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Software Showdown 4 a newbie...

Discussion in 'Desktop & Laptop Computers Forum' started by nickwild, Sep 23, 2005.

  1. nickwild

    nickwild
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    Hi just finalising my hardware choice for my HTPC and thought I'd just do some digging around about software choices and must admit to being perplexed by it all and now wondering whether I'm going for the right hardware :(

    Looked through archives but not found no thread that details and compares what all the software (sorry if I've missed one)

    1 What "all in one" solution should I choose... MCE, Meedio, Media Portal
    2 Can somebody explain "in overview" the functions of ffdshow, dscaler, powerstrip.
    3 What about DVD playing software... Theatretek, WindDVD, POwerDVD etc.

    Although I only have a SD Plasma at the mo, my primary goal is to maiximize the quality of my DVD playback, what bit of software (player and add ons) should I use for this. I will eventually get a HD plasma.

    I'd like to do the same for my Sky feed, but not sure whether my budget will run to Sweetspot... will Dscaler really improve the PQ of my sky through svid input and if so which lo-cost video board should I use that will function with Dscaler (was originally going for PVR150 but don't think it is supported)

    Thanks once again for all your help
     
  2. KraGorn

    KraGorn
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    Can't help with (1) because I don't use such programs, preferring stand-alone packages (see 3).


    Turning to 2:

    Just to set a context, you need to understand that a movie on a DVD is contained in a series of files where the video and audio are combined in a process known as 'encoding' into a format known as MPEG-2. A DVD player (be it softeare on a PC or a standalone player) reads the MPEG-2 data and decodes it, then splits the audio and video 'streams' and sends them on for processing and display (rendering).

    Note that a common term to refer to the decoder is 'codec' .. which is a contraction of COder/EnCoder .. and is technically incorrect since a player never encodes, however the term gets used anyway, the proper term would be 'decoder' and in the case of DVDs it's called an 'MPEG decoder'.

    With that in mind ...

    FFDSHOW - called a 'video post-processor' it's job is to take a video stream (such as the output from an MPEG decoder when playing back a DVD), ie. 'post' decoding, and manipulate it in one or more ways, ie. 'process' it. This encompasses such things as resizing (aka. scaling, the most common use of FFDSHOW) the image from, say, native DVD resolution of 720x576 (PAL) to 1280x720 (HDTV), as well as more subtle changes like sharpening/softening/noise reduction etc.

    DSCALER - a combination of post-processing as well as DVD decoding etc. In some ways it's an alternative to FFDSHOW but also does things FFDSHOW can't (and vice-versa). I've only used it in conjunction with a Sweetspot capture card (connecting my NTL STB to my PC) so can't really talk about its' uses.

    POWERSTRIP - allows a PC's video card to be set fo 'non-standard' resolutions. Until the recent past the drivers supplierd by ATI and NVidia (and others) only supported a limited number of resolutions and knew nothing about wide-screen, HDTV, plasma and other non-4:3 aspect ratios .. PSTRIP enabled you to set such sizes, it also provides easy ways to switch resolutions/refresh rates and get pixel-perfect timing. However, its' use is becoming less needed as both ATI and NVidia now support a variety of 16:9 aspect ratios as well as a limited form of custom resolution setting so you may not need PSTRIP any more.

    3) You list the 3 most popular players .. excluding ZoomPlayer because it doesn't come with an MPEG decoder needed to extract the video from the DVD, although there is an MPEG decoder with DScaler that ZP can use but I have only experimented with that some time ago and back then it wasn't up to much IMHO.

    Each player has its' strengths and weaknesses and some comparisons are very much personal taste .. I prefer a 'sharp' image and find WinDVD too 'soft', others prefer that .. to that end I use TheaterTek driving FFDSHOW. Part of the choice is the video card, general consensus seems to have settled on the 6600 and certainly I think the NVidia codecs (which TT comes with) in conjunction with that card give optimum results; that said I use an ATI 9700 for historical reasons and don't feel I'm missing anything of any great significance.


    Given you're using a plasma IMHO FFDSHOW will probably not benefit you greatly, since your display's resolution is little different from native DVD (and in fact I think has fewer lines) and so scaling isn't going to be noticeably improved.

    In your context DScaler is integral to the way Sweetspot works and gets your Sky input displayed, whether its' post-processing will improve much I can't say but again, given your display's resolution I have my doubts.

    Just so you know, I use a 1280x720p projector on to a 92" screen, at that size and resolutions picture quality (and imperfections) is easier to analyse and the results of tweaking FFDSHOW more obvious. As display size, and more importantly resolution, decreases such changes become less and less perceptible and so the 'pay back' for the time and effort expended to implement post-processing dimishes.

    HTH
     
  3. nickwild

    nickwild
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    Kragorn: Thanks very much for a perfect answer to points 2 and 3 - it's a lot clearer now.

    You mentioned the 6600 - I was going to go for the 6200 to save money; will TT with FFDshow still perform as well with this card
     
  4. KraGorn

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    From what I read the 6200 is probably also okay, I personally don't have any experience but for DVD playback I don't see any problems .. as far as performance is concerned, the MPEG decoders do make use of hardware-assistance from the GPU (the term given to the 'CPU' on a graphics card) but not much if any of the 3D processing used by games, as such therefore the 6200 should have enough power.

    FFDSHOW doesn't use the graphics card at all, instead it needs a good amount of CPU power once you start cranking up the scaling, noise reduction etc. For this you'll need at least a 3GHz P4, in practice nearly any machine you buy/build these days using current Intel or AMD processors will be more than enough, as long as you don't go for the cut-down ranges such as Celeron and Semperon (sp?) I would think.


    Glad I helped clarify what I agree is an area full of strange terms, jargon and confusing (and at times downright incorrect) terminology. :)
     
  5. nickwild

    nickwild
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    That's good news thanks again Kragorn.

    Anyone any thoughts on MCE, Media Portal or meedio?
     
  6. KraGorn

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    As I said before, I don't use a 'front end', I run TT from the desktop (or auto-play) so have never researched anything like this beyond idle curiosity .. that said, Meedio did seem to be pretty good from my brief encounter with it some months ago.

    Basically, with MCE you're getting an O/S with a user-friendly media player, the others are simply third-party Windows apps providing media player capability .. note that in MCE that's really the case as well, the media player is only a program sitting on top of a normal Windows Pro system (hacked a bit to remove some non-required networking and other components), the GUI there too can be terminated to leave you sitting on a normal desktop.

    All I can suggest is read the threads here, seems a good number of people use MCE 2005 and like it very much. The only 'gotcha' with MCE is that its a bit picky about the devices it's prepared to run so you'd need to check compatibility of any devices you intend to run .. that said, I do know Sweetspot runs in MCE and the 6200 is bound to (I don't know it but would be staggered if it didn't).
     

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