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HTPCs - loads of questions!....

Discussion in 'Desktop & Laptop Computers Forum' started by andy76, Oct 29, 2003.

  1. andy76

    andy76
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    Having iffed and butted for over 12 months about getting a home cinema system I have convinced myself that a HTPC is probably the best way to go.

    However, a number of things have caught me out while deciding what to get.
    Do I need an ultra fast processor and lots of memory?
    I am thinking P4 2.6Ghz and 512Mb RAM as a base.
    What sort of video card do I need and what advantages etc are there to faster more powerful cards - this machine will only be used for HT apart from internet. NO games.
    Is basic onboard enough?
    The display will be A N Other TFT screen - probably a 19" Dell ( max 1280 X 1024 res)
    I also want it to work as a PVR so need a tuner card. What is the Hauppauge PVR 350 like? Good bad etc? Can it play TV full screen?
    Will be used with a Telewest Digi Cable box. Connections between the two?
    I note the PVR 350 has hardware MPEG encoding/decoding. Will this be used when playing DVDs - pre recorded movies through PowerDVD etc, or should I/do I need, to purchase a seperate hardware decoder card for DVD playback - Sigma I think is the obvious one?

    Not sure on sound but will not be using a seperate amp, just a set of DD speakers and processor - one of the Creative range perhaps?
    Would something like the Creative Live! 5.1 do the job or should I look higher up?

    As far as future developments, a seperate amp etc is unlikely, but I MAY at some stage go to a plasma screen. Anything I should be aware of now?

    Any other advice you can give me?

    Thanks!
    Andrew
     
  2. Peter Parker

    Peter Parker
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    For DVD playback, you only need a 1gig processor and 128 meg of ram. Use a Radeon card for best DVD playback quality (any will do, but the 9600 non pro seems the card of choice). Basic onboard graphics may be ok on the small screen, so you could try that first and see if you're happy with it. If not, get an agp radeon.

    Most sound cards with spdif out will give a digital signal to an external amp. The SB 4.1 is adequate for this, so the 5.1 will be just as capable. Not sure of their analogue capabilities though.

    If you want to play Hi Def stuff, then the 2.6 cpu and 512 memory will be what you need. T2 Extreme has a Hi Def transfer, and there are becoming quite a few clips available now, so it may be worth the extra cost. I'm not sure what's needed for PVR but if it has an encoder on board, the 2600 may be overkill. Hopefully someone else can chip in here.

    Gary.
     
  3. philipb

    philipb
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    Your processor and memory will be fine.

    If games are not an issue then a standard sub-£100 Radeon will be fine. Onboard video will do as well.

    The 350 is pretty good I think. Can your Telewest output s-video? If so this is the best method of feeding the capture card. There are plenty of good cards around and plenty of good PVR software packages. Search this forum for threads. A card like the Flyvideo can be used with dscaler which smartens up the image no end.

    As a DVD player my unequivocal recommendation is Theatertek plus ffdshow ( a free piece of software which acts as a back end video processor to improve the PQ from TT). I am now using an SDI modded Denon 2900 (ie an all digital path to my Pio 433 plasma) and the TT+ffdshow combo was a close second to this in PQ. The Sigma x-card is also pretty good, and you can get it with an output adapter for RGB scart.

    The HCPC community generally rate M-Audio cards as the best. Creative are good though.

    All of this will work fine with a plasma via either VGA or DVI.

    If you're not very PC literate and budget is not too much of a problem, then the suppliers of custom built HCPCs who advertise on this forum are well worth a look.

    And finally, I was reading a review this morning of the new Evesham machine with XP Media Centre and it got very good reviews. Not cheap, but at last it looks like a plug and play, off you go no messing PC media centre may at last be a reality - and from Microsoft to boot:eek:
     
  4. KraGorn

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    One thing that's not clear to me, perhaps you have read ... can you use Powerstrip on an XP/MC system if you're not driving a device which is 1:1 pixel-mapped using standard Windows resolutions/refreshes?
     
  5. Branxx

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  6. philipb

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    Apparently the XP media centre machines are not designed for upgrading. Microsoft have gone to great lengths to try to ensure that the OS doesn't keep falling over, hence they don't want the likes of you and me messing around with the insides. This is the main reason why XPMC won't be available as a stand alone application but only as part of a custom set up where MS can strictly control the specs with the OEM supplier. So i guess the answer is no, but you could check with Evesham.

    The quality of on-board sound is variable - a stand alone sound card would be much better.

    Agree about the Nebula - if the local freeview digital signal is up to it. But with telewest digital already installed the Nebula would be duplication?
     
  7. andy76

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    Thanks for all the answers so far.
    I have looked at the Adaptec Videoh! DVD Media Center now for PVR functions.
    It has composite video and audio in which I assume can be used with the Telewest box via the SCART socket (with converter)?
    It has no S-VHS which I think was an option suggested above.
    Also, if I used S-VHS, how would I get the sound to sync?

    Any comments on this item? It is external usb which is perhaps not the best but it seems to have good functionality besides the above advantage.

    It has occured to me since that to use with the Digi box all I need is video IN - NOT a tuner. The box itself does all the tuning.
    Does that open up any extra options?

    As far as the PC goes, To answer one thought I am PC literate, but it seems as cheap to buy a pre built system? Dell seem to do some nice systems with dual S-ATA drives in raid and ATi 9800.
    Just add the above and to me it seems I would have a good system?

    By the way what is dscaler and what does it do? Is it relevant when I am just using a monitor or TFT screen?


    Thanks again.

    Andrew
     
  8. keelby1

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    Could anyone recomend a company than builds custom made HCPC's at a resonable cost?

    I dont want to spend a fortune but could with a pretty basic set up that I could upgrade when circumstances allow.

    I should post a wanted add really...
     
  9. philipb

    philipb
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    UVEM - at the top of this forum. Also Neil Jenkins - Jenz - do a search on this forum and you'll find him.

    If all you want to do is feed video into the PC for PVR then any decent analogue capture device, USB or PCI, will do, with some PVR software. You're right, you don't need the tuner.

    Dscaler is free software which processes the video from the PC before it outputs to the display. It is basically a software version of say a Lumagen or iScan etc. Its free but it isn't a doddle to get the best out of it. But it does improve the quality of the feed to the display.
     

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