HTPC vs. Set-top for max quality...

3dit0r

Standard Member
Hi all :hiya:

Seriously considering an HTPC build, but had a few questions before I embark on quite a bit of money and time.

Here's what I want to achieve:
- Very HQ playback of Blu-ray, SD DVDs, and other media such as Divx
- Ability to play/upscale fullscreen on HDTVs with 720p and 1080p max resolution
- A certain level of 'future-proofing'
- Possibility in the future (if not available now!) of using PC to 'archive' Sky/Sky HD shows and free up room on Sky hard-disk

It seems I have three options:
1. Build a good HTPC
2. Set-top Blu-ray player for BD and DVD, and use my laptop for Divx
3. Sony PS3, which theoretically does all the above (apart from programme archiving, although allegedly this could be on the way)...

Before I get into asking about the best components, etc. for an HTPC build, I did wonder if anyone has experience of the potential quality (vs. convenience/inconvenience) of HTPC vs. Set-top vs. PS3?

I'm sure all three probably look pretty decent with a Blu-ray source(?) but will a PC with a good graphics card/HDMI out, etc. top a set-top player/PS3 for UPSCALING DVDs and playing Divx, or is this a fallacy? This would be quite an important feature for me, as I have a big DVD collection that look more or less awful on my HDTV!

My only experience with using a PC source on an HDTV is using my Dell laptop (VGA output) to drive a Sony Bravia (720p) TV. I have found it irritating to setup, but it sometimes delivers better results than my DVD player. However, I'm unsure as to when the laptop or TV is upscaling because the video card doesn't seem to output at the TVs max resolution? Perhaps I am doing something wrong, but it won't 'force 720p' mode to the monitor and the max reported monitor resolution of 1280x768 does not fill the screen, so the TV usually 'switches' and down-reses video to 800x600, or sometimes 640x480, leaving me to 'stretch' the picture with the TV format button - which seems to defeat the point... Will I get the same issues with a better graphics card on a properly specced HTPC (this one is just onboard graphics (ATI Radeon Xpress 1150), or is this what I can expect from an HTPC?

Any input appreciated at this stage, before I jump down the HTPC route!

Cheers,
James :cool:
 

tomd84

Novice Member
I know its not the answer to your problem but i have found my xbox 360 (even tho no blue-ray support) is the best way i have ever had of watching stuff back on my tv via dvd, divx file off my computer and music and photos! as well as a great gaming console! no fuss at all unlike computer to set up and it never misses a beat or a video frame while playing back via the network!

So i personlly think you are better off getting a morden games console to do this, then a pc!
 

adieboy

Active Member
Having both a playstation and a pc with a Blu-Ray drive connected to my HD1 projector, I can tell you the picture quality from the Nvidia 8500GT graphics is better than the PS3. Convenience is a different matter, as updates for the Blu-Ray software player (PowerDVD) lag behind copywrite security updates on latest releases, so some of the latest BR titles won't play on the PC...usually resolved within days but that's where thw PS3 comes in handy. All other material, the PC wins by a considerable margin.
Your answer...Ideally, have both.

Adie
 

leeb

Novice Member
I use my HTPC to upscale and sharpen divx videos to 1080p and they look absolutely fantastic. I'm constantly impressed with the quality. If you're prepared for a lot of trial and error and constant tweaking for the first few months you can get really great results.
 

3dit0r

Standard Member
Hi Guys,

That's helpful, thanks! That's something I'd forgotten about - firmware updates for the Bluray/HD-DVD/DVD-ROM drive and compatibility with latest releases - are there any particular drives that are good in this regard?

The reason I'm only looking at a PS3, and not an X-Box is mainly because the only two games I ever find interesting to play (Gran Turismo and F1) are only available on the PS3. Frankly though, I'm not a big enough gamer to justify a console on that basis. I would only be using it as a media player...

Well, if you guys think a PC is ultimately better IQ, I'd better ask the next inevitable questions - about how to build and set up a good HTPC...

Cheers,
James
 

pjclark1

Novice Member
There is nothing in the drive for a PC that helps or hinders playback.
HD/BR playback/region is all software driven.

Any Intel c2d will do, ebuyer are selling a Asrock mobo +E2140 cpu combo factory overclocked to 2.6GHz for £80
http://www.ebuyer.com/product/131868
only the graphics card really counts, an Asus 3650 silent will do for about £55 (and has the HDMI dongle)
http://www.ebuyer.com/product/144659
You would be looking at about £300 in total for the hardware.

Best to buy a good and quiet cpu heatsink.
 

3dit0r

Standard Member
OK so from my initial research, here are a couple of possible motherboard/processor combos I came up with. Please feel free to pick it apart, because I'm new to the HTPC world:

1 - Intel/ATI based

Processor
1 x Core 2 Duo E6550 2.33GHz

Motherboard
Asus P5W Motherboard - LGA775 Intel 975X ATX LAN RAID SATA

Memory
Corsair DDR2 Twinx XMS2-5400 2GB 2x128mx64

Graphics Card
ASUS EAH3650 SILENT MAGIC/HTDP - graphics adapter - Radeon HD 3650 - 512 MB

Power Supply
Gigabyte GE-M550A-D1 ODIN Pro 500W

Hard Disk (OS)
WD CAVIAR 160GB 16MB SATA/300 7200RPM

Hard Disk (Media)
1 x SAMSUNG 500gb 16mb SATA 36.92

Optical Drive
LG 6x BD-R Internal Bluray Writer/ HD-DVD Reader


2 - AMD/nVidia Based - Mainly as above, but:

ATHLON 64 X2 5200+ 2.7GHZ

Asus M3N-H/HDMI AM2+ GF8300 ATX (nVidia onboard GPU 8300 - will SLI with another nVidia GPU added later)

In general I've found nVidia cards to be better in the past (I have nVidia cards on my Avid edit computer - sadly upstairs or I would just use that for my HTPC!).

Please suggest any different configurations, and recommended PSUs for HTPC!

Cheers,
James
 

3dit0r

Standard Member
I use my HTPC to upscale and sharpen divx videos to 1080p and they look absolutely fantastic. I'm constantly impressed with the quality. If you're prepared for a lot of trial and error and constant tweaking for the first few months you can get really great results.
I have two TVs this would have to serve (tho not at the same time!) - how are you getting best results upscaling to 720p/1080p? Is there particular software/ hardware and settings?

Cheers,
James
 

3dit0r

Standard Member
There is nothing in the drive for a PC that helps or hinders playback.
HD/BR playback/region is all software driven.

Any Intel c2d will do, ebuyer are selling a Asrock mobo +E2140 cpu combo factory overclocked to 2.6GHz for £80
http://www.ebuyer.com/product/131868
only the graphics card really counts, an Asus 3650 silent will do for about £55 (and has the HDMI dongle)
http://www.ebuyer.com/product/144659
You would be looking at about £300 in total for the hardware.

Best to buy a good and quiet cpu heatsink.
Hi, thanks for that! Any recommendations for PSUs, etc to go with those - I guess it's important to get a good/QUIET(?) PSU for an HTPC, and a case with decent cooling?

Cheers,
James
 

pjclark1

Novice Member
I tend to buy a cheap 400w PSU and change the fan to either a quiet one (99p) or disconnect it from the 12v and put it onto 5v, these work well
http://www.ebuyer.com/product/106619

If you're not that confident, maybe this £50
http://www.ebuyer.com/product/122772

and this cpu cooler should fit (with a bit of effort) £15
http://www.ebuyer.com/product/105994

Blu-Ray/HD-DVD combo drive £85
http://www.ebuyer.com/product/139985

the benefit with the 3650 is that you can use sound over DVI/HDMI or analogue from the mobo

that just leaves memory and hard drive to select (total £400 .... I underestimated).
I wouldn't bother with the WD drive, just use the Samsung and partition 100GB for the OS and 400GB for media. Or maybe with the money you saved from having just 1 hard drive, get a 1TB Samsung and have 100GB for the OS and 900GB for media. Media PCs use lots of hard drive space, mine currently has 2TB.
 

3dit0r

Standard Member
I tend to buy a cheap 400w PSU and change the fan to either a quiet one (99p) or disconnect it from the 12v and put it onto 5v, these work well
http://www.ebuyer.com/product/106619

If you're not that confident, maybe this £50
http://www.ebuyer.com/product/122772

and this cpu cooler should fit (with a bit of effort) £15
http://www.ebuyer.com/product/105994

Blu-Ray/HD-DVD combo drive £85
http://www.ebuyer.com/product/139985

the benefit with the 3650 is that you can use sound over DVI/HDMI or analogue from the mobo

that just leaves memory and hard drive to select (total £400 .... I underestimated).
I wouldn't bother with the WD drive, just use the Samsung and partition 100GB for the OS and 400GB for media. Or maybe with the money you saved from having just 1 hard drive, get a 1TB Samsung and have 100GB for the OS and 900GB for media. Media PCs use lots of hard drive space, mine currently has 2TB.
That's great, thanks! Will I have issues with the ATi and rescaling to my screen (as described in my original post)? As I said, my only experience with ATi has been this laptop, which just will not resize/rescale properly to my HDTV. Of course, it's only a lowly mobo gpu so the rules might not apply to a better card...

I'd forgotten on the HD front that I have a old spare 160GB drive lying around doing nothing (the lazy bugger). So yeah I could get a 500, or 1TB drive...

Cheers,
James
 

Jim_b0b

Novice Member
I am about to embark on a HTPC build and have done quite a bit of research, and for me I have decided to go the AMD route.

I Shall be using :

http://www.scan.co.uk/Products/ProductInfo.asp?WebProductID=775308
http://www.scan.co.uk/Products/ProductInfo.asp?WebProductID=807038

The reasoning for this is :
a) The motherboard has onboard HDMI and internal graphics capable of playing 1080p content (blu-ray etc...) (so no need for a bulky + more expense graphics card)
b) The processor is an efficient low power (45w) type, that is ideal for a HTPC

The rest of the components such as memory / psu etc... are down to personal preference.
 

3dit0r

Standard Member
Having both a playstation and a pc with a Blu-Ray drive connected to my HD1 projector, I can tell you the picture quality from the Nvidia 8500GT graphics is better than the PS3. Convenience is a different matter, as updates for the Blu-Ray software player (PowerDVD) lag behind copywrite security updates on latest releases, so some of the latest BR titles won't play on the PC...usually resolved within days but that's where thw PS3 comes in handy. All other material, the PC wins by a considerable margin.
Your answer...Ideally, have both.

Adie
Adie -

Separate to the HTPC build (now def going ahead) I'm still curious about a PS3 possibly for a second room.

What is your experience of upscaling regular DVDs and Divx/Xvid with a PS3? I've heard it's a pretty good upscaler, but has issues with certain Divx/Xvid files?

Would appreciate any thoughts about quality of upscaling, etc.

Also, how do you get decent sound out of a PS3 if you don't have an amp with HDMI/Optical capability?

Cheers,
James
 

3dit0r

Standard Member
I am about to embark on a HTPC build and have done quite a bit of research, and for me I have decided to go the AMD route.

I Shall be using :

http://www.scan.co.uk/Products/ProductInfo.asp?WebProductID=775308
http://www.scan.co.uk/Products/ProductInfo.asp?WebProductID=807038

The reasoning for this is :
a) The motherboard has onboard HDMI and internal graphics capable of playing 1080p content (blu-ray etc...) (so no need for a bulky + more expense graphics card)
b) The processor is an efficient low power (45w) type, that is ideal for a HTPC

The rest of the components such as memory / psu etc... are down to personal preference.
Jim,

What is the onboard GPU on this mobo? Will it support SLI or similar if a dedicated Graphics Card is added later on?

Also, there is a note on the page about adding a an AM2 processor on this AM2+ mobo downgrading the bus speed. What is the significance of this - it's outside my area of knowledge...?

Cheers,
James
 

pjclark1

Novice Member
That's great, thanks! Will I have issues with the ATi and rescaling to my screen (as described in my original post)? As I said, my only experience with ATi has been this laptop, which just will not resize/rescale properly to my HDTV. Of course, it's only a lowly mobo gpu so the rules might not apply to a better card...
Powerstrip will allow you to output pretty much any resolution you like, no matter what the graphics card allows although I've always gone out of my way to buy screens that have a native resolution to match HD resolution.

Onboard graphics is usually a dead loss for HD uses.
 

Jim_b0b

Novice Member
Hi,

The graphics is a Radeon HD3200, and I do believe that if you add a graphics card it will run in SLi.

Tom's gave it a review, check it out:
http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/AMD-780G-HDTV-Blu-Ray,review-30420.html

As to the downgrading when putting the AM2 chip in, as far as im aware it's just because the AM2 chip bus speed cannot support the higher speeds that the AM2+ chips do, but it is nothing to worry about in temrs of a HTPC build, as it will be MORE than capable for what we want.

As far as I am concerned the 780G + 4850e are a match made in haven at this moment in time, plenty powerful enough for a htpc and very power efficient too.
 

leeb

Novice Member
I have two TVs this would have to serve (tho not at the same time!) - how are you getting best results upscaling to 720p/1080p? Is there particular software/ hardware and settings?

Cheers,
James
For hardware I'm using an AMD BE-2400 processor with a Radeon HD3450 hdmi output. I leave the desktop at 1920x1080 and upscale everything to that resolution using ffdshow. You can create different profiles in ffdshow so can quickly switch between different settings (for various file types, resolutions etc.). I can post my settings later if you want them. Oh and I use Zoomplayer as my media player which works perfectly with ffdshow.
 

3dit0r

Standard Member
Powerstrip will allow you to output pretty much any resolution you like, no matter what the graphics card allows although I've always gone out of my way to buy screens that have a native resolution to match HD resolution.

Onboard graphics is usually a dead loss for HD uses.
That's interesting. Is it the case that not all 'HD Ready' TVs actually have the same native resolution, then? I had (possibly naively) assumed that the 720/1080 standard specified a TV of specific native resolution, but it would explain a lot in terms of me not being able to find a matching res on my graphics card.

How does one go about finding the actual native res of a TV before buying?

I'll look up powerstrip, but it's reassuring that you think it's a limitation with the onboard graphics on the laptop than an inherent issue with HTPCs.

Cheers,
James
 

3dit0r

Standard Member
Hi,

The graphics is a Radeon HD3200, and I do believe that if you add a graphics card it will run in SLi.

Tom's gave it a review, check it out:
http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/AMD-780G-HDTV-Blu-Ray,review-30420.html

As to the downgrading when putting the AM2 chip in, as far as im aware it's just because the AM2 chip bus speed cannot support the higher speeds that the AM2+ chips do, but it is nothing to worry about in temrs of a HTPC build, as it will be MORE than capable for what we want.

As far as I am concerned the 780G + 4850e are a match made in haven at this moment in time, plenty powerful enough for a htpc and very power efficient too.
Yes, they certainly look good! I must admit that I'm changing the initial requirements I made slightly, as I would like to be able to play the odd game now and again. So maybe I would be better off with a dedicated GPU and will have to suck up the extra power consumption.

There is a slightly concerning note that the newer Catalyst drivers didn't recognize the Crossfire capability of the onboard GPU.

This was an interesting conclusion to part of the test:

"Since the on-board GPU handles all of the decoding operations for the H.264 and VC-1 codecs, the power consumption of the brawnier CPUs increases only marginally. Thanks to its four cores, the Phenom only draws 9 Watts more than the Athlon X2 BE-2350. Since the multi-threaded Cyberlink codec takes advantage of all of the Phenom’s four cores, the CPU can run at lower speeds, conserving energy."

This implies that when using a GPU which offloads the HD video processing from the CPU that you can get away with fairly hi-spec CPUs if desired. Don't most HD friendly graphics cards do this now?

Cheers,
James
 

3dit0r

Standard Member
For hardware I'm using an AMD BE-2400 processor with a Radeon HD3450 hdmi output. I leave the desktop at 1920x1080 and upscale everything to that resolution using ffdshow. You can create different profiles in ffdshow so can quickly switch between different settings (for various file types, resolutions etc.). I can post my settings later if you want them. Oh and I use Zoomplayer as my media player which works perfectly with ffdshow.
Hm, I've not come across ffdshow or zoomplayer, but they sound interesting! Yes some settings would be great when you get the time...

Cheers,
James
 

starcat

Novice Member
Especially the HD-Ready models don't. The Full HD models are mostly like 1920x1080 at least for the plasmas however there are not many models that accepts something like 40-120Hz, so that you can freely choose between 48Hz for 24p, 50Hz for PAL and 60Hz for NTSC material. Another thing is that not all displays can be set to 1:1 pixel mapping, so be careful and check out the specs.

The Panasonic PF10 display is a very fine 1920x1080p panel which will allow even 24p input with the dual-HDMI card and can pixel match very easily to anything.
 

pjclark1

Novice Member
Yes, they certainly look good! I must admit that I'm changing the initial requirements I made slightly, as I would like to be able to play the odd game now and again. So maybe I would be better off with a dedicated GPU and will have to suck up the extra power consumption.
You won't be playing games with an onboard GPU, especially as the 3200 is rated as similar to an ATI x1300. I always think it's best to go a tried and tested route rather than try a new mobo + GPU that may or may not work with the apps you want.
 

Razor

Member
I know its not the answer to your problem but i have found my xbox 360 (even tho no blue-ray support) is the best way i have ever had of watching stuff back on my tv via dvd, divx file off my computer and music and photos! as well as a great gaming console! no fuss at all unlike computer to set up and it never misses a beat or a video frame while playing back via the network!

So i personlly think you are better off getting a morden games console to do this, then a pc!
Lets see. the 360 is noisy as hell, both the ps3 and 360 cant play region 1 dvd? They both dont play all formats of HD which a pc does with ease. They both need a pc in the first place to be fully functional. I really cant see why anyone would say a console is a better media machine than a pc. PC's also arent that hard to set up for media playback of all types of video files. Just install a codec pack and your off. Lastly a pc is a far superior games machine than any current console and the games have free mods, better graphics and are normally half the price. :smashin:
 

3dit0r

Standard Member
Especially the HD-Ready models don't. The Full HD models are mostly like 1920x1080 at least for the plasmas however there are not many models that accepts something like 40-120Hz, so that you can freely choose between 48Hz for 24p, 50Hz for PAL and 60Hz for NTSC material. Another thing is that not all displays can be set to 1:1 pixel mapping, so be careful and check out the specs.

The Panasonic PF10 display is a very fine 1920x1080p panel which will allow even 24p input with the dual-HDMI card and can pixel match very easily to anything.

OK I understand. Could you outline the 'essential' resolution/frequency combos that I need to look out for to ensure maximum compatibility. How incredible (note sarcasm) that the HDTV Ready screens are anything but!

:rolleyes:

Cheers
James
 

3dit0r

Standard Member
Lets see. the 360 is noisy as hell, both the ps3 and 360 cant play region 1 dvd? They both dont play all formats of HD which a pc does with ease. They both need a pc in the first place to be fully functional. I really cant see why anyone would say a console is a better media machine than a pc. PC's also arent that hard to set up for media playback of all types of video files. Just install a codec pack and your off. Lastly a pc is a far superior games machine than any current console and the games have free mods, better graphics and are normally half the price. :smashin:
I agree, except that ****ing Sony have bought sole gaming rights to F1, which is one of the only games I'm interested in, along with Gran Turismo (also exclusively Sony). Hence the reason for the PS3 interest. However, looks like I'll go down the HTPC route for media playback and just buy a PS3 later to play my car games!

The reason for adding a gaming requirement to the HTPC setup is that I'm a bit of a Trackmania addict:

http://www.trackmania.com/en/

So cheezy, but sooooo fun...

Cheers,
James
 

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