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Please help me put together a home theater PC

Old 12-17-03, 03:41 PM
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Please help me put together a home theater PC

Hi, I am not a hardware expert. I heard that a HTPC will offer better picture quality than normal DVD player. Would you guys help me put together one (I can assemble the parts by myself). I have about $800 to spend. Here are my requirements

1. DVI out from the graphics card. I have a TV (720p) that will accept digital DVI signal.
2. A sound card that will pass through the DD or DTS signal to my receiver. My receiver can handle 6.1 signal.
3. A dvd drive that can be modified as region free.
4. A second VGA out.
5. A software to play the DVD.

I will be installing XP Pro (from MSDN Universal) for this PC. I don't care whether it is a Pentium or AMD.


Thanks.

Edit: It would be nice also to have a "quiet" case.

Last edited by hoyalawya; 12-17-03 at 03:53 PM.
Old 12-17-03, 04:01 PM
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What TV do you have? What are the parameters of the DVI signat that it accepts.

I haven't done a DVI connection, I use VGA. I do know some sets are very picky about their input signal.

If you are only going to pass DD and DTS any sound card with a digital connection matching your receiver's will do the job (except for an early SB Live card). You can use a $20 cheapie. It's only if you want analog out that you have to be concerned.

The Pioneer DVD-120S is a nice slot-load drive that can be made rigion free. Toshibas as also highly regarded. Check here for firmware. http://pioneerdvd.rpc1.org/

The video card you get will probably have DVI and VGA out. ATI cards are generally regarded as being the best for HTPC. The 9600 series is the latest, most cost-effective line. Which model depends on whether you want to do gaming or play MS HD WMV files. That will also affect your choice of CPU power.

You'll want the computer to be quiet so that can affect your choice of CPU. More cooling, more noise.

WinDVD is a good software player.
Old 12-17-03, 04:08 PM
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What TV do you have? What are the parameters of the DVI signat that it accepts.
I have a Panasonic PT-50LC13. I am pretty sure that it can also accept a digital DVI signal. Currently, I am using that port on the TV for Bravo D1 DVD player. I won't be using it for gaming as this will only be a DVD player and internet browser only. Also, I would also like to play the HD version of T2 Extreme. I guess that I will hit my local hardware store this weekend to check out the availability and prices.

Last edited by hoyalawya; 12-17-03 at 04:10 PM.
Old 12-17-03, 04:18 PM
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I'd say go with a 2.5GHz P4 or faster (3+GHz would be even better). Quiet cooling will be an issue.

For video you should probably get a 9600 Pro.
Old 12-18-03, 08:53 AM
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Re: Please help me put together a home theater PC

Originally posted by hoyalawya
I heard that a HTPC will offer better picture quality than normal DVD player.
I don't think that can be true. (Can it)? I suppose if you're using the Black Friday $30 DVD player an HTPC will be capable of better quality, but I'd think a $150 progressive-scan, component-outputted DVD player would be just as good as what an HTPC could do.

I'm just guessing, though. Does anybody know?
Old 12-18-03, 10:16 AM
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I think that the scaler chip in a decent display card will beat out the progressive scan chip in most DVD players. Also, you will be able to "fine tune" the output picture (e.g., adding brightness & contrast) with some DVD playback software.
Old 12-18-03, 11:29 AM
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Yes, an HTPC will have a better picture quality for film-based material than pretty much any DVD player in its price range. And it's much more suitable for upgrading as better components (such as video cards) become available.

Where it excels in particular is scaling to match the input requirements of fixed-pixel type displays such as projectors, plasma, etc. The built-in scalers of those devices are rarely as good as the HTPC's, no matter what they cost. And an HTPC can easily match the quality of $5,000+ external scalers.
Old 12-18-03, 12:58 PM
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And it's much more suitable for upgrading as better components (such as video cards) become available.
And that is one of the major reasons I am thinking of switching to HTPC. During the last five years, I have had 6 DVD players. Four have died. While the most expensive of the bunch was the $599 2000 model Sony changer (cannot remember the model), if I had gone with HTPC from the get-go, I would have been saving money right now. Moreover, instead of always having a backup player, I can just buy a back-up DVD ROM drive (usually < $40).

I was looking to get Momitsu V880 as a DVI DVD region free player and it struck me. I do not want to be playing the update-your-DVD-player every six months anymore.
Old 12-18-03, 01:07 PM
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I'm curious, what kind of cases are generally used for an HTPC? I'm not planning on going for one in the near future, but if I ever did, I wouldn't want a tower case. I'd like something that I'd be able to fit in my entertainment unit, somewhat like the old-school cases, maybe a little smaller. Are there cases designed just for the HTPC?
Old 12-18-03, 01:17 PM
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Take a look here:

https://www.dcpuraty.com/store/Produ...CID=3&CAT=CASE

I have my case right in the component rack and use a wireless keyboard and mouse.
Old 12-18-03, 01:27 PM
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X, I did some research and have decided to get PowerDVD. What kind of remote would I need for the software? I could not find the PowerDVD remote that was offered on their site for $30 anywhere else on line. I took a look at Remote Selector link posted in the FAQ section and I still don't understand how it works. In order to use Remote Selector, will I need to

1. Buy Remote Selector, and
2. Buy a compatible remote?
Old 12-18-03, 01:30 PM
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This case is pretty sweet:



http://www.ahanix.com/ctg_htc.html

Dave
Old 12-18-03, 01:35 PM
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Originally posted by hoyalawya
X, I did some research and have decided to get PowerDVD. What kind of remote would I need for the software? I could not find the PowerDVD remote that was offered on their site for $30 anywhere else on line. I took a look at Remote Selector link posted in the FAQ section and I still don't understand how it works. In order to use Remote Selector, will I need to

1. Buy Remote Selector, and
2. Buy a compatible remote?
I don't know what you were looking for in terms of features, but I wouldn't get PowerDVD for the picture quality. I do use it on my notebook computer because it requires less horsepower, has slightly better controls, and the picture isn't as critical as on the RPTV. I haven't tried the absolute latest version (I think) but I sure haven't heard that it has come up to the quality of WinDVD.

I got a $5 credit card-sized remote and tried it a few times but found I didn't like it as much as using the mouse. So I have no good suggestions for you there.
Old 12-18-03, 01:41 PM
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I was reading another forum (AVS) and some people there recommends PowerDVD. Since DVD playback software are relatively inexpensive, I am thinking that I would buy another if I am not satisfied with PowerDVD.

Edit: plus I also want to try ffdshow to enhance the post processed DVD picture. Do you have any experience with ffdshow? Does it help improve PQ at a noticeable level?

Last edited by hoyalawya; 12-18-03 at 01:52 PM.
Old 12-18-03, 02:52 PM
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Originally posted by Dave99
This case is pretty sweet:

http://www.ahanix.com/ctg_htc.html

Dave
That is definitely sweet. Might have to swap out the case on the regular PC for that one. Tower PCs are sooooo 1990's
Old 11-24-04, 04:12 PM
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I'm thinking of building a inexpensive HTPC. What is generally regarded as one of the better TV cards?
Old 11-24-04, 10:11 PM
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For the sound, like X said, just about any Sound Blaster Live will do for the Dolby Digital, DTS, and PCM soundtracks on DVDs, and CD audio too. Now, these cards just have a small 1/4" SPDIF (Sony/Phillips Digital InterFace) output for digital audio on them. What you need to get is a small adapter at Radio Shack to connect to the SPDIF output on the card so that a coaxial digital cable can connect from it to your receiver. The adapter has a 1/4" mono plug on one end and an RCA jack on the other. It's part# 274-897. I'm not sure what you need to get if you need optical output, but it will certainly be more expensive.

If you want DVD-Audio compatibility, or you want to play those music DVDs with 24/96khz audio tracks, you'll need one of the Audigy (or maybe it's just the Audigy 2) cards, as they have the 24-bit audio capability. An Audigy would be overkill though for just DD/DTS/16-bit PCM.

Actually, you may not even need a sound card at all if your board has built-in audio. Just make sure it has some kind of SPDIF output.

As for the remote, one option you might want to consider is the Xbox DVD playback kit. A guy named Redcloud (at http://phaseone.sytes.net) who has written drivers for using the Xbox controllers on a PC has also written a driver for the remote dongle. You can wire it to your computer and use the Xbox remote (or a universal remote) for it. The remote application has settings for PowerDVD, WinDVD, and more.

Also, check out Reclock, which is a DirectShow filter. What it does is hard to explain, but basically it can give you smoother playback for video by changing the speed. I'm not sure about this, but I think it may be capable of slowing down PAL DVDs to play at the correct speed. With SPDIF output it will drop audio frames, but I can't hear the difference myself.

I've tried WinDVD, but for some reason I can't enable hardware acceleration for video and SPDIF for audio at the same time. Without hardware acceleration I'm seeing some nasty artifacting.

One more thing: unless you already have it or are getting a deal on it, I would save some money and go with XP Home Edition instead of Pro. I don't think Pro has anything extra you would even use, let alone need, for a HTPC.
Old 11-26-04, 06:51 PM
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Just wanted to say, what in interesting thread. I'm not really ready to go the HTPC, but I am in the middle of building a HT Room, so something to think about, no doubt.
Old 11-27-04, 08:47 AM
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If quality is your main concern, you might want to shy away from PowerDVD. While it is easy to use and suffices for most PC DVD users, viewing on a large 720p display could be much, much better.

First off invest in zoomplayer. http://www.inmatrix.com. Then decide on a dvd decoder, the best two out there right now would be either the nVidia 1.058 (especially when paired with a geforce 6x00) or the freeware Dscaler decoder (the decoder is free, but since it has no css key, you need to buy a program like Anydvd to strip the Css while it plays).

Then get FFDshow (works best on P4's or A64's) and set it to resize to your display resolution (or higher) and add whatever other processing you desire (I use a slight sharpness filter).
As far as hardware goes here's some recomendations:

CPU: A64 3000 - Run's cooler than a comparable p4 and cheaper.
Vid: Geforce 6600 either AGP or PCI-EX depending on Mobo
Sound:Here's where it gets tricky dependin on needs and connections, if DVD is your only concern and you'll use a digital connection to a reciever use the s/pdif on whatever mobo you select. If you want to use DVD-Audio, an Audigy 2 is your only option. If you don't think DVD-A is your thing but want the best 2-Channel sound you can get (CD, MP3...) go with something like the M-Audio Revolution or the Prodigy 7.1.

If you watch a lot of SDTV you may also want to consider a TV in card. If you have one based off of the BT878 chip or the newer conexant chip (can't remeber model), you can use Dscaler to scale your SDTV up to your displays native resolution. I find it does a much better job than most TV's internal line doublers, and it was just as good as the very expensive external scaler I compared it to.

If your willing to put the effort in and learn a lot, HTPC can offer better picture, just as good sound, and tons more flexability than ANY consumer electronics parts, ANY. But it does have it's drawbacks, do you have a wife/children? HTPC's aren't as user friendly as Consumer AV gear, I've been training my GF for two years and I still get calls at work "how do I do...". Another downside is reliability, who here hasn't had their computer crash, or not do something you want it to do? If you can troubleshoot and fix problems great, if not will you be willing to wait to have it fixed while that copy of (insert whatever new DVD you've been waiting months for) sits on your coffee table.

Anyways, just scout around avsforums and take in all you can. I've been using an HTPC for 3 Years and I would never think of going back to STB's.
Old 11-27-04, 11:01 AM
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Look into MythTV too, might want to combine your HTPC with a PVR
Old 11-27-04, 11:55 AM
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Originally posted by Blotto
If quality is your main concern, you might want to shy away from PowerDVD. While it is easy to use and suffices for most PC DVD users, viewing on a large 720p display could be much, much better.
I have to disagree with you concerning the quality of PowerDVD. I used to feel the same way but it has improved a lot in the newer versions.

WinDVD also provides a perfectly good picture.
Old 11-27-04, 03:14 PM
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I find the windvd filters just fine as well, but the stength of WinDVD is the app itself, and if one wants to use FFDshow as well, you'd have to use a player like zoomplayer. So why spend $30 for ZP and $70 for windvd, when you could spend $30 for Zoomplayer and $20 for the nVidia decoders. The nVidia filters (IMO) give a better PQ than WinDVD 6 at a cheaper price and Zoomplayer is much more robust than WinDVD with its support for almost any format you could throw at it.

As far as PowerDVD goes, I havn't tried version 6 yet, but as of 5 it had nothing on NVDVD and I havn't heard of any huge PQ improvements in the latest version.

One strength WinDVD/PowerDVD have is ease of use. Compared to Zoomplayer the setup is childs play, but after tweaking for a while Zoomplayer/NVDVD/FFDshow will give a better picture than any other DVD playback solution available, PC or not.
Old 11-27-04, 08:19 PM
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I wanted something that was small, yet fully customizable, so that rules out the Shuttle boxes. I ended up building into an Antec Aria case which is a little bigger than the Shuttles, but allows you to use a full size MicroATX board, so you can upgrade to your hearts content. Silence was a main concern for me and the Aria has sound deadening panels on it, and while it was dead silent for the first 10 minutes or so, the P4 3.2ghz Prescott I threw in there quickly turned the little case into a toaster oven, causing the 120mm thermally controlled fan to spin like a tornado. I put in a P4 2.4ghz Northwood (dropped temps almost 10C by itself), Zalman 7000 copper heatsink and modded a silent Nexus 80mm fan into the left side panel, and it's now whisper quiet. I use Meedio as the frontend and WinDVD6 Platinum to take advantage of the PAL TruSpeed function and I'm in heaven.

Here's a pic of the Aria:



Here's a pic of the Meedio frontend on my TV (ignore the mess, we're in the midst of remodeling )

Old 11-27-04, 11:29 PM
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matome: that is one sweet system

BTW I have tried PowerDVD 6 and for some reason it screwed some of my audio/video codecs so I go back to PowerDVD 5. I didn't use WinDVD because it causes some frequent hiccup during movies - I still haven't figured out why.
Old 11-29-04, 12:15 AM
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In WinDVD are you using that Trimension enhancement feature? I know that function is on it requires a lot of extra resources (2.8ghz P4 & 256MB RAM minimum).

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