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newbie - need help sorting out htpc jungle

Discussion in 'Desktop & Laptop Computers Forum' started by biggygiant, Jul 21, 2003.

  1. biggygiant

    biggygiant
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    Hi all,

    I am a newbie to the HTPC world, so would greatly like some assistance sorting out some of my confusion!

    I started looking at setting up an MP3 jukebox (with me and my flatmates iPods, most of our CDs are already ripped, so being able to play them and mix them on the main HiFi seemed the logical step).

    For this purpose, I started building the following system (some bits still on order):

    DIGN HV5 (its gotta look good in the rack!)
    PIII 700
    512 MB RAM
    M-Audio Revolution 7.1 (connected to my H/K AVR-7500 amp and Dynaudio speakers)
    Barracuda V 120 GB
    some Radeon card (undecided as yet)


    now while Im building this system, it obviously seems a good idea to go for a full on HTPC and build in a DVD drive so the PC can act as my main DVD (to eventually replace my Sony DVD-S7700). The display to begin with will be one 15" TFT and my Metz Atlantis 32" widescreen TV (Im looking at getting a projector, but it wont happen this year).

    Question 1 : Will the picture quality be comparable?
    Question 2 : Is there any point doing this until I get the projector?
    Question 3 : Is there any way to get RGB Scart output from a PC?
    Question 4 : Is there a major benefit to using a hardware MPEG decoder?
    Question 5 : If so, what are the best MPEG decoder cards?
    Question 6 : What are the reccommended DVD drives for quietness (ie speed-lockable) and quality?


    And then further down the line Im looking at integrating a PVR function, with my Sky Digital box as the main source.

    Question 7 : How does one connect the skybox for best quality?
    Question 8 : What does one need for high-quality, easy PVR functionality?
    Question 9 : Will the 200W PSU in the HV-5 case be enough for all these cards?


    Alot of questions I know - but this stuff is quite confusing - answer one or answer all, any help is welcome!

    cheers,

    Martin
     
  2. meep

    meep
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    MArtin,

    I'll give some of these a shot...


    Question 1 : Will the picture quality be comparable?

    Picture quality on a TV is probably not going to come close to PC monitor - especially for desktop and PC application. For DVD playback, should be acceptable. Also, a lot will depend on the quality of your TV, input etc.

    I recently set up a friends system using just composit out from an AIW card and while the desktop was dificult to read, I was surprised at the quality of DVD playback from PowerDVD. It waas quite watchable.

    Though in fairness, your computer would need to be doing more than just that as you could pick up a dedicated DVD player fror a fraction of the cost.


    Question 2 : Is there any point doing this until I get the projector?

    Yes. At the very least, you'll iron out all your system configuration issues etc. The amount of tweaking you'll need to do is enormous and it's always much easier to do this on a proper screen. Leave the big screen for moview!


    Question 3 : Is there any way to get RGB Scart output from a PC?

    Do a search on the forums. I'm sure you'll find a solution. (RGB scart convertor or some such search term). The RealMagix Xcard comes with RGB Scart output capability though I've no idea if you need extra connectors or what (you'd think I would as I've just bought one but I don't use it's back banel outputs at all).

    Question 4 : Is there a major benefit to using a hardware MPEG decoder?

    Yes in that you're no longer dependant on CPU power, availability etc. Well, not as much as with a software player. Aslo, I recently moved to the Xcard fro my DVD playback and find it a touch better than my previous favourite, Theater Tek. Pans are smoother, it does not seem as prone to minute refresh rate variations as software etc.

    On the other hand, software is cheaper and gets upgrades all the time. It's testement top the quality of software playback that I don't see a whoile lot of difference between TT and hardware decoding.


    Question 5 : If so, what are the best MPEG decoder cards?

    Xcard, apparently. Lots of features etc. though people do say that the actual quality of picture from the back panel is not up to scratch.

    I use mine to feed the decoded digital signal directly into the PDI interface on my HJoloGraph card. There, it's de-interlaced and pushed to the Radeon for scaling and output.

    Question 6 : What are the reccommended DVD drives for quietness (ie speed-lockable) and quality?

    I have a Pioneer DVD-106s which, with the Pioneer software utility, can be made almost silent. You can't get this anymore but I understand a utility is now available for the 120 models.

    I also recently put a Lite-On unbit (not sure of model) into a friend's PC and I was amazed at how quiet it was with no speed control at all.


    And then further down the line Im looking at integrating a PVR function, with my Sky Digital box as the main source.

    Question 7 : How does one connect the skybox for best quality?

    Hands down, Holograph H3D capture card. Rev 7 (and probably H3D-IIs) can take a RGBs directly from Sky box via a scart-rgb cable.

    I've set mine up like this to a H3D RGBs daughtercard (simply because I needed to use two component inputs), with a quality connection cable. The image quality is breathtaking (for a highly compressed didgtal satellite signal!!!)

    I used to run Sky into a cheapie HAuppage tuner card and watched via dscaler. That was OK. I then upgraded to the holograp and used a scart-componet convertor. That was good. But the direct scart-RGBs input is outstanding.


    Question 8 : What does one need for high-quality, easy PVR functionality?

    Can't help there, I'm afraid.

    Question 9 : Will the 200W PSU in the HV-5 case be enough for all these cards?

    Read a thread recenly where somone was running lots of stuff of 200W successfully. I'm happy with my 350W Enermax with variable fan speed. It's still the loudest part of the PC but all these things are relative. You can just about hear it from seating position and with some sound going, it's fine.

    Hope all that helps. Typed quickly so please forgive typos.

    Peter
     
  3. manc

    manc
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    Hi,

    Where would you recomend buying the holograph h3d card ?
     
  4. meep

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    Find out all about the Holograph at;

    www.immersiveinc.com

    Read up in the forums and lost of info here and on avsforums.com. you'll find a link on the immersive forums somewhere for the European Distributor (search on Spatz). I also think someone who frequents these forums is now a UK distributor but I can't remember who.

    You're big issue will be - buy a reconditioned Holo 3d-I at a knock down price or plumb for the new HD-II with improved chip, extra available add-ons etc.

    Decisions decisions.

    Plus, remember you'll be at the cutting edge of technology where drivers and software is beta, hardware is subject to change and revision at the drop of a hat leaving your significant investment of last week almost worthless etc.

    Peter
     
  5. Badger

    Badger
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    I seem to recall something about the Metz having a VGA option (like the Loewes), if so you might be able to hook up the PC that way (possibly gaining Progressive scan capability too)

    Phil
     
  6. Steve Bate

    Steve Bate
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    Holo3D UK disti is Jenz, you'll find his contact details if you do a search.

    You could also try Immersive direct to see if they have any traded in Mark 1's going cheap(er)

    Steve
     
  7. biggygiant

    biggygiant
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    meep : thanks so much for the patience to answer so informatively!

    I guess my concern at the moment is whether it is worth going through the trouble of having an HTPC as a DVD source (especially with the added expense of a Holo3D and xCard) when Im still going to output the video signal over a Radeon's s-video connector?

    I understand the benefits of using DVI output to a plasma screen or being able to run native resolution to a projector - but over an analogue s-video connection... I just dont know...


    Badger : the Metz TV can have a VGA input through an accessory daughtercard (which I dont have) - would this be a better connection than s-video? I'm sure this connection would be limited in resolution (on the TV side)?

    (I love my Metz TV, the quality is still awesome - 4 years later - and it is very modular - I could even change the tuner cards (2 for PiP viewing) when I moved to the UK 3 years ago from Sweden)


    Thanks for all the help!

    cheers,

    Martin
     
  8. Badger

    Badger
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    It depends what signals it accepts and what it does with them - My Loewe Aconda will accept a 60Hz 853x480 signal and displays it progressively - this is perfect for Progressive NTSC. (Newer Loewe's will also do 50Hz 1024x576 for Progressive PAL) . If the Metz does the same then the output will be better than S-Video.

    Might be worth looking into this

    Phil
     
  9. meep

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    Martin

    I'd suggest getting an Xcard as a starting point. They're not that expensive and are designed to have a variety of outputs, particularly for televisions.

    You can get the optiional SCART RGB connector kit to give you best possible input to your TV (I assume it has scart).

    Also, I think the VGA passthrough cable that comes with the Xcard allows take your video card output into your xcard and out again. This would allow you view everything (DVD and PC Destop) on your TV. (Though you'll need to confirm this as I've not tried it).

    You also get a remote control.

    Now, you have a hardware DVD decoder which feeds directly to your television and behaves (somewhat) like a set top player.

    If, in the future, you want to take a step up (and when you get a projector with RGBHV or DVI input) you could add a Holograph for increased quality and additional external inputs for SKY, Games console etc..

    Peter
     
  10. biggygiant

    biggygiant
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    thanks again for the feedback!

    badger : I am checking with Metz (And Rega, their UK support) about the VGA module. I think it costs about £75 or so, so would definitely be worth it if the specs look good - Ill let you know when I find out.

    meep : I'll be taking your advice and getting the xCard to begin with - and as you say follow it up with a Holo3D (or whatever other shiny toys that become available) when I get a projector that can really benefit from it!

    Now I just wanna start building the damn thing!! Wheres that DIGN case...

    =) Martin
     
  11. owain_thomas

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    Don't think you can use the xcard to display the desktop, AFAIK it's only the MPEG2 output that can be put through it, you still need to use the video card's output for the dektop (VGA, Svid, DVI)

    HTH
    Owain
     
  12. sonofdbn

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    Meep,
    I've read a bit about the PDI/XCard combo but am not sure how they actually connect. How do you feed the XCard signal to the PDI - is it some sort of ribbon connector? And then how is the Holograph signal sent to the Radeon?

    And if you don't mind, what Radeon do you have and what output connector do you use from the Radeon to your display?
     
  13. meep

    meep
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    The xcard has a digital ouput header. Teh Holograph has a digital input header. Immersive (and theire global reps) supply a special ribbon cable to connect the two. There are also several threads on forums.immersiveinc.com and avsforums abouty making up your own cable. The pin outs are provided etc.

    The holograph takes the raw but decoded signal from the PDI input and de-interlaces it as well as applying any other image parameters that are set in the holo software.

    If you have a holograph i, the image is then sent out of the computer via the video card. Data is transfered between the two obver the PCs PCI bus.

    If you have a holograph ii, you can set it up like above OR you have the option of purchasing an additional output daughtercard which has a variety of connectors (DVI etc.) for connecting directly to your display device. The advantage of this is that the video signal does not need to travers the PCI architecture at all or be processed by the video card. Therefore you get the purest possible signal to your display device.

    I have a H3D-i so I must use my display card to output. I have a Sapphire Radeon 9600 card. I use the DB-15 connector on this card and have a DB-15 to RGBHV-BNC cable connecting the video card to the 5x BNC connectors on the back of my CRT.

    Hope this helps.

    Peter
     
  14. meep

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  15. martbean

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    The Xcard sounds like exactly what I need too, (and it'd solve the problem of hooking up my PC and DVD player to one set of speakers) since my PC will be next to the TV. So, would the two displays be independent, ie. could I do normal stuff on my PC whilst watching a DVD on the telly?

    And what happens about audio? I noticed the Xcard has audio outputs, does it decode the video file and handle both the video and the audio?

    Martin:
    Regarding your question about setting up a PVR and system specs, if you're thinking ahead a 700mhz P3 might be a bit slow. If you've already got it, see how it goes, but if you're buying everything I'd recommend something faster (personally I'd go for an Athlon as they're a lot cheaper and pretty easy to overclock).

    Encoding compressed video on the fly is pretty CPU intensive and obviously there's a lot of disc writing going on so make sure it's a fast drive :)

    As for PSU, 200W *might* be OK, but I think ocne you add an Xcard and a capture/tuner card it might struggle. If you want to keep it quiet, I'd recommend the 300W Ultra-Quiet PSU from www.quietpc.co.uk . It's not silent but it's noticably quieter than a standard PSU. I would think 300W would be enough but if you go for a faster processor you might want to consider the 400W model. It's expensive, but you don't want to be deafened by the PC when you're watching a DVD.

    Martin.
    Erm, for the purposes of this thread:

    Martbean. :)
    --
    http://www.13mm.co.uk
    http://www.drownedinsound.com
     

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