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A beginners alternative to HT pc?

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  • #31
    Re: A beginners alternative to HT pc?

    The Dell is $630 in Canada. And in a wireless keyboard and mouse and the pita that it entails to use these on the couch (is a wireless keyboard really a better solution than a remote for basic media playback?), another $100 at least for a dac and I just don't get the whole htpc thing.

    For $150-$200 all in I can play any media file, with full usb stick and external HD support, a great UI, internet connectivity and it comes with a remote. A Tv couch and a keyboard is an unholy combination

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    • #32
      Re: A beginners alternative to HT pc?

      Originally posted by dlneubec View Post
      Thanks, this is what I was hoping to hear.
      Sorry, there is no free lunch. You want something good, you either build it yourself or pay someone to build it for you.

      I bought a WD Live Plus Hub device about a month ago and returned it 3 days later.

      We largely bought it to get Netflix streams. Only the Netflix image quality on our 55" LCD looked terrible. And yet my buddy's image quality was pretty good. Turns out different Netflix devices have different image quality and the image from a PC is the very best.

      We could live with using a PC for Netflix. However, it didn't work for Shoutcast at all. It would connect, but the play lists weren't right at all. Even after the latest firmware update.

      Then there was the digital images issue. I'm an amateur photographer and it positively choked on 16MP D7000 images in JPEG and especially TIFF. Yes, it would display them, but it was slow and cumbersome.

      And then there is the issue of obsolescence. Players like that need a firmware upgrade every time there is a new file format, website change, content provider or hardware standard. In this industry, that is about every year or so.

      I'm building a HTPC. Actually, I'm building a complete MythTV system. http://www.mythtv.org/

      Yes, its more work. Yes, it will cost more. But it will do everything I need it to and I won't be throwing it out next year when its outdated.

      YMMV, but I doubt it.

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      • #33
        Re: A beginners alternative to HT pc?

        Originally posted by Taterworks View Post
        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.
        I've got a Dell Duo, running Fedora Linux and I absolutely love it. It is so useful in so many ways, I wonder how I lived without it.

        Tip. Put the DAC and HDMI card in a HTPC. Stream content from the Duo/ netbook/ tablet to the HTPC and have it do the heavy lifting.

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        • #34
          Re: A beginners alternative to HT pc?

          Hey Dan,
          I started with media players several years ago and found the user interfaces too restrictive. These devices are comparable to the WD player you're looking at in terms of their flexibility, and to a great extent their user interfaces are comparable.

          The problems arise in the "user's experience". It will work right out of the box, and will continue to do so until you update it's firmware. Then it may be better or broken (about a 75% / 25% split in my experience). Also, take a look at the manufacturer's forum section devoted to the device. It's easy to spot potential problems in the threads. Also also, get ready to use a forum as the device's primary mode of customer support, it appears that this is the way of the future...

          I realize where I wound up is quite a bit more expensive, about $600 to $750 a machine, and my server/client architecture is more complicated, but the ability to actually control the 10' interface so that it responds quickly, and is easily navigated eventually became the prime driver for my system design.

          This isn't quite fair though, because high audio and video quality were always the absolute primary requirements. This meant no stuttering on Bluray rips, no drop-outs in any media being played, no ticks, burps, clicks or farts from the sound card, and for me, dead quiet, high fidelity stereo (or 7.1) analog audio output.

          If you're interested in a fairly non-technical write-up, take a look at my website link in my signature below to see my system and my experiences while getting it running.

          The minimum I like to use for an HTPC client:
          Celeron E 3400 dual core CPU @ 2.4 GHz
          2 GB RAM
          Nvidia Fermi 430 video card (220 or later/faster with a passive heat sink will work well, and almost all software supports CUDA for video acceleration)
          Xonar DX sound card.

          Windows XP Pro, service pack 3, and auto updates on (I install them manually though).

          J.River Media Center v16, run in Theater Display mode.

          The HTPC is operated with a Harmony remote, using a Windows MCE Remote receiver.

          For the inevitable occasions when you have to re-boot, start something special, or you just want to surf the 'net, a wireless (RF) keyboard with a trackball (you can leave it under the couch when you aren't using it).

          This kind of system is quite a bit stouter than many people use for streaming music clients, but I have found the overhead of a high definition user interface on Windows will require this level of hardware to respond quickly and look good on a large flat screen TV from across the room (or up close). Most set-top boxes like the WD player won't put a really nice looking interface on a big TV.

          I probably should have lead with this, but for $200, the WD streaming appliance isn't a bad place to start. Zaph got a similar one about a year ago and liked it so much he wrote a blurb about it in his blog.

          I suspect you'll find yourself moving to a networked server/client system using HTPCs if you find the experience of using a computer as a primary source for most of your video and audio playback as rewarding and satisfactory as I did.

          Phil's experience with MAC systems could be a great help if you decide to go the Apple route, and I can't say enough good things about J.River's MC program on Windows (either XP or Win 7) with a sound card which supports an ASIO device driver.
          Jay T
          http://sites.google.com/site/lhwidgetssite/home

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          • #35
            Re: A beginners alternative to HT pc?

            I've been running MythTV for years. First via the KnoppMyth distribution which has now morphed into LinHES. It contains all you need to get MythTV running (software wise) and they've tried to make the setup pretty automatic.

            It works pretty well and the SW is free, but if you don't know UNIX/Linux, then you may have a hard time if something needs tweaking. If you have a junker PC laying around it's free to try however.

            I have it recording SD off Dish Network and HD stuff from the OTA antenna.

            The problem with the MythTV solutions is that Hollywood et. al. have made it hard to get HD sources (HDMI protection) from anything but OTA. So while I suppose I could get a Hauppauge HD-PVR and record off component from a Dish (or pick your source) receiver, it's quite a kludge.

            I have scripts that turn the recordings into Apple friendly format so I can stream shows to my iPad in the bedroom.

            I also use the box as a file server and backup since I have RAID protected 2TB of space.
            Copy of Lou C's speaker pages: http://www.rob-elder.com/LouC/speakers.html

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            • #36
              Re: A beginners alternative to HT pc?

              I've been using Linux as my sole OS for years. Since 2002, in fact. Of course there is a learning curve, but I find Linux support (via the Fedora users mailing list and various websites) to be very good. I would never, never go back to Windows. If I couldn't run Linux, I'd run OSX or whatever its called these days.

              I'm just setting up my Myth system. I'm using the HD-PVR on a HD satellite receiver. It is a bit of a kludge, as you say, but its also very versatile.

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