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New HTPC Build Help


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#1
Sk0rch

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I am building an HTPC for my parent's home. I have less than a week to research because I need to have it built and ready to go in two weeks. The budget is around 2500 but that is flexible.

I am new to this stuff and I need help. I have built a PC before, but I still don't know a lot about this. I have been researching a bit lately, but it is hard to figure out where to begin. I am hoping you guys can ask my questions to narrow down what it is exactly that I want.

This is going to be from scratch, meaning I also need to purchase a TV as well.

The majority of the $ will be going toward the TV, which is going to be 55" at the very minimum. Should have specified that, sorry.

Basically, what the HTPC will be used for is:

-Netflix/Watching movies that we have downloaded/blueray movies
-Streaming youtube videos
-Webcam chatting
-Playing music
-Viewing family pictures

I have Dish network. The Dish already has DVR playback. That has nothing to do with the HTPC - that is just something separate, because I think it will be too much of a hassle to integrate satellite into the HTPC.

It will be HDMI. We do have an external hard drive, but I'm sure it won't be enough and we'll have to store things in the HTPC hard-drive, or if it gets too loud, upstairs on the desktop PC and then network it to the HTPC downstairs somehow.

I was going to start from here, but a lot of that stuff in the link is over my head. From what I gather, I should figure out the type of mobo, because that will determine the type of case (form factor). It's a shame that the most recent edition (holiday edition) - he is making you pay for :D

I'm the type of person that likes to research everything to death before purchasing, to ensure that I get the most bang for my buck. So I tend to stray away from generic cookie cutter build recommendations, especially if it is outdated. But I would still consider the various parts on an individual basis.

Anything would be appreciated including:

  • links to guides for htpcs
  • links to good deals for tvs/pc parts
  • any advice/guidance

Thanks!
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#2
starjax

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Thats a large budget. You can build one for much less. This is what I use:

amd athlon x64 (socket 939)
ati 5570 hdcp compliant video card
hdcp means you can do blueray (encrypt hdmi)to the tv
wireless n network adapter
blue ray drive

What you might need:
n router (if they don't have one)
adapter cable from video card to tv (dispalyport to hdmi). About 8$ at Monoprice.com
wireless mouse and keyboard
media card adapter (if case doesn't have one)

You can go the route of an Atom processor, but experience shows me that its slow and has issues with high def content. Plus things will probably get more processor intensive as time goes forward. I can play everything off of the internet (hulu, netflix, media files, plus whatever I attach or download to the pc). I've almost got to the point that I can cancel my cable.

As to software options, there are a lot. Windows 7 home premium comes with media center. I recommend that you stay with that. You can get a media center remote to go with it.

That's it in a nutshell. You can do just about anything you want. If you want to dig into it more, then I suggest that you visit the avsForum htpc section: http://www.avsforum....isplay.php?f=26
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#3
Sk0rch

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Sorry, I should have been more clear. A good portion, probably more than half, of the budget will go toward the TV (55" at least).
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#4
Sk0rch

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Budget wise for the actual HTPC - I was thinking 400, 600 at the very most but I'd prefer to stay under. I already have an OS CD for win 7 so that isn't an issue.


I was thinking about a SSD instead of an HDD. Why do you recommend an HDD? I am reading that SSD have quicker access time, lower power consumption, and less latency.

How would I go about choosing the form factor? You think the case should determine the form factor? I thought it would be vice versa, since mobo is more important I am assuming.
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#5
Gabriel1

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Just putting my two cents, he probably said HDD instead of SSD because of the value, SSD would be much more expensive for much less space.

Also... an SSD is about 100x faster then an HDD.... (in microseconds)

But getting a 60gb SSD for $120 when you can get a 1-2TB HDD for the same price and barely notice the difference doesn't make sense to me anyway.

Edited by Gabriel1, 20 December 2010 - 09:38 PM.

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#6
Sk0rch

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You're right - I'll go with an HDD.

My parents have DISH network - at first I was not going to bother integrating it. But I just want to be sure. Is it really a big hassle? I thought it was based on reading this.

http://www.dbstalk.c...ad.php?t=166854

Am I missing something? Do I not just need a tuner card and coax? Also, the DISH receiver is upstairs, and the HTPC will be downstairs, so that may be another problem right?

As far as the CPU - could I not just buy a decent CPU and then offload some the processing power to the GPU - is that feasible? I heard it may not work in Netflix though.

So here is what I am thinking for price range:

Mobo - ~$60 (most likely microATX)
CPU - ~$60 (maybe a dual core AMD?)
GPU - ~$80 (HDCP-capable, and maybe even passively cooled)
RAM - ~$40 (ddr3, 2gb is fine, 4 is overkill)
HDD - ~$70 (2TB!)
PSU - ~$?? (modular?)
Case - ~$??
Case Fan - Necessary??
Blu-Ray/DVD Player - ~??
Blue-ray software - will I need to buy this?
OS - Win7 Home 32 bit (I have the trial version)
Media center - XMBC or WMC (free)

TV - ~$1500 (55+", HDMI, 1080P)
Speakers - ~?? (surround wireless? Probably too expensive)
Remote - ~?? (MCE?)

How does that all look? Am I missing things? Wireless card? Do I need that? Should I do OTA HD?

Thanks for all the help.
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#7
starjax

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let your tv handle OTA HD.

Unless you want to run cable, you will want a wireless card.
This is the one I got: http://www.newegg.co...N82E16833320048

liteon bluray player if you want to watch bluray movies
To watch bluray movies you need playback software. you have choices when it comes to software, but plan on spending anywhere from $40 (the current price for Corel WinDVD Pro 2010) to $95 (for CyberLink PowerDVD 10 Ultra 3D). A third option, ArcSoft TotalMedia Theatre 3 Platinum, sells for around $90.

with the right video card you can do sound over hdmi to the tv. Otherwise you need a receiver/speakers. wireless speakers suck. Just stay away from them.

xbmc just released a new version: http://www.tested.co...-own-htpc/1537/
(need to try this out on my system)


Looks like your going in the right direction with your choices. For guides, ect just visit the AVSforum link I posted above. they get pretty hardcore and detailed on everything.
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#8
starjax

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as to hdd vs sdd that is a personal call. I like to reuse old hardware so I went with hdd. If I had a choice I would go with a sdd for the boot drive and a large hdd for data storage.
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#9
Sk0rch

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Thanks starjax.

So my family decided they don't want anything less than a 60 inch TV.

Right now, the best deal I can find is this one: LG 60" 1080p 120Hz LCD HDTV

http://www.newegg.co...N82E16889005166

This is a recent deal on Newegg - 1300 for the LD550. It was sold out last night but it looks like they restocked. It is relatively the same price as the PK550. Putting aside the plasma vs lcd discussion, it still seems like it is better than the PK550 (60 inch plasma). What do you guys think?


Regarding HTPCS, I think it will be easier for me to decide on one thing at a time. So right now, I will focus on CPU and motherboard.

Based on what I want to do, please help me weigh the cost and benefits of the following:

Also, please feel free to suggest other options!

CPU OPTIONS:

- AMD Athlon II X2 240 (2.8Ghz) - $57
http://www.newegg.co...N82E16819103688

- AMD Athlon II X2 245 Regor 2.9GHz - $60
http://www.newegg.co...N82E16819103687

- AMD Athlon II X3 445 Rana 3.1GHz 3 x 512KB L2 Cache Socket AM3 95W Triple-Core Desktop Processor - $77
http://www.newegg.co...N82E16819103872

- AMD Phenom II X2 555 Black Edition 3.2GHz Socket AM3 80W Dual-Core - $90
http://www.newegg.co...N82E16819103846

I don't see any reason to go with the $57 when I can pay $3 more for the 2.9 Ghz. But is the triple core the best deal? Or is it even needed?

MOBO OPTIONS:

- MSI 740G Motherboard mATX AM3 - $50 (integrated ATI Radeon 2100)
http://www.newegg.co...N82E16813130288

- GIGABYTE GA-MA785GM mATX - $70 (integrated ATI Radeon HD 4200)
http://www.newegg.co...N82E16813128394
or
http://www.newegg.co...N82E16813131595

- ASRock 880GMH/USB3 Micro ATX - $82 - (integrated ATI Radeon HD 4250)
http://www.newegg.co...N82E16813157197

- GIGABYTE GA-880GM-UD2H AM3 AMD 880G Micro ATX - $90 (integrated ATI Radeon HD 4250)
http://www.newegg.co...N82E16813128439

CPU/MOBO COMBO:

- ASUS M4A785-M Micro ATX: $65 (integrated ATI Radeon HD 4200)
- AMD Phenom II X3 Black Edition Heka 2.8 GHz Triple Core - $76
Combo Discount: -$15
Combo Price: $126
http://www.newegg.co...st=Combo.564800

- ASUS M4A88T-M AM3 AMD 880G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard: $85 (integrated ATI Radeon HD 4250)
- AMD Athlon II X2 260 Regor 3.2GHz - $68
Combo Discount: -$17.00
Combo Price: $136
http://www.newegg.co...st=Combo.573213

- GIGABYTE GA-MA785 Micro ATX: $70 (integrated ATI Radeon HD 4200)
- AMD Phenom II X2 555 Black Edition Callisto 3.2 GHz Dual Core: $90
Combo Discount: -$15
Combo Price: $145
http://www.newegg.co...st=Combo.572323

HTPC COMBO:

$501
http://www.newegg.co...7&SID=u00000687

OTHER COMBO:

$250
http://www.newegg.co...st=Combo.548019

What do you guys think?
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#10
starjax

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the 2nd combo (barebones pc) is what I would go with.

Issues with the htpc combo:
-small case makes it difficult to work on.
-video will struggle with hi def playback. It will struggle with flash content as well.

In other words, I think you can spec out the parts yourself and be happier with the overall quality than if you went this this combo.

cpu: faster the better
video: amd 5600 series or newer
motherboard asus as above is fine. Pretty much any name brand am3 board is good for this purpose. Notice that I ignore the integrated video. You can get low profile versions of the cards that will fit into any case. This is just my opinion. you can always start with the integrated and upgrade later. Just make sure your case will allow you to do that.

Wireless card; also, make sure the case has room for the wireless card and a video card as well. Those small cases can drive you to upgrade later just for room to work on and expandability.

Case: stick with the "media center" centric cases if you want. I prefer something more like the Antec p180 http://www.antec.com...uct.php?id=Mw==
Its about twice the size, but you can always turn it on its side. Just have to be carefull inserting dvd's into the drive.
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#11
Sk0rch

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starjax - thanks for the feedback - could you tell me what specifically in the combo will cause the video to struggle with hi def playback and flash content?

So I think I have a pretty good grasp on what kind of CPU/Mobo to purchase.

We purchased a $1600 Sony - BRAVIA 60" Class / 1080p / 120Hz / LED-LCD HDTV - KDL60EX700 (DISPLAY MODEL) from Sam's Club - no tax.

Next thing I want to focus on is the speaker system, which I am a complete newbie at, but I have been researching a bit.

Budget max is $400-450ish - is there anything out there like this for that price that meets the below requirements?

Living Room - 17x20x17
Kitchen - 17x12x9
The wireless rear speakers in the kitchen will be 30 feet away from the TV.

Home theater surround sound system requirements:

- 5.1
- wireless rear speakers (or cheap enough for me to buy a wireless rear kit like Rocketfish for $100?)
- HDMI input
- AV Receiver (either dedicated or included in the blueray or DVD player)
- reasonably high wattage
- DTS-HD or TrueHD audio format (how important is this?)
- good cross over design and THD
- 14 guage speaker wire should be adequate (right?)

Anyone know anything that meets this criteria?

So the best deal I've found so far is the Sony HTS-S370 - which meets all the above requirements besides the wireless rear speakers, which would be an additional 75-100$ to purchase (RocketFish). There was a recent deal in the past few months where this system, with a coupon code, was about $235 shipped - unfortunately, it is about a $100 more than that now. Anyone have any good deals/recommedations or advice?

Thanks!


P.S. We also purchased this for the universal remote:

http://www.amazon.co...d/dp/B0036VO67I
Right now, it is $26 shipped with a coupon code
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#12
starjax

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the integrated video will run hot when playing flash content. Not that it can't do it. Start with it, as long as you have an upgrade path available, then you can always upgrade later. I'm not very objective to integrated video. Comes from my long pc support history where its always sucked at anything but basics.

Speakers and video; why I keep suggesting the ati 5600 or better is that you can do audio over hdmi. Otherwise you will have to go audio out of the sound card and into the receiver. See this article: http://www.avsforum....d.php?t=1179134

Speakers: wireless speakers are prone to interference, static and pops. Sound is muddy. Also they are not something you integrate into a surround system. They are stereo only. Bluetooth speakers are even worse due to the audio compression that occurs. Bottom line is they are expensive , sound like cheap speakers but cost a bundle. If your set on wireless, go listen to them first. its subjective and its your ears, not mine that will be listening to them.

check out klipcsh, boston acoustics, or polk audio: http://www.crutchfie...ems.html?tp=184
I like all three. My space is pretty similar to yours and this is what I would get.

Reciever: Dennon hands down.
This is Tekzilla, about 4 min. in for the review.

14gauge is fine.

If you buy cables, get them from http://monoprice.com or http://bluejeanscable.com
better cables, cheap prices.
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#13
Sk0rch

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But buying a dedicated receiver by itself and building the system like that will inevitably make me go over budget, won't it?
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#14
starjax

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I would think so.

You could build that part later or go traditional. your bravia + home theater in a box. That would give you bluray, speakers, and a reciever. the player should be one that does netflix.

building a htpc allows one to tinker and change a lot overtime. Start small now and build on it.
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#15
Sk0rch

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Thanks starjax - what do you think of this?

I have been researching speaker systems heavily the last couple days, and I think I finally have a winner that meets all my requirements.

Sony HT-SS370 1 kW 5.1 Home Theater System

It is $258 shipped at thenerds.net with the -$8 holiday couponcode.

With the Bravia Sync, it is a perfect fit with our new Bravia TV.

The two requirements that it does not meet, by itself, is the wireless rear speakers and the true-HD/DTS-HD audio decoding in the A/V receiver.

The wireless rear speakers problem can be solved with the universal Rocketfish set, so +$110 (but we have a gift card!).

As for the true-HD/DTS-HD, that can still be done via LPCM even if the AV/Receiver does not decode that audio format. I have a PS3 and the blueray on there will do the decoding for those HD audio formats - so the blueray will do the decoding and send it to the A/V receiver.

So knowing that I am doing this, will it change any of the requirements for the hardware I need? I'll still be fine without a dedicated GPU? Whether that is having the GPU in the mobo, or included in the Intel i3 Clarkdale, either one will support the true-HD and everything else, right? Are there any problems that you guys anticipate I will have?

So the total will be:

$259 - Speaker system
$110 - Rocketfish
$15 - Tall front speaker stands
$238 - Pinnacle 56 Inch TV Stand with 2 Glass Doors - NEX1210 [link]

= $622

Now that all this is done, I can refocus on the HTPC hardware!
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