500.
     
  29. RichardH

    RichardH
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    Shockabuku - but remember you've had the use of it for that time, if that's any consolation.

    Still trembling on the verge here - concerned that my amp setup will be too Heath Robinson. But at £189 that card might be worth getting anyway, even if I use it to output a bitstream to an a/v amp/processor. Decisions, decisions....

    As a side issue, just bought an ATI clone card from ebuyer (exair 3d 7000VE model), and the standard screen resolutions came with a 848x480 - is this the 480 wide I'm looking for?
     
  30. Shockabuku

    Shockabuku
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    Yeah, true enough...and it's worth £250 in my book anyways. You know you want to...it's a steal at 189 beans. Can't hurt to have a good quality card, even though you'll just be passing the bitstream to an offboard box....for now :D
     

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