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I am currently shopping for an HTPC.

This HTPC will be loaded up with iTunes, Boxee, Arcsoft TMT, Windows Media Centre, AnyDVD, and several other applications to be decided.

Critical in my decision is knowing that I can playback Blu-ray rips with lossless sound. My A/V receiver can decode lossless formats.

So what hardware should I be looking for to ensure that I can achieve this?
 

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Well, IMHO a Sandy Bridge processor with a H67 ITX motherboard is a no-brainer. Use the HDMI connector on the motherboard to deliver audio to your TV or audio receiver.

That said, it's pretty early in the life of the H67 chipset. I'd wait for the various review sites to determine which motherboards are the ones to get.
 

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any 5 or 6 series ATI video card will give you full audio over HDMI because ATI has implementated the "protected path" audio stream.

Most of the processsing for blu ray will be done by the video cards so the CPU is not very important. I had a 3.2gHz c2d and a 1.8gHz c2d in 2 HTPC and both perform equally for playing Blu Ray's.

Saying that, the CPU makes a difference for other system activities.

I would also highly recommend an SSD boot drive with all important software loaded. My cold boot time is < 30seconds. Put in a disc and TMT is up and running in < 10 seconds. Faster that some actual blu ray players ...LOL

TMT can also use the media center remote codes. Get a cheap Window Media center remote to get the IR reader. I then programmed programmed my Logitech remote to use the media center codes with my receiver and TV.
 

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Hugh,

Please write an article about this if you ever figure it out. I thought I knew something about HTPCs until I installed a BD-ROM drive. It really shouldn't be this hard.

The key is having audio chipsets that provide a protected audio path (PAP). The Realtek ALC889a does. Azuntech does, exclusively for TMT5. Azuntech X-Fi does, exclusively for PDVD10. This review lists compatible chipsets. (http://www.missingremote.com/review/arcsoft-total-media-theatre-5

This is important for me, because my HTPC has to decode and feed 6-channel audio directly to a Logitech-5500 powered speaker system. Your situation is the more common, having a receiver decode audio and video.

At this point maybe someone else can fill in the gaps. I think you still need a PAP even if the audio is being sent to your receiver through HDMI. Then there are some restrictions about "bitstreaming" uncompressed TrueHD and DTS-HD.

My other unfounded concern is that the BD software will down-sample the audio on ripped Blu-rays if if can't find any valid AACS encryption.

Like I said, this is just way more complicated than it needs to be. Good Luck
 

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BHoward said:
Most of the processsing for blu ray will be done by the video cards so the CPU is not very important.
This statement is so 2010.

BHoward, you probably need to read the Sandy Bridge processor reviews, specifically focusing on Quicksync.

In 2011, the pros/cons of adding a discrete video card to a HTPC looks like this:

Pros:
- Faster 3D game performance

Cons:
- Slower video encoding/decoding performance
- Lower quality transcoding
- More expensive
- More heat/noise

In my opinion, with Sandy Bridge, Intel just killed the usefulness of non-gaming HTPC targeted video cards.

Not to mention that even without Quicksync, the latest processors are able to do video decoding in software. Hardware acceleration probably lowers the amount of electricity your HTPC uses when doing the transcode, but hardware accelerated video conversion only matters from a capability POV when your CPU is extremely weak (e.g. an Atom).

Plus, once you decide that you're buying an Atom + ION (or whatever discrete video card you want), you're limiting yourself to software that actually implements CUDA-accelerated video decoding (or ATI Stream decoding). Having a general purpose CPU that is fast enough to do the decoding with or without help from the video card gives you more selection when it's time to pick your player software.
 

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I just picked up an ATI Radeon HD 5670 about 2 months ago for my HTPC. Its not to bad priced and it sure does the job. I got no problems watching 1080P blurays and it outputs DTS HD, DTS-MA, and Dolby HD to my Receiver. The video card has a fan but its pretty much silent. You cant hear it until you put your ear right to the Computer Case, even then its only a very slight noise.

Theres also another Model Vision Tech 5670 that's also made by ATI. Not sure about the difference both have identical specs as far as i know and their both the same price.
 

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any 5 or 6 series ATI video card will give you full audio over HDMI because ATI has implementated the "protected path" audio stream.
Thanks BHoward, that is exactly what I needed to know.

I would also highly recommend an SSD boot drive with all important software loaded. My cold boot time is < 30seconds. Put in a disc and TMT is up and running in < 10 seconds. Faster that some actual blu ray players ...LOL
This is big decision for me and will depend on when I have it on: On demand or for prolonged periods so its accessible to my SONOS music system. I am likely going to forego buying another NAS device and keep this machine on for 12 to 16 hours a day. If its strictly, on demand then I will go SSD.

I just picked up an ATI Radeon HD 5670 about 2 months ago for my HTPC.
Thanks BoaVista. I think that will be sufficient for my needs.
 

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as danceswihtlysol noted I see that a Sandy Bridge Processor with H67 chipset supports lossless audio format.

This seems like an interesting option too since it means I don't have to buy a discrete graphics card like the 5670 for $90 and presumably reduces power consumption.
 

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If you can get a MB that supports lossless audio that is definitely the way to go. Less power, noise, $$$.

All good things
 

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If you can get a MB that supports lossless audio that is definitely the way to go. Less power, noise, $$$.
All H67 based motherboards should support (TrueHD, DTS-HD) audio via HDMI, but that was also true of the previous generation chipset (H55) using the i3/i5/i7 models that had integrated graphics. Crappy for gaming, but sufficient for HTPC needs.

The reason why I find Sandy Bridge especially interesting for HTPC use is the Quicksync feature. It makes me want to build a new silent HTPC! Of course, I probably won't because my 785G/Phenom HTPC is still more than sufficient for my HTPC needs and I won't be replacing it anytime soon.
 

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The Anandtech review spent about a page explaining how the SNB graphics still fail to properly display film content at 23.97 fps. Previous Intel graphics apparently had the same problem. It is supposed to lead to a judder in panning scenes. But has anyone really noticed this?
 

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All H67 based motherboards should support (TrueHD, DTS-HD) audio via HDMI, but that was also true of the previous generation chipset (H55) using the i3/i5/i7 models that had integrated graphics. Crappy for gaming, but sufficient for HTPC needs.

The reason why I find Sandy Bridge especially interesting for HTPC use is the Quicksync feature. It makes me want to build a new silent HTPC! Of course, I probably won't because my 785G/Phenom HTPC is still more than sufficient for my HTPC needs and I won't be replacing it anytime soon.
That's what I thought also until I connected my HP Probook (Core i5/H55M) and only to find out the best it does was Multichannel LPCM using the Arcsoft player.

I don't connect laptop to TV anyways...maybe a driver upgrade may help.
 

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I dont know if i would trust Onboard Graphics.. I know mine would play movies and passed 5.1 audio via HDMI however when i played certain High bitrate 1080P movies there was lag and dropped frames.

Having a dedicated video card eliminated the issue. Another reason i went with the video card was i needed multiple video outs ( HDMI to AVR to projector) and (VGA to Monitor)
 

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Recent Intel issues could have me just go with a Radeon card.
 

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My experience is that Radeon cards work best for HTPC. The 500 series cards have enough horsepower for 1080p and are available in silent, fanless versions.
 

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Intel integrated video has never been highly thought of. I'd look at Nvidia based solutions on Giga-byte motherboards.
 

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Don't buy a Sandy Bridge platform!

Intel has a mass recall on all the 6-series chips - an old component in the design causes the Sata II (3.0 GB/s) will eventually fail. They've pulled all products from sale. I want to upgrade to a P67 platform, but we're all going to have to wait until end of March/April when the replacement designs will be ready.

Read more here: http://www.anandtech.com/show/4143/the-source-of-intels-cougar-point-sata-bug

Some manufacturers are offering replacement deals if you ended up buying one.

At any rate, an i5 2500K is the way to go (unlocked multiplyer, easily overclocks to 4.5 GHz with stock cooler). If you can wait for teh z67 chipset, you can get the best of both worlds - overclocking AND QuickSync.
 

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At any rate, an i5 2500K is the way to go (unlocked multiplyer, easily overclocks to 4.5 GHz with stock cooler). If you can wait for teh z67 chipset, you can get the best of both worlds - overclocking AND QuickSync.
Very true, however the video software has to directly support Quick Sync to give you the benefit and according to this month old story only Cyberlink’s Media Espresso 6 and Arcsoft’s Media Converter 7 do so today.
 

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If you can wait for teh z67 chipset, you can get the best of both worlds - overclocking AND QuickSync.
Not to suggest that getting a Z67 is a bad idea, but for HTPC use why would you overclock a Sandy Bridge processor? Even the slowest models at stock speeds are fast enough to take care of typical HTPC workloads.
 
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