— 10:54 PM on November 20, 2003

I'm benchmarking other things, but in between, I continue to be mildy obsessed with building a home-theater PC for use with Snapstream, and I have to say that those of you who posted comments a while back recommending a TV tuner card with a MPEG2 encoder chip onboard were definitely not wrong. I was skeptical, but using this Personal Cinema with Snapstream isn't as smooth as I'd like on my XPC SN41G2 and Athlon XP 2600+.

In fact, even though you guys warned me not to fall into this trap, I started tweaking the hardware in an attempt to get CPU utilization down and smoothness up. Installing a T-bred 2800+—a rare bird, indeed, but I have one—in the box was no help. The 2600+ isn't many MHz off that's chip's speed, and both use a 333MHz bus. Both processors gave me around 70% CPU utilization, on average, when recording or time-shifting with MPEG2.

Sooo... it was time for some faster bus speeds and maybe a little overclocking, which means I had to transplant my Windows/Snapstream install into the SN45G. A quick Ghost image later, I had a second cube up and rolling. The SN45G isn't as pretty, but it has all the right BIOS knobs and levers, plus 400MHz bus support. In this box, I was able to get my 2600+ running at 2.2GHz on a 400MHz bus, and I added a pair of Corsair XMS3200LL DIMMs into the mix. For this intent and purpose, where L2 cache size doesn't matter, this config is about as fast as the Athlon XP platform is gonna take you. Making these changes brought average CPU utilization in Snapstream down to around 58%. The magnitude of the difference surprised me. I think this setup is almost acceptable.

Of course, the Personal Cinema's GeForce2 MX card isn't exactly a prize. On top of the lousy 3D performance prospects and fuzzy video signal, the thing can't seem to do hardware deinterlacing at anything close to the right speed. So I decided to plug the Personal Cinema into a GeForce4 Ti 4600 card with the appropriate Philips TV encoder chip and see what happened. I was hoping the Personal Cinema would work and I'd get glorious, fluid deinterlaced video, or, if not, maybe I could start a fire. Instead, I got nothing. The Personal Cinema's little green LED would never come on, WinXP told me the video capture device could not start. Back to square one on deinterlacing. At least the CPU utilization is down.

I'm stubborn about these things, so I'm glad to see the extra work on the CPU/mobo front paid off somewhat. (Andy, who has some Pentium 4 XPCs, has gone another route, ordering up a 2.4GHz Celeron for his HTPC. I suspect that will work out very well for him.) I really do want to have the ability to stream live TV to client PCs around the house, and going with an MPEG2-capable tuner card would kill that capability with the current version of Snapstream. However, I'm still curious to see what an MPEG2 encoder-equipped card will do, so I'm borrowing a WinTV PVR-250 tomorrow to see how well it works. I'll probably put it into the SN41G2 and have dueling cubes, with both hooked up to cable via a splitter. This should be interesting.

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