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267 posts

Ultimate Geek

# 39178 10-Aug-2009 17:12
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Hullloo there - I've just spent the best part of what feels like about 3 years wading through all the info I can find on HTPC's, linux, hardware requirements etc etc While there's a LOT of great info out there (and here on GZ of course) I'm also encountering a lot of conflicting info, particularly on hardware requirements.

Here's what I'm up to: I currently have a Panasonic HDMI (1080i) capable Plasma, but no HD source. I would like to move to UHF freeview sometime soon, and the latest news on Prime means that might be sooner rather than later. I also would like to move to blu-ray. The more I've thought about this the more it seems to make sense to combine the two projects and build myself a dedicated HTPC. Cooool. Built plenty of PC's from bits in the past, mainly experimenting with the concept of silence.

I am leaning toward a linux system if I can, simply because it's free, and it's what I already use for my home PC and file server so it's what I know.

Requirements will be:
Some sort of internal blu-ray jobby
Dual DVB-T tuner - not overly worried about analog as I already have a standalone DVD recorder to make do until Prime gets sorted
HDMI out for video (straight to TV)
Digital audio out (either coax or optical - to run into my HT amp)
HDD - already have a couple of sata HDD's lying around somewhere
Power supply already sorted
Case sorted (will either build my own again or integrate the whole thing into my AV cabinet)
Must be spookily quiet - so low power use etc is a must. This is why I've been thinking as low spec as I can, although price comes into it of course.

We watch a bit of TV, not a great deal. Watch a lot of movies curtesy of Fatso. Very rarely record TV, and it would be even more rare for me to want to watch something and record something else. I guess ideally the system should be able to handle it though. No downloaded content (on this unit)  so no other dodgy formats required. No music (I love my squeezebox....)

So questions - I'm not just here to free load a buying list. I'm just keen to hear from those with experience what the real base lines are I should be looking at for main board, memory, cpu and tuner.
- I know onboard versus card GPU is a potato/potato thing, but what is the real requirement for watching one stream and recording another? Some say a quad core nuclear reactor is the only way to go...others not....
- What is the base requirement for watching blu-ray and recording an HD stream?
- Are the Hauppauge cards really the only ones to consider? I assume hardware decoding will help with keeping the cpu requirement down. (keep linux in mind).

All thoughts, ideas, opinions and abuse welcome. Basically I need a basic system to watch and record TV, watch discs, and to sit quietly in the back of the room not being noticed by wifey. Cheap is good, quiet is better.

Anybody still reading? ;) I'll shut up now.....

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  # 244867 10-Aug-2009 17:33
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For CPU-only decoding of DVB-T (specifically TV3's 1080i stream) the concensus from the mythtvnz mailing list is core2duo 3ghz... However you can offload decoding to a 8xxx or above nvidia series of graphics card, or integrated nvidia GPU. For a low end you should be able to get away with an integrated nvidia gpu on a low-midrange dual core 2ghz cpu. Remember, the other limitation with decoding H264 is that it's largely a serial affair, so duo core's are better value for money, since it's still a megahertz game.

To put it in perspective I have an E8500 based system with a nvidia 250GTS, and that will display anything I throw at it without worries (using vdpau), most software is built to use the nvidia hardware offloading nowdays (such as XBMC and mythtv, the latter through Jean-Yves's PPA for ubuntu).

I know that a 9500GT is recommended to do the best-looking deinterlacing for interlaced content (TV3, C4), which means a dedicated card (i don't know of anything higher than a 9400 integrated into a desktop motherboard). However the Asustek P5N7A-VM would work very well as well. and probably be cheaper than getting a mobo and then gpu seperately. It's very much personal preference however.

Hauppauge cards are pretty much the mythtv standard, as they have linux drivers which means getting them running is not difficult.

Blu-ray will be your issue. I do not know of any software that can decode the encryption on the disks so you can view them on a linux system, the blu-ray creators are not very open with running them on anything but certified platforms/software.

For silence get hold of a thermalright ultima-90 cooler. It's a big, passive cooler that will keep things cool without needing a pesky fan. However it pays to check that it'll fit in the case first, because BIG is the key word.

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  # 244869 10-Aug-2009 17:37
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I still don't think anybody's really getting decent H.264 decoding using Linux.


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  # 244870 10-Aug-2009 17:38
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Nvidia VDPAU + MythTV perhaps but it's extremely bleeding edge with lots of limitations.

Without video hardware acceleration forget about Linux for Freeview HD imo.

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Ultimate Geek

  # 244919 10-Aug-2009 19:13
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Thanks for the replies so far.

Four_seven - thanks heaps, I'm ashamed to say it's been a few years since I was up with the play on boards, chipsets etc....maybe since I built my first duron based dvd player....Anyway, thanks for the heads up on blu-ray. I hadn't even thought of that as a possible issue but as soon as I searched on it I wonder how I hadn't heard anything! All sounds very messy....I'm not adverse so the odd line of code but I'd prefer not to be building something that involves hacking to get it working - been there done that ;) I need 'insert disc, press play' so perhaps for the foreseeable future I'm crawling back to M$....dammit.....

Ragnor & sbiddle - are you saying that with a hardware decoding card that all is well though? Or that it's more doom and gloom than that? Just been having a word with wifie and we actually can't remember the last time we watched TV while recording something else. DVD while recording we actually can't do with our current set-up but would be good to have back. SO a DVB-T card that can only decode one channel at a time would be ok, but as above maybe blu-ray is going to blow this all out of the water.

Maybe I need to re-post the same question without the linux limitation......*sigh*

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  # 244940 10-Aug-2009 20:11
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I can offer more info into the state of hardware decoding for h264 (in linux, specifically ubuntu), as I've also been through that experience myself. Sit down, grab a coffee and I'll be covering a brief history of both VDPAU (NVIDIA's hardware decoding extentions) and DVB-T in new zealand.

About a year or two ago, getting any high-def content to play in linux was impossible. You needed (like I said previously) a 3ghz dual core processor to handle the content, and dvb-t was just getting established. New Zealand was very unique in picking their DVB-T standards, going with some fairly advanced codecs, h264 for video and LATM encoded AAC for audio (on certain channels). The only other country to use a similar scheme was Norway.

DVB-T and hauppauge drivers have been in the linux kernel for a while, so it was possible to tune into our channels very early on, but the codec choices had not reached FFMPEG and therefore mythtv had trouble decoding audio (i believe h264 was fine however). Paul Kendell came along and forked ffmpeg to include the LATM sound extentions, and then packaged those sources into mythtv, and those gifted with top-end hardware were able to watch the streams broadcasted by freeview.

However, on the graphics card decoding front things were grim. nvidia were only supporting closed sourced drivers (their own) and didn't say anything about using the hardware to decode the new mpeg4 codecs.

Intel had just announced that they were completely open-sourcing their hardware specs, but to this day are still writing out the whitepage documents on how the more advanced elements of their hardware works, and so no driver-programmer has been able to utilise this knowledge.

ATI had also announced the release of open source drivers, but again, no one appeared to be stepping up to add in hardware decoding onto any of their platforms, so it wasn't any use at that stage.

I remember planning on building a mythtv server about a year ago, and I was planning on using intel integrated graphics at the time because their implementation showed the greatest promise into becoming accelerated first.

Then, out of the blue, NVIDIA announced VDPAU extentions, which is for all intensive purposes hardware decoding of mpeg4 and a few other nifty features (irrelavent). This was essentially purevideo decoding on linux, so it required/s at least an 8xxx series of graphics card to support it. That was about 6 months ago and since then there has been a lot of software which has been re-written to utilise it.

In terms of usability, and Wife Approval Factor, XBMC and mythtv are both fine for everyday consumption, with just one or two minor considerations.

XBMC is now well established to use it, as the main builds have it built in, you just require the right hardware, and drivers. Then just turn it on and be amazed.

Mythtv is not as mature, Jean-Yves' repository adds all the bits needed to get it going, and with his builds it works flawlessly as well. But it has not made it into mainline for mythtv, mainly because the patches it relies on, Paul Kendall's work in ffmpeg, is STILL not in ffmpeg (last i heard they were about to add it).

For the same reason as mythtv (ffmpeg) mainline mplayer does not support it either, but in reality for a front-end box it's a much better idea to use XBMC or mythtv anyway for videos, so that's kinda a moot point nowdays.

Right that's all the info I have, which may or may not be useful depending on the blu-ray sacrifice, however it was an interesting story at the time!

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Ultimate Geek

  # 244941 10-Aug-2009 20:11
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Hmm, a grudge against Microsoft. Try to keep all options open.
You'll find most people here are quite pleased with their Windows Media Center.
WMC includes a SDK, if you like to hack.

On hardware, you'll want to choose the minimum hardware to meet the required quality.
The more grunt, the more heat, the more fans, the more noise.

Do you really need HD for your first unit?
- You'll make mistakes on your first go. You'll get your 2nd one perfect, though.
- How are you going to justify upgrading to HTPC #2 if the quality is no better than the first?
- SD looks great - 9/10 wives agree!

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Ultimate Geek

  # 244955 10-Aug-2009 21:01
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Thanks guys, it really is appreciated.

Four-seven - interesting stuff...I'll read more on it. It would seem that since I don't have hardware yet I could build a perfectly functioning linux based HD receiver....unfortunately without blu-ray there's no point (for me).

rvangelder - I wouldn't say a grudge, just a preference. I now solely use Linux at home so have a natural preference to use it for any new system I buy/build. Add that to the cost factor and it's a no brainer. Ok there's a wee bit of baggage there around 20 years of sub-par code, monopolistic pricing, unresponsive support for paying customers etc etc, but I'm certainly open minded! If it turns out I need MS to have a PC based blu-ray, then I can live with that. It'll still be cheaper than a set top blu-ray, and a set-top PVR. I don't have the time or skills to go about changing the linux capabilities...I'm just another consumer in this respect.
Also this is far from my first system, I was building boxes when retail systems were $5k a pop, and silent systems when AMD chips were closing in on 3 figure temperatures. As for SD, well I already got that with no HTPC....the whole point will be to have functioning HD to match my audio. Wifey is a movie junkie too so no problem scoring points if it works :)


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Ultimate Geek

  # 244960 10-Aug-2009 21:11
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Freeview-HD is beautiful. If you're going to the trouble of building a system, I would definitely build it with HD in mind, including blu-ray.

I feel the pain of the poor media support in linux. I just couldn't see how I could possibly build a low-spec HD HTPC on linux (back in April 2009). My HVR2200 tuner is only half supported in linux today, and as was mentioned blu-ray seems to be an impossibility on linux.

HTPC: Antec Fusion 430, Gigabyte GA-MA78GPM-UD2H F7, AMD X2 4850e, Sapphire 4670 1GB, Corsair 4x1Gb,  Adata 128Gb SSD, WD10EARS Green, LG GGC-H20L Blu-ray, Hauppauge NOVA TD-500, Logitech z-5500, Logitech Harmony 525, Samsung LA40B530 1080p, Vista Premium-32 SP2, Catalyst 10.12(Facelift preview), Mediaportal 1.2.3+OneButtonMusic, AC3Filter, Cyberlink Powercinema 6 codec, BLU-RAY: Samsung BD-F7500

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  # 244974 10-Aug-2009 21:28
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Some similar comments to the above.

Linux + Myth + Freeview|HD is still a little flakey but can work.

Linux + Blu Ray = world of pain and will remain so for some time.

I'm predominately sticking to non-hd freeview at the moment while I get the rest of the kinks out ready for myPVR V3

Generally known online as OpenMedia, now working for Red Hat APAC a Technology Evangelist and Product Manager. Still playing with MythTV and digital media on the side.

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Ultimate Geek
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  # 245029 11-Aug-2009 00:46
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Coming from a Linux background (10 years of installing and managing Linux servers, I currently develop software on the Linux platform and I previously worked for the Red Hat trainers for Western Australia) I tried to go for a Linux based HTPC - but if you want something stable, easy to use and most important pretty (for the WAF ofcourse!) I'd go for one of the Windows based solutions. My preference is for MediaPortal, but GB-PVR (written by a guy from NZ) is good too, as well as Windows 7 MC (very straight forward to get working).

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Ultimate Geek

  # 245190 11-Aug-2009 14:15
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Actually Four_seven I've just picked up on what you said about graphics requirement: you sure you need to go as far up the food chain as 9500GT? Been doing a lot of thinking/reading about onboard versus a card, because I would really like to stick to silent graphics.....I thought the general concensus was a minimum of 8500GT or is there more to it?

Do the onboard equivalents (say the P5N7A-VM you mention) generally come with passive cooling?

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  # 245206 11-Aug-2009 14:44
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The 9400GT was the equivalent of the 8500GT. AFAIK the 8xxx series are not produced anymore (replaced by the 9xxx) series. But I think there is still a bunch of stock around. For the record I run an 8600GT (on windows XP)

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  # 245293 11-Aug-2009 17:50
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Do the onboard equivalents (say the P5N7A-VM you mention) generally come with passive cooling?

Yes. (silentpcreview of that mobo)

In regards to 8500/9400/9500 - NVIDIA drivers support a couple of different forms of deinterlacing, and the most advanced (and also best looking), the "advanced 2x" deinterlacer requires a 9500GT with 512mb of ram (@1080i/24p). Lower spec cards will decode h264, but won't do it in real-time with that deinterlacer on. Not a big thing, but something worth pointing out when shopping for choices.

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  # 245357 11-Aug-2009 20:35
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Good to hear XBMC has come a long way with VDPAU

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Ultimate Geek

  # 245467 12-Aug-2009 07:48
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Hmm... that P5N7A-VM is looking pretty hard to go past. The alternative would be an older/cheaper board with a seperate card. I know there's been a bit of discussion about which combo put out more heat..time for some more research. E5300 chip seems to be best bang for buck at the moment too.

I guess I'm off topic in my own thread Tongue out

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