Help me build a HTPC(dmorris)

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31-07-2007 09:58:45

Ok. So I have a new phillips lcd and it only accwepts hdmi input as well as component. My older tv accepted vga which made connecting a breeze. My onlypc at this point is a laptop that does vga and svideo outputs. Now I've done some research and the only way to connect this together would be to get vga to dvi sclaer, which runs about $350. Something I find quite useless since I could probably build a whole new pc for that kind of money. So

I come to you guys for advice in building a new pc.

What I would like

1- decent mobo. Not too concerned with on board anything as I will purchase the video and audio cards.

2- video card - ideally would like a video card that outputs hdmi directly. Not every device has them but they are availible in some cards. Of course any video card that does dvi out will do

3- case - suppose any will do will have to find out about mobo first.

4. CPU - something dual core probably e6600

5. memory - I can figure out later

Please advise me so I can build a htpc for movies and video. Not too interested in pc gaming. Just need a connection so I can watch all my divx stuff and dowloaded tv shows.


31-07-2007 11:54:03

To be honest I wouldn't bother with the laptop. Without the expensive adapter, VGA isn't an option, and S-Video is going to look like total crap on a large LCD. Plus you'll have no TV tuner unless you go with an external USB tuner, something I don't recommend.

Specific mobo's, cpus, ram, etc. are a dime a dozen and subject to personal preferences, budgets, and agendas, so I won't try to recommend a specific brand or model. Primarily because an HTPC doesn't need anything specific there, as they tend to be fairly low-horsepower machines if you use proper components. The most important thing with mobo's and cases are formfactor.

The critical components in an HTPC as opposed to a regular desktop are

1. Video output. MSI makes a 7300GS card with HDMI/HDCP 1080p output that also routes the soundcard's S/PDIF audio over the HDMI connection. It's like $75 via PriceGrabber[=http//]$75 via PriceGrabber. I don't have personal experience with the card nor have I read a review, but I like MSI's stuff and the specs certainly look adequate. It's also a fanless heatsink design for reduced noise. It would suck for modern gaming, but you aren't looking for that. Personally I have a 6200 card with component and DVI out that I bought a couple years ago, that suits me fine. Then again I don't really use my HTPC anymore for TV watching, so I've not been anxious to upgrade it.

2. Tuner/capture cards. Unless you're only interested in watching DVD's and ripped videos, you'll need at lease one tuner/capture card. The defacto standard for HTPC's is Happauge's line of WinPVR cards with built-in MPEG encoders, usually the 150, 250, and 500 models. The 500 is a dual-tuner model which is essentially dual 150's in a single card. Having hardware encoding takes a huge load off the PC, keeping your horsepower requirements (and therefore cost, heat, and noise) lower.

3. Size. HTPC formfactor is something to be considered. The smaller the better, usually meaning a microATX or miniITX mobo and case. Which means your components needs to be chosen wisely because your expansion options will be limited. There are actually miniITX mobos made specifically for HTPC's that contain onboard MPEG encoders and such. Personally, I prefer a regular desktop mid-tower case for a PC. I bought something attractive that fits nicely within my home theater setup, in the corner beside the massive H/K subwoofer (the case and sub are almost the same bronze color). The wife accepts it, so all is well. ) That gives me more flexibility in choosing components, and also lets me use larger fans that run quiet.

4. Heat. Due to the typical small case sizes, often stashed in a rack or entertainment center, temp control is a problem that must be dealt with. Lots of airflow is needed, both within and outside the case. Fans help, but small formfactor cases tend to employ small, high-RPM fans that lead to the next problem...

5. Noise. The cooling requirements of small formfactor systems tend to be dealt with by an abundance of fans, which introduces noise. While fan noise in a desktop PC or laptop might be tolerable, it's annoying to have a loud HTPC rig when you're kicked back and enjoying a movie. And especially in the bedroom, where it's running while you sleep (assuming you're using it as a PVR). The PSU you choose can also contribute to the noise level if you don't choose carefully.


31-07-2007 12:29:38

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31-07-2007 12:47:32

You might look at today's htpc post at SD for parts ideas

I'm with the don't spend too much crowd, if the pc will strictly be for HTPC. You should just build it so that it will be able to play 1080p h264 content to future proof it. Took this from the quicktime page-
li 3.0 Ghz Intel Pentium D (dual-core) or faster processor
li At least 1GB of RAM
li 64MB or greater video card
li Windows XP Service Pack 2 or Vista

Although you might want to go higher if you might add a HDDVD or Bluray drive on it. From cyberlink
li Very fast single core CPU (3.2+ GHz Pentium 4, 2.0+ GHz Pentium-M, 2.4+ GHz Athlon 64), or almost any dual core CPU
li NVIDIA 7600gt or better, or ATI X1600 or better
li 512mb system memory, 256mb video card memory
li for digital HDMI output, a certified video card with HDCP support and a HDMI connector

And at those specs, you won't have any problems using an HD tuner card.

I have a micro-ATX mobo and a fairly inexpensive case that sits in my bookshelf just fine (I didn't want to pay $100+ for those other HTPC cases). It also comes with a 400W PSU and takes standard PSUs, which is pretty good for a small case.

I also replaced the various fans with panaflo fans, which are really quiet.

You might also think about getting a (networked or USB capable) upscaling HDMI output DVD player that plays xvid if that is your main goal. I have one of those too. A lot cheaper and cleaner. Put your tv shows onto a USB stick and plug it into the player. There's a new Helix player coming out that upscales xvid, and is under $100.


31-07-2007 14:11:16

Thx for the help guys. It seems the video card dmorris recommended does not run the audio through hdmi. One of my main requirements would be to have a card that does video and audio through HDMI. From reading up on the other forums it looks like not too many cards support this as of yet.

I'm leaning towards buying a cheap video card that would allow me to get a setup going and then to just wait to buy a replacmenet card in the future that integrates audio through hdmi.

Let me be more specific about my requriements now

1. mobo - not overly powerful but should have many ports to allow upgrades. Something that will support video watching for now and 2-3 years from now.

2. ram - assuming ddr2 is cheaper and I should get a mobo that supports ddr2.

3. hard drive - have or can find a cheap solution.

4. video card - Just looking to get soemthing setup. Dvi output for now would be fine. Would still liek 1080p out. basically just a cheap option that will allow dvd playback as well as xvid. I'll wait for h.264 formats later as I upgrade the video card.

5. audio - already have an available card

6. case - all reliant on what I do with mobo.

7. tuners - not necessary right now and may be a future upgrade.

8. CPU - def leaning towards c2d as I want it to be ready to use for the future.

i also would be looking for mid tower design.

Can you guys pelase help guide me further


31-07-2007 21:07:35

[quote703881f7b3="good2speed"]Thx for the help guys. It seems the video card dmorris recommended does not run the audio through hdmi. One of my main requirements would be to have a card that does video and audio through HDMI. From reading up on the other forums it looks like not too many cards support this as of yet.[/quote703881f7b3]
Sure it does. As do most HDMI-enabled cards I've seen lately.

[quote703881f7b3] Interface Type Audio - Digital Coaxial,
Video - 15 pin High-Density D-shell (VGA),
Video - DVI-I (Digital & Analog)[/quote703881f7b3]

Why would it have an S/PDIF input if it weren't for routing over HDMI?

And if you're referring to the ONE Newegg reviewer who said it doesn't work, that obviously sounds like a case of user error or bad hardware, which is all too common with Newegg user reviews. The only thing those reviews are good for is spotting trends. I take any single one with less than a grain of salt. Notice no other reviewer mentions that problem, and one even comments that the S/PDIF over HDMI is a nice feature.

[quote703881f7b3="MSI Specs"] HDMI - High Definition Multimedia Interface Support
HDMI is a new interface standard for PCs, displays and consumer electronics devices that supports standard, enhanced and high-definition video, plus multi-channel digital audio on a single cable. [b703881f7b3]It enables your PC to transmit all HDTV standards that combine HDCP-protected video at resolutions up to 1080p and 8-channel digital audio with 5 Gbps of bandwidth provided.[/b703881f7b3][/quote703881f7b3]