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Last post Author Topic: I'm ready to join the HTPC (home theater pc) revolution - what to get?  (Read 17587 times)

mouser

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I've resisted this for a while but i'm really interested in adding a home theater pc (HTPC) device to my stereo system.

But I have no idea where to start regarding hardware or software.

What's most important to me:
  • I will want to use it to browse and play from my music collection; so i want very good software for music browse/search; I'm more interested in good solid reliable software vs cutting edge super customizable stuff.  This will be my primary use of this device, playing music from a large collection of mp3 directories, so that's what i want it to do well.
  • I want this to replace my DVD player; so it should be able to play dvd (or better yet blu-ray) discs well.
  • Ideally it should have same wide form factor as a dvd player -- though this is not mandatory; fine if its as large as a full size receiver.
  • I don't need tv tuner functionality.
  • I would like to be able to watch youtube/live streaming.
  • Always on or quick-on functionality is important -- I don't want to have to wait more than 30-60 seconds for startup.
  • Cheaper is better -- don't want to pay more than a couple hundred.
  • Being able to upgrade HD in it would be nice (as opposed to a closed box); but i'm not obsessed about being able to customize/replace all of the hardware in it.
  • It should run quiet and cool -- it can get hot where this will be located.
  • Do not need to worry about multi-room streaming, etc.; I already have a stereo system and hdtv, this will be one component feeding into the receiver.

Suggestions?
« Last Edit: July 09, 2013, 07:34:47 AM by mouser »

wraith808

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Are you looking at building?  Or buying a pre-built solution?

mouser

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Either way.  Wouldn't mind building.

Writer

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Last year, I set up an HTPC or sorts using a Dune HD Duo (http://dune-hd.com/e..._hd_media_players/12) as the core. To play music, audio books and movies/documentaries, I use a few of 'green' 3.5" drives from WD, Seagate and Hitachi. What I like about Dune is:

The Duo has now been discontinued by Dune, although firmware updates continue to be available. You could however look at the currently available models, which should fit your budget.

wraith808

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What sort of budget are we building in here?

mouser

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Maybe $300-$400?

wraith808

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I've found from my experience that silverstone makes good cases.  An example is this one.  The more you pay, the better the case will be, but that one is a pretty good low-end starter case.

Silverstone also makes good power supplies.  Though I don't use them for desktops, their PSUs tend to be quieter than others, even under full load.  However, because of that quiet, they also tend to heat up more.

Though I usually go with Intel for my builds, for my HTPC I've gone with AMD twice, and Intel once.  AMD processors seem to require less in terms of space, and function better in smaller builds in my experience.

I used a HDD in my first two builds- my last build was my first with SSD, and I can say that it has made it more responsive.

My last one was also the first time I went with onboard video instead of low profile.  I'm definitely going with Low profile again when I build another; I see the difference on web based video, though not on video files strangely enough.  Netflix and Youtube aren't working as well on the onboard video, though playing video files from my NAS works fine.

And I've just been using Windows Media Center for the software (on Windows 7).  I've tried a few different things... from media monkey to a couple of other things (I'd have to look them up).  I haven't tried a dedicated OS solution though, so I can't comment on those.

As far as controlling it, I have always used logitech solutions before... but I just used a low end rosewill remote this time, and it works fine.  I paired that up with an iogear keyboard with built in trackball, and I've been set as far as controlling it.

Hope that helps... let me know if you have any other questions.

Dirhael

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About 6 months back, I set up a HTPC for myself with a Streacom FC8 Evo Fanless Chassis, a MSI Z77IA-E53 mini-ITX motherboard combined with a Intel Core i3-3225 and a Samsung 840 Pro SSD 128GB. As for the PSU, I used an external one also from Streacom. I recently also installed a ASUS PCE-AC66 wifi card to go with my 802.11ac network. This setup is more than powerful enough to run any video I throw at it (including bluray, using this drive combined with SlySoft's AnyDVD HD), boots within in a handful of seconds (running Windows 8​) and is 100% silent (well, except while using the optical drive of course).

As for software, I primarily use XBMC but if you're mainly into music you should probably take a look at Jriver Media Center 18, which I use on pretty much every other computer I own. If you got an iPad it makes for the perfect controller for both software solutions. For XBMC, I use XBMC Commander and for JRMC I use and absolutely love JRemote. Whenever I have to use a mouse+keyboard, I'm using Logitech's lovely K810 bluetooth keyboard (back-lit, rechargeable) and Apple's Magic Trackpad.

The only drawback to this setup is that it'll probably cost you a bit more than you had in mind, depending on what hardware you got laying around. It was also not exactly the easiest chassis to build (you'll need *plently* of thermal paste, and assemble things in the "right" order), but in the end it was well worth it.  

EDIT: Here's a picture of the htpc, with a PS3 controller placed besides it for size comparison.

[attachtimg=1]
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« Last Edit: July 09, 2013, 07:06:22 PM by Dirhael »

wraith808

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what kind of cpu fan are you running on your i3?  Even the lowest profile ones I've seen for LGA 1156 sockets are pretty space hungry, so I was wondering.

Dirhael

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what kind of cpu fan are you running on your i3?  Even the lowest profile ones I've seen for LGA 1156 sockets are pretty space hungry, so I was wondering.

I'm not running any kind of fan on the CPU at all, it's all passively cooled. The heat-pipe design should be able to handle any CPU up to 95W, and the i3-3225 is only 55W :) The entire chassis is made of more or less a single block of aluminum, so the entire thing is essentially a massive heat sink.

st-fc8-evo-mobo-compat.jpg
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« Last Edit: July 09, 2013, 08:45:11 PM by Dirhael »

wraith808

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Even under load the heat doesn't spike?

superboyac

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yes!  Mouser is on board!

I have tons of notes on this, but not very organized.  xbmc is the way to go if you need an interface built for this sort of thing.  I haven't really found any other decent alternatives.  if you don't need an interface, all you need is a file manager that is readable on a big screen (should be most if it's 1080p) and your favorite media player (mine is Light Alloy).  This is my current htpc setup, been doing it for years.  I'm trying to move to a xbmc setup, but first wanted to build my box of hard drives.

Another important piece is your remote.  How are you going to move the mouse and navigate?  I suggest one of the gyro remotes like gyration (I use a logitech mx air, really nice also).  

My question for you is this: what more do you want other than just plugging in an old computer to your tv and going with that?  It seems to fit all your requirements except for the form factor.  So it's just a matter of buying a case that satisfies you and moving your parts into there (or getting new parts I guess).  The only real difference to me between a regular pc and an htpc is font sizes due to sitting further away (so having a gui like xbmc suited for such things is beneficial) and the airmouse aspect.  everything else is indistinguishable from a regular pc as far as i can tell.

i would suggest using makemkv to copy your dvd's losslessly to your hard drive so you wouldn't need to swap discs.

Light Alloy has a file browsing feature with big fonts specifically geared for htpc's, so that's another plus for it.

Lian Li (though expensive) has some nice cases that look just like normal dvd players, but I'm sure there are similar ones for cheaper.

Dirhael

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Even under load the heat doesn't spike?

Well, it's not at any time what you would call cold, but even under load it runs within what's safe. I probably wouldn't compile software 24/7 on it, but even under load I've yet to have it throttle due to high temps.
Registered nurse by day, hobby programmer by night.

wraith808

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Wow... that's really cool. (No pun intended  ;D)  I'll have to keep that in mind on my next build, even though this one was really cheap and works really well, so I doubt I'll be doing a new build soon.

Right now I have a Foxconn book sized one, and not only is it a pretty solid build, it has saved my bacon more than once- when my wife's computer went down, she was able to get by with it, and now my daughter's computer is down and she's using it.

AJay

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If you're not dealing with a TV tuner, why not just use XBMC or OpenELEC on a Raspberry Pi?

The Pi = $35.

And you may have all the other parts you need laying around.

You need a phone microUSB charger to power the Pi.  You'll need an HDMI cable, of course.  You'll need an SD card to store the OS on.  And you may want a USB WiFi adapter; else you'll want an ethernet cord.  And to get started, you'll want a USB mouse and keyboard.  That's it.

You can of course, attach a hard drive, but if you're like me, you'll just share a drive on your home network and stream from it using the Pi.

Total cost even if you had to buy all those things (assuming you stream from another drive), $75 or less.

http://lifehacker.com/5929913/build-a-xbmc-media-center-with-a-35-raspberry-pi

wraith808

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If you're not dealing with a TV tuner, why not just use XBMC or OpenELEC on a Raspberry Pi?

I would like to be able to watch youtube/live streaming.

Those two don't go well together.  The processor just doesn't handle it well.  It also doesn't handle 1080P well.  The UI will also be less responsive.

The Pi is good for what it does.  But his requirements sort of kick it out the door.

soulwanderer

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I bought a Zotac mini PC. Atom microprocessor ensures a low power consumption.
Zotac + MediaMonkey (huge music library to manage) + XBMC = AWESOME.

Also, as a remote, I use my TV Remote (http://www.pulse-eig...dmi-cec-adapter.aspx), so it is quite user friendly, you do not need to swith remote, just go to the HDMI port of the media center, and keep using it.

This was a quite cost-effective solution (300€ Zotac + 100€ 4TB USB3.0 hard disk + 30€ USB - CEC adapter), and everything works together like a charm. The guys of Pulse Eight also provide a pre-compiled version of XBMC with their drivers & plugins to ensure an easy operation.

AJay

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If you're not dealing with a TV tuner, why not just use XBMC or OpenELEC on a Raspberry Pi?

I would like to be able to watch youtube/live streaming.

Those two don't go well together.  The processor just doesn't handle it well.  It also doesn't handle 1080P well.  The UI will also be less responsive.

The Pi is good for what it does.  But his requirements sort of kick it out the door.

I haven't tried it with 1080, but I haven't heard of others complaining.  Not saying it's not an issue...just that I've never heard that as a complaint before.  And as for mouser's requirements, it looks like THE dominant use of the device will be as a simple music player.  1080p is not an issue.

Without that, the only thing that I see as a possible issue is the YouTube piece.  I would expect there's an add on though.  (And for me, at least, while I occasionally found myself streaming YouTube under my old media center setup, I'd say YouTube streaming was about 1% of my use.)

If you're just streaming from a home hard drive, it's hard to beat a setup that costs less than $50.  I'm quite pleased with my setup...except that I'd like to get live TV working, but mouser said he didn't care about that.

(As an aside, most people just leave their Pi on all the time.  It's not going to get hot, and the cost is less than any other device you're going to consider.)
« Last Edit: July 11, 2013, 09:01:35 AM by AJay »

wraith808

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I haven't tried it with 1080, but I haven't heard of others complaining.  Not saying it's not an issue...just that I've never heard that as a complaint before.  And as for mouser's requirements, it looks like THE dominant use of the device will be as a simple music player.  1080p is not an issue.

Without that, the only thing that I see as a possible issue is the YouTube piece.  I would expect there's an add on though.  (And for me, at least, while I occasionally found myself streaming YouTube under my old media center setup, I'd say YouTube streaming was about 1% of my use.)

Raspberry Pi will play 1080p only if its encoded h.264.  Otherwise it stutters.  This is usually b/c of the sound.  However, if you have already encoded your collection, this is a big deal, and transcoding isn't really an option because of problems with streaming.

Though this is not the primary use, he did state it as an important requirement, which is the reason that I brought it up.  Not to disparage the Pi or any solution, but to solve his use case.

AJay

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I haven't tried it with 1080, but I haven't heard of others complaining.  Not saying it's not an issue...just that I've never heard that as a complaint before.  And as for mouser's requirements, it looks like THE dominant use of the device will be as a simple music player.  1080p is not an issue.

Without that, the only thing that I see as a possible issue is the YouTube piece.  I would expect there's an add on though.  (And for me, at least, while I occasionally found myself streaming YouTube under my old media center setup, I'd say YouTube streaming was about 1% of my use.)

Raspberry Pi will play 1080p only if its encoded h.264.  Otherwise it stutters.  This is usually b/c of the sound.  However, if you have already encoded your collection, this is a big deal, and transcoding isn't really an option because of problems with streaming.

Though this is not the primary use, he did state it as an important requirement, which is the reason that I brought it up.  Not to disparage the Pi or any solution, but to solve his use case.
I guess I'm missing something.  I see no reference to 1080p in mouser's requirements.  I do realize BluRay is 1080p, and I acknowledge that the Pi isn't going to handle that.  But that looks like a "nice to have" feature, not a "must have" (based on mouser's initial post).

Since it's a one time payment, it might not be a huge deal to pay out an extra $250 for a machine that can handle BluRay, but if you can settle for plain ole DVD...hard to beat the price of a Pi.

superboyac

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1080p still requires fairly beefy or optimized equipment.  I don't know all the technical details, but I have played around with different devices and experimented with different kinds of 1080p formats, and many of the devices that claim to do it have issues.  Sometimes it is stuttering, sometimes it is weird slow-motion effects, some have issues seeking.  Most full size pc graphics cards don't have an issue with it.  raspberry pi i'm pretty sure won't be able to play many of the files I'm talking about.  I bought a little android htpc stick (see the gadget thread) which claimed to be able to do it, but it couldn't (stuttered a lot).

I will give a huge  :up: :Thmbsup: to this little chinese device that seems to have no problem playing back 1080p.  All you need is to attach a usb drive to it and it will do the rest.  It's only $60 and I take it with me everywhere.  It's from a company called Diyomate.



IMG_1086.jpgI'm ready to join the HTPC (home theater pc) revolution - what to get?
Now, your tv probably has multiple inputs.  Put the diyomate on one input, this will be where you watch all your movies.  For your internet requirement, get the android stick i was talking about, called the mk808b:
sku_175870_1.jpgI'm ready to join the HTPC (home theater pc) revolution - what to get?
Now, to control the internet from that android interface, you need some kind of airmouse.  I've heard the gyration and mx air will work with it, but I haven't confirmed it.  But sticking to this chinese theme, you can buy a cheap airmouse that does work well, called the rc11:
RC-11_6.jpgI'm ready to join the HTPC (home theater pc) revolution - what to get?
The remote has a keyboard on it to boot.  The more expensive and better quality option is the gyration mouse/keyboard combo.

But using this route, you get everything you want, and it costs total under $200.

wraith808

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I guess I'm missing something.  I see no reference to 1080p in mouser's requirements.  I do realize BluRay is 1080p, and I acknowledge that the Pi isn't going to handle that.  But that looks like a "nice to have" feature, not a "must have" (based on mouser's initial post).

Since it's a one time payment, it might not be a huge deal to pay out an extra $250 for a machine that can handle BluRay, but if you can settle for plain ole DVD...hard to beat the price of a Pi.

As I said, it was in the interest of disclosure.  If he doesn't have the need for it, and doesn't really care about the streaming, then he might choose to do without that, or suffer a bit.  But knowledge is power, and that's what this thread is about- giving mouser the benefit of our collective knowledge, not making a decision for him.

As 40 would say... onward!  :Thmbsup:

mouser

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I think I'd rather have a higher powered desktop-cpu class machine that I could maybe also use as a NAS..

wraith808

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I think I'd rather have a higher powered desktop-cpu class machine that I could maybe also use as a NAS..

Hmmm.. saying that, you've really zeroed in on something I added to my living room setup.  It's not as flexible as a HTPC, but for media type uses it's aces.

http://www.wdc.com/e...products.aspx?id=570

I got it for about $120 from Best Buy on sale with 1TB.  It's great, and I haven't had to do anything with it.  I have the 1TB onboard, but I also connect to my network to get stuff off my NAS that I don't access enough to keep on the internal drive.  And it is dead simple.

Not as flexible again, but it's basically a settop device, for all the good and bad that means.

superboyac

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so now my parents are replacing their dvd player.  their requirements are similar to mouser, except it should be an off the shelf product.  what is good?  it should be able to play dvd/bluray, play video files of differing formats, have a remote?