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A beginners alternative to HT pc?

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  • me2
    replied
    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.

    Leave a comment:


  • relder
    replied
    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.

    Leave a comment:


  • lhwidget
    replied
    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.

    Leave a comment:


  • me2
    replied
    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.

    Leave a comment:


  • me2
    replied
    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.

    Leave a comment:


  • DDF
    replied
    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

    Leave a comment:


  • Taterworks
    replied
    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.

    Leave a comment:


  • Woodfiend
    replied
    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.

    Leave a comment:


  • brianbunge
    replied
    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.

    Leave a comment:


  • Mayhem13
    replied
    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!

    Leave a comment:


  • the kid
    replied
    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.

    Leave a comment:


  • jinjuku
    replied
    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).

    Leave a comment:


  • ckmoore
    replied
    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

    Leave a comment:


  • brianbunge
    replied
    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.

    Leave a comment:


  • evilskillit
    replied
    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.

    Leave a comment:

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