Lost on the road to the Perfect Home Theatre PC...

Discussion in 'Home Theater PC (HTPC) & Media Servers' started by movieholic1977, Feb 17, 2013.

  1. movieholic1977 Audiophyte

    movieholic1977
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    Greetings and thanks to those in advance,

    I am lost, so to speak, on the road to a perfect HTPC.

    I have 3 computers: 1 for Pinky or the Missus, 1 for Brain or me, and 1 for parts.

    What i want is:

    1 - A computer for Pinky for her to surf online and be able to do her online college with

    2 - A HTPC to watch movies on or display to a future projector fed screen, i also want this HTPC to be the brain in that i want to do some online gaming and maybe control the rest of the future equipment that would go along with the future projector.

    My questions are:

    How do i post to you guys what i currently have to be able to determine what needs to be fixed, or upgraded in order to assess my needs and wants?

    How do i determine what parts are the best for the perfect hybrid gaming and htpc?

    And lastly, how do i explain that its hard for me to understand htpc's and gaming since i do not know much about pc's in general?

    Thanks for the directions,

    Michael
  2. TLS Guy Audioholic Overlord

    TLS Guy
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    Welcome.

    So you want a computer based system to bring you nirvana, but you know next to nothing about computers. That is the short version of your post.

    Before we can help you, we need a budget. We also need to know more precisely what your skill sets and knowledge bass actually are.

    You can't post photographs yet, but you can list your equipment.

    I have just researched and built an HTPC that full fills my needs perfectly and has been really stable. My designs and ramblings were critiqued by two members here. I can certainly share the design, and it will work for extreme gaming if you upgrade the processor. everything else will work fine.

    Is this the sort of device you think you can build.

    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]

    In the rack

    [​IMG]

    The HTPC is the lower black box in the first rack on the right. The tower on the left is the audio workstation.

    Controlling your system is a much bigger issue, and it means having equipment that is able to be controlled in this fashion.

    A/V computer control form portable devices, and indeed whole home control is coming thing, and here if you have a lot of money. The CEDIA installers are into this in a big way now.

    If you do it, it will get you into Linux and Ubuntu and you will need to really know what you are doing by that point. This young lass can give you a glimpse of what you would be in for.
  3. ratso Full Audioholic

    ratso
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    i am also a beginner at this and have been poking around a lot of HTPC sites trying to get my knowledge base up. while the above is a great computer, i am not sure of the advice of giving an absolute beginner with little computer knowledge a linux build. the real issue as i see it is how far into gaming do you want to go. an intel i3 build can get you a small, quiet, and powerful computer that can do everything you asked for with the following qualifications. you can get one with integrated 4000 graphics (meaning you don't need an expensive separate graphics card which also can be hot and noisy and needs extra - sometimes a LOT extra - power to run). 4000 graphics can run most modern games at a fairly high graphics setting well, but it will NOT be a "full blown" cutting edge gaming system. if that is what you want, you are looking at a lot of extra money and complexity. as for OS, i would go with windows 7 or 8, whichever you are familiar with (check the other thread here). most of us use win 7 but it's really your preference. there are different ways to control your system remotely ranging from built in IR receivers (depending on your motherboard) to USB controllers, screen sharing from a laptop to full blown installs like mentioned above. good luck, before you go buying anything list your whole build ideas with parts list on a HTPC forum and others can tell you how/if to proceed.

    **edit - btw, i am not affiliated but what REALLY helped me and is worth the small amount he charges for it is assassin's blog at http://assassinhtpcblog.com/ it has some free stuff to look at to give you a feeling of what it's like. start with the hardware guide.
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2013
  4. movieholic1977 Audiophyte

    movieholic1977
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    Greetings,

    As far as a budget goes here are my options:

    Since i have Social Security, which is fixed, i can safely put $500 towards this on a monthly basis. Since $500 is available every month how many months do you think I should save in order to finalize this plan we seem to be planning?

    As far as Skill sets and Knowledge base:

    Since i would be saving $500 a month towards this gear, and since fear is an overriding concern of mine i would think it would be far safer to order the parts on a monthly basis as needed and take them to a shop for both repairs and install. This way i would get a warranty and possible a cheaper price?

    As far as listing equipment:

    Here is what i think i have, please feel free to show me the error of my ways as this is still new to me.

    Using CPU-Z i have:

    Intel Core i7 CPU 920 @ 2.67 ghz
    I think its DDR 3 with 4 gigs of memory
    ATI Radeon HD 3400 series video card

    I hope this is a good start towards the city of Nirvana that we all wish to go to, again please let me know what else i can provide.

    Thanks again for both this and any other advice,

    Michael
  5. ratso Full Audioholic

    ratso
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    you can easily get the parts separately, a few at a time as you can afford them - that's what i'm doing right now! and any local computer shop can assemble a computer for you, you don't have to do it yourself. the warranties are built into the parts (if you bought them new from a legit vendor of course), so if say your processor fails it is covered by intel's warranty. you might want to look at that free page for hardware i referenced above - an i7 build would be considered overkill by a lot of HTPC standards. not only does it cost more, but also more energy, more noise and more heat are the enemies of HTPC's. just to give you an idea, you can easily build a i3 HTPC for around $700 (a solid build with nice parts, not a budget build. you can go cheaper/more expensive as you wish).
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2013
  6. TLS Guy Audioholic Overlord

    TLS Guy
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    I will publish my HTPC build. I used an i3 integrated processor. It is fine. The device is excellent. I don't game and an i3 will be fine for most gaming. If you are an extreme gamer I advise installing the i5 integrated processor. My HTPC has I think become my most used peripheral. I would also not advise Linux for your build as you are a beginner. I would use windows 7 not 8. If you want to get into advanced system control will will need Linux I think.

    My build cost $1000 including remote wireless keyboard. If you copy my build and do it correctly and can guarantee a serviceable reliable machine.
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  7. movieholic1977 Audiophyte

    movieholic1977
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    Greetings:

    I am not quite following what was posted above so here are my current list of questions:

    Questions:

    1 - How do i identify and list all the current parts on the computer i am using now?
    2- Since i want to use this computer to play games on and watch movies on here is a "current" game that is coming out soon and the specs needed to play it:

    Recommended System Requirements:

    OS: Windows® XP SP3, Windows Vista SP 2, Windows® 7 or Windows 8
    Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.8GHz CPU equivalent or better
    Memory: 2GB RAM or more
    Video: GeForce 8800 or ATI Radeon HD 2900GT performance or better, 512MB+ video ram
    Sound: DirectX 9.0c compatible sound chip or onboard audio capability with the latest sound drivers
    Broadband Internet Connection Required

    3- Does my current machine even come close to these? if not where am i lagging behind?
    4- Right now i enjoy buying movies over the internet and watching them on my computer monitor, is there a way to take these files from the computer and show them on a projector screen of say 100" wide? This would be one of the future goals, as i need to get the basic parts

    I hope this help in any way.

    Maybe you could suggest a template for me to fill out so we know what parts I have and where the improvements need to be made?

    Thanks for the above posts and for any advice both now and later,

    Michael
  8. ratso Full Audioholic

    ratso
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    wait, so i guess I got a little lost here. so you have a current computer that you either want to upgrade or scavenge to make an HTPC, is that it?

    "Intel Core i7 CPU 920 @ 2.67 ghz
    I think its DDR 3 with 4 gigs of memory
    ATI Radeon HD 3400 series video card"

    i would think even an old i7 would be capable of running a HTPC, and the ram should fine. the graphics card would have to go and you would need to find out if you can run your projector and surround sound out. honestly if i were you, i would just drag your current rig into a computer store and have them look at it, tell them what you want to do and they can give you some idea of what's compatible, what's available and what needs to go.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2013
  9. TLS Guy Audioholic Overlord

    TLS Guy
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    I think he will be better off starting from scratch. By far and away the best route to HTPC is a mother board with HDMI that has HDCP code certification and the use of an integrated processor, so there is no separate sound and video cards.
  10. adwilk Audioholic Ninja

    adwilk
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    Starting from scratch is a great idea... building one from scratch with little no-how? Why do that when there are prebuilt options like the Mac Mini? :) Building is EASY- configuration sometimes not so much... Unless you just want to build a computer and appreciate the research and effort that goes into it- Why build? BUY! You get a system warranty- preinstalled OS- and support. Oh, and without sacrificing any performance... You'd be VERY hard pressed to convince me that in this situation that building a machine is good idea.

    Save for two months- go buy one, take "Pinky" out for a lovely dinner with the money and headaches you saved.
  11. TLS Guy Audioholic Overlord

    TLS Guy
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    In general I agree with you. I think it depends on whether he wants:-

    1). An educational experience.

    2). Has applications not catered for in this pop geared techno culture.

    In my case these devices like Mac Mini are quite useless and I shun them all largely. They are pretty much useless to me.

    Sure my HTPC build is expensive, but the nearest commercial product is 2.5 times the cost of mine and still does not meet the spec of mine.

    Since I have built my unit, I have loved it and it has become the peripheral I now use the most.

    Where it is feasible I design and build my own. However my principle criteria is that it be significantly better than any available commercial product and or be significantly cheaper. My HTPC qualifies on both counts.
  12. adwilk Audioholic Ninja

    adwilk
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    To the first quoted point: I personally think thats great.. AND I think its quite the feat- given your overall setup. Its clearly a great machine.

    To the second.. The $999 mac mini is as robust a machine as you could need for any of the uses for an HTPC at an incredibly small footprint and easy to use OS... What does yours do that it can't? How is it significantly better? I'm not arguing- I'm actually curious.. It seems that there's a "significant" pro/con list- your "better" is different than mine or someone elses.. I've built enough computers that I hope I never have to again.. being able to buy what I want is HUGE in the value column for me... BUT.. if your design "qualifies on both counts" then, I'm listening. Qualify your statement.
  13. TLS Guy Audioholic Overlord

    TLS Guy
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    OK.

    It is very fast to reboot, SD hard drive for operating system + 2 TB hard drive for storage.

    First class CD player, DVD player, Blue Ray player + burns all three.

    Excellent video up scaling.

    Remote key board operates anywhere in the studio.

    Superb audio and video quality.

    No Wi-Fi as there is easy wired access, but this could be easily added.

    Price the same, but my unit does a lot more, and I don't have to put up with Apple's proprietary junk. Apple is basically an outfit I hold in contempt, and use nothing made by them.

    If Steve Jobst was not the opinionated idiot he was, he would be alive today. His death was down to rejection of sensible advice. At the time he presented, that neuroendocrine tumor should have had a very good prognosis. By the time he had run the gamut of charlatans it was too late.
  14. adwilk Audioholic Ninja

    adwilk
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    I'm choosing to ignore your last paragraph.. I'm not sure its relevant.. actually I'm quite sure it isn't and had little bearing on how Apple operated. The only thing I see is that your box is capable of DISC playback and burning. I don't want discs at all.

    Proprietary junk? Like what? Superb Audio and Video? Benchmarked 1080p and Lossless audio is the same is the same is the same..

    That device and some of the newer intel mini boxes are more than enough for the average user...

    WE can at least agree that you, sir, are not the average user... and while its probably among the best the HTPC world has to offer.. its not for everybody...
  15. TLS Guy Audioholic Overlord

    TLS Guy
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    1080p and loss less should be equivalent, however I have not gone into what audio resolution and codecs are supported by the Apple product.

    In the classical arena hard media still leads soft by a wide margin, and likely to remain so in the near future. Streaming and gap less audio downloads are new to to the classical arena. The latter in my view seldom perfectly achieved. In our arena we need HD plus very high resolution loss less audio, and some of our works run over five hours in length. The whole Ring Cycle runs over 16 hours. Basically that still is most easily accomplished with hard media.

    I would say in my area of interest, moving away from hard media is just at the infancy stage. And in my view it likely will always require to some degree to inhabit a parallel universe, but this latter is hard to predict.
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  16. ratso Full Audioholic

    ratso
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    apple, god know why, has almost completely abandoned the home theater market. they don't even have front row anymore, and god knows it sucked compared to even a low brow home theater front end. and don't even get me started on itunes...
  17. Grador Audioholic Field Marshall

    Grador
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    As person who also has a very strong dislike of apple I must say TLS guy that almost every single thing you posted as a con for apple is incorrect. A mac mini can do everything the system you built will, with the exception of optical media as it seems that the current gen mini has no optical drive at all. There are no technical barriers between a mac and pc in terms of capability and there is plenty of software for both that work well. My media software of choice (XBMC) runs an virtually every platform for instance.

    It does on the other hand have a complete lack of space for expansion, but any small form factor computer will. Additionally I would say you can ALWAYS do better for the price than apple.

    Edit: The SSD point is valid, though macs tend to boot a little quicker than pre-win8 pcs.
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2013
  18. movieholic1977 Audiophyte

    movieholic1977
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    Ratso - i am using an i7 based computer now, and yes i want to know if its better:

    - to scavenge what i currently have, even though its hard to identify exactly what i have on this machine without your help
    - or to upgrade certain parts which would be cheaper

    the end goal would be to make both a gaming pc and an htpc on a budget of $500 saved per month so either 1,000 or 2,000 or more

    TLS Guy - i have no idea what you said, but i would be curious to ask:

    - what are the pros and cons of a separate video card and separate sound card as opposed to an integrated one?

    Adwilk - what kind of prebuilt machines are there, what stores would you recommend, i would prefer pc since MAC is foreign to me
    Everyone else - Pinky is using a core 2 quad q8200 2.33 ghz, Brain or me is using an i7 as written above.

    - what kind of htpc would be ideal for both a gaming machine and an htpc?
    - if i have an .avi on my main machine how would i get that to play on a larger projection screen? i am guessing a good video card would be used?

    Additionally:

    Thanks again for listening and helping.
  19. ratso Full Audioholic

    ratso
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    again, these other guys are much more knowledgeable than me. i don't really know if ANYTHING will be salvageable.

    this might turn out to be the big stumbling block. in order to build a HTPC you need a modern way to connect it to a home theater system (ie usually HDMI). as you notice, your computer doesn't have one. it's not as easy as simply buying a card with an HDMI input and plugging it into your existing computer, as your computer isn't HDCP compliant. HDCP code certification means your computer will pass the HDMI "handshake" and allow it to "talk" properly to your home theater equipment. again, if i were you, i would do one of two things: 1. take your computer to a shop and ask them what can be used and what can't. -or- 2. as number 1 probably won't get you very much, put the computer on ebay or craigs list, sell it to a friend, or give it to a family member and start fresh.

    if you are building a dual purpose HTPC/gaming computer you are really going to need a separate graphics card, integrated graphics won't really do it (well it will but not at very high game settings for most games). the above comments about graphics cards are true - they do make your system louder and hotter (again enemies of HTPC) but you have to realize this is also a trade off. some people are willing to have a slight noise increase to game. some aren't. i actually just placed an order for this (one of the most hated things in computers so get ready for some fur to fly): http://www.dell.com/us/p/alienware-x51/pd.aspx which has a dedicated graphics card in it. however, anandtech RAVES about this graphics card when used not for gaming but for HTPC use. this computer actually only uses the graphics card when needed and runs integrated graphics for less intensive use - i don't game so i'm not sure i will ever have it active.
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2013
  20. movieholic1977 Audiophyte

    movieholic1977
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    Ratso - so its obviously then to give my i7 to Pinky and maybe upgrade a few things to make it work as best as possible

    But when you say "start from scratch", what kind of specific parts would i need to take a look at. I was hoping for some kind of general push in the direction since for example there are tons of motherboards and cpu's which seems to be the best place to start.

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