Home Theatre PC - How to get started

Discussion in 'Newbie Lounge' started by AndrewX, Jan 21, 2005.

  1. AndrewX

    AndrewX Member

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    Hi all,

    I'm looking for some advice, words of wisdom, tips for the unwary etc for setting up a home theatre PC. Does anyone know of any good resources or forum discussions on this topic?

    Background: I'm trying to embrace the digital revolution - most contributors to this site would probably say about time, but to most people of my generation I'm at the bleeding edge! I've got a PC in the study (was top of the range at the start of year - P4 3Ghz, 1Gb RAM, twin 120GB hard drives, 8x DVD-R, nVidia XT9800(?) Pro video card). I've now downloaded all our photos, music and home videos from the DV camera (edited using ULead 8.0) onto the hard drive.
    In my lounge room I've got a home theatre set up. 50" Plasma, Onkyo AV Receiver, Onkyo DVD player and Foxtel digital.

    Two new things I want to do -
    1) Be able to record TV onto a hard drive and perhaps burn some video onto DVD.
    2) Be able to view and listen to the photos, music and video from my PC on the home theatre.

    As far a I can tell, I've got two options -
    1) Purchase a commercial DVD recorder with hard drive (e.g. the Pioneer DVR-720) as well as a media center such as the Zenzonic Z400 which I can connect to my PC and then to the AV receiver, OR
    2) Purchase another PC to put in the lounge room and network it to the first PC.

    I think option 1 would be the simplest and cheapest - a commercial DVD recorder with HD must be relatively simple to operate and be fully functioned. However, option 2 probably gives more flexibility.

    But - I'm really new to this - so I'd appreciate any advice.
    How easy is it to hook up a PC to an AV receiver? Is it easy to record TV onto a PC with the same ease and options as a commercial HD recorder (e.g. timeslip - simultaneous playback and recording, setting a timer to record program at 2am etc)

    Thanks

    Andrew
     
  2. Deja Vu

    Deja Vu Member

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    Um... no such card exists.


    Also for the second option i would go and get one of those little shuttle (other companies make the same things) box's and add a PCI tuner card, nice and easy and should cost you less then 1K.

    Also there is quiet some good software out there for computers to do the things you want nice and easily. If you can spend a little more money get one of the ATi All in Wonder cards that come with a remote. I think they will also have some software on there to help you.

    Other wise download some free linux distros to put on the machine that are designed for such things.
     
  3. malonem

    malonem Member

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    OH noooes!!!~ NVIDIA and ATI had a baby, double the cheats but double the performance!
     
  4. Hairy_Harold

    Hairy_Harold Member

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    most cameras these days as far as i have seen you can just veiw the pics and movies on them straight on your tv
     
  5. kodos

    kodos Member

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    Setting up an htpc isn't a particularly hard thing to do, it just takes time to learn. Your first task is to figure out the hardware you need to match your existing equipment, i.e. what kind of video card to connect to your television, what kind of sound card to connect to your stereo, etc.

    Once you've got the hardware, everything else is done with software. There are a lot of packages out there now that allow you do things such as: timeshifting, tv recording, media jukebox, photo viewing, etc. They range from free programs such as myHTPC and GotAllMedia to paid programs such as Meedio, BeyondTV and Snapstream. You'll also need to buy and set up a remote control, for which you will probably need a program called Girder.

    Some sites: http://www.htpcnews.com/ for general stuff and http://www.avsforum.com for more advanced projector-based discussion. The major software companies have forums for their products too. There is a large Australian digital tv community at http://www.dba.org.au that will be of some help with tv connections and digital tuner cards.

    Personally I have a simple (and cheap) setup with a 1.2ghz duron and a Leadtek Winfast Expert using Meedio for my media library and playback. I still use myHTPC for tv recording until Meedio's television module is out of beta. The good thing about an HTPC is that it can be as simple or as advanced as you need (or can afford :) )
     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2005
  6. OP
    OP
    AndrewX

    AndrewX Member

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    Thanks Kodos, that's very useful. I'll have a dig through the sites you referenced and see what I can find out.

    Sorry - made a mistake on the video card (hence the ?) I was trying to remember what it was while in the office this afternoon. It's actually a 256MB ATI Radeon 9800 XT - which I gather was top of the range when released early 2004 when I bought the PC, but is probably now well and truly out of date.

    Thanks for the reply Hairy Harold, but I guess what I'm trying to do is more advanced than just plugging the DV camera into the AV receiver (which is what I do now). I've downloaded our DV footage onto my PC harddrive, used ULead 8.0 to edit it into smaller clips (who really want's to watch a baby having a bath for 20mins!!! A 20sec clip will do!) and I now want to be able to play all the video footage on the plasma in a different room without having to burn it to DVD. I've also got heaps of photos and music (on iTunes) that I want to be able to play on the home theatre.

    If that was all I wanted to do I'd just buy a Zensonic Z400 which seems to do the trick. I've just had an electrician run Cat5 cable from the study to the lounge and to my kids PC upstairs. So I could hook it up via an ethernet connection.

    BUT - because I want to also be able to record from Foxtel onto a hard drive and be able to burn footage from that hard drive onto a DVD, I thought it might be easier to set up a HTPC.

    I don't have any budgetary constraints (within reason) - I'm just looking for the easiest and best solution.

    Thanks

    Andrew
     
  7. MrGurps

    MrGurps Member

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    Not Simple but a Lot of Fun.

    Andrew,

    A PC in the lounge room is going to be in the norm in a couple of years, At the moment it's still a bit complicated but still a lot of fun. My Suggestion is to get a Micro ATX Sized PC. I've setup one and it works great. I went the whole hog and got a Digital TV Card and a Wireless PCI Card and it works great. Once you start recording to a video file, you will never go back to a VCR (Mine now a Very Big Paperweight) :p

    Mr_Gurps
     
  8. kodos

    kodos Member

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    Unless you pay someone to do it for you, there's not really an "easiest" solution. It does require a fair bit of effort to research and set up, from finding the best hardware to trawling through software forums for answers. It's worth it in the end though :)

    This is absolutely true, and I did the same thing with an mATX case. Recording digitally means no rewinding, no disks/tapes, instant skipping of commercials, pausing whenever you like, etc. My VCR is gathering dust now. My DVDs/CDs are also all ripped to my hdd, and then safely stored to avoid scratches.
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2005
  9. power

    power Member

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    Easiest solution atm to do most of the stuff you want to is Windows Media Center 2005, atm i'm actually typing this from a media center, it has hdtv, i can watch movies, burn them and listen to music through it as well, i'd recommend say a 2GHz P4 or up, a dvico hdtv card (the plus not the lite) a copy of MCE 05 and an MCE 05 remote 512MB RAM and a quick large hdd (probably a couple of 80GB's in a stripe), once it's all setup it's stupidly easy to use (although that said i think foxtel is out) the gf is loving sitting on the couch watching tv and using the messenger client front end over the top of the digital tv as well as time shifting and all that gear, Alienware have a nifty flash animation of Media Center in action see it here actually alienware's media center itself is pretty awesome, but you can get similar machines from most oem's now, one of the coolest feature's of media center is the media center extenders (cbf'd writing something so i copied and pasted straight from the alienware site)

     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2005
  10. OP
    OP
    AndrewX

    AndrewX Member

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    What about Foxtel digital via cable?

    Thanks for the links and advice - that's all been very useful and my brain is now awash with terms like VMR9, DXVA etc etc

    One thing that isn't immediately obvious from the guides I've read. Is it possible to record Foxtel digital onto a PC hard drive or are there problems with channels being encrypted and preventing copying?

    If there is a problem with encrypting - I presume that would be a problem with any of the commercially available DVD recorders with hard drives as well?

    Has anyone had any experience recording Foxtel digital (via cable) that they can share?

    Thanks
     
  11. power

    power Member

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    apart from recording foxtel being illegal i believe it has new encryption methods that have not been "cracked" aside from that i don't believe discussing this on this forum will be tolerated, at all
     
  12. OP
    OP
    AndrewX

    AndrewX Member

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    Recording foxtel illegal(?)

    Well there you go - you learn something everyday! I had no idea recording foxtel was illegal! Does that also apply to the retransmitted free-to-air signals on foxtel?

    I thought I read somewhere that Foxtel was going to supply its own PVR sometime this year? Why would they do that if recording it is illegal?

    ... and for that matter, what on earth do they think people do with all those DCD / hard drive recorders being sold!

    Are you sure its illegal if its just for personal use? Surely I'm entitled to tape an overnight sporting event starting at 2am to watch it the next day.....
     
  13. OP
    OP
    AndrewX

    AndrewX Member

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    See comment from Foxtel website below -

    This tells me that recording Foxtel is not illegal......

    http://www.primetimeanytime.tv/

    "Does this scene sound familiar? You're halfway through your favourite show on FOXTEL Digital and it's getting to a really exciting moment - when the phone rings and you miss the entire ending.

    And FOXTEL Digital is showing a terrific documentary and a great movie on at the same time tonight. Which one will you record?

    Or you've gone out to dinner and forgot to record your favourite FOXTEL Digital show. Frustrating isn't it?

    Well, we understand all these problems and we're doing something about it.

    We're about to launch the brand new FOXTEL Personal Digital Recorder (PDR). This stylish new set top box will change the way you watch television forever with simple one-touch recording that is fully integrated with your FOXTEL Digital Guide."
     
  14. Arachnadactly

    Arachnadactly Member

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    Last edited: Jan 25, 2005
  15. infinite

    infinite Member

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    I'd look into Microsoft's MCE 2005 (as much as I hate to say it)
    There are a lot of other solutions around, most with far more power, but MCE is the most straightfoward for most tasks. Then, if you want more power you can always investigate Meedio, Snapstreams products etc.

    MCE is also the only one so far that has a pretty interface and works well with digital TV cards (in the Windows world). Meedio will hopefully support this soon.

    As for recording foxel, while possible, the work in setting it up would be far beyond a "simple" setup.
     
  16. browca04

    browca04 (Banned or Deleted)

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    what you have to remember is even if recording foxtel is technically illegal, it isn't as if there are telstra representatives going around and checking to make sure people aren't stealing foxtel.

    you dont need a super computer as a htpc, although you're gonna want it to have a decent set up on the innards if you want to play games on it.

    check out www.bit-tech.net and you should be able to get some ideas of cool htpc cases, because presentation is everything.

    make sure you have a HD TV tuner card, a reasonably large hard drive, a wireless AP to connect the HTPC to your "file server" comp, as well as a wireless keyboard and mouse and all the right adapters for your audio and video. you'll need to find a 3.5mm stereo to 2 x male RCA for your sound (ie comp to reciever) and then a cable to go from the HTPC to your plasma.

    good luck
     
  17. DoCsIs

    DoCsIs Member

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    From the sounds of it you wouldnt need something overly powerful.

    • As stated a 2~Ghz pc
      Large HDD (Maybe combined 240Gb)
      512 RAM
      An MATX MOBO
      Good sound card
      A quality TV tuner
      Good software
      Remote
    I dont thing you need a powerful graphics card for what you are doing, because you should be able to just use vga to your plasma/or use a cheap graphics card with DVI. A good tv tuner is what you need because you have foxtel (ie cant use a digital tv tuner card). A good sound card for sound to your amp.
     
  18. dogah

    dogah Member

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    cheap reliable alternative

    When i built my HTPC i found that timeshifting on linux / windows was inconsistent and slow, not what i was after however i found a cheaper solution.

    http://www.eksys.com/

    buy a series 1 tivo, landed it was under $300 when i got mine, you get the whole tivo, without a hard drive which u need to supply, remote etc etc, there is guide data available from a australian tivo community group, i've had mine for 6 months now and it works just like it was in the US.

    just an option!
     
  19. autoexec

    autoexec Member

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    sound card for sound to your amp

    if you use an nforce2 motherboard, then you can encode everything in DD and send it via optical or coaxial to your amp
    most sound cards only use digital when there is content already encoded that can be passed through.
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2005
  20. proffesso

    proffesso Member

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    you dont want a super computer....thats debatable, do you want to be able to decode wm9 hd streams?

    MCE 2005 is great, not sure about the technical front, but gui works well (pity you cant really skin it) I ended up using Zoomplayer, and a custom theme for my general htpc use. you will most likely need powerstrip, to create a custom res to fit the plasma properly (you dont want to scale such stuff) also you get a decent remote (that can be programmed into a proper learning remote)

    sound card - Chaintech av-710 ...current king of the hill for htpc (under any obscene price)
    video - ati X600 has a hdtv model, that includes a yuv component breakout box, but if your plasma supports dvi (even vga) then use that instead.

    htpc's can be a lot of fun....certainly a stuff-around to get them setup right initially, but you can do so much more than a set-top box. (I have all the emulators on there too + usb ps2 pad adapaters....great party kit)

    doesnt matter about the size of the machine, I have a black centurian case, and it sits under my yamaha amp (sideways) perfectly...Ahainix / Accent make some great looking cases, but expensive.

    im running, and i want to upgrade this -

    2.4ghz p4
    512mb..

    seriously consider 2.8 or so, and 1gb (after all eyecandy gui crap I have installed, it really needs a bitmore headroom)
     

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