Investigating a HTPC option

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Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Tue Jul 03, 2012 12:15 pm

So two days ago, my PS3 encountered what I believe is known as the Yellow Light of Death... I'm still not sure what is going on with it, and I'll probably crack it open to take a look.

Anyway, since the PS3 was used for Netflix, and some random media streaming, I was thinking rather than replacing the PS3, why not look at an HTPC option. (I blame TR's Summer Guide for putting the worm into my head).

A couple questions... Having never looked into HTPC's, I read up on the guide. Is that price typical for HTPCs? Mainly I'm looking for something that can access Netflix, Amazon Prime, and play Blu-ray movies. Would I need to have a full windows installation, or can I just have something where I can launch the apps (without having to go to a browser). I'm almost thinking Win8 would be perfect for this.

I don't have cable, but I may be getting DirectTV (with a Tivo HD DVR Box). What sort of hardware should I be looking at? Also, are there SFF cases that would fit into a profile of a fat PS3? (My entertainment center is configured for a rectangular shape rather than a cube like chassis that was in the Guide).

I know I'm asking a lot, but I really appreciate the help.
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Tue Jul 03, 2012 12:42 pm

While having an HTPC is great, don't bother with the built-in Blue-ray player. I found it is 10X easier to use the HTPC for everything BUT BR. The other drawback is the quirky Windows-related crap after leaving things running for days on end where it goes to sleep/wakes up, goes to sleep, etc. Eventually the stability goes to crap and you wind up with glitchy recordings.

So others here may have recommendations of software other than Windows Media Center for this sort of thing.
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Tue Jul 03, 2012 12:58 pm

The "next gen console" in the system guide costs much more than what you need for just HTPC work. The biggest giveaway of that is the $230 graphics card which is only needed if you plan on playing demanding games on your HTPC. If you're looking for some literature, anandtech.com does probably the best articles related to HTPCs that I've seen. I would point out two articles: One where they found Ivy Bridge HD4000 graphics to be a pretty good solution and the other that suggests a 6570 or GT430 as optimal discrete HTPC GPUs. They also have an article on Llano for the HTPC which they seemed to come away unimpressed with.

I'm planning on seeing what AMD Trinity APUs have to offer (particularly the A6-5400K) when they come out in the next few months before choosing between Intel and AMD. A dual core processor is all you really need. If you figure somewhere in the $100-$130 for a processor with IGP, $25 for 4GB of RAM, you're left with hard drive price which varies depending on your needs (will you store data locally or stream over a network?), and a case which may or may not come with a PSU. Let's say you estimate the hdd and case at $100 each...that brings you to ~$355 for a base config. Then you can add frills like a TV tuner card that allows you to record shows.

Cases are hard to recommend, perhaps you could state what your intended budget is? Are you looking for something aesthetically unique or just slim and functional?
Last edited by DPete27 on Tue Jul 03, 2012 1:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Tue Jul 03, 2012 1:04 pm

My last two two living room PCs (Llano and Ivy Bridge) have been outstandingly good at sleeping and waking. With PowerDVD's integration into Windows Media Center, they've done a decent job as Blu-ray players, too.

Take a look at the Silverstone Grandia GD05 or GD04 micro-ATX HTPC cases.

When desktop Trinity processors arrive, a full-featured micro-ATX socket-FM2 motherboard would provide a good basis for an HTPC. AMD's integrated graphics are more than sufficient for your living room HTPC.
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Tue Jul 03, 2012 1:20 pm

I may have unintentionally ignored the part where you said you were replacing your PS3, which would indicate that you do plan on gaming on this HTPC. In that case, the "next gen console" is definetly a good solution. As an alternative, you can save a few bucks by going with the i3-2120, 4GB of RAM, and just the mechanical hdd. You can even drop down to a 7770 graphics card if you don't mind playing games at less than "Ultra" graphics detail levels. If you stay with mini-ITX, make sure you choose a case that will accomodate your graphics card choice. Some mini-ITX cases are "low profile" which means they won't support full-height (normal) GPUs, or only have 1 expansion slot in the back which will obviously not work with a dual slot GPU.
Last edited by DPete27 on Tue Jul 03, 2012 1:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Tue Jul 03, 2012 1:22 pm

DPete27 wrote:I may have unintentionally ignored the part where you said you were replacing your PS3, which would indicate that you do plan on gaming on this HTPC.


Anyway, since the PS3 was used for Netflix, and some random media streaming

I'll let someone else make the PS3 joke...
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Tue Jul 03, 2012 1:35 pm

DPete27 wrote:I may have unintentionally ignored the part where you said you were replacing your PS3, which would indicate that you do plan on gaming on this HTPC. In that case, the "next gen console" is definetly a good solution. As an alternative, you can save a few bucks by going with the i3-2120, 4GB of RAM, and just the mechanical hdd. You can even drop down to a 7770 graphics card if you don't mind playing games at less than "Ultra" graphics detail levels. If you stay with mini-ITX, make sure you choose a case that will accomodate your graphics card choice. Some mini-ITX cases are "low profile" which means they won't support full-height (normal) GPUs, or only have 1 expansion slot in the back which will obviously not work with a dual slot GPU.


:) No, I think you got it right the first time.. I'm a PC gamer.. just don't excited about console FPS's..

Are the integrated graphics sufficient? I'm trying to keep this under $500 (closer to $300 would be great, but not likely). The trick will be seeing if the functionality would be better than getting a $250 replacement.. I'd prefer a case with some aesthic appeal (but doesn't have to be too fancy). As I mentioned, I'll be getting an HD DVR from DirectTV, so I don't think I need a tuner card (for now). I've been using the TV interface for Netflix and it kind of sucks.. I really liked the PS3 Netflix interface, but I don't think I'll be getting that with Windows.. (Maybe Windows 8 and the tiles). Has anyone tried the Kinect controller on an HTPC?
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Tue Jul 03, 2012 1:36 pm

superjawes wrote:
DPete27 wrote:I may have unintentionally ignored the part where you said you were replacing your PS3, which would indicate that you do plan on gaming on this HTPC.


Anyway, since the PS3 was used for Netflix, and some random media streaming

I'll let someone else make the PS3 joke...


:) What can I say it was a gift.. I have 2 or 3 games for it... but nothing that I'm broken up about not playing..
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Tue Jul 03, 2012 2:02 pm

druidcent wrote:
superjawes wrote::) What can I say it was a gift.. I have 2 or 3 games for it... but nothing that I'm broken up about not playing..
:) What can I say it was a gift.. I have 2 or 3 games for it... but nothing that I'm broken up about not playing..
Begin tangent

I really wanted to love my PS3. I enjoy the inFamous games, but God of War 3 was very disappointing, and since I already had the 360 (and a gaming PC at the time) there has been little reason for me to own one outside of the Blu-Ray player.

/tangent

So on the topic of getting a HTPC, I'm not sure you should go that route. Are you going to stuff a lot of storage in it? Network it to a home server? Play games ? If not, there are fancy Blu-Ray players out now that have WiFi and built in Netflix. If you're not broken up about the Blu-Ray, I bet you could find a streaming box that would work as well. And while we tend to shy away from them, a HP or Dell machine might hit that price point as well for what you want.
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Tue Jul 03, 2012 2:58 pm

Well, I thought about looking at networked Blu-ray player, or even another PS3.. One thing that I noticed (since my TV supports Netflix and Amazon, and other stuff), the PS3 Netflix app was by far the best interface, and it was updated regularly, and pretty painlessly.. For my TV, I would need to upgrade the firmware if the app even changes, and using the TV remote is pretty annoying..

I was considering this as the start of a project to then have a home server for media (photo libraries, maybe some movies at some point). I don't expect to use it for games. I definitely want the Blu-ray player...

What do people use their HTPC for if not streaming and DVR? Those are the two use cases that I know of..
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Tue Jul 03, 2012 3:42 pm

If you're just looking to get a netflix and media streamer, there are cheaper "appliance" options that would probably suit that need for you. I have had an HTPC for probably 7 years now (starting with media center 2005 edition) and for me the DVR ability is central to the experience and the fact that I can stream netflix, family pictures, my entire music collection, DVD and Bluray rips, etc. from a single device is icing on the cake. If you just want the icing, you can probably do it for cheaper and simpler. A full featured PC in the living room is certainly not the simplest solution to your problem, but it would work.

I have had dedicated HTPCs in the past, typically the hand-me downs from my main machine with a few tuners thrown in. I finally built a dedicated i5 based machine 1.5 years ago and promptly sold it when we moved and didn't have room for another computer in the temporary housing we lived in between houses. As a result, my main workstation has held tuners and remained on for the last year or so while actual viewing has taken place on an Xbox 360 in the living room. it's actually not a bad arrangement, but I don't have Netflix streaming from the 360 and I have to be careful which video formats I try to stream. As a result of my habits, my HTPCs have always tended to be rather power hungry for what they actually did (>150watts), but I recently built one for a friend based on an i3 sandy-bridge and H77 chipset and it pulled 50watts under load, according to the kill-a-watt meter. I used the integrated graphics and at HD resolution it appeared flawless to me.

If you find yourself with slightly aging hardware, maybe look at opportunities to upgrade your current rig and build an HTPC with the leftovers. It doesn't sound like you'll need to run it 24/7 if you're not recording, so power draw would be less of a concern. I've always been able to get my systems pretty quiet and have had good experience with Silverstone media cases. Good luck, and have fun.
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Tue Jul 03, 2012 3:47 pm

For your application and price target, what you may want is a used Gateway or Dell low-profile machine. $300ish from a second-hand computer store, then add $65ish from Newegg to get a BD-ROM/DVD-RW drive with a BRD-enabled copy of PowerDVD.
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Tue Jul 03, 2012 5:11 pm

Oh sure.. but where is the fun in that? :D As I said earlier, I'm looking at going up to $500.

Also, this is mainly for my wife and in-laws to use, so getting a "appliance" device would work is probably the safer solution, I'm also interested in getting something where the UI is pretty easy/straightforward.

The PS3 was nice because it was intuitive and snappy.. I don't like my TV because browsing on it sucks (lag, input, search, etc).

The other thing is that I'd like to get something that I can fix in the future, if something breaks.. Right now, I've been looking at how to fix the PS3 and it looks involved, and I'll have to get a new set of tools.

I believe I'm going to own the DVR. However, I can easily see in the future doing some sort of setup to have a DVR in a different room, or cancelling the DVR service and returning the device.
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Tue Jul 03, 2012 8:46 pm

$90 Silverstone Grandia GD05


Intel LGA1155:
$125 Intel Core i3-2120
or $90 Intel Pentium G860
or $160 Intel Core i3-2125

$117½ ASRock Z77 Pro4-M
or $77½ ASRock H67M
or $97½ ASRock H77 Pro4-M
or $127½ Intel BOXDH77EB
or $160 Asus P8Z77-M Pro


or AMD Socket FM1:
$70 AMD A6-3500
or $90 AMD A8-3850 (without HSF)

$87½ -10 combo ASRock A75 Pro4-M
or $61 -5MIR ASRock A55M-HVS FM1
or $118 -20 combo Asus F1A75-M Pro
or $100 -20MIR MSI A75MA-G55


$46 Scythe Big Shuriken 2 rev. B

etc.

With the AMD A6 or A8 processor, the integrated graphics are capable of everything that you need, including 1080p24 playback of Blu-ray discs. Llano is quite adequate for this task, but Trinity will be more appealing when socket-FM2 desktop parts arrive. With the Intel option, you might be able to make do with the integrated graphics or you may need to drop in a Radeon HD7770 to handle all video modes.
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Thu Jul 05, 2012 12:52 pm

Thanks JAE..

I picked up the A6-3500, with a gigabyte A55 mobo to try out.. I found out after I put it all together, that this board doesn't have an HDMI out.. I'm going to return it, and replace with this one ASRock A75M-HVS

I ended up with this case: Silverstone SG02-F.

With the Blu-ray player, the total rang up to $292 + tax.. :)

It works, but it is bigger than I was hoping for.. anyone have suggestions for a slimmer case? There is a lot of wasted space inside, so I wouldn't mind something more compact.

Oh, one other question.. If I'm using the HDMI connection on the main port, is that only video, or will audio be sent as well? I'm looking on my TV, and the inputs for HDMI don't have audio connectors (as I'd expect). If not, what sort of solutions can you guys recommend?
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Thu Jul 05, 2012 3:07 pm

Yes, audio AND video are sent over a single HDMI cable.

Did you check out the slimmer Silverstone case that I mentioned earlier? You will see in grey letters above the picture is the newegg path to get to that case. If you click the "htpc/media center cases" link toward the end of that line, it will bring you here for other similar cases. Maybe one of those will do the trick. Otherwise try googling "HTPC case" or see what amazon has to offer.
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Thu Jul 05, 2012 4:30 pm

Ooh.. the Silverstone Milo looks like what I'm looking for! I just need to make sure my PSU can fit, from what it sounds like... Amazon has it for $50, with free shipping, but out of stock. I'll put in the order and see where it gets me.
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Thu Jul 05, 2012 9:54 pm

If you're going get that Milo case and will be returning your motherboard also, you might want to grab one that has front panel USB3.0 support.
Make a careful comparison this time instead of wasting your money on return shipping and restocking fees. If you prefer buying new, I would pick the Gigabyte board since its got 8 channel audio and more USB ports on the rear cluster. (if those things matter to you) As an alternative, if you're okay with buying open box items the Asus board is probably the best of all three for roughly the same price.
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Fri Jul 06, 2012 12:11 pm

:P

Well, it looks like the DirectTV was bust.. 3 skinny trees with sparse foliage is enough to block a satellite signal.. Maybe I should start wearing leaves instead of tinfoil in my hat :)

That means I get to re-purpose this puppy into a DVR :D

So, here's a silly question.. I know I'll need some sort of tuner card to get the signal in.. but do I still need STB from the cable company? Or is there a way to use a cableCARD or something similar into this HTPC?

Comcast serves my area (which is better than TWC I suppose).
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Fri Jul 06, 2012 3:41 pm

I would recommend something like the Silicondust HDHomerun Prime http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6815345006 if you want/need cablecard support. That will give you the flexibility of putting the tuner anywhere in the house instead of adding a bunch of heat and expansion cards to your livingroom HTPC. It will also let you share the tuners with other machines on the network which might open possibilities you hadn't thought of before (watching TV on laptops, etc.).

If you have antenna reception and can live without cable or have unscrambled channels coming down the pipe, you could consider something like this: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6815345007

I just ordered that second one to replace one of my tuners that is causing some instability and runs very hot inside my case so I'll let you know if it's any good - the reviews seem to indicate it is.
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Fri Jul 06, 2012 4:27 pm

What about something like this:

Ceton Infinitv 4 PCi-E All my cables are near my TV at this point anyway (no neat cable closet for me). This would save having another device lying around the house :)

If I setup the HTPC as a media server, couldn't I watch TV on my laptops the same way? I'm looking at XBMC or Plex Media Server right now..
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Fri Jul 06, 2012 7:44 pm

druidcent wrote:What about something like this Ceton Infinitv 4 PCi-E?
If I setup the HTPC as a media server, couldn't I watch TV on my laptops the same way?
I have that Ceton card in my living room PC. You can configure the tuner to make live TV accessible from other PCs on the network (though I have not turned on this feature). Where you may run into trouble is with the "broadcast only" flag for recorded television programs. This bit of DRM makes the recorded program only viewable on the PC that made the recording.
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Fri Jul 06, 2012 10:03 pm

OK, I've got 2 HTPC:

1 in bedroom hooked to 22" TN panel 160x1080, C2D based Celeron, X4500 graphics. I get Netflix through wireless network, and analog cable signal. We also watch standard DVDs. My opinion is that the box could not handle bluray decode.

1 hooked up to 1080P Panasonic LCD in family room. Radeon 4550 graphics HDMI, C2D @ 1.86 GHz. This one has the exact same inputs, but the Radeon graphics allow it to push the higher resolution. (The Intel X4500 graphics could not handle 1080P). Also the dual core was necessary as a single core C2D Celeron could not hack it either.

I use the Silverstone MILO case, it is low profile and uses low pro cards (of course). Ya can't cram a bunch of power in this thing...it is pretty small. The upstairs PC is just a small black mini tower. Though both bother me right now because the CPU fans have gotten notable louder recently.

BTW, I like the Vista media center better than 7's media center. They really cluttered up 7. I would say both my systems represent the minimum horsepower needed for media consumption based on my inputs (DVD, Netflix, analog cable) and outputs (sub-1080, 1080P).

Interesting thought I had to take away the kb/mouse from the family room TV and just run with the Windows remote...no one noticed. As far as restarts go, I generally restart once a week or so, but both boxes record and sleep pretty flawlessly. My only beef is that Vista just does not share recorded media though WMC...I have to go and hunt through the network to pull up stuff on other PC's...
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Fri Jul 06, 2012 10:47 pm

I don't remember it being different in Windows Vista, but I'm certain that with Windows 7's media center you just go into the settings and add more stored locations for Recorded TV. It doesn't matter whether it's on another drive on that PC or on multiple drives on other PCs on the network, they all show up when you go to play recorded TV.
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Sat Jul 07, 2012 12:26 pm

Great! I'll probably pick up that Ceton card then. I may have a discount from Microcenter, and I think they carry it.

I've been playing with XBMC and Plex on the Win Consumer Preview.. so far I'm more enamored of XBMC, especially since it can actually play netflix.

Now if I can only get Kinemote working, then I'll have a good enough setup I think for the main living room..
Last edited by druidcent on Mon Jul 09, 2012 10:41 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Sun Jul 08, 2012 5:13 pm

I have a Logitech DiNovo mini for my HTPC keyboard/mouse and I'm pretty satisfied with it. I would definetly recommend an actual keyboard with mouse trackpad insead of the DiNovo if you plan on doing any decent amount of typing though. For me, the DiNovo mini serves well as it is about the size of your hand, is bluetooth for longer range, and has a mouse trackpad that you can switch over to "media center mode" to get the up/down/left/right arrow keys function.

More fun additions could include an IR remote power switch that you can easily program to work with any remote. You literally just push a small red button on the back of the switch and then push whatever remote button you want to turn the PC on or off and that's it. I don't even have to get off my couch to turn on or use my computer with this and the DiNovo mini... ultimate lazyness!! (I know there are probably better solutions for modern systems but my current HTPC is an Athlon 64 Socket 939 from around 2003 so I don't have those luxuries yet...upgrading soon)
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Mon Jul 09, 2012 10:44 am

I tried setting up XBMC Remote on my tablet, and gave it to my wife to play around with.. She said it was too bulky to use as a remote :P

Now, I'm seeing what I can do with something on her iPhone. I don't expect to do a lot of typing.. I may just get a bluetooth adapter and use the Sony BT remote I had for the PS3. I was trying to avoid extra devices..
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Tue Jul 10, 2012 8:51 am

The Emote stuff looks awesome! Can a guy get the camera and skip the console part? No need to introduce my son to MORE games or he wont keep a golden-brown skin color.
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Tue Jul 10, 2012 12:28 pm

I picked up the sensor at Fry's last week for $90..

I'm getting a bit frustrated though.. I've gone through just about everything, and I can't get the darn thing to work. I've heard of another project (FAAST), that I'm going to play with this weekend.
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Re: Investigating a HTPC option

Postposted on Fri Jul 13, 2012 1:53 pm

:P Grr..

So I got this Asus board

I assembled the CPU, memory, and monitor, then powered it on to make sure it was working... The fan spins up, and I've got the standby power light on the board, but I don't see anything on my monitor. Any suggestions? All the other components boot up fine on my Gigabyte A55 mobo..
druidcent
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