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HTPC builder wannabe: Baffled--please advise.

Discussion in 'Desktop & Laptop Computers Forum' started by Gary Church, Mar 1, 2004.

  1. Gary Church

    Gary Church
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    Hi all.

    I've been putting together my own computer systems for years now and have decided to tackle an HTPC.

    I've been browsing the forums trying to get a "lay of the land" but have been confused, baffled and lost.

    Here's my situation and what I want out of my HTPC:

    I have a new SONY KV-34XBR910 34" HDTV and Comcast digital HDTV converter box. There are very few HDTV stations in my area (about 6). Most of the channels are non-HD.

    I want my HTPC to do the following:

    * Act like TiVO without paying the monthly fees
    * Be a DVD player for the television
    * Record TV programs onto DVD
    * Be networked to my main PC to play multiplayer games using the TV as the screen.
    * Use it as a second computer to surf the internet, play internet radio access Real-one Rhapsody, etc...

    I also have an XBOX and was wondering if this can be integrated into my HTPC (I've read that you can get a better picture doing this somehow.)

    My bafflement stems from determining the video hardware I need for my system.

    I'm considering getting a fanless Radeon 9600 video card along with the Hauppauge PVR-250 (or PVR-350) card. This seems to be a typical setup for non-HDTV, non-digital broadcasts.

    But what about my setup? Do I need different video hardware to get the most benefit from my HDTV and digital HDTV cable connection via Comcast? If I don't care to record the HDTV channels (the six I get), will this hardware suffice? If I want to be able to record both the HDTV and non-HD channels, will I need different hardware?

    How can I maximize the use of my new Sony HDTV for DVD playback and PC gameplay? Can I get PC games to look better on my HDTV than on my computer moniter? Will DVD's appear as good (or better) using my HTPC as with my currend progressive scan DVD player?

    One of the other baffling issues that I can think of at the moment is how do all these components get connected.

    How do the TV, cable box, PC, video card and Hauppauge card connect together (and how would the XBox fit into this?) Will I be able to record (TiVo style) all the channels that I currently can access or is there some limit to the number of channels I'll be able to tune in and record?

    If I sound completly ignorant, forgive me---I am.

    Your sage advice and opinions are valued and appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Gary.
     
  2. philipb

    philipb
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    Only 6 HDTV stations - poor old you;)

    Obviously you're not in the UK. Where are you? Some advice we could give might not make sense for your location.
     
  3. Gary Church

    Gary Church
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    I'm located in San Jose, California (about 60 miles south of San Francisco in the heart of "Silicon Valley.)

    Any help or advice would be appreciated; I'll determine if it is germain to my location.

    I'm ready to buy components but am unsure if I'll be able to do everything in my wish list (see earlier post).

    Thanks again to any and all who offer assistance.

    Take care,
    Gary.
     
  4. MikeTV

    MikeTV
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    Gulp! I am not sure where to start, but here goes...

    For simply watching HDTV, you don't need an HTPC, at all. The comcast box should connect directly to the TV (as you probably know)

    For traditional TV (not HDTV), you can do this, but it is a bit of a compromise - it's not as slick as the tivo. The Hauppage card should do it.

    An HTPC can do this well. You need a Radeon card, the Powerstrip software, and an appropriate cable. Plus you need a dvd-rom drive and dvd player software. The HDTV will be connected to the PC via the VGA port (unless you have a DVI input, in which case, use that instead of VGA. Make sure you a get Radeon with DVI output, if the TV supports it). In effect, the HDTV will be acting like a big computer monitor. Unfortunately, the TV will only accept certain signals, which is why you need to use powerstrip and configure the correct timings. In other respects, it is just like playing a dvd on a regular computer, via a computer monitor.

    If you can record the programs to your hard-disk in the first place, you can definitely convert the recordings to work on DVD's. It can be a bit fiddly at first, and there is software you may need to do the conversion (download/buy), but there are plenty of people doing it, and there are sites out there that will explain how to do it.

    HTPC's can be networked, and can be used play games (networked or otherwise). The only problem you may encounter is that some games won't work when the monitor is an HDTV - they are designed for computer monitors, and there's nothing that can done about it. Other games work well, but may require some initial configuration, to work correctly at HDTV resolutions.

    No problem technically. However, most HDTV's cannot compete with modern computer monitors in terms of image clarity/sharpness/resolution. You just have less pixels on these screens, as a rule. It does depend on the particular display though.

    The xbox has an HDTV adaptor (I believe), and this should give the best results, if connected directly to the HDTV. It's unlikely that an HTPC could improve on this.

    I don't think an HTPC will help much for HDTV viewing. In fact I have a knowledgable friend in the US who has abandoned the "HDTV via HTPC" option for HDTV broadcasts, as too much hassle. He just uses Set-Top-Boxes attached directly to his HDTV.

    I am sure that recording HDTV via an HTPC is possible, but I suspect it is quite hard to acheive in practise. And I'd be surprised if you could acheive a Tivo-like experience with an HTPC. For regular TV, the technology is more mature, and doesn't require the same amount of bandwidth, and so it is easier for most people to acheive Tivo-like functionality.

    As I mentioned, just think of the HDTV as a quirky computer monitor, and it becomes simpler to see how things fit together. The hauppage card is just a TV capture card, which will need to be installed in the PC. You then connect your cable TV to the card's input, and run some software that will display/capture the incoming TV signal (the sofwtare comes with the card). The Radeon card is just a graphics card, and so anything that appears on the screen goes through this card. There is no special connection between the hauppage card and the radeon card. The hauppage handles the input-side, and the radeon handles the output.

    If you are using the HDTV adaptor for the Xbox, then you can ignore the HTPC and just connect the xbox to the HDTV. If you don't have HDTV adaptor for the xbox, you could either connect the xbox directly to the TV, or you could connect the xbox to the HTPC via the hauppage card. The advantage of using the HTPC is that you may be able improve the picture quality, however it may not be significant, and it's just an option to consider. The best picture quality results are often obtained when using a TV card (like the Hauppage) and some nifty software called "Dscaler". Dscaler will help improve the picture quality, when configured appropriately.

    Yes, probably! It depends a bit on the cable system you are using. Traditional "cable-ready clear" channels (the ones that a regular TV is able to pick up) should be recordable. So this excludes digital cable, entirely, unfortunately. There is no software (that I know of) that is able to control channel switching on your cable box itself. You'll need a real Tivo for that.

    I hope that helps a bit!

    Mike.
     
  5. Gary Church

    Gary Church
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    Thanks, Mike for the very complete response to my questions.

    Gary.
     
  6. stricko

    stricko
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    Fry's not able to help then?, or is the quality of service as good/bad as it used to be?

    (Former Saratoga/San Jose resident!!)
     

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