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Building a cheap HTPC.

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doors666

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Hi Friends,

Did not know where to put this, so here it is in tv section.

So, finally I think I have the money to take good advice and go for an HTPC.

I am on a tight budget and lots of things will be done as an upgrade later, but to start with, I want to get a decent HTPC. 1080p is not much of a concern as I have a panasonic 42" pv8 which has a native resolution of 1024x768. I wont be upgrading my tv for atleast another 3-4 years and my HTPC will be obsolete by that time:)
Still, if I can get 1080p without spending too much of extra money, that would be fine with me.

The usage will be a lot of movies (dvds, divx, 720p, h264), music (classic rock, rock n roll, some metal, jazz, mostly cds, flacs, some mp3s also. I might use it a bit for some games also, though it probably wont be high end games.

I have a desktop pc, which I upgraded some time ago and I can pull out some parts from it.

Now I need to decide which components to choose.

Processor

AMD athlon dual core x2 5000+ 2.6GHz
Lowest price on the web - 3100

It might be cheaper on SP road, will check it out this weekend.

Memory

Initially, I might just put 1gb ram, will add another gig later. Is it enough for 720p.

I will be pull 1GB out of my desktop. Its 533 Mhz. Is the speed of RAM going to be an issue.

Hard disk
seagate barracuda 7200 rpm 160 gb hdd (already got it)
Will be adding a 1 TB or more later.

How many hard disks can a iBall baby hold, or one of those dvd player looking cabinets.

Motherboard

I plan to add a graphics card and sound card later, so motherboard should not be an issue. It should have decent enough inbuilt audio/video for the time being. Any suggestions. Which brands are generally considered good with AMD processors.

Still don’t have a clue on which one to get. I am leaning towards a cheap one, anything to keep in mind while getting one? What is the bare minimum

Please suggest some motherboard with the following specs.

4G mem capacity should be enough.
Lots of usb ports
800mhz fsb
IEEE 1394 (nice to have - if it does not cost too much extra to get one with firewire)

PCI Slots
Over a period of time, I will be adding a lot of components. How many internal cards can I add in a small cabinet. Motherboards usually support upto 4 pci cards of various flavours.
I will need the following
Video card
Sound card
Wireless card
Tv tuner card (external if I run out of ports).

Can the 4 PCI slots handle these 4 cards.
Any other cards that can be added to an HTPC.

Cabinet
iBall baby 307 cabinet.
Will be upgrading to a DVD player like cabinet later.

Power supply
What about power supply. What wattage power supply should I get? For my initial setup, I have a 300W (can also pull out the cheap 400W one from my desktop) power supply which is from ATX form factor pc. Can these be used in a micro ATX cabinet.

Can I buy the cabinet without the power supply. Every one is quoting the price for both on the web.

I will upgrade the power supply later.

Upgrades to be done later: I will be doing probably an upgrade a month, starting with a video card.

1. some nvidia card.
2. some sound card with spdif output. possibly creative, a cheap one as I probably wont be connecting the analog outputs to the receiver.
3. HTPC cabinet
4. bigger hard disk
5. wireless adaptor and wireless router.
6. wireless kbd and mouse
7. tv tuner card
8. probably a better power supply and better fans, heat sinks etc.

Video Card

If I buy a 300 bucks nvidia card e.g. 8500 gt with 512 mb RAM, is it enough for full HD. Will a better card give me better picture quality. How is the video quality from a lets say a 10k-20k card.

Basically what I want to know is if a more expensive card will give me better quality, or is it that after a certain threshold, they are pretty much the same.

Some of the motherboards have nvidia 6 and 7 series products in built. Is this a good decision to go for this, or an add-on card will give better performance. Are these enough for 1080p

What about RAM in the video card. Is 256MB enough or should I go for 512 MB. I am not much of a gamer, but still might want to try some out.

Sound card

I just want to be able to use SPDIF from the sound card and use my yamaha rxv596 receiver do the decoding. Is this a better approach or is it better to do the decoding in a good quality sound card and give analog outputs to the receiver. I will be upgrading the receiver also after some time, something more musical.


Thanx Guys for all your help
 

cmsajith

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Great, you are also in the same path as mine.
I believe you are planning for a dedicated HTPC (Even you can have a dual booting pc - one dedicated for HTPC and another for browsing / normal use so that the performance will not be affected for HTPC use.

I have not started searching for the parts, right now i am busy with some other project. For a reasonable HTPC, any dual core / a core2duo processor is enough. While choosing the mobo, its better go for a board with PCI-E slots (for latest display cards and sound cards) and onboard spdif out for audio (later if u r not satisfied with the sound, you can go for a dedicated sound card, better one is M-Audio Audiophile, Maya44, EMU, Asus Xonar etc.)

I think its better you go for a display card. One latest entry is there from ATI (HD4550, HD4670) specifically for HTPC use and occassional gaming. It has HDMI (audio included), DVI outs. If you have a HDMI compatible receiver, then this is more than enough for sound (7.1) and no need for spdif. Another option is to connect it to your TV thru' HDMI and take the audio out thru' digital coaxial out of the TV to receiver. I am planning to implement this option. This seems to be a very good card as per the reviews (try searching some prof. reviews). It can process the HD data without any cpu load (<8%). It costs around 3000 to 5000. No need for any expensive cards. There wont be any difference in HD playback and quality. Its better go for 512mb display card since the display card is going to process the HD data. The above mentioned card is having 512mb. (ATI Radeon HD 4670 & HD4550 Review - Reviews and Previews - TechEnclave)

Also for HD processing, system memory will not be much utilised. But if you are planning to use 677Mhz / 533Mhz memory, the mobo's full fsb speed will not be utilised. Also the memory modules should have the same bus speed. I doubt any 533Mhz will be available later.
 

dichkaun

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Nice and well put set of questions.
I'll be watching this thread closely as I myself am planning something similar few months down the road.
BTW, what is a HTPC cabinet?

~dich
 

cmsajith

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An HTPC is supposed to be put next to the TV, so aesthetically it should be similar to AVRs / other equipments. Also it should have low noice fans and proper cooling mechanism etc. Basically it a normal flatbed PC case with look and feel of an AVR, nothing else..
 

Teja

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So you finally decide that HTPC is the way to go :D
Welcome to the club. I am in the process of designing one for myself, so let me share some of the information I have gathered/researched.

Power Supply - Quite important, but don't spend lots of money on some fancy high-class stuff. I've found that the 400W ones that come with the cases are good enough, but they are bit too sensitive to power fluctuations and I don't think they can handle a pike or surge. So go a step-up and get a 500 or 550W supply that has some protection features. A thumb rule for PSUs is - the heavier the better. I've found some nice Taiwan made PSUs in my local market for about Rs 600/-.

Yes, you can buy a cabinet without PSU, the discount you get is 2 or 300/-. 300W is kinda low for driving a HTPC - but depends on the power needs of your components. You can do an audit - there are several calculators available on the web which will tell you how much power you need based on your system components. I would say you should go with atleast 400W.

CPU - I have 2.0 GHz CoreDuo (not Core2Duo) on all my office PCs and they play 1080p very well with 1GB DDR2 800MHz RAM. That said, I plan to get the cheapest Core2Duo for my HTPC just to have that extra power available in case I want to play some video games or do some graphics stuff on it. Of course, you could get a faster AMD for the money- cannot go wrong with either of them. CoreDuo 2GHz cost is Rs 2800/- and Core2Duo 2.4GHz is Rs 4700/-. Make sure you buy the retail kit with fan & heat-sink - they are more than enough for cooling a HTPC.

Motherboard - Get one with a built-in HDMI v1.3 port. This will save you a lot of hassle and you will get true digital work flow. No need to buy additional video & sound cards. You don't have to worry too much about CPU usage also as these MoBo's have onboard graphic & audio chipsets that are more than capable of playing movies. Heck, I am getting smooth 1080p from the VGA of the el-cheapo mercury motherboards in my office PCs.

For AMD you could pick a Gigabyte GA-MA74GM-S2H or MA78GM. (Sorry don't have exact pricing, but the 74 should be around 3K and the 78 4.5K). You get true 1.3 certified HDMI which can also carry HD audio signal, as well as separate coaxial or optical digital output for audio. You will save a bundle over buying separate video & audio cards.

For Intel, I am considering the Gigabyte GA-EG43M-S2H or Intel's own DG45ID - both around 6K. The bottom line is, I do not want to buy separate video & audio cards. I rather spend a bit more and a motherboard which does both.

But, if you plan to play video games, then you will want a separate video card. I cannot justify a separate audio card for any reason.

Memory - I suggest you buy a fresh 1GB stick of DDR2 800Mhz. Transcend costs only 800/- and cheaper brands are available as low as 600/-. Heck, at these prices you could probably go ahead and pick two sticks and feel happy ;)

KB & Mouse - Most people ignore this part in a HTPC, but in the absence of a remote control, you would want a wireless KB & Mouse. I have one that I brought from US (cost me $75 there two years back). I am sure they have become cheaper since then.

Or, if you load the Media Center Edition (MCE) of Windows, then I think several vendors now make USB remote controls for it. (Note to self - check this up)

Optical Drive - I initially wanted to put in a BlueRay drive. But they are not still easily available here. My cousin offered to bring one from US ($100), but it was only 2X. I am sure prices will fall soon and the drives will become freely available in India. So I let it pass and am making do with a Samsung SATA DVDRW that I bought a couple of months back for Rs 1150/-.

Hard drives - Seagate is a good choice. If & when you upgrade, do not buy one large disk. Instead go for two or three smaller disks and set-up a raid array. That way you will get better performance and reliability and won't loose any data (movies/songs) even if a drive fails.

Others - Most internal cables come with the PSU and the MoBo. No need to buy fancy after market stuff - they will do just fine. If you already don't have one, then invest in a good quality HDMI cable, preferably with gold/nickel-coated connectors as this will prevent rusting and improve signal transmission. You should find one under Rs 500. Do go overboard spending thousands on just one cable. (In my experience that Rs 500 Taiwanese cable performed just as well as a Rs 2000 Logitech cable - same goes for audio cables).

Good luck. Let us know how it goes.

Teja
 

moserw

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Depends...
Good details Teja. I recently upgraded my system from a P4 2.4 GHz to Dual Core 2.2 GHz though not with an intention of building a HTPC since I already have an Onkyo for that, but it was mainly to get a new PC for the lowest cost. I went with Intel MB that supports up to Quad Core DG31PR costing Rs. 3300 and the processor cost Rs. 3400. I had 1 GB DDR II RAM and upgraded to 3 GB with Transcend costing Rs. 1600 for 2 GB. A Creative Inspire T6060 5.1 at Rs. 3750 nicely rounded it off to around 12K for a new system. My previous one cost me 55K just a couple of years ago. Talk about recession!

My main intention was to play music on my system hence the Creative 5.1 and also the odd Divx rip though my upscaling Philips DVD player, Panasonic TV, and Onkyo HT System do a much better job for DVDs and Divx rips. I will be getting an Asus Xonar audio card with HDMI 1.3 support to route the audio to the HT System to end up with a basic HTPC. I already have an NVIDIA card for gaming and for HD output.
 
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dichkaun

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cool. This thing can play FLAC too.
Next question would be when will is be available in India so that we can do an audition.

~dich
 

grubyhalo

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Depends...
Doors, I would keep Samsung HD on the top of my list as they are some of the quietest HD's I've used.
 

reju

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At the risk of shooting this down as a spoilsport - let me know whats your take on something like this. imo, i think this is pretty cool!

WD Introduces Ultra-Versatile HD Media Player - Multimedia News - TrustedReviews

Any comments?!

One should look for the Media Players with the Sigma 8635 chipset (or higher) for better playback of MKV HD movies. I am not sure if this model runs on it?

You can check here for a similar thread http://www.hifivision.com/dvd-players-dvd-hard-disk-recorders/2732-hd-networked-media-tank-nmt.html
 

dichkaun

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interesting stuff.
With one of these, it may not be worth building a HTPC.
The only advantage of HTPC over these would be games and upgradability. And of course the fun of building a box yourself.

Keep it coming guys.

~dich.
 

mohamednaseer

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Hi friends this is some input regarding HTPC.

Mother Board

Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H (rev. 2.0)

GIGABYTE - Product - Motherboard - Overview - GA-MA78GM-S2H (rev. 2.0)

-- Optical Out
-- Hdmi Out
-- DTS Connect which will convert stero to 5.1 DTS online
-- Am2 Plus processoer support
-- 16 GB memory Support
-- 4 Memory Slot
-- Integrated ATI Radeon HD3200 graphics (DirectX10)
-- Ultimate graphics performance with PCI-E 2.0 x16 interface with ATI
Hybrid CrossFireX support
--High quality 106dB SNR ALC889A HD audio

--Mother board has good soundcard and video card integrated if you are not satisfied you can go for seperate cards.


Processor

--AMD athlon dual core x2 5000+ 2.6GHz

Hard Disk

--You have to go for 320 gb with 16 mb buffer because all HD movies big in size.So You need more space.


Graphic Card

--GeForce 8600 GT Graphic card

RAM

--2*1 Gb corsair ram .If you purchase this we can get DDR bandwidth.If we put identical 2 * 1 gb ram will work parallel and we will get double bandwidth. In corsair you can get this as kit.



Monitor

--Benq HD200
--http://www.benq.co.in/products/LCD/?product=1403&page=specifications

This is the first monitor which will give 1920x1080 full hd resolution with price range of 13000 to 14000.
BenQ launches E2200HD in India

Capinet :

I am not having idea about HTPc capinet and i have not seen capinet for HTPC.But If you purchave mini capine you can not
add Graphics card and sound card further.

My HTPC

Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H
AMD athlon dual core x2 4000+
2*1 GB Corsair Ram Kit
Seagate 300 GB Hard Disk
GeForce 9600 GT Graphic Card
AuzenTech Auzen X-Fi Prelude 7.1
 

phantom76

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mohammed,

Nice HTPC you have. Are you running Vista?
How is the video performance when playing native 1080p files? Any lags? This is one of my biggest concern when going for integrated graphics.

Edit: Ooops. nevermind. I just noticed that you are using a separate video card too..
 
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mohamednaseer

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Hello phantom76 ,

I am using vista and i have no issues in running 1080p HD movies.But i still not able to get DTS HD sound .I am using powerDVD8 .Still i am trying to decode DTSHD audio.
 

doors666

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Hi Guys,

Got the PC over the weekend. still setting it up, so will post detailed reviews later.

Config:

AMD athlon x2 5000+ 2.6 GHz 2900/-
2gb ram 677 mhz transcend - pulled from desktop for the time being
LG dvd writer 22x 1050/-
Asus M2N-CM DVI 3350/-
IBall baby 306 - 1736/-
seagate 500gb 7200.11 32mb hdd
onboard display - NVidia geforce 7025 630a 256MB, with DVI-D
2 pci, 1 pci express x16

VT1708B/S 8 chqnnel. has spdif out on the motherboard.
Where can I get an SPDIF bracket.
GB LAN, 10 USB ports
4 sata slots

Running winxp pro sp3. still installing softwares. Have not connected yet to the tv and receiver.

I Am able to watch 720p movies h264 with no issues so far on my lcd 17" monitor. Dont have any 1080p material to try.

More later.

Thanx Guys
 

Teja

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Excellent!! Congratulations.

Thanks for the lead on the iBall Baby 306 cabinet. The product description says that it can be used both horizontally or vertically. I am looking for a horizontal cabinet, can you please give some more info on it? A few pics of the insides would be much appreciated.

Have fun with your new toy.

Just one tip - if you notice stuttering when playing back 1080p, it is most likely codec fault than lack of video processing power. Try CoreAVC - it superfast in decoding h264 encoded material.

- Teja
 

Teja

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I Am able to watch 720p movies h264 with no issues so far on my lcd 17" monitor. Dont have any 1080p material to try.

"Big Buck Bunny" is a short computer animated movie made using all free software. The movie is free to download and is available is a variety of formats (MP4, H264, OGG etc) and in several resolutions (1080p, 720p, 480p, iPod etc).

www.bigbuckbunny.org/index.php/download/

The 1080p H264 mov file is a 691MB download. You can download it direct or through a torrent. Try it - apart from testing the 1080p capabilities of your new HTPC, the movie itself is quite funny.

Cheers
Teja
 

realactivex

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Hi All,
Sorry, this post was not meant to hijack this discussion.. but i wanted to include it here as it was in the same context more or less. Moderator, please feel free to move it to any other appropriate place if you so think.

Despite being a wanderer in Hifivision for over an year, there are some terms which keep baffling me.
1. What is a HTPC (i know it is an acronym for home theatre PC), but wanted to know what is needed for a pc to be called a htpc.
i have a factory built DELL XPS420. it has vista home premium with the windows media center, intel quad core processors, 4GB ram, 500gb hard disk, pinnacle tv tuner card, ATI Radeon 2600 graphics card. Does this constitute a HTPC?
My graphics card has 2 dvi outputs, but the manufacturer says that i can output to hdmi video + audio. I have not yet tried it as i could nt get a dvi to hdmi cable, but i thought dvi was hdmi minus audio. please can you enlighten me on this?

2. I use the windows media center to watch my movies over dvd. Is there a better movie player?

3. What are the high def formats? and which one is the best (this question is assuming that i have a choice of formats to download and i want the highest PQ/AQ)

Regards
Murali
 
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