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Multimedia machine

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I've gotten rid of my DIrectv account.  I find that I use Netflix for most of my viewing, but I plan on putting up a HD antenna and connecting it to a computer I plan to build specifically for recording and the like.  My current computer already hooks to the TV, but I was thinking of things that I could use to focus the new rig on the multimedia aspect, such as solid state drives and the like.  Any suggestions?


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For multimedia applications, you can use a £200 laptop. You honestly don't need to spend huge amounts of money on an AVPC. Your most important consideration is how it hooks up to your existing AV. You'll want to look at whether your TV and PC can support HDMI sound, for example, or whether you'll need coax or TOSlink connectors.

 

My advice would be to buy a small form factor case, buy a mobo with SPDIF out (you can get connectors with most TOSlink cables to adapt to a SPDIF) and HDMI out and a hard drive. You don't need dedicated graphics and you'll only need a sound card if you're not using an external AV amp. If you do have an external amp, just use onboard sound as the amp will do the processing.

 

I have my gaming machine in the sitting room with separate hard drives for films and TV etc, plugged through a DVI to HDMI adaptor and SPDIF to TOSlink adaptor to an external amp. It works just fine.


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Depends how far you want to go and what the rest of your setup is like. In terms of platform, with Haswell Intel has finally managed to get 23.976Hz playback right, so there's no longer any reason to go for a discrete graphics solution. The basic system is easy enough: any Haswell system will do great as a HTPC, assuming a TV or AVR less than a decade old. With that in mind, unless you want to potentially turn it into a hybrid gaming machine, an i3 will be plenty. An SSD definitely helps, because even more than a normal PC, you probably want to have your HTPC sleep and wake up as quickly as possible. Naturally you still want a spindle drive for the actual recordings though, file size for HDTV recordings will balloon pretty quickly.

 

Other considerations:

- Remote control. Even cases marketed as HTPC cases tend not to come with IR receivers, and those that do often come with crappy proprietary ones that are difficult to configure to use with anything but the bundled remote. You can pick up a USB IR receiver and Media Centre remote from eBay for about $20, the most ubiquitous being the HP branded ones. If you have a universal remote such as a Logitech Harmony, then just use the receiver and toss the MCE remote.

 

- Software. Microsoft did a very cynical thing by stripping out Media Centre out of Windows 8 and selling it as an add-on instead. Even worse, the add-on requires the Pro version of Win8, so it's a flat-out rip-off. Win7 Home Premium has Media Centre out of the box, so there's no reason to use anything else for a Windows-based HTPC. Alternatively, XBMC is the popular open source alternative and runs on Linux as well as Windows. The tradeoff when building a Linux-based HTPC though is extremely limited Blu-ray support (and of course the whole games thing). Not that Blu-ray support on Windows is a thing either - you'll be dependent commercial products for at least one of ripping and playback of Blu-ray discs, but at least that software actually exists.

 

- It's tempting to go for a mini-ITX build for a minimalist HTPC, but a nice micro-ATX case probably is a better idea. USB TV tuners generally are only single-tuner devices, so if you want to watch or record more than one thing at once, it's a pain. A HTPC can support as many tuners as you can fit into the machine, so with say, two dual-tuner cards, you can watch one thing while recording three others. With this in mind, consider how many PCI-E vs old PCI slots your motherboard of choice has.

Edited by Humanoid

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I use XBMC over Media Centre because it's prettier. If something's going to be plonked in your sitting room it's just GOTS to look good. If you're on Win8 there's no reason not to use XBMC unless you're a masochist. If you're on Win7, then the only reason not to use it would be if you're so heavily apathetic that you just can't be bothered learning how to use it.


Dirty deeds done cheap.

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I'm tied to Media Centre because of the annoying licencing scheme for BD menus, which can't be displayed without officially licenced software players. You can now play decrypted (using something like AnyDVD or DVDFab) BD streams on XBMC without menus, so that's progress, but paid software like TotalMediaTheatre or PowerDVD is still required for full support, and they plug into Media Centre.

 

The vendors, regardless of whether it's software or an actual hardware BD player, have to pay a royalty to the Blu-ray overlords to be able to support menus, so it's something that's not realistically coming soon to any free software.


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