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Low Cost, High Spec TV/HTPC Build

spacemanc

Active Member
I've made this thread to show that you can make a powerful HTPC with great capabilities on a pretty low budget. My main requirements were as follows:

1. Recieve Sky HD with full PVR functionality (Minimum dual tuners)
2. Act as a server for TV, Films and Music for the whole house
3. Optical and HDMI connections (Preferabily 1.4a)
4. Playback any media file
5. Fast startup and channel changes
6. Low Power consumption

Like many people in the current climate, I'm on a very tight budget, so to fund this required a bit of creativity. I sold my FreeSat PVR box and a few old PC parts which generated a surprisingly large amount of cash, and then did some serious shopping around on ebay and google! I bought the CPU and motherboard second hand on ebay which saved me a significant amount of money - if you're careful then it's reasonably safe to do this and you can get some real bargains. I also had a spare DVD drive and CPU cooler, plus an old Antec Sonata Case which I was happy to use as the system is out of view.

Athlon II X3 420e - £40 (Uses just 45w)
ASUS M4A89GTD/USB3 Motherboard - £30 (Includes the most powerful IGP available)
4GB Corsair 1600MHz RAM - £15
300w Generic 80+ PSU - £10 (Removed from a new HP media PC)
1.5TB Seagate Barracuda HDD - £60 (I removed this from an new external drive)
TBS 6981 Dual DVB-S2 Card - £75 (Includes remote)

Sony Optiarc DVD Drive - Free, but cost around £15 new
Corsair HX3 Cooler - Free, but cost around £15 new (this part isn't totally necessary)
Antac Sonata Case - Free, but cases cost around £20 new
Windows 7 Ultimate 64 OS - Free, but could be expensive depending on source

£230

The above is all that I really needed, but the items I sold on ebay generated so much cash, that I splashed out on the following extras:

ATI HD 6450 1GB GFX Card - £30 (HDMI 1.4a and 3D capable)
64GB Crucial M4 SSD - £70

£100

Total cost of the build:

£330 (Not allowing for a few cheap parts that I already had)
 

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spacemanc

Active Member
The OS is Windows 7 Ultimate Edition 64Bit, and the media software is Mediaportal with it's TVServer and the Sky EPG Grabber, and the Streamed MP skin (Streamed MP also includes plugins such as Moving Pictures). For decryption I used the MDAPI and Acamd plugins. All the software is free!

It all works perfectly, the functionality is amazing, and the UI looks great. Everything is very fast, and we can now watch Sky, recorded programs, movies and music on every PC and laptop in the house. I could write pages about the functionality and customisation options, but lets just say that if you want to do something, then there is probably a way!

Power consumption under load is around 70w. Idle is under 40w. Noise is minimal, but this was never an issue as the case is under the stairs.

Apart from a couple of problems, setup was relatively easy - but I did build a test setup a couple of months ago, which took a lot of research and testing.

All in all, I'm really happy with it, and I just wish that I'd done it sooner!
 

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Bruce85

Standard Member
you said you can watch sky on each pc/laptop in house what about on your tv's in house is this possible off the one card.?
 

Razor

Distinguished Member
How exactly is this high spec?
 

spacemanc

Active Member
you said you can watch sky on each pc/laptop in house what about on your tv's in house is this possible off the one card.?
Yes, but it is only a dual tuner, so if for example we are recording one channel, and watching another channel in the lounge, then you couldn't watch a third channel in the bedroom - it would say "No TV Card available".

You can buy quad tuners, but really you have to ask yourself how often it will actually be a problem, because quad tuners are not cheap. Most of our TV's still have terrestrial freeview via aerial sockets, so it's even less likely to be an issue.

How exactly is this high spec?
Best SSD you can buy. One of best low power CPU's you can buy. Best HTPC Graphics Card you can buy. Great Hi Spec motherboard. Have you got some suggested upgrades in mind?
 
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Razor

Distinguished Member
Sorry for being a bit blunt but this is about as far removed from high spec rig as you can get, the only suggestion I can give you is not to call this rig high spec. ;)
 

spacemanc

Active Member
Sorry for being a bit blunt but this is about as far removed from high spec rig as you can get, the only suggestion I can give you is not to call this rig high spec. ;)
Please enlighten me. What do you suggest, 50 water blocks and a GTX 580? Sure, you can build a HTPC with extra features - this one doesn't have Blu-ray for example, but it wasn't a requirement. If you aren't willing to suggest upgrades then it's best you keep quiet. I actually want you to give suggestions, because from your pics, I know it will give me a laugh.
 

Razor

Distinguished Member
Your thread states a high spec pc and it's nothing of the sort. I have 4 year old htpc's which are more powerful than your low end budget box. Next time you create a thread try and not lie in the title. ;)
 
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Bruce85

Standard Member
Yes, but it is only a dual tuner, so if for example we are recording one channel, and watching another channel in the lounge, then you couldn't watch a third channel in the bedroom - it would say "No TV Card available".

You can buy quad tuners, but really you have to ask yourself how often it will actually be a problem, because quad tuners are not cheap. Most of our TV's still have terrestrial freeview via aerial sockets, so it's even less likely to be an issue.
it would be a problem all the time i think with 4 people in house all wanting to watch there own thing. i was just thinking this would be a cheaper option than payin the extra multi room prices and just keep the one subscription no?
 

spacemanc

Active Member
it would be a problem all the time i think with 4 people in house all wanting to watch there own thing. i was just thinking this would be a cheaper option than payin the extra multi room prices and just keep the one subscription no?
Sure, depends on your own circumstances. If you are likely to have more than 2 people watching TV's in the house, then a quad tuner will be worth it - I had no need for it so I didn't bother. And yeah it will save you a fortune on multiroom, as well as having more features. Bear in mind though, that you will need a suitable LNB on your dish to support 4 tuners (if you don't have one already)

Your thread states a high spec pc and it's nothing of the sort. I have 4 year old htpc's which are more powerful than your low end budget box. Next time you create a thread try and not lie in the title. ;)
You mean the ones in your pics? They're Gaming 'HTPC's' PC's. Your ridiculous water coolers probably use more power than my whole build under load.

My PC is built to do nothing more than playback HD media and act as a server for the house - if total silence or gaming was a requirement then it would obviously have completely different components. Please go and troll elsewhere.
 
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Razor

Distinguished Member
You still haven't explained how your rig is high end. All I can see is low end gear with a decent ssd.

Btw watercooling is considered high end and power usage never comes into play on high spec gear. Maybe if you had known this you wouldn't think your low end amd rig was high spec. ;)
 
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spyder viewer

Well-known Member
I'm not sure how this thread has got to the state that it has but I will just say this: the OP has quite reasonably described the design objective, procurement and build of an extensively featured HTPC with potential for further development. He has kept to the constraints of a HTPC by a good balance of performance and power consumption. He has demonstrated good component selection and use of low-cost sourcing where required and in my opinion deserves the title of "Low Cost, High Spec TV/HTPC". He hasn't set out to build a high-priced super gaming machine with storage. Healthy debate and even differences of opinion are the hallmark of a good forum. He is entitled to display his results on this forum as an equal and certainly doesn't deserve to be lambasted for doing so.
 

Razor

Distinguished Member
I'm not sure how this thread has got to the state that it has but I will just say this: the OP has quite reasonably described the design objective, procurement and build of an extensively featured HTPC with potential for further development. He has kept to the constraints of a HTPC by a good balance of performance and power consumption. He has demonstrated good component selection and use of low-cost sourcing where required and in my opinion deserves the title of "Low Cost, High Spec TV/HTPC". He hasn't set out to build a high-priced super gaming machine with storage. Healthy debate and even differences of opinion are the hallmark of a good forum. He is entitled to display his results on this forum as an equal and certainly doesn't deserve to be lambasted for doing so.
I totally agree about a healthy debate and differences of opinion. Let me just clarify what I expected to see when I read high spec HTPC. I didn't for one minute expect to see gaming capabilities but what I did expect to see was a good quality htpc case or high end pc case, plenty of storage (a few 2tb/3Tb drives), high end silent fans with good airflow, a minimum of a fast quad core cpu, more than 4gb of ram, passive or near silent quality branded psu from manufacturers like enermax, corsair or seagate, optical Bluray drive etc...

If the OP is happy with his build then fair play, there is nothing wrong with a budget build if it works which it clearly does. I was just confused as to how the above spec was classed as high spec when looking at the hardware used it clearly isnt. I was in no way calling the rig worthless only enquiring as to why it deserved the high spec label as most off the shelf budget tower pcs would have a similar spec or better (minus the SSD). :)
 
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spacemanc

Active Member
Razor seriously dude you are making a fool of yourself. You obviously like to spend silly amounts of money on every build, but that does not mean that any build below that is low spec.

a good quality htpc case or high end pc case, plenty of storage (a few 2tb/3Tb drives), high end silent fans with good airflow, a minimum of a fast quad core cpu, more than 4gb of ram, passive or near silent quality branded psu from manufacturers like enermax, corsair or seagate, optical Bluray drive etc...

Antec Sonata cases are quality cases but you don't even need a fancy case if it's out of view. 1.5TB is a good amount of storage and it's crazy to buy more than you need in the current market. My fans are 'silent'. You don't put fast quad cores in HTPCs - in fact my CPU is higher spec than necessary. You don't need more than 4GB RAM. And yes a branded PSU would have been preferable, but to achieve 80+ Bronze requires quality components so I'm not too concerned about that aspect. Many people will go for a Blu-ray drive - I have no need for one, so why would I?

Btw watercooling is considered high end and power usage never comes into play on high spec gear.
I'm sorry but that's plain wrong. I don't need water cooling in the first place on my system as all my components are low energy and passively cooled - power management isn't just about saving a bit of money on your bills - it's also about minimising heat, meaning that you need very little cooling in the first place, which therefore results in low noise.

I'm not sure what your problem is, but I suggest you stop your blatant trolling, and stick to gaming PC's builds, as your knowledge of HTPC requirements appears to be limited.
 

Razor

Distinguished Member
Razor seriously dude you are making a fool of yourself. You obviously like to spend silly amounts of money on every build, but that does not mean that any build below that is low spec.
A build becomes high spec when it uses high end components, you cant call a tri core cpu (low end cpu) with a low amount of storage in a mid range case coupled with a generic psu high spec as there is nothing high spec about it. I will repeat what I have said before there is nothing wrong with budget builds at all. I myself built a windows home server with an AMD fusion. It has 12TB of storage and 2Gb of ram. It does the job perfectly but I wouldnt dream of calling it high spec. It is what it is, a budget low power server which suits my needs. Which IMO this is exactly what this build is.

Antec Sonata cases are quality cases but you don't even need a fancy case if it's out of view. 1.5TB is a good amount of storage and it's crazy to buy more than you need in the current market. My fans are 'silent'. You don't put fast quad cores in HTPCs - in fact my CPU is higher spec than necessary. You don't need more than 4GB RAM. And yes a branded PSU would have been preferable, but to achieve 80+ Bronze requires quality components so I'm not too concerned about that aspect. Many people will go for a Blu-ray drive - I have no need for one, so why would I?
I never said you did need high end parts to make a htpc but your title clearly says High Spec and none of the hardware used is high spec bar your SSD. High spec normaly means going above and beyond the required spec.


I'm sorry but that's plain wrong. I don't need water cooling in the first place on my system as all my components are low energy and passively cooled - power management isn't just about saving a bit of money on your bills - it's also about minimising heat, meaning that you need very little cooling in the first place, which therefore results in low noise.
I never said you needed watercooling you brought it up as I seem to of offended you by pointing out your system is not high spec at all and uses low end hardware. I know plenty about cooling hence why I can setup watercooling and I know only to well that it is not a requirement of a htpc.


I'm not sure what your problem is, but I suggest you stop your blatant trolling, and stick to gaming PC's builds, as your knowledge of HTPC requirements appears to be limited.

I have built many htpcs for myself, customers, friends and family of all specs and budgets. In fact I have been building htpcs since 2004 and normal pc's way before that. I have helped many on this forum particularity in this htpc section and have even written guides on how to do so. A quick google reveals that you only built your first pc approx 2 years ago. ;)

Anyway I will leave it there IMO this is far from a high spec which is plain to see looking at the spec list. Incidentally I was not trolling, I was only asking a simple question from the title of this thread which you have taken offence to and it has led us here. ;)
 

robbo100

Well-known Member
Come on chaps, kiss and make up :boring:.

You are both right to be honest.

Spacemanc's system isn't exactly "High Spec" in my personal opinion, but some of the components are above spec from the average baseline for an HTPC, so it certainly isn't bog-standard. Besides, he is running MediaPortal, so it must be an ace system!!! :laugh:

Razor, you have been a little bit brutal in your demanding a justification. Spacemanc was likely posting in the hope that people would say "nice rig, good work, congratulations", and so I can understand why he has reacted a little negative to your criticism. Clearly you have a huge amount of experience across all levels of HTPC specification, from bottom end to the very very top end (experience I would love to have myself), but don't burst the man's bubble!

Spacemanc, nice system mate - good work. I hope you enjoy many hours of fiddling!

Robbo100
 

spacemanc

Active Member
I think it boils down to peoples definition of "spec". Razor obviously thinks thats down to labels and brands and how much you've spent on it. I see it more as being about capabilities and how effectivily it does it's job. A tri core low power CPU is high spec in a HTPC - he seems to completely misunderstand the aim of a HTPC.

Even though it was built as cheaply as possible, if you gave me £1000, there is nothing I would upgrade or add to it, as it would be totally unnecessary (Well actually maybe a Logitech dinovo mini remote, but my girlfriend didn't like the look of them :))

And robbo I can assure you it wasn't posted as some kind of dick waving statement or me seeking any kind of praise - it was actually posted to help people and give ideas, as quite a lot of people post here asking for advice thinking you need £1000's to build a HTPC. I could easily have spent more money on it - but it's built to do it's job well and as cheaply as possible - and that includes not requiring "many hours of fiddling" once it is setup. I believe I've achieved that.

As a side note if anything, I was actually expecting people to dispute the "low cost" part of the title. :laugh:
 

robbo100

Well-known Member
And robbo I can assure you it wasn't posted as some kind of dick waving statement or me seeking any kind of praise - it was actually posted to help people and give ideas, as quite a lot of people post here asking for advice thinking you need £1000's to build a HTPC.
Woah there fella, you seem to have taken what I said in the worst way. There is nothing wrong with people posting photos of their hard work on here to get feedback and be congratulated (as well as to give ideas and inspiration to other people who might want advice in the future). I (and many other users) have done it and it is a good thing to do in my opinion.

Robbo100
 

spacemanc

Active Member
Hehe - I didn't take it the wrong way, and I wasn't having a go - sorry if it seemed that way. Point was that I would much rather have constructive criticism than congratulation, so I can improve things if possible.

Things are easily misunderstood on the interwebz. :laugh:
 

spacemanc

Active Member
Can i ask how you managed to get sky without a subscription or am i just assuming?
It's impossible to get sky without a subscription, but client PC's can share a subscription.
 

spacemanc

Active Member
So you have one paid subscription, then the others just run off that with abit of tweaking etc?
You need a Sky card in a card reader which then networks the encryption keys to the client PCs. Some people share these keys over the internet and that is illegal. Sharing it with yourself is more of a grey area as it's your subscription and you've paid for it. Theres a few other threads on the forum and elsewhere on the net, which go into more detail on setting this up - robbo has made one here: http://www.avforums.com/forums/15443226-post672.html
 

bryanchicken

Novice Member
I can see both sides of this, sort of. Its not a high spec PC, but it is a high-ish spec HTPC.
Like Razor says you can get much higher spec parts, but like spacemanc says they aren't really necessary for HTPC.
If you take the minimum requirements for HTPC as being something like an Ion+2gb RAM+mechanical HDD(*) then a triple core+4gb RAM+SSD+HDD+tuner is high spec.
Maybe we should introduce a new "overkill spec".


I think its a pretty good build, especially considering i've just spent near on £200 on just a GPU and PSU :rolleyes:
(although i am making a foray into gaming)


* not necessarily the mimimum spec, just an example. Don't want to start another argument :D
 

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