The HTPC (Home Theatre PC) Ask-All Thread

My myth frontend died last week, so I got the Zotac ION MB. And since that stupid cabinet it lived in had horrid ventilation, I hung the MB on the back of the cabinet with nails. It runs perfect. < 20% CPU playing HD video.
4 plugs: power, HDMI, ethernet, and USB for remote.

IMAGE(http://img260.imageshack.us/img260/1585/img2413t.jpg)

IMAGE(http://img260.imageshack.us/img260/390/img2411s.jpg)

IMAGE(http://img98.imageshack.us/img98/3086/img2412r.jpg)

That looks awesomely ghetto

Huh, that's pretty clever, actually. It's a mess, but messes don't count when nobody can see them.

taer wrote:

My myth frontend died last week, so I got the Zotac ION MB. And since that stupid cabinet it lived in had horrid ventilation, I hung the MB on the back of the cabinet with nails. It runs perfect. < 20% CPU playing HD video.
4 plugs: power, HDMI, ethernet, and USB for remote.

Can someone please point me in the direction of a good explination about getting a setup like this working? I've never run a HTPC and know little about networking, but I'm willing to learn a bit, but I'm not sure where to start.

mrtomaytohead wrote:
taer wrote:

My myth frontend died last week, so I got the Zotac ION MB. And since that stupid cabinet it lived in had horrid ventilation, I hung the MB on the back of the cabinet with nails. It runs perfect. < 20% CPU playing HD video.
4 plugs: power, HDMI, ethernet, and USB for remote.

Can someone please point me in the direction of a good explination about getting a setup like this working? I've never run a HTPC and know little about networking, but I'm willing to learn a bit, but I'm not sure where to start.

MythTV used to be a PITA. It runs on Linux, so you'll have to deal with that. There are distros out there that should make this pretty easy now
http://www.mythdora.com/ - based on Fedora
http://www.mythbuntu.org/ - based on Ubuntu
These should have wikis and docs to get you started on a test box.

Myth is split into 2 pieces, a frontend, and a backend. Basic install is both on the same machine, and it's just like a TW DVR. When you expand(after you have it all working and get wife approval), you can have a machine for the backend, which does all the recording, and have multiple frontends that can access the recordings(whole house DVR basically).

Or you can go windows with Windows Media Center. I think this is just part of Vista, but I have never used it.

HW: Either way, you'll need capture cards.
The base one is a Hauppauge PVR 150 or 500(two 150s). These capture analog cable.
HDTV QAM/OTA tuner(Basic OTA channels only) - http://www.silicondust.com/products/...
For digital, its a pain. Cause you're a pirate if you try to capture that, so we can't allow. There are ways using a IR blaster to remote change the box.. Just annoying

If you go the myth route, there is a lot of help out there. But in the end, you're the sysadmin for the solution(for me, there was a time of wife calls - "The TV isn't working")

And you can start w/ an old PC to play with. The main thing you have to buy to try is the HW, which should be sub 50 now. I'd suggest looking at htp://mythtv.org/wiki - currently down - to see current hardware and their status with myth. You want well supported capture cards.

I just noticed Nero makes a Tivo pc product. You have to pay the fees I guess, but you get the Tivo interface and ease of use which my wife and I love and know how to use. Makes me want to build a Windows-based MC pc.

I built a UHF antenna yesterday from this DIY UHF antenna video guide. You need 6 metal coat hangers, 10 woodscrews & 10 washers and a 2 1/2'-3' piece of wood. 1"x4" would be great. And you need a 75ohm-300ohm transformer available at your local Radio Shack for $5 or online for even cheaper.

And you know what? Works like a charm.

I get every hd and digital channel around. 8 hd channels total and about twice as many sd digital channels.

Here's this bad boy. I tucked it behind the TV stand.

IMAGE(http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2710/4050549677_939d535332_o.jpg)

trip1eX wrote:

I get every hd and digital channel around. 8 hd channels total and about twice as many sd digital channels.

Yeah but where do you live, how far away from the stations are you? I live in the middle of Nowheresville, Ohio and I am about 60+ miles from the nearest broadcast station. Do you think this would have the power to pull in even SD channels from that far? Is there a way to boost performance? I didn't read the link thought maybe you could answer the questions.

Edit: That is pretty cool by the way, I love DIY stuff like that.

Tigerbill wrote:

Yeah but where do you live, how far away from the stations are you? I live in the middle of Nowheresville, Ohio and I am about 60+ miles from the nearest broadcast station. Do you think this would have the power to pull in even SD channels from that far? Is there a way to boost performance? I didn't read the link thought maybe you could answer the questions.

Edit: That is pretty cool by the way, I love DIY stuff like that.

The best way to find out if it works for you is to give it a try. It took me about 2 hours and a trip to Home Depot and Radio Shack. It cost me about $10.

Yeah, I did a quick Google on these things and it seems people are getting good results at the distances I'm dealing with. I guess I know what I'm doing this weekend.

taer wrote:

MythTV used to be a PITA. It runs on Linux, so you'll have to deal with that. There are distros out there that should make this pretty easy now
http://www.mythdora.com/ - based on Fedora
http://www.mythbuntu.org/ - based on Ubuntu
These should have wikis and docs to get you started on a test box.

I think I'll try Mythbuntu when my box dies again (I'm currently running Knoppmyth). Thanks!

Distances don't matter when mountains are in the way and only one channel has a broadcasting antenna on a mountain on your side of puget sound.
ClearQAM for teh win.

Eezy_Bordone wrote:

Distances don't matter when mountains are in the way and only one channel has a broadcasting antenna on a mountain on your side of puget sound.
ClearQAM for teh win.

Bordone, I live in the middle of Ohio, I have to travel 3 hrs east to Pittsburgh to even begin to see a mountain. The big three networks are all up in Cleveland 60 miles away.

Getting back on the topic of this thread:

Would it be possible/painless to replace a dedicated A/V receiver and 5.1 setup; with a HTPC and a computer 5.1 setup? Assuming that the only other inputs would be an antenna on the TV and my 360, do people do this kind of thing? My receiver is several years old and has been passed down to me, I don't have a good 5.1 speakers but wouldn't mind getting some (although I'm not a big audiophile). I have always liked Klipsch computer speakers (friends have them) but their Home Theater systems are a bit pricey, compared to the computer ones. What about audio inputs, I can do almost any kind from the TV and the 360?

That'd be kinda messy, Tigerbill. Some computer soundcards have a S/PDIF in that can be routed to the output, but you can typically only have one, and most won't decode the input to speakers. X-Fis can, however, and that might be a way to do it. But you'd have to route the video directly to the TV and switch it manually. And you can only have the computer and one other device without switching cords going into the X-Fi.

Further, computer audio is usually pretty bad. Klipsch is an exception, but their computer speakers aren't particularly good. Rather, they're just not BAD at anything, which for the price range is fairly exceptional. (Most computer speakers are noticeably terrible in at least one way, and often several. Logitechs are particularly nasty.)

One good way to get reasonably good sound fairly cheap is to buy a quality Home Theater In A Box (HTIB). Onkyos are well-thought of. They're "real" stereos, in that they come with actual speakers with standard connections, and a standard receiver with standard connections. This means you can replace the components piecemeal as you want new features. The sound quality will generally be wildly better than anything you can get for the computer. They have multiple price points from $499 to $999. The higher end units will come, typically, with a better receiver and a much better subwoofer. I'm not sure how much the satellites change. Personally, I'd buy up a little, because the gains in sound quality are very pronounced up to about $1k total system cost, still quite noticeable up to about $1500. Further improvements get steadily more expensive and less cost-effective. The biggest driver in sound quality is speakers. ALWAYS put the bulk of your money into speakers. Receivers do help, and buying up will often improve the sound, but the best bang-per-buck is always in the speakers. That's why the $1k HTIBs are usually much better than the $500 units; they have a minimum cost on the receiver, and more expensive setups can put proportionately more money into speaker quality.

I'm not familiar with the current options, but I'd suggest making sure that whatever you buy has A) one set of 7.1 analog inputs, B) 2 or 3 HDMI inputs, and C) 2 or 3 optical S/PDIF inputs. Most will have a couple of coax S/PDIF inputs too, which can be handy occasionally, but aren't used that much anymore.

Most people do pass HTPC audio through a receiver, as Malor mentioned. I have seen a couple people successfully feed one from their computers, although to do it right, you may be out more money than just getting a new Onkyo or Denon receiver. Basically, you can buy a PCI sound card that has a breakout D/A converter—meaning, connecting to the PCI card there's a separate, exterior card where all the actual digital to analog conversion takes place. You never want this happening inside your box, because there's so much electromagnetic interference in there you'll always have fairly serious sound degradation. Additionally, you'd need powered speakers, but most high-end computer speakers would fit that bill.

That being said, I'd recommend running HDMI to a receiver and going the traditional route. But you do have options.

I've always heard good things about Denon, what would a good entry level receiver run me with HDMI? I did price out a couple of HTPC last night, and I was having trouble keeping the budget low, I'm one of those need every shiny new toy kinda people. The problem right now is, my Sony receiver doesn't have HDMI, and the speakers I'm using are from a Koss Theater in a Box kit, but the sub isn't hooked up because of the connection style, and I don't have the rears run yet. I really like the speakers they would suit my needs if my receiver was upgraded; so whats a good price range for subs (I don't listen to stuff at high volumes to keep noise complaints down) nothing too high end? Would a $500-700 price range get me there?

As far as the HTPC acting as the receiver, that was just something I was wonder about, never actually thought I could make it happen.

$500-$700 is plenty. Commonly-loved models are the Onkyo TX-SR607 (usually sells for around $400), the Denon AVR-1910 ($520 or so) or 790 (usually just under $500), and the Yamaha RX-V663 (can be found for as low as $350). I personally prefer the Denon, even though it's the most expensive, because in my opinion it has the warmest sound while retaining clarity, and it's the only one of the three that has Audyssey. But they're all 7.1 systems with several HDMI ins and all the options and connectivity you'll ever need. Thankfully, things are much cheaper than they used to be.

LiquidMantis wrote:
Minarchist wrote:

$500-$700 is plenty. Commonly-loved models are the Onkyo TX-SR607 (usually sells for around $400), the Denon AVR-1910 ($520 or so) or 790 (usually just under $500), and the Yamaha RX-V663 (can be found for as low as $350). I personally prefer the Denon, even though it's the most expensive, because in my opinion it has the warmest sound while retaining clarity, and it's the only one of the three that has Audyssey. But they're all 7.1 systems with several HDMI ins and all the options and connectivity you'll ever need. Thankfully, things are much cheaper than they used to be.

You can get the Denon AVR-790 for <$400 and it's identical to the AVR-1910. Denon goes this thing where there have parallel models that are sold via high-end shops and installers, the four digit line, and stuff sold through big-box stores, the three digit stuff. See more here. I love my 790. The Audyssey MultiEQ really helped the extension on my sub. Getting an HDMI capable receiver dramatically reduced my cabling as well.

I would love to know where you've seen them for that cheap; I haven't been able to find them for that little.

trip1eX wrote:

I just noticed Nero makes a Tivo pc product. You have to pay the fees I guess, but you get the Tivo interface and ease of use which my wife and I love and know how to use. Makes me want to build a Windows-based MC pc.

I built a UHF antenna yesterday from this DIY UHF antenna video guide. You need 6 metal coat hangers, 10 woodscrews & 10 washers and a 2 1/2'-3' piece of wood. 1"x4" would be great. And you need a 75ohm-300ohm transformer available at your local Radio Shack for $5 or online for even cheaper.

And you know what? Works like a charm.

I get every hd and digital channel around. 8 hd channels total and about twice as many sd digital channels.

Here's this bad boy. I tucked it behind the TV stand.

How about VHF? I have one station broadcasting on channel 7 now. If I just bought a VHF antenna, how would one merge that with the output of the UHF one you built? Are there "mergers" to place both antennas on one piece of coax?

Minarchist wrote:

$500-$700 is plenty. Commonly-loved models are the Onkyo TX-SR607 (usually sells for around $400), the Denon AVR-1910 ($520 or so) or 790 (usually just under $500), and the Yamaha RX-V663 (can be found for as low as $350). I personally prefer the Denon, even though it's the most expensive, because in my opinion it has the warmest sound while retaining clarity, and it's the only one of the three that has Audyssey. But they're all 7.1 systems with several HDMI ins and all the options and connectivity you'll ever need. Thankfully, things are much cheaper than they used to be.

You can get the Denon AVR-790 for <$400 and it's identical to the AVR-1910. Denon goes this thing where there have parallel models that are sold via high-end shops and installers, the four digit line, and stuff sold through big-box stores, the three digit stuff. See more here. I love my 790. The Audyssey MultiEQ really helped the extension on my sub. Getting an HDMI capable receiver dramatically reduced my cabling as well.

[Edit] Hmm, well I got my 790 from thenerds.net for $380 but they don't have it in stock or stopped carrying it. The Twister Group has it for $376 but I don't know how trustworthy they are. Their recent history looks great, but their lifetime record sucks.

Minarchist wrote:

I would love to know where you've seen them for that cheap; I haven't been able to find them for that little.

I edited my post but there's been a lot of traffic here since. I bought my 790 from thenerds.net for $380 but they don't show it anymore. I remember seeing it somewhere else that was a safe company for just below $400 or right at. I'll have to think on it for a bit though.

taer wrote:
trip1eX wrote:

I just noticed Nero makes a Tivo pc product. You have to pay the fees I guess, but you get the Tivo interface and ease of use which my wife and I love and know how to use. Makes me want to build a Windows-based MC pc.

I built a UHF antenna yesterday from this DIY UHF antenna video guide. You need 6 metal coat hangers, 10 woodscrews & 10 washers and a 2 1/2'-3' piece of wood. 1"x4" would be great. And you need a 75ohm-300ohm transformer available at your local Radio Shack for $5 or online for even cheaper.

And you know what? Works like a charm.

I get every hd and digital channel around. 8 hd channels total and about twice as many sd digital channels.

Here's this bad boy. I tucked it behind the TV stand.

How about VHF? I have one station broadcasting on channel 7 now. If I just bought a VHF antenna, how would one merge that with the output of the UHF one you built? Are there "mergers" to place both antennas on one piece of coax?

There's this and others. Many UHF antennas can pick up close and/or powerful VHF signals, but unfortunately it's hard to know which ones unless you already have someone in your neighborhood who's been experimenting.

EDIT: I don't think antennaweb.org has been mentioned yet; anyone thinking of trying to get OTA should definitely check out this website. It'll tell you pretty much exactly what kind of antenna you need (DB2, DB4, etc.) and where to place it, or if you can even get signal. Just be truthful in answering questions about trees, buildings, etc.

EDIT EDIT: thanks Mantis, I'll look into it.

Since you can't search TheNerds.net and get the AVR-790 now, I found the product page in my history, it just shows out of stock and no price. I paid $375.99 for it though. You might call them and see if they're getting more in stock. They immediately shipping mine and I got it quickly. Otherwise SaleStores.com has it for $409 and has a decent record. They actually replied at length to the negative feedback left on Reseller Ratings.

Both Denon and Onkyo are good. I actually just replaced an Onkyo 801 (the 1 means it's six years behind this year's XX7 models) with a Denon 2809 because of the new PS3; I wanted to use HDMI, and the old Onkyo just didn't do that. I'm really, really pleased with the improved sound. My bedroom/gaming speakers are bright anyway (codespeak for this is 'very revealing' ), and the Onkyos also tend to be a little bright. The combo was a bit annoying to listen to until I got more stuff in the room to absorb the highs.

Unfortunately, the differences between this year's and last year's models are really complex and hard to boil down. Throughout both lineups, the overall move has been toward dropping back a level on Audyssey, which is a really awesome room correction algorithm, to make room for better video scalers. Typically, last year's receivers will sound a little better, and this year's will look a little better. But trying to analyze specifically which to buy keeps shifting back and forth based on the budget involved and what features you think are important. It is, unfortunately, very complex and hard to sum up. You'd probably need to spend a couple of days reading on avsforum and thinking about what you want. I wish it was simpler, but the decision at, say, $400 may be exactly backwards to the decision at $600, which may be backwards again at $800.

Audyssey, by the way, is really fantastic. You put a mic in several listening positions around the room while the receiver plays annoyingly loud test tones. The more positions you measure, the better the receiver will understand the room. Once you're done, it goes through some really hairy number crunching internally, writing a program for the DSP units in the receiver. From then on, sound that's played through your receiver will be boosted and/or cut in different frequency ranges, trying to compensate for the problems that your room has. It really markedly improves things, and it takes very little time. Old style manual room correction could take dozens of hours of fiddling to get really right; doing it automatically isn't as good as putting up sound dampeners and the like, but it takes twenty minutes and gives excellent results.

You REALLY want a receiver with some kind of Audyssey. The three modes in consumer receivers are Audyssey 2EQ (kind of crappy), MultEQ (decent), and MultEQ XT (very good, with support for eight analysis positions, and much better ability to control the subwoofer, which is the hardest and most important part of room correction.) Getting up to XT is probably not in your price range, and probably not worth it with the gear and speakers you have, but getting to MultEQ will probably be worth it. From there, it's a matter of deciding what other features you want, balanced against your budget, and that's what will take reading and thinking time.

I wish I could just say, "buy X", but I can't. Two units to start with as a baseline would probably be the Denon AVR-1910 and the Onkyo TX-SR707. Dropping to lower models will generally drop back to Audyssey 2EQ, which sucks. Of those two, I think the 1910 is probably a better buy because of the 7.1 analog inputs, which will make it more flexible and easier to use for HTPC duty. I think it's also cheaper. Also note that buying last year's models may give you better DACs, but less advanced video scaling.

LiquidMantis wrote:

[Edit] Hmm, well I got my 790 from thenerds.net for $380 but they don't have it in stock or stopped carrying it. The Twister Group has it for $376 but I don't know how trustworthy they are. Their recent history looks great, but their lifetime record sucks.

I'd say stay away from Twister Group. Multiple comments are like this:

customer review wrote:

Since I ahve made this complaint, this company has posted my personal order information and contact information on a public site. This company has no privacy policy and posts it's customers peronsal information publically when they complain. BEWARE! Caveat Emptor!

Also, the listed business address on their website is a home in a sub-division outside of Chicago.

Ok, lets say I go with the Denon AVR-1910 and keep my Koss surround speakers, what about a decent sub? I know the more you pay the better, but I'm not the type of person that listens to loud BOOOMMING stuff and I've lived without a sub for almost a year now. Is the $200 range going to be too low for anything decent?
In all honesty I would rather be putting this money towards a HTPC and still just buy a sub, I don't really care if my video goes through my receiver, my TV has all the HDMI ports I'll need.

One good online source for subs is Hsu Research. Even their least expensive subs are pretty amazing. And their little Ventriloquist speakers are cheap if you buy them with a sub, and I've seen repeated claims that they're surprisingly good for the size. They do an unusual trick of doing some of the left and right midfrequencies out of the much larger center speaker, which apparently improves frequency response quite a bit without really messing up imaging.

Normally, speakers have to be pretty big to be very good, but their approach lets you get fairly good sound with very tiny satellites, which typically garners a much higher Wife Approval Rating.

Hsu is having a $499 sale on their VTF-2 Mk3, and that thing will rock your world. The least expensive sub they sell is their STF-1 at $399, and the extra hundred bucks will give you a VERY substantial improvement in deep bass, from 32hz down to 18hz.

Any sub you'd buy in a retail store that was that good would probably cost about a thousand dollars.

Hsu is good, as is SVS, and Epik.

Mantis' receiver is back at thenerds for 399.99.

Now that I've had this receiver for a while I have to say I really love it. Wish I could swing a 2nd one right now to upgrade the AVR on the alternate TV. We've been using the upstairs TV a lot more recently and I'd really like the HDMI switching and sound features. Too bad Uncle Sam has other plans for my money.