HTPC Advice

For my Christmas present to myself, I’m wanting to build an HTPC on the cheap (real cheap). My family does a lot of streaming, and right now, my main gaming PC is the one to do it because of proximity to our living room TV. I don’t mind until I’m bothered with stopping my gaming session to watch “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”.

So, as a gift to myself to save my sanity, I’m wanting to build a streaming PC/Blu-Ray player.

My secondary goal is to hopefully get rid of my regular DVD-player, cable box (I only sub to basic cable. COMCAST/Xfinity), and perhaps turn this HTPC into a dvr of sorts. I can see it getting rid of my DVD-player, but getting rid of the cable box and dvr-support is iffy.

I already have some spare hardware lying around, so my build is being built around that.
Hardware already have:
1.) Intel e6550 CPU
2.) 4GB (2x2GB) DDR2 800MHz
3.) 1GB SATA 7200RPM 32MB cache HD
4.) Windows 7 64bit

Here’s my shopping list (Hard Ceiling of $275):
Newegg Public Wishlist of HTPC

Rosewill MicroATX Case

Intel BOXDG41CN LGA 775 Intel G41 Micro ATX Intel Motherboard

PowerColor AX5570 1GBD3-H Radeon HD 5570 1GB 128-bit DDR3 HDCP Video Card

Hauppauge WinTV HVR-1250 Hybrid TV Tuner /Video Recorder 1196

SAMSUNG Black 12X BD-ROM 16X DVD-/+R 48X CD-ROM SATA Internal Blu-ray Combo Model SH-B123L/RSBP

My biggest question would be the TV Tuner card as I’m not familiar with them at all.

You may not need an add-on video card.

My HTPC that I built a couple of years ago runs off a built in Intel 4500HD and it processes HD-DVDs / Blu-Rays without issue. It may save you a few bucks to try an onboard solution…and you can always add an add-on card if necessary. Though, it appears my CPU may be better than yours…and (Intel Core 2 Duo E7400 Dual Core Processor LGA775 2.8GHZ 1066FSB 3MB Retail)

As for TV-Tuners, it’s not something I’m familiar with due to our lack of cable cards here in Canada.

My HTPC for possible reference:

Gigabyte GA-EG45M-DS2H mATX LGA775 G45 DDR2 PCI-E16 2PCI SATA RAID Video Sound GLAN HDMI Motherboard
Intel Core 2 Duo E7400 Dual Core Processor LGA775 2.8GHZ 1066FSB 3MB Retail
Nmedia HTPC-5000B Desktop Media Centre Case mATX Black 1X5.25 4X3.5INT Card Reader No PS
Nmedia LCD Module 2X20 USB for Nmedia HTPC Cases
Western Digital WD10EADS Caviar Green 1TB SATA 32MB Cache 3.5IN Hard Drive OEM
Crucial Rendition 2GB 1X1GB PC2-6400 DDR2-800 240PIN DIMM Memory
Corsair CMPSU-400CX 400CX 400W ATX 12V 30A Power Supply Active PFC
Remote Control
Arcsoft Total Theatre

If you’ve got room in your budget, I’m completely done with internal tuner cards. I’ve migrated entirely to SiliconDust HD Homerun products - one of the bare two tuner jobs and one of the CableCARD driven PRIME models (which comes with three tuners). They’re accessible anywhere on the network, they’re easy to record from, and they integrate easily into Windows Media Center for the viewing and recording of copy-once flagged content. Plus, when the recorder or the playback machine fail or I’m ready to upgrade, I can rebuild entirely in place without needing to take the whole ecosystem down to swap any hardware.

It’s a step up in cost from what you’ve got there, though. Also not entirely sure what the availability is right now on the PRIMEs.

The reason I’m gonig with an add-in video card is for the HDMI output and pass-thru audio. Then I can hook it up to my home audio receiver with minimal cables.

My main question is the Tuner card. Seems there are so many techonologies (digital, hybrid, dual, etc). I hear some aren’t compatible with this that or the other, etc. or doesn’t work well with Win7 media center.

The Silicon DUST HD Dual looks really nice ($99 from Walmart online or newegg).

It pushes the price barrier a little.

It seems to do exactly what I need it to and looks simple. Being able to watch from 2 PCs on a network at the same time is a nice feature to boot.

I do like the extrenal remote of the Hauppauge.

Hmmm… gonna have to do some soul searching here.

Mine has HDMI out for audio/video. It may have just been my board and they may not be making them like that anymore.

Tuning, broken down real simple-like:

Shopping on NewEgg, you’re going to see a LOT of different standards and random letter combinations that don’t matter to you, because that shit gets hella fragmented once you get outside of the United States. The ones you care about are ATSC (for over the air and some - almost universally SD - cable stuff) and QAM (for cable things that are encrypted).

As far as I know, all cable broadcasters are legally required to broadcast any stations available in their market over the air in what is called Clear QAM - basically, unencrypted content. The basic HDHR will get all that stuff. Generally speaking, your provider isn’t going to do more than the minimum required in this area.

Everything else is broadcasted in QAM with encryption, which is what you need the CableCARD to decode. What channels are available in the clear from what providers in what areas varies by every word that I put in that sentence. In Houston, if you want to record anything that you pay for (basic cable and up) in HD, you’ve got to have a card, or else use an analog workaround, which I also have the equipment for.

So far as cards go, there’s two types. Regular CableCARDs and M-Cards. M is for multi-stream. If you’ve only got a single tuner running through a single card, you might be able to shave a couple of bucks a month off the price by taking the shrimpier card, but if you’ve got a multi-stream tuner (like the HDHR Prime), you’re going to need a multi-stream card.

That’s pretty much it as far as the technology goes. For the remote, my experience with my HT/Gaming rig through which I watch pretty much everything that I ever see and vicariously live my life tells me that you’re going to end up with a wireless KB/M setup whether you like it or not. The software that I use allows you to use an IR remote through Girder, but I’m not sure if even the guy that wrote it is using it any more.

What playback software you’re going to use is also worth thinking about. Windows Media Center isn’t terrible. I mean, I hate it with a passion that burns like a thousand suns, but I’m weird, and most people are okay with it, and scheduled recording comes baked in. If you’re going to use it, you want to make sure your card is WMC Compatible.

Yeah. Seems like your mb is specifically made for HTPC. The mb I’m looking at just has VGA out.

Even if the MB has HDMI out, you’ll want to check and make sure that audio and video decoding are solid. The GA-EG45M-DS2H, for instance, I cannot tell whether or not you can get proper bitstreaming from the AVS forums.

As a practical matter, you’re definitely correct. If you don’t have a HDCP-supported video card or method (VGA definitely is not such a creature, and DVI varies from implementation to implementation), you need to put one in the box. Without belaboring the point too much, losing your HDCP path can cause all sorts of interesting and unexpected problems with playback for any kind of secured content. It’ll also play hell with some of the Blu-Ray playback software, if you decide to put one in.

Wow. Thanks for the info! It does help.

I do have a wireless KB/Mouse. I just figure the remote would be good for quickly pausing, fast forward/rewind kind of thing.

As far as recording, I’m paying for just basic cable. I’m not even paying for hd channels which sucks because I don’t even get over the air-HD unless I physically swich it to an external antenne. I just thought it would be nice to record a show if I’m out of the house, or have 2 shows in competing time slots.

I’m used to windows media center. If there is a better free one out there to use, I don’t mind learning it.

Is there any recommended internal tuner card to use that has a remote?

I like the Siliconedust video. It makes it look sooooo easy.

I wouldn’t get too hung up on the remote. You can get the Hauppauge job for $30 if worse comes to worse. In practice, I’ve used internal Hauppauge tuners before and they work alright, though I’ve never used the remotes for anything other than paperweights. If you’re doing everything through WMC, it should remove the layer of hardware abstraction that I have to deal with in my setup, so as long as the card you grab is WMC Compatible, you should be golden.

This is as good a thread as any for this link. In the course of shopping for an HTPC case, this gadget was recommended by Amazon: Rii Mini Wireless Keyboard

While it was obviously designed for presenters given the inclusion of a laser pointer, it’s a perfectly functional wireless kb/touchpad replacement. Less than $30, good range, good wireless response time, even works with BIOS screens. Neatest thing I’ve bought this year.

have you thought about going smaller, with mini-itx?

Hmm… good ideas all around.

I’m leaning more to the Silicondust then, and later down the road purchasing some type of remote. That little kb/touchpad looks like it would work.

THe thing with the mini-itx is no PCIe slot for an add-in card, and stay around $275 total (or at least not one I can find), . I’m trying the next best thing going with the miniATX and a mini case.

Oh, I forgot to mention I already have a spare modular PSU that’s regular size as well.

I own 3 of the regular dual tuner hdhr’s and one of the 6 tuner prime’s. That gives me 12 tuners I can use and distribute how I see fit for different uses on different pc’s. It’s really awesome.

mini itx comes with one pci-e slot and nothing else. it probably won’t be as cheap though.

Exactly. ITX ones that support DDR2 either don’t come with a PCIe or cost too much if they did. Going one with support for DDR3 means I have to buy new memory.

I do like them. Would be really cool to have one that small.

Just getting rid of my cable box and DVD-player would be enough to make me happy. :)

DDR3 is much cheaper than DDR2 these days :)

Let me add a vote for the HDHomerun. I have a pair of them, and they’ve been rock-solid since I dumped DirecTV and started using my PC as a DVR for over-the-air signals. Whereas the various internal cards (Hauppage, ATI, Avermedia) I’ve used would invariably eventually have a driver issue or something that would result in nothing being recorded until I rebooted. Zero issues on the HDHomeruns in the seven or eight months I’ve been using them.

(Also, have you priced DDR3 lately? Given that 4GB is probably $20 nowadays, I wouldn’t let a desire to reuse old DDR2 hamstring me into an ancient motherboard.)