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Author Topic: I'm ready to join the HTPC (home theater pc) revolution - what to get?  (Read 10093 times)
mouser
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« Reply #50 on: September 23, 2013, 03:35:02 AM »

Light Alloy looks neat.

When my 8+ year old 31" tube tv finally dies it will be nice to upgrade to a large pc-friendly flat screen..

Another hardware update: I swapped out a very hot-running 2009 low-profile video card for a new cool-running video card, and the difference in heat and noise has been very noticeable (and even marginally better video performance scores).  I'm much happier with the background noise of the machine at this point.
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Renegade
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« Reply #51 on: September 23, 2013, 10:02:52 AM »

Going in the opposite direction, a friend has built a A-class stereo system for about $10. He snapped up insanely great deals on 1970s to early 1990s top-end stereo equipment. Turntables. CD players. Amps. Speaker. The works. He could likely flip one of the systems for between $2-3k. He's building another system for me. It's just sick when he describes buying a $1,400 component for $1.50.

A lot of those components have all the inputs you need to connect to a computer with a decent audio card.

Anyways, just a bit of food for thought. If you can pick up a kickin' pair of JBL speakers for a few bucks, why not? The top-end stuff was made to last and can be bought for almost nothing today because people always want new stuff. Interested in new or performance?
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wraith808
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« Reply #52 on: September 23, 2013, 02:14:29 PM »

^ That's exactly what my friend does, and he's an audiophile and musician.  Even on his normal gaming desktop, he's connected to stereo equipment for the sound.
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mouser
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« Reply #53 on: September 25, 2013, 11:20:23 PM »

So..

What other gadgets, hardware, software do people set up once they have a working htpc in their living room?

Standard stuff is:
  • Play music
  • Play videos
  • Watch/listen to live streams (so an internet radio tool/plugin, tv watching tool/plugin)

Installing skype with a webcam seems neat.
Some nice full screen weather tools seem like a good idea.
Nice looking screensaver (aquarium).

What else?
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superboyac
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« Reply #54 on: July 23, 2015, 10:23:40 AM »

mouser, was wondering what your followup thoughts are.  My sister is asking for the same thing now so I'm looking into them.  I don't want to build an HTPC, and her budget is around the same as yours.  So after going through all this, what would you recommend now?

I saw some silent htpc computers on alibaba that look like you can load windows on it.  And they're pretty cheap, like $200.  If they can play 1080p mkv files smoothly...if it can handle an 8GB video file (2 hours), that would be ideal, but not exactly necessary.
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mouser
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« Reply #55 on: July 23, 2015, 11:46:27 AM »

I do have some followup thoughts, but they're not very useful in terms of specific hardware.

I have an htpc computer that I bought used on ebay.  It's basically a full pc, running windiows 7, in a case that looks and is sized like an audio component (though it is deeper than most).  I don't even remember the brand except to say that they are now out of business.  It has hdmi out and digital audio out -- but basically it's a standard pc just the form factor is different.

I run windows 7 with XBMC (now upgraded to latest Kodi edition).



What I can tell you is that I am really happy with it as a component of my media system.  It is a very cool thing, and for someone like me with a ton of music, it's a pretty cool way to browse and play music.

It is also fun for playing things like youtube videos and other downloaded videos.  And being a full windows machine it's convenient that I can run any program on it, whether it's burning or ripping cds, monitoring temperatures, or playing web streams of any kind with the browser.

It sleeps and wakes up perfectly with push of a button, which is really convenient, and a wireless mouse+keyboard combo makes typing full text pretty painless (much better than trying to do that with onscreen keyboard).



Having said that, here are a couple of other observations:  I intended to use the htpc to play dvds/blurays but gave up and bought a standalone blu-ray player.  The htpc/xbmc will play dvds but it's a bit slow and clunky and awkward, and blurays wont play without buying some software.  in the end a standalone bluray player was just more convenient.

As for sound from the fans -- mine is ok but it's definitely something i would pay attention to when shopping for a device -- to make sure reviews said it was quiet -- as that could be an annoying thing to discover if you bought a no-name brand that no one has reviewed yet.



Anyway, those are my thoughts -- sorry I can't advise on hardware specifics.  I can only say that an htpc is a pretty cool thing to have.



Here's my htpc:
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mouser
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« Reply #56 on: July 23, 2015, 12:12:20 PM »

A couple more observations:

Modern media devices now are all coming with overlapping services.  My tv has a netflix/hulu/amazonprime app, so does my htpc, so does my bluray player for that matter.
My stereo receiver and tv can play music and video files from usb sticks and from network connected devices.

So a standalone htpc is looking a little less essential these days..

If you have a modern hd tv and you use the tv as your speakers, then you may be able to play any audio and video files directly from the tv and a usb stick.

So a big question I think when deciding on something for a relative is, are they a very serious music/media person who is going to want to be able to browse and spend real time navigating through their media collection on a dedicated device (like me), or are they just going to want to watch netflix and an occasional video and audio file.  If the latter, then your best bet might be to simply make sure they have a nice big modern hd tv (the samsungs has nice good fast apps for netflix, etc.), and a big usb stick, and they can let the TV be their htpc.
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wraith808
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« Reply #57 on: July 23, 2015, 12:12:37 PM »

Looks like silverstone.  For a build, I can definitely recommend them.  But from a perspective of HTPC as standalone devices, yeah... they're going out in favor of devices that have that sort of functionality built into the firmware.  So I've moved to having a WD TV.  Haven't regretted giving up the HTPC.
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superboyac
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« Reply #58 on: July 23, 2015, 12:59:06 PM »

I just went back and checked out dirhaels post, that is a very slick build.

The request right now is just to play back video.  I checked the wd live box, and it can play all video including mkv.  Nice.  Perhaps I should avoid the whole building thing.

mouser, that is good advice I think at this point.  And tbh, i don't really want to build a pc again. 

I hate hearing about the death of the htpc, lol.  I'll never give it up.  I'll keep trying to make it smaller, and quieter, and more powerful, so that will never end.

wraith, can you give me an idea of the streaming power of the WD TV?  Does it have a hard time with anything, large mkv, bluray files?  How is seeking back and forth, pleasant?
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wraith808
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« Reply #59 on: July 23, 2015, 01:30:28 PM »

I just went back and checked out dirhaels post, that is a very slick build.

The request right now is just to play back video.  I checked the wd live box, and it can play all video including mkv.  Nice.  Perhaps I should avoid the whole building thing.

mouser, that is good advice I think at this point.  And tbh, i don't really want to build a pc again. 

I hate hearing about the death of the htpc, lol.  I'll never give it up.  I'll keep trying to make it smaller, and quieter, and more powerful, so that will never end.

wraith, can you give me an idea of the streaming power of the WD TV?  Does it have a hard time with anything, large mkv, bluray files?  How is seeking back and forth, pleasant?

Right now, I have the 1TB version in all locations but one.  I have my less used stuff on my NAS (and all the music) and my more commonly used stuff on my the Box.  Now, they're all over the house, so I get different response- it's based on reception.

I don't rip blu-ray, only DVDs as I'm trying to maximize space.

Within those constraints, the only time I've seen it have a hard time is if my other devices are having a hard time in the same location getting to the router.  It does take a bit to buffer if I'm on the NAS, but inherently it's fine and browsing is fine... so much so that the rest of the family who wouldn't touch the HTPC (too much work for watching a movie) are using it all the time and asking me to rip more DVDs.

I use MakeMKV for the rips, and it works fine.
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mouser
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« Reply #60 on: July 23, 2015, 01:34:45 PM »

thanks wraith -- actually I just looked it up, what i bought was a MainGear Axess htpc: http://www.maingear.com/custom/mediacenters/axess/

Quote
Perhaps I should avoid the whole building thing.

I think you've already answered that question -- building one is not just the one-time maintenance, its a commitment to maintenance over time and a real risk of headaches.  Buy them a standalone little device like you are considering.
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« Reply #61 on: July 23, 2015, 09:37:19 PM »

Earlier this year, I replaced a desktop PC that I had been using as an HTPC with this Zotac ZBOX-BI320-U-W2. I paid under $200 at the time.  It comes with a licensed copy of 64-bit Windows 8.1 preloaded on a 64GB SSD.  It has 2GB of RAM installed and supports up to 16GB, but the since the installed memory is on a single DIMM with one slot free, you can upgrade to 6GB very cheaply just by adding a 4GB laptop DIMM. The pre-installed SSD is an mSATA card, leaving the internal SATA slot free, so you can install a 2.5" HDD or SSD for additional internal storage. 

I'm very pleased with the unit.  It's tiny, completely silent and worked right out of the box without any hassles. Even installing additional RAM and an HDD was easy enough for a complete novice. It feels much snappier than the nominally much more powerful Core-2 Duo system it replaced.  While it may not be up to multitasking multiple browsers and desktop applications, it has no problem running any kind of multimedia, including streaming HD-video.  The integrated HDMI port supports 5.1 surround sound nicely through my receiver, which is actually more important to me than video, and with 4 USB 3.0 ports plus Gigabit Ethernet, it can connect to anything I want.

In the past, I've tended to recycle older systems for multimedia purposes, but this has been so much easier that I doubt I'll ever do that again.
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mouser
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« Reply #62 on: July 23, 2015, 09:42:23 PM »

xtabber's solution looks like the kind of one i might recommend to others.
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superboyac
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« Reply #63 on: July 23, 2015, 11:14:54 PM »

Earlier this year, I replaced a desktop PC that I had been using as an HTPC with this Zotac ZBOX-BI320-U-W2. I paid under $200 at the time.  It comes with a licensed copy of 64-bit Windows 8.1 preloaded on a 64GB SSD.  It has 2GB of RAM installed and supports up to 16GB, but the since the installed memory is on a single DIMM with one slot free, you can upgrade to 6GB very cheaply just by adding a 4GB laptop DIMM. The pre-installed SSD is an mSATA card, leaving the internal SATA slot free, so you can install a 2.5" HDD or SSD for additional internal storage. 

I'm very pleased with the unit.  It's tiny, completely silent and worked right out of the box without any hassles. Even installing additional RAM and an HDD was easy enough for a complete novice. It feels much snappier than the nominally much more powerful Core-2 Duo system it replaced.  While it may not be up to multitasking multiple browsers and desktop applications, it has no problem running any kind of multimedia, including streaming HD-video.  The integrated HDMI port supports 5.1 surround sound nicely through my receiver, which is actually more important to me than video, and with 4 USB 3.0 ports plus Gigabit Ethernet, it can connect to anything I want.

In the past, I've tended to recycle older systems for multimedia purposes, but this has been so much easier that I doubt I'll ever do that again.

Thanks xtabber and mouser.  I think I am convinced of the zbox.
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mouser
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« Reply #64 on: July 23, 2015, 11:29:07 PM »

well, i think we should distinguish two kinds of devices, that may have different roles to play.

You found the WD TV -- that will have LESS flexibility, LESS expandability, and LESS POWER (?) -- but it will be a set top box, preinstalled with software ready to be a media player with a nice interface.
I gather that the Zbox unit is basically a windows box, designed for use as an htpc.  So you'll still have to install media software, show the person how to run the right programs, etc.

So for setting up a non-pc-savvy family relative, you might still have some pros and cons to weigh..
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wraith808
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« Reply #65 on: July 24, 2015, 08:10:49 AM »

well, i think we should distinguish two kinds of devices, that may have different roles to play.

You found the WD TV -- that will have LESS flexibility, LESS expandability, and LESS POWER (?) -- but it will be a set top box, preinstalled with software ready to be a media player with a nice interface.
I gather that the Zbox unit is basically a windows box, designed for use as an htpc.  So you'll still have to install media software, show the person how to run the right programs, etc.

So for setting up a non-pc-savvy family relative, you might still have some pros and cons to weigh..

Yes, less on the flexibility. It really depends on what you mean by expandability.  If it's storage, then the answer is no.  Less power?  Than these zotacs?  Not by much if at all, and definitely less noticable, since the interface is made for the power.  I've had one of these mini-devices, and it was a lifesaver when my wife and children's mains went down... we just cycled them through it, and other than the fact that my wife lost use of photoshop, they were great for browsing and using office.  But they were definitely quite slower.
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superboyac
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« Reply #66 on: July 24, 2015, 08:49:18 AM »

well, i think we should distinguish two kinds of devices, that may have different roles to play.

You found the WD TV -- that will have LESS flexibility, LESS expandability, and LESS POWER (?) -- but it will be a set top box, preinstalled with software ready to be a media player with a nice interface.
I gather that the Zbox unit is basically a windows box, designed for use as an htpc.  So you'll still have to install media software, show the person how to run the right programs, etc.

So for setting up a non-pc-savvy family relative, you might still have some pros and cons to weigh..

Yes, less on the flexibility. It really depends on what you mean by expandability.  If it's storage, then the answer is no.  Less power?  Than these zotacs?  Not by much if at all, and definitely less noticable, since the interface is made for the power.  I've had one of these mini-devices, and it was a lifesaver when my wife and children's mains went down... we just cycled them through it, and other than the fact that my wife lost use of photoshop, they were great for browsing and using office.  But they were definitely quite slower.
are you saying the zotac will struggle more with video playback than the WD TV?
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wraith808
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« Reply #67 on: July 24, 2015, 11:19:55 AM »

well, i think we should distinguish two kinds of devices, that may have different roles to play.

You found the WD TV -- that will have LESS flexibility, LESS expandability, and LESS POWER (?) -- but it will be a set top box, preinstalled with software ready to be a media player with a nice interface.
I gather that the Zbox unit is basically a windows box, designed for use as an htpc.  So you'll still have to install media software, show the person how to run the right programs, etc.

So for setting up a non-pc-savvy family relative, you might still have some pros and cons to weigh..

Yes, less on the flexibility. It really depends on what you mean by expandability.  If it's storage, then the answer is no.  Less power?  Than these zotacs?  Not by much if at all, and definitely less noticable, since the interface is made for the power.  I've had one of these mini-devices, and it was a lifesaver when my wife and children's mains went down... we just cycled them through it, and other than the fact that my wife lost use of photoshop, they were great for browsing and using office.  But they were definitely quite slower.
are you saying the zotac will struggle more with video playback than the WD TV?

Not necessarily.  But in my experience, it was so.

The box I have is http://www.newegg.com/Pro...aspx?Item=N82E16856119072, so my experience was a couple of years ago.  But it was a bit slower to decrypt, and of course you had to put on all of the codecs, and it still wasn't enough.
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« Reply #68 on: July 25, 2015, 09:58:31 PM »

You could go with something like the Odroid-XU4 ($74) with the CloudShell ($39) to connect a hard drive and use that as your NAS/HTPC.



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superboyac
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« Reply #69 on: July 27, 2015, 02:53:38 PM »

What do you guys think about these alibaba products that have enromous specs and cheap prices?  Take this one for example:
8GB RAM
intel i3
fanless/silent
~$300
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wraith808
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« Reply #70 on: July 27, 2015, 03:35:01 PM »

Either the picture is misleading, the specs are lying, or it will burn up on arrival LOL smiley  There's a reason for the specs on the CPU.
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superboyac
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« Reply #71 on: July 27, 2015, 06:10:32 PM »

Either the picture is misleading, the specs are lying, or it will burn up on arrival LOL smiley  There's a reason for the specs on the CPU.
I'm curious enough to give it a try.  So small, so cheap, and great specs.  it *may* die quickly, which is the only bad experience i've had with this kind of stuff.  but i've also been very impressed by some of my alibaba experiments too.  A few years ago I got a tiny little credit card size media player kind of like an htpc, and it was great.  still works and can play just about anything under 720p.
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« Reply #72 on: July 28, 2015, 06:11:01 AM »

Superboyac - if you do buy this, please let us know how you get on with it.
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« Reply #73 on: July 28, 2015, 07:06:23 AM »

What do you guys think about these alibaba products that have enromous specs and cheap prices?  Take this one for example:
8GB RAM
intel i3
fanless/silent
~$300 (see attachment in previous post)

Why not go for an Intel NUC from Newegg?

Comparable prices and a lot closer to home if you find a problem with it.
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