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The Otaku's Guide to Building a HTPC


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Big Hed



Joined: 04 May 2006
Posts: 1607
Location: Melbourne, Australia

PostPosted: Wed Oct 08, 2008 11:41 pm Reply with quote
Wow, thanks a lot for this. I haven't read it yet, but just skimming through it looks comprehensive. I'll be looking at this later, when I have some time.
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vtnwesley



Joined: 10 Jun 2007
Posts: 171
Location: Natrona Heights, PA

PostPosted: Wed Oct 08, 2008 11:50 pm Reply with quote
Obviously, the short version of the story is software doesn't work. People take for granted many things in the computer world. 3-D processing, HD video decoding, and multimedia interoperability are all still relatively new. They aren't all quite baked yet. These days more flaws get entered into the formula than actually get fixed.

Depending on what you are doing, you want to try to stick it out with pre-made set top boxes, and avoid using computers (be it OSX, Windows, or Linux!) for certain specific things. As someone who loved computers and technology in general, I assure you it is no exaggeration to say do NOT use a PC for a DVR and unless you have certain specific titles in mind, avoid it for gaming if you at all can.

... unless you are a hands-on masochistic type.
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Vulcannis



Joined: 21 Jan 2008
Posts: 39

PostPosted: Wed Oct 08, 2008 11:51 pm Reply with quote
Nice article, made me recall fondly the joy of having a nice, custom machine and how much a hate actually putting them together anymore. I guess all the ribbon cables and IRQ conflicts over the years burned me out.

I've had a couple media PC's over the years now, and while I used SageTV for the good old DVR functions I still use plain old Media Player Classic with CCCP to watch video files and DVD's. I've got a BD drive as well, but I still don't own a Blu-ray disc... shoulda waited on that, I guess. I've been writing a front-end app to watch anime files, intending to control it with my remote and have it use MPC and anidb... but it's so easy to just use a wireless mouse and plain old Windows Explorer that I can't muster the motivation to finish it. My machines have been pretty solid though--I've gone half a year without touching the keyboard before, even with wireless-N being so flaky (anyone considering it, seriously not worth it, stick to G.)
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Geashu



Joined: 08 Oct 2008
Posts: 2

PostPosted: Thu Oct 09, 2008 12:22 am Reply with quote
The world of the HTPC is fun, often tricky, sometimes frustrating, but, for the most part really really cool. I am an avocate of the HTPC and use one regularly. The article was a tad misleading on a few points, that of certain software not being available in 64 bit versions, does not make them uninstallable on a 64 bit operating system. I use the Haali Media Splitter all day long on my 64 bit Media Center PC with 8 Gigs of Ram. Having plenty of RAM is one of the best reasons to make the jump to 64 bit. The best part of having a Home Theater PC is, you can forget about burning DVDs and cluttering your life with silver sharpieed objects of the past. Most anime is available in High Definition in the non retail realm, but when you go to purchas some of the great anime that you have been previewing, you get stuck with DVD quality. I mean what is that about? Anyway, things get even better when you add a NAS or Windows Home Server, streaming media to your Xbox 360 or HTPC, WOW!!!
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jsevakis
ANN Director of New Media


Joined: 28 Jul 2003
Posts: 1510
Location: Los Angeles, CA

PostPosted: Thu Oct 09, 2008 12:27 am Reply with quote
Sure you can use the 32-bit Haali Media Splitter on a 64-bit system, but it won't be usable within Vista Media Center. Which, in a HTPC, is kind of the point, in my book.

HD quality is definitely something that legal anime distribution needs to get a handle on, and fast. It's an absolutely embarrassing situation that internet bootlegs offer better quality than legal product.
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zanarkand princess



Joined: 27 Oct 2007
Posts: 1484

PostPosted: Thu Oct 09, 2008 12:30 am Reply with quote
lol sounds like you had a good time Laughing I have been using vista since may 30th only because it the computer I was getting didn't have an option to come with xp. It's not as bad as everyone says and the media center works pretty well I've always been a windows girl though and while I understand all the reasons people rave about mac's I think I'm gonna stick it out with microsoft....But I do feel your pain about that custom computer and then using it and needing to mess with it some more because it doesn't work the way you want....It's enough to make you want to throw the whole thing out the window.
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bglassbrook



Joined: 29 Aug 2006
Posts: 1075
Location: Gaithersburg, MD

PostPosted: Thu Oct 09, 2008 1:01 am Reply with quote
Well, I saw two problems right off the start.
1 - You should never buy ATI products unless price is the ONLY factor (including but not limited to: features, reliability, support, and your time & sanity.)
2 - For the price paid, you should have gotten a purple (Blu/HD-/DVD) drive ... not because you clearly have a large stash, but why not get extra functionality for $50 less?

Though if you went into a 64-bit OS installation blind, I can definitely see how that could make things wonkier than necessary. At least you had "fun" and got what you wanted for less than a third of a retail build. Dropping my first Vista box on someone later this week, so should be interesting to see how it all turned out.
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samuelp



Joined: 25 Nov 2007
Posts: 1486
Location: Tokyo, Japan

PostPosted: Thu Oct 09, 2008 1:23 am Reply with quote
Another important factor for HTPC builds, especially for home-theater like conditions is the noise of the computer itself.

The case you got seems pretty decent when it comes to silent computing, but if you are willing to spend a bit more for some of the basic computer components such as a case with a 120 mm or larger fan with a speed switch (or bios controlled)... [note, the larger the fan, the quieter]
Also, getting an higher quality power supply with a load based controller for its fan can not only save you money on your energy bill, but also be much quieter.
The biggest change, however, would be buying a nice after market heatsink for your processesor. The ones that come with the chips cool well enough, but they tend to be really loud and not work well at all at low fan speeds. Splurge for a Zalman (low profile) and a nice case with insulated sides and a 120 mm exhaust fan (I recommend Antec) and you can turn a 50 db system into a 20 db system that's quieter than your TV.
Some other hints for quiet computing:
Rubber mounts for the hard drive also helps a lot to keep hard drive noise down.
Consider passive cooling for your CPU, if your case has room for it... Those heat sinks are massive (e.g. the scythe ninja and its comrades), but totally silent, obviously.
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jsevakis
ANN Director of New Media


Joined: 28 Jul 2003
Posts: 1510
Location: Los Angeles, CA

PostPosted: Thu Oct 09, 2008 1:23 am Reply with quote
bglassbrook wrote:
Well, I saw two problems right off the start.
1 - You should never buy ATI products unless price is the ONLY factor (including but not limited to: features, reliability, support, and your time & sanity.)


Video card companies of choice seem to be as divisive as religion and politics; I've major complaints from other people about GeForce. At any rate, as I needed component HD video out AND low-profile, my options were really limited. I'll be replacing this soon, but honestly I think most of my video card/driver related issues are now ironed out.

bglassbrook wrote:
2 - For the price paid, you should have gotten a purple (Blu/HD-/DVD) drive ... not because you clearly have a large stash, but why not get extra functionality for $50 less?


Wasn't $50 less when I bought it... Anime cry

Quote:
Though if you went into a 64-bit OS installation blind, I can definitely see how that could make things wonkier than necessary.


Surprisingly, I tried both versions before writing this article and actually had better luck with the x64 version. Haali compatibility notwithstanding, the Vista x64 has fewer obvious bugs (media files on DVD-R were COMPLETELY unusable on x86,) and I'm getting slightly better BD and ffdshow performance. All the bugs I'm getting now were issues on the x86 install too.

Seriously guys, try xbmc. It's free, and even in its beta state it's better than Media Center if you don't care about the DVR capabilities.
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fighterholic



Joined: 28 Sep 2005
Posts: 9193

PostPosted: Thu Oct 09, 2008 1:56 am Reply with quote
I've been wanting to build my own powerhouse, but have not had the time and most certainly not the money to invest in it recently. One thing I'm curious about was your saying at the end not to use codecs, Justin. I'm sure I missed it somewhere in the article, but does your saying not to use codecs mean that the programs you install are able to deal with said video files and their formats?
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Gnathonic



Joined: 31 Aug 2004
Posts: 3

PostPosted: Thu Oct 09, 2008 2:12 am Reply with quote
I built a HTPC November of last year. Was a rather good system. Ran on Vista Ultimate 64-bit. Lots of little custom scripts for working with media files on it. Had a lot of fun programming a media indexer (vb.net) and web page with search (php) to manage access to the files on that system and other systems that would read files from it (we ended up dropping that project as simple windows navigation if setup correctly is better).

I did mess around with both windows media center, and MediaPortal... Verdict: Unacceptable.
When it comes to browsing media the standard windows interface (even more so in vista) is far superior to what was offered in HTPC software. Mind you the setup I was making this system for did not need DVR as TV just isn't received where I was going to install the system, and internet was not going to play a part on the system either as it would be without.

Ultimately though the end result of my efforts was more of a computer that hooked up to a HDTV and surround sound system, than it was a setup that felt like XBMC (XBMC can easily be said to be the standard in HTCP interface... if only it could work as a DVR).

Almost anyone can build a non-agrivating HTPC as long as they can make room for a good wireless keyboard and mouse and escape the notation that something attached to a TV needs a remote.

Edit: I used the CCCP for codecs and used Zoomplayer (free) for video playback, with the exception of DVD ISO's which I set to be played through VLC. DVD encoding was done with a set of batch files that 1. ran dvd decrypter 2. ran handbrake with a set of settings based of the script selected (one batch for live action and one for animated, Handbrake can automatically (with the right switches) detect AR, deinterlace, and trim borders) 3. deleted intermediate files. I used Winamp for audio, with CDeX for ripping.


Last edited by Gnathonic on Thu Oct 09, 2008 2:27 am; edited 1 time in total
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Ninjazz



Joined: 09 Oct 2008
Posts: 1
Location: Japan

PostPosted: Thu Oct 09, 2008 2:26 am Reply with quote
Quote:
Video card companies of choice seem to be as divisive as religion and politics; I've major complaints from other people about GeForce. At any rate, as I needed component HD video out AND low-profile, my options were really limited. I'll be replacing this soon, but honestly I think most of my video card/driver related issues are now ironed out.

Not quite. Generally speaking, it's been that ATI makes slightly better hardware, but has horrible software and drivers, where nVidia (Makers of the GeForce) makes much more stable drivers. However recently it appears that nVidia has come to the top for hardware as well. If you want compatibility and ease of use, go nVidia. I've built dozens upon dozens of machines and will tell you from experience, ATI provides a nifty headache where nVidia does not.

Also, being a longtime user of HTPCs myself, I'm all for codecs. Like someone previously mentioned, the CCCP codec (Combined Community Codec Pack) is an AWESOME package, and is really everything you need for every format in one tidy little install. It's all I use now.
I don't presonally use DVR functionality and such, nor a "real" remote, but instead have a Logitech Mediplay mouse. It's a bit dated, but works really well, has good range, and can function like a remote. Aside from the blu-ray stuff (which I can't justify spending money on) The codecs and good old WinXP will get you running just fine. Oh and for stability? My latest HTPC (running all low-profile cards, including video and sound) I have setup with a HD projector, and 5.1 surround sound system...has been for a little over a year and a half now, and I can't think of one time where it's crashed.
(Spent around $700 total on the computer.) I also use it as an extra gaming machine for LANs when we're one computer short.

Not trying to sound snooty with this or anything. Just if you do a little bit more research on the parts you get before hand, you'll save a LOT of headache later. Most first-time PC builders tend to just stick whatever sounds good into a machine without worrying a lot about quality of parts or compatibility. This stuff is really important though, don't just look at the $$.
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h8GWB



Joined: 24 Apr 2006
Posts: 10
Location: Avoiding NYC

PostPosted: Thu Oct 09, 2008 2:34 am Reply with quote
Tip: you also should've bought your cables on Newegg, even if you have to wait a day. I never buy cables from brick-n-mortar anymore (even from Microcenter, which is usually cheap and only 10 min away) because of the horrendous markup. (Store clerk: "You want a 10 ft HMDI cable for less than $20?!! BLASPHEMY!!!") You know, since you were doing your RMA anyway.

I also despise Vista, despite me thinking Macs are overrated, noncompetative, Steve Jobs love-whoring.

Odd, I feel like a troll.
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Roy9076



Joined: 06 Jan 2006
Posts: 286
Location: California

PostPosted: Thu Oct 09, 2008 2:36 am Reply with quote
What an interesting way on building a HTPC! Well, I use linux myself and I'm familiar on how to play around with MythTV. For the longest time I wanted to do it on the old PS2 system or even a Dreamcast and this is something to inspire on getting it done. Then again my 15" Dell Inpiron 2200 is sufficient enough. Then again I have a computer that has Arch Linux and emuating Windows 2000 and a PS3 with Yellow Dog Linux.
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Tamaria



Joined: 21 Oct 2007
Posts: 1442
Location: De Achterhoek

PostPosted: Thu Oct 09, 2008 2:46 am Reply with quote
That article makes me want to build a HTPC. Unfortunatelly, I don't need something like that, so it would be kind of silly to spend money on it Anime smile + sweatdrop

I have a laptop that I use as an extremely low-end multimedia player-like-thingy. Had a lot of fun with ATI drivers and the complete uselessness of S-video. At one point I went MacGuyver on the cable and finally got a clear picture. It was worth it, I now have a portable karaoke machine/multimedia player that I can hook up to pretty much any TV. And it's becoming more useless everyday, because it has been outdated for for 3+ years Very Happy
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