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Old March 15, 2008, 08:37 PM
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Default HTPC/Home theatre build... need lots of advice

To start off with I'd like to apologize in advance as this will probably turn into a, if it isn't already, a long boring thread about someone who knows nothing of the subject.

I want a HTPC but know nothing about home theatre systems, I have nothing to build on and am starting from scratch. I've heard of what they can do and it's got me interested. To add to that tonight sitting down stairs watching the hockey game my wife expressed that she didn't like our 27" GAOO and we should look into getting a 46" LCD. I tried to act disinterested to throw the scent off. Life is hard sometimes.

I feel like a tit not even knowing what questions I should be asking so I'll start off with what I hope the end product to be and hopefully fill in the blanks.

- I want the PC to be the central hub of everything run off some fancy kick ass remote
- I am on Rogers digital cable and though I don't have an HD box yet I will for this setup
- Any audio signal processors I want as a separate box in the event the PC cant handle this part
- I plan to build my own speakers and amps with the output's given by above. I know it sounds like idiocy but I do know a bit about both subjects. I want the signal processor to do all the "work" and then I'll give that signal to an amp that is basically the proverbial "straight wire with gain".

So what do I need or more appropriately where do I start? How much computer do I need? I have a 2500+ Barton collecting dust on an NF7-S but I somehow feel that might not be enough power.

I'm sure I've left out a lot of important details but I don't know what they are.
Thanks for any help in advence,
Ryan
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Old March 16, 2008, 08:45 AM
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Well i'd be happy to help you with all your questions... but we'll need to get into some more specifics first. For example, how much are you willing to spend on your htpc system? I once worked for a certain montreal computer store and have built probably over a dozen different HTPC's ranging from $400 simple simple ones all the way to a $2500 one i built for a friend of mine with high-end components.


Quote:
- Any audio signal processors I want as a separate box in the event the PC cant handle this part
I can help you already with the sound card though. I would take a long look at some of the older Audigy series from Creative (can be found used on ebay for cheap). I personally have an Audigy 2 ZS Pro Platinum which has an external decoder box with S/PDIF and Fiber-Optic audio outputs. That same sound card can decode just about every audio type save the newest HD formats (DD+, etc), meaning it'll handle your Dolby Digital and DTS-EX 7.1 surround sound without a problem.

Hope it helps! Give me some more info to work with, hehe.
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Old March 16, 2008, 09:55 AM
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Well I'd go with an AMD-based setup, as it's cheap, runs cool, and has plenty of power.

The new AMD 780G chipset is rather awesome for HTPCs as the onboard video comes with HDMI output and it only costs like $100. An AMD X2 is another $100 or so, 2GB of DDR2-800 is like $50 and then you'd have yourself a starting platform.

For the sound card, I think you'd want to look into something from Auzentech or HT OMEGA or anything based on CMedia chipsets as they mostly have Dolby Digital Live and DTS Connect so all your audio would be upconverted.

I wouldn't really recommend building your own amp/speakers unless you are extremely knowledgeable in those areas. It would probably be cheaper (and easier) to pickup a 5.1 receiver (which is an amp and all), and a 5.1 set of speakers. I'd think it would sound better too, but again, if you are skilled in these areas then maybe not.

Some quick links:
CPU: http://www.ncix.com/products/index.p...anufacture=AMD
CPU Heatsink (depends how much space is in your case):
http://www.ncix.com/products/index.p...ctic%20Cooling
http://www.ncix.com/products/index.p...ctic%20Cooling
Motherboard: http://www.ncix.com/products/index.p...nufacture=ASUS
RAM: http://www.ncix.com/products/index.p...Z%20Technology
Power Supply: http://www.ncix.com/products/index.p...acture=CORSAIR
Sound Card: http://www.ncix.com/products/index.p...ure=HT%20Omega

Just an example of the stuff for the 5.1 setup (not saying to get this stuff, just so you have an idea of what I mean):
Receiver: Future Shop: Audio: Receivers & CD Players: Harman Kardon 5.1 Channel A/V Receiver With HDMI Switching (AVR 146)
Speakers: Future Shop: Audio: Home Speakers: Harman Kardon 5.1 Home Theatre Speaker System (HKTS11) - Silver
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Old March 16, 2008, 11:18 AM
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Well I don't really want to pin down a price limit yet since I'm not in any hurry, but I'm not dropping a QX9650 in it either just for the sake of spending more $$$. I have a e6550 that will probably go to the HTPC when the new quads are out. I imagine the two biggest dollar value parts would be the audio card and TV tuner card but I don't know. There appears to be no shortage of vid card that can do HDMI.

I had a look at the specs of the Audigy 2 ZS Pro Platinum and it says it supports 7.1 analog out but I can't see where the connectors are on it, nor any specs like voltage levels, impedance, balanced or unbalanced, etc. (I'll need to know these specs at some point to build my amps)

I'll probably only end up using 5.1 as there isn't any real convenient spot to put side channels where I'm setting it up. Also I'm not sure if this is a big deal or no big issue but I also want this for music as well which would mean an easy way to shut down all satellite speakers and only use to two main L+R speakers.

Thanks for the help.
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Old March 16, 2008, 11:23 AM
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That why I suggest using a receiver. You can still make your own speakers if need be, but the receiver will power them as it is an amplifier itself. Your computer, cable box, game console etc can all plug into the receiver as well. Also with a receiver you can choose between surround and stereo.

Finding a HDTV Tuner card may be difficult though I've never looked.
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Old March 16, 2008, 12:06 PM
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I hope you keep a log of this- building your won speakers is fairly easy, and you can build a set that would cost you 5K to buy for just a couple of hundred dollars. If you're not a woodworker, sometimes it's easiest to go out and buy some used cheaper or broken speakers and repalce the guts out of them than constructing your own enclosures.

some threads/pages to look at:

Audio Speaker FAQ - Tutorial

Canuck Audio Mart :: View topic - DIY Speakers

SPEAKER DIY WORLD

Patman's DIY Speaker Page

If you're buying I recommend something like a Denon 2808 for a receiver, and I'm a big fan of the canadian made Paradigm monitor series speakers

As for building Amps- I don't know much about it other than there's alot more to it- You're basically building one amp for every channel- they're not really very complicated and they can sound incredible.
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Old March 16, 2008, 02:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jdrom17 View Post
Well I'd go with an AMD-based setup, as it's cheap, runs cool, and has plenty of power.

The new AMD 780G chipset is rather awesome for HTPCs as the onboard video comes with HDMI output and it only costs like $100. An AMD X2 is another $100 or so, 2GB of DDR2-800 is like $50 and then you'd have yourself a starting platform.

For the sound card, I think you'd want to look into something from Auzentech or HT OMEGA or anything based on CMedia chipsets as they mostly have Dolby Digital Live and DTS Connect so all your audio would be upconverted.
I definately agree with JDrom on this one. I love my Auzentech (in combination with a digital receiver) and the AMD chips are more than enough for HTPC duties.
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Old March 17, 2008, 11:36 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jdrom17 View Post
I wouldn't really recommend building your own amp/speakers unless you are extremely knowledgeable in those areas. It would probably be cheaper (and easier) to pickup a 5.1 receiver (which is an amp and all), and a 5.1 set of speakers. I'd think it would sound better too, but again, if you are skilled in these areas then maybe not.
You're right it won't be easier and there may not be much savings, It's more for the satisfaction of doing it all myself. However the DIY'er can certainly make a very high quality system. Amps really aren't that complicated, not much has changed in the last 20 - 30 years. Most advances has to do with efficiency and of course the digital end of it but at the end of the day you need to get it to analog. Almost the same thing with speakers, there are a lot of fancy designs that are used mainly to make a small speaker do what a larger unit does naturally and more than likely better. In both situations I don't need to worry about profit margins or weight or parts count or labour or efficiency all of which drives the cost of commercial units up big time, my only worry is the extra cost of the parts. In the end I get a much beefier and more versatile setup.

Plus once you get into cross-overs there is money to be saved making my own amps. For example say for the two main speakers I want a setup that has two 12", a 5" and a tweeter. Using a standard amp I would have to put cross overs in the speakers and the price of high quality caps and coils can be huge and if I wanted to use higher order xovers that cost could triple and if I needed to tweak the frequecies/rolloffs a bit it is a major inconvenience to change not to mention additional cost. Further more there are drastic phase changes at the xover frequency which can cause some very funny constructive/destructive interference with the other drivers in the box giving a peaks and dead spots in the frequency response of the system, probably not an issue for home theater but really no good for music quality. If I make my own amps I can simply make a unit that has three outputs for that speaker, one for the subs, one for the mids, and one for the tweets. I can do all the cross-overs electronically eliminating the passive xovers completely and I can tune the frequencies rolloffs and attenuation with the turn of a pot and have the added benefit of all speakers being in phase at all times, win-win. Of course that particular amp will really only work with those particular speakers but who cares since it's mine I can change the setup on a whim.

I still may need to buy a receiver but it only will need to do the decoding and give me high quality 5.1 or 7.1 analog out and also handle the switching operations, again that is if I cant get the PC based hardware to do the same thing. At this point I know zilch of the digital standards and what my requirements are. Lots of reading still left to do.

Babrbarossa, thanks for those links. It's been a while since I've looked at speaker design and will have to refresh myself. That saved me some leg work. I used to have a setup to be able to determine the Thiele-Small parameters for unknown drivers that I'll have to take a refresher on too I think. I can handle the wood working end of it. I have built some furniture but not what I would call craftsman quality at all so there will be a challenge there making the speakers look nice and professional.

I'll probably use this tread as the "worklog" since all of the discussion will be here too.

Thanks everyone for the input and suggestions so far!
And sorry for the novel!!
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Old March 18, 2008, 11:34 AM
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as i once built a HTPC but have since replaced it with something more to my needs. This is what i have learned.

1. If your going to get a reciever don't bother with a highend card like an auzentech. What i did was get a cheapy card with optical out. Then when you install your software set the sound filters to just do a pass through to your reciever. Most free software can handle DD 5.1 fine without any hiccups. However they sometimes have trouble with DTS. To solve this i bought the basic edition of pur video, and it works GREAT. one setting and everything is passed directly to your reciever be it DD, DTS or just regular PCM.

2. There are alot of front ends out there that are free and work reasonably well. (trust me i have tried most of them (Media portal, sage tv, beyond tv, etc) and IMHO one of the more stable and user friendly ones is MCE2005.

On final thing you may want to think about is avoiding digital coax as much as possible. Now i am not sayng that digital coax is bad i just saying the toslink fiber optic is better since it's an insulating signal cable that is also not affcted my emf interferance.

Ok so i know i am a windbag but one last thing you may want to consider. The reason i ditched my HTPC was this. I wasn't watching tv on it. So i got this little box called a popcornhour. Let's say that for playing my content of my network it KICKS ARSE. Plays tons of codecs and containers except ogm. PLus it supports a 1080p resolution including digital audio an HDMI (mind you it's only hdmi ver 1) Plays my 1080p movies fine in mkv container over my network.

Just my 2 cents and change
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Old April 15, 2008, 03:35 PM
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I also got a PCH unit (Popcorn Hour) and looking for a simple solution for the lack of DTS support without an AVR hooked up.
The PCH is hooked up directly to an LCD screen which has RED/WHITE audio (analogue connectors.
I am using HDMI video/audio right now which works for AC3 audio. What I need is a convertor that
accepts the PCH's SPDIF output back to analogue.
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