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A beginners alternative to HT pc?

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  • #16
    Re: A beginners alternative to HT pc?

    I use my beat up 2008 model year Macbook (non-pro). The screen is shattered, the optical drive gave up, the batter has doubled in thickness, and the mouse button is stuck clicked. My AVR offers a VGA input but at the moment I use a widescreen LCD monitor to save bulb life on my projector. I bought a keyboard with a built-in touch pad that supports multi-touch and use the Mac's optical audio output to send the sound to my AVR. It's probably not completely ideal, but it serves my need.

    My point? Hit up craigslist for an old laptop, make sure its audio out doubles as an optical out, grab iTunes or whatever media player tickles your fancy and enjoy.

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    • #17
      Re: A beginners alternative to HT pc?

      Originally posted by Kevin G. View Post
      That's a pretty good base, XBMC Live on a laptop as an interface...(read: FREE) amazing amount of "tweak-ability" (so much so, that it got to be overwhelming for me, and I went back to media player/WMC...) But if you have time to research it...it plays about anything.
      If you have an old PC around, you can convert it to a FreeNAS box, add a few drives, and store everything....set up XBMC to point to, and read all the files...however you have them stored/encoded. All you really have invested are a few 1, or 1.5 tb drives, and they're , what 79 bux on sale?
      Originally posted by rone View Post
      Got a pentium 4 2.66GHz for free in a dumpster. Added DVI video (free) +1GB ram ($20) + 5.1 soundcard ($20) +DVI-HDMI converter ($5) Installed Ubuntu (free) and a 500GB HDD ($70) and I now have an HTPC. Next I need a wireless KB/mouse combo and I am totally set.
      OK, now you guys are talking my language. A year or so ago, I found a nice little P4, 3-something GHz no one was using. Very compact and quiet. So I plugged it into my TV and added a wireless keyboard. I use it a lot to watch videos on the couch. My daughter also bugs us to play "Be Our Guest" several times a day on YouTube. Anyway, works well. My only gripe is that it's hard to read WinXP from the other side of the room.

      I use XBMC for streaming videos from around the house sometimes, but that's been crashing on me a lot lately. I don't care enough to read through forums and debug exactly what's wrong. Honestly, I think XBMC may be too geeky with all its options. I'm no Mac fanboy, but sometimes I just want a program to "just work." :rolleyes:

      Anyway, two things I'm considering adjusting with this setup that has so far cost me zero dollars.
      1. Microsoft recently did a free "beta-ish" release of Windows 8 for developers. The interface looks super-cool, and definitely readable from a distance. Might solve my eyestrain issues with XP.

      2. Adding a video card. Right now I'm just using the video off the motherboard. I know people like to sell their old video cards on ebay, but I have no idea what were "good" video cards 1 or 2 generations ago (because that's about as recent as I'm willing to pay for)
      Isn't it about time we started answering rhetorical questions?

      Paul Carmody's DIY Audio Projects
      Twitter: @undefinition1

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      • #18
        Re: A beginners alternative to HT pc?

        WDTVs have wonderful interfaces. I am not sure by what criteria or reference point people are judging them but they have the best if not one of the best GUIs in the $<300. Unless you are trying to do all kinds of fancy server-related stuff or blu ray rip compression format yadda yadda, the WD will take care 99.9% of whatever you throw at it. I have both an old WDTV and a HTPC and have demo'd a dozen other media players. If you just want something that works out the box, WDTV is the way to go. No fuss, no muss. HTPCs are for tweakers - there's a lot of research/set up to suit your needs and it can be time consuming.

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        • #19
          Re: A beginners alternative to HT pc?

          Originally posted by Paul Carmody View Post
          Adding a video card. Right now I'm just using the video off the motherboard. I know people like to sell their old video cards on ebay, but I have no idea what were "good" video cards 1 or 2 generations ago (because that's about as recent as I'm willing to pay for)
          Look into the ATI Radeon 4000-5000 series. Great cards for HT. I could have sold ya mine before I ebayed it for $50. Heh
          It had a gig of ram on it, wasn't GDDR5 tho.

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          • #20
            Re: A beginners alternative to HT pc?

            Originally posted by Wushuliu View Post
            WDTVs have wonderful interfaces. I am not sure by what criteria or reference point people are judging them but they have the best if not one of the best GUIs in the $<300. Unless you are trying to do all kinds of fancy server-related stuff or blu ray rip compression format yadda yadda, the WD will take care 99.9% of whatever you throw at it. I have both an old WDTV and a HTPC and have demo'd a dozen other media players. If you just want something that works out the box, WDTV is the way to go. No fuss, no muss. HTPCs are for tweakers - there's a lot of research/set up to suit your needs and it can be time consuming.
            Thanks, this is what I was hoping to hear.
            Dan N.

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            • #21
              Re: A beginners alternative to HT pc?

              I was looking at the 180-987 that Parts Express just introduced. It connects to your home network and streams video from a PC to your TV. Unfortunately it does not support 5.1 surround since it has L&R audio output but for the price it looks like a decent unit.

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              • #22
                Re: A beginners alternative to HT pc?

                Originally posted by Paul Carmody View Post
                Anyway, two things I'm considering adjusting with this setup that has so far cost me zero dollars.
                1. Microsoft recently did a free "beta-ish" release of Windows 8 for developers. The interface looks super-cool, and definitely readable from a distance. Might solve my eyestrain issues with XP.

                2. Adding a video card. Right now I'm just using the video off the motherboard. I know people like to sell their old video cards on ebay, but I have no idea what were "good" video cards 1 or 2 generations ago (because that's about as recent as I'm willing to pay for)
                1: Windows 8 system requirements are steeper than windows 7. A friend of mine tried it on a machine with 1gb of ram and it was very unresponsive and crashed a few times. So thats probably not going to be a good way to go for old hardware. You could look into MythTV, MythBuntu or something like that. Its linux so obviously the set up might be a bit of a headache for you if you're not into that stuff, but once its going it "Just works"

                2: Video card: The main improvement out of going with a graphics card vs on board will be if you get DVI or HDMI output instead of VGA so you're all digital. Other than that 2d is 2d and you probably won't see a lot of difference between a really expensive video card and the cheapest one you can find. Some video cards can do acceleration of video playback and take some load off the CPU, which helps old slow computers play back 1080p. But you need to have a video card that supports it, and a player software that supports it as well, so there is a bit of research involved there.

                So if you want to evolve the project beyond where it is now you're probably going to have to put in a bit of work one way or another, or just replace it with an appliance of some sort.

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                • #23
                  Re: A beginners alternative to HT pc?

                  I'm switching everything in the house to Mac/Apple. We've all got iPhones and iPads and we are down to one old Acerbic laptop between 3 people. So we will use the iPads for everyday stuff and then I'm getting a Mac mini to store anything important and any heavy computing we need. I'll also load Plex for use with all our media. I've looked at some demos on YouTube and it looks amazing.

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                  • #24
                    Re: A beginners alternative to HT pc?

                    Here is a hybrid option. Media box/PC. Very, very small

                    http://techreport.com/articles.x/21556

                    Zotac Zbox Nano

                    My projects
                    https://picasaweb.google.com/112307725038877176664

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                    • #25
                      Re: A beginners alternative to HT pc?

                      Originally posted by DDF View Post
                      Using both a laptop as an HTPC and buying a competitor to the WD box, I vote for the media box. There are many competitors to the WD brand, and I picked one that played more formats and had better video quality. There are lots of reviews and comparisons out there.

                      My problem with the HTPC is the windows updates required, and the Windows occassionally putting the wifi ahead of the soundcard, leading to gaps in music playback.
                      1. Turn automatic updates off
                      2. Set the processor scheduling for backround tasks
                      3. In MSConfig turn off any start up applications that aren't necessary
                      4. I don't run with Anti-virus since I don't surf the web

                      While I haven't looked for awhile I didn't see anything at the time come close to MCE's well thought out interface. Add to that the ability to extend it with MCE add-ons like My Movies, iPhone control with Logitech or Ncontrol etc...

                      Check out thegreenbutton.com sometime. My setup cost me $270. Not to bad for a Win7 machine (2GB RAM/500GB HD).

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                      • #26
                        Re: A beginners alternative to HT pc?

                        I picked up the Argosy HV335T for $90. Plays sooo many file types. I am slowly copying all of my 300 movies onto a 2tb (hope they all fit) internal drive. So far so good. The product states it also reads blu ray & their menus! Haven't gotten that far yet.

                        I have it connected via hdmi into my receiver. Works nice. So far no patches needed for any reason. I have connected a couple different brands/sizes of external drives to it and it reads them fine as well.

                        GUI? eh....for just music, simple is fine with me.
                        If dynamite was dangerous, do you think they'd sell it to an idiot like me?

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                        • #27
                          Re: A beginners alternative to HT pc?

                          Originally posted by brianbunge View Post
                          I'm switching everything in the house to Mac/Apple. We've all got iPhones and iPads and we are down to one old Acerbic laptop between 3 people. So we will use the iPads for everyday stuff and then I'm getting a Mac mini to store anything important and any heavy computing we need. I'll also load Plex for use with all our media. I've looked at some demos on YouTube and it looks amazing.
                          Consider the Time Capsule 2TB Nas and wirelessN router. Very nice and works extremely well with an all apple network. Wireless throughput tested better than most N routers at CNet.

                          Wait till iPad mirroring for ATV2 hits in iOS5!

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                          • #28
                            Re: A beginners alternative to HT pc?

                            Originally posted by Mayhem13 View Post
                            Consider the Time Capsule 2TB Nas and wirelessN router. Very nice and works extremely well with an all apple network. Wireless throughput tested better than most N routers at CNet.

                            Wait till iPad mirroring for ATV2 hits in iOS5!
                            I already purchased an Airport Extreme and figured I'd pick up a good external drive as well. So far I have a 1GB Seagate external drive that's never been used that I'll probably start with and then eventually purchase one of the expandable drive options such as the OWC QX2.

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                            • #29
                              Re: A beginners alternative to HT pc?

                              +2 on the XBMC and acer revo combo. XBMC has the best user interface and the most customization (I think Plex on the mac mini comes close though in GUI) and the revo is super cheap. Myself I have a quad core I7 running XBMC with a Radeon 6750 and 4 TB of memory devoted to movies......networked with my AV rack. They have XBMC so slick and optimized though that you can run it on a thumb drive if need be so you don't need a screaming computer. Also XBMC offers tons of options/flavors/skins and plays about every type of file format you could imagine. Look for some examples on youtube.

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                              • #30
                                Re: A beginners alternative to HT pc?

                                The Dell Optiplex 160 "Tiny Desktop" is completely passive and based on the Intel Atom. Hook it up to an external USB DAC, and get a DVI-to-HDMI converter cable. Done.
                                Best Regards,

                                Rory Buszka

                                Taterworks Audio

                                "The work of the individual still remains the spark which moves mankind ahead, even more than teamwork." - Igor I. Sikorsky

                                If it works, but you don't know why it works, then you haven't done any engineering.

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