Replacing the old (HT)PC ¯ what should I be considering? - Canadian TV, Computing and Home Theatre Forums
Reply
 
LinkBack Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes

post #1 of 361 (permalink) Old 2013-11-29, 10:49 AM Thread Starter
 
Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: Ontario
Posts: 560
Replacing the old (HT)PC – what should I be considering?

Looking for some suggestions on a suitable replacement for my failing spare XP I use to supplement my home theatre. Current basic arrangement is this:
  • Rogers 9865, for HD cable content
    -video via HDMI to HDTV
    -audio via optical to AVR
    -internet – none


  • Roku 3 box, for additional content streaming, incl US content
    -Video/audio via HDMI to HDTV
    -internet - wired to secondary router (configured for unblock-us re US content


  • Old failing Win XP pc (for local content such as photos/music and for internet content ; a poor mans HTPC)
    -video via HDMI to HDTV ( and as well to local pc display)
    -audio via digital audio to AVR
    -internet - wired to primary router (easily can be wired to secondary router)


  • BluRay Player (for movies and other smart services on the player)
    -video via HDMI to HDTV (and as well to local pc display)
    -audio via digital audio to AVR
    -internet - wired to primary router (easily can be wired to secondary router)
I am looking to replace the Win XP box , to take better advantage of other internet content ( via a VPN service perhaps re US content)

My normal (old-school t endency is to just buy a traditional decent desktop PC (Win 7 or 8) to replace the old one. But is there other hardware alternative I should be looking into instead? Budget is in the $500-$1000 range. I have an iPad, but I cant 'dedicate' it for home theare use.

Thanks

[1]:9865HD;55"LCD;BR [2]:4642HD; 102"; 720p Proj;BR [3]:SA4250HD;39"LED [4]:SA3200 [5]:OTA
MyMedia08 is offline  
Sponsored Links
Advertisement
 
post #2 of 361 (permalink) Old 2013-11-29, 12:03 PM
Veteran
 
Join Date: Jul 2013
Posts: 1,523
Guess it depends, on what else all in all you want to run on it, beyond basic HTPC stuff.
Not really an alternative to a 'desktop'.. but an alternative desktop.

We have been using these at work, for some applications where space is a premium. and for the form factor, have been great.

http://www.zotac.com/products/mini-p.../mini-pcs.html

HDMI out. (display port as well) (intel HD4000 video)
Audio out, has an adapter for toslink audio.
4x usb 3.0, 2x usb 2.0, esata.
has an IR port for htpc remotes.

Obviously the form factor limits it for additional say input cards or something if that was needed.

Most others I know.. end up using a roku or similar for most.. with a PC somewhere else just hosting.. and doing all playback, etc through it.

GDKitty
Rogers Ignite Xi6, LG 47LV5400 LED TV, Yamaha
gdkitty is online now  
post #3 of 361 (permalink) Old 2013-11-29, 12:20 PM
Veteran
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: 127.0.0.1
Posts: 3,370
I'll second the Zotac suggestion.

I'd also consider products based on Intel's NUC stuff. Products like the Gigabyte BRIX products. Go do a search for them. I'd recommend versions that have the Intel Haswell processor, so look for numbers starting with a "4".

One advantage that HTPCs always have over dedicated streaming players is that you get more content than you do on something like a Roku. For instance, if you get Hulu Plus and try to watch "White Collar" (the TV show), if you're on a Roku or a console or a iPad you'll be told that they only stream that content to PCs, and that's not a unusual issue.
audacity is offline  
 
post #4 of 361 (permalink) Old 2013-11-29, 01:03 PM Thread Starter
 
Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: Ontario
Posts: 560
Wow, thanks for pointing me in that direction. These look like really really interesting options. Might be exactly what I need - just didnt know it!

So, just to get my head get me head around the concept, these seem to be what I would call smart high capacity high performance media devices, that I assume are configured via a pc (or ipad), but they are not themeselves a pc or HTPC per se, in that there is no conventional operating system etc. Is that about right or way off the mark?

But then, how does one "load" apps, browsers, etc ? I know I need to get my head out the the nineties

[1]:9865HD;55"LCD;BR [2]:4642HD; 102"; 720p Proj;BR [3]:SA4250HD;39"LED [4]:SA3200 [5]:OTA
MyMedia08 is offline  
post #5 of 361 (permalink) Old 2013-11-29, 01:07 PM
Veteran
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: 127.0.0.1
Posts: 3,370
No, I think you're not completely understanding.

These devices are full PCs, which is why they're not limited when it comes to using services like Hulu Plus.
audacity is offline  
post #6 of 361 (permalink) Old 2013-11-29, 01:17 PM
Veteran
 
Join Date: Jul 2013
Posts: 1,523
No, those ARE PCs. You load your OS, etc of choice on there.
Really.. they are just compressing EVERYTHING into a small package.

Seen quite a number used with Linux, then just XMBC or something on it.. very slim.
Or put windows on it, with whatever other apps, you want.

Personaly, I like the HTPC concept better that some like Roku's, etc... just for the fact, you CAN put anything on it.
My media SERVER itself, is on my server box (using PLEX).. but I have a PC for playback on my basement setup. Mind you its a full size at the moment. By default, its mostly used and running the plex PLAYER app for media playback, stored on the server.
(though one COULD store and playback on one device). But also allows me to web browse.. and anything else. I just got 2 wired 360 controller's from a friend.. and plan on putting some ARCADE emulation games on there as well.

The zotac ones, come in 2 flavors.. semi pre-configured with Hard Drive and ram already... or you can get more barebones, and add what you want.

Here.. we are not using them for HTPC.. but could more than handle it (and are actually DESIGNED for that usage). But we are running windows 7, on a 320g drive, 4g ram have a monitor (touch screen) pluged in via HDMI, and a barcode scanner. Works flawlessly.
Have both wired and wireless connections as well often.
Usually sit around the $500 price range. (depending on specs)

If you need/want any more details/spec.. just ask. I have them handy here to look at
Once my full size in the basement goes, this will likely be my next choice... just for SIZE alone. Its barely the size of 1/2 of a normal PC power supply.

GDKitty
Rogers Ignite Xi6, LG 47LV5400 LED TV, Yamaha
gdkitty is online now  
post #7 of 361 (permalink) Old 2013-11-29, 03:16 PM
Veteran
 
Join Date: Jun 2011
Location: 43° N, 81.2° W
Posts: 7,927
The Mini-PCs look like a good option. These are based on a standard Intel design that is available from a number of vendors, Intel included. Zotac specializes in configuring their mini-ITX boards. They seem to have done the same with their Mini-PCs. Having said that, very little extra hardware configuration is required for the latest CPUs and chipset designs. They were necessary for older CPUs and chipsets but that is no longer true. Note that some of Zotac's warranties are very short and registration is required to get a longer warranty. I would check out Mini-PCs from Gigabyte, Intel and others before making a purchase.

CPU: Look for a low power (in rated watts) processor. This especially true for Mini-PCs, silent designs and very small cases. A quad core processor in the 2.0GHz to 3.0 GHz range works very well for HTPC. Faster dual core processors, 2.8GHz-3.2GHz, also work well. Intel Core 2 processors generally deliver the best bang per watt. I'd recommend an Intel i3 or i5 rated at 45w or lower for this application. CPUs rated at 65w might be Ok but always check the recommended CPUs and power dissipation to avoid overheating or power supply failure.

GPU: This is the most important component of a HTPC. The ZBOXes have a range of GPU options. Avoid third party motherboard video like ION. I'd highly recommend going with an integrated CPU/GPU (APU) solution. Third generation Intel Haswell chips are recommended since earlier chips had a video bug that affected some types of playback. Look for an Intel GPU in the 4000 series (4000/4600.) Look for HDMI or Display Port with HDMI adapter included.

Audio: Look for HD audio with 6 analog channels and digital output (TOSLink or both types preferably.)

Network: Built in gigabit wired and wireless N minimum.

Drive: 120GB or larger SSD. A networked or external USB drive can be used for media storage.

If low power consumption is a priority, an embedded CPU is an option. This basically means that the CPU is soldered in instead of being in a socket. These are often based on laptop CPUs and ideally have integrated graphics. Their big advantage is power consumption, as low as 17w. Most of the later Atom and i3 processors are sufficient for HTPC and will do an adequate job, despite being slower in speed and dual core. Hyper-threaded dual core CPUs will perform better (4 logical cores.) Avoid single core designs like Celeron. Here, again, a good GPU is the key to good HTPC performance.
ExDilbert is online now  
post #8 of 361 (permalink) Old 2013-11-29, 04:48 PM
Veteran
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: 127.0.0.1
Posts: 3,370
One point I'd make is that ExDilbert is mostly correct except where he mentions that the GPU is the most important component relating to HTPC performance. In my experience this is false. GPUs under a certain bar suck, but if you have ASIC support for h.264 encode/decode, it's hard to tell the difference between a big expensive GPU and a integrated Haswell or even Ivy Bridge GPU. My HTPC uses a Sandy Bridge chip, and it's fantastic, mostly because all the issues I had with HDMI audio (due to HDMI handshakes failing when the TV was turned off) are gone. I had lots of problems like that with my previous HTPC which was AMD-based.

One other correction:

Quote:
Originally Posted by ExDilbert
Third generation Intel Haswell chips are recommended since earlier chips had a video bug that affected some types of playback.
Although the "generation" is mostly marketing-speak, Haswell is actually referred to as being "fourth generation". Third generation refers to Ivy Bridge chips. I'm not exactly sure what you're referring to though, since Haswell had some regressions when it came to QuickSync. So, you may have been saying that Ivy Bridge was better (3rd gen) because Haswell (4th gen) has the QuickSync regression, or you could have been saying that Haswell was better because it corrected the 23.976Hz video issue on Sandy and Ivy Bridge.

Either way, you're not getting a perfect chip.
audacity is offline  
post #9 of 361 (permalink) Old 2013-11-29, 10:59 PM
Veteran
 
Join Date: Jun 2011
Location: 43° N, 81.2° W
Posts: 7,927
Quote:
it's hard to tell the difference between a big expensive GPU and a integrated Haswell or even Ivy Bridge GPU.
That's why I suggested an integrated CPU/GPU. Later generation (4000 series) GPU solutions are recommended. Nowhere did I suggest using a separate graphics board. They wouldn't be suitable for a Mini-PC.

I did recommend Haswell CPUs. If that's 4th gen, not 3rd gen, that's a mistake. Should have said 4th gen.

Don't know about QuickSync. I couldn't see significant degradation in the samples provided. I'm sure their is an issue but it won't affect people who don't do transcoding and use software that uses the Quick Sync feature. I find that most transcoded videos suffer from much worse degradation than I could see in those samples.
ExDilbert is online now  
post #10 of 361 (permalink) Old 2013-11-30, 12:38 AM
Veteran
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: 127.0.0.1
Posts: 3,370
Click the "full size" images, and view them full screen in multiple tabs and flip between them. You should see that the original "grain" of the image is gone when it's mostly compressed - that's an artifact of video compression in general. But the problem with QuickSync frames on Haswell is that you start to see more severe compression artifacts than you see on the software encoder.

It's certainly not the end of the world, it's just that the regression is unfortunate. Real time transcoding becomes more important only in certain applications. Like if you transcode your MPEG2 recorded TV, or if you run software that does real time compression like Plex.
audacity is offline  
post #11 of 361 (permalink) Old 2013-11-30, 12:11 PM
Veteran
 
Join Date: Jun 2011
Location: 43° N, 81.2° W
Posts: 7,927
I doubt that will be an issue for a Mini-PC being used to watch video. It would be an issue for a back end server that does transcoding, either on the fly or for archival. For a small HTPC/media player, I'd go with Haswell. For a media server, I'd consider the transcoding issue.
ExDilbert is online now  
post #12 of 361 (permalink) Old 2013-11-30, 12:17 PM
Veteran
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: 127.0.0.1
Posts: 3,370
Well, if you have a Mini-PC and a NAS somewhere on your network, these computers could do the whole HTPC thing - even recording video if you've got network tuners like the HDHomeRun. As well as running Plex as a service.

Just sayin'.
audacity is offline  
post #13 of 361 (permalink) Old 2013-11-30, 12:34 PM
Veteran
 
Join Date: Jun 2011
Location: 43° N, 81.2° W
Posts: 7,927
Agreed. It could be done but I wouldn't recommend it. I like the HTPC to be as small and quiet as possible and to put the storage and computing power in a larger media server in an inconspicuous location. My media server is in the basement near the service panel, along with all the other TV, phone and networking equipment.
ExDilbert is online now  
post #14 of 361 (permalink) Old 2013-11-30, 02:10 PM
Veteran
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: 127.0.0.1
Posts: 3,370
But if you have a NAS in the basement and a Intel NUC-based HTPC with just a network connection, that achieves all the same goals, without having a separate "back end" computer.
audacity is offline  
post #15 of 361 (permalink) Old 2013-11-30, 04:23 PM
Veteran
 
Join Date: Jun 2011
Location: 43° N, 81.2° W
Posts: 7,927
I've found that recording to a NAS doesn't always work well. A local drive is much better. I built a CentOS server which handles some media server chores. It was about the same price as a prebuilt NAS and is more flexible. TV recording is handled on another PC that has an internal drive. My original intent was to install MythTV on the CentOS NAS but that turned out to be problematic.

I took a look at some of the available Mini-PCs and noticed a very affordable AMD solution on Newegg. It's the Zotac ZBOX-AD06-U. It has a very low power AMD E2-1800 1.7GHz CPU and AMD Radeon HD 7340 video. This box with an SSD and RAM could be assembled for about $300 (with a Black Friday/Cyber Monday deal on a Samsung SSD.) I've found that running OpenElec on a lightweight CPUs makes them much more responsive. It does limit software and streaming options but runs from a USB flash drive instead of an SSD, cutting the cost even further.
ExDilbert is online now  
Reply

Quick Reply
Message:
Options

Register Now



In order to be able to post messages on the Canadian TV, Computing and Home Theatre Forums forums, you must first register.
Please enter your desired user name, your email address and other required details in the form below.

User Name:
Password
Please enter a password for your user account. Note that passwords are case-sensitive.

Password:


Confirm Password:
Email Address
Please enter a valid email address for yourself.

Email Address:
OR

Log-in










Thread Tools Search this Thread
Show Printable Version Show Printable Version
Email this Page Email this Page
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Display Modes
Linear Mode Linear Mode



Posting Rules  
You may post new threads
You may post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are On
Pingbacks are On
Refbacks are On

 
For the best viewing experience please update your browser to Google Chrome