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Matt's talking Media Centre Boxes Again - PC users


BEEMB

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I've posted something along these lines before. This time I'm just after seeing what other users are doing on here. Guess this is aimed at the PC users, more so than Mac users.

 

Anybody else on here using an HTPC - computer sat underneath their TV like me - running iTunes and/or Media Money depending on my mood and whether I wish to geek around or not.

 

Reason I ask - I'm curious to see what boxes people are using. Whether anybody has managed to squeeze some decent hardware into a decent non-PC sized box that looks (and sounds - ie: quiet) the part.

 

Whilst my Antec case is silent, has tons of room etc, it just does not look like a nice piece of hardware.

 

M.

 

 

 

HTPC: AMD Athlon 4850e, 4GB, Vista, BD/HD-DVD into -> ADM9.1

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I've been piecing together a system, I've been taking advantage of the whole Mobile on Desktop movement for the form factor. Design philosophy is loosely following Cics Cmp/Cplay project on Audio Asylum. Here's what I built.

 

  • Case: Silverstone ML02
  • Motherboard: Asus Intel G31 based P5KPL-C
  • Heatsink: Coolermaster Vortex 752 - (fan removed, not yet installed)
  • CPU: Intel 45nm Core2Duo 7300, underclocked to 1Ghz
  • Soundcard: ESI [email protected]
  • Benchmark USB DAC, fed using SPDIF from the [email protected]
    Seagate 320GB SATA Laptop Hard Drive - currently installed
  • Compact flash to 2.5" SATA HD converter - (not yet installed)
    Used slim profile IDE CDROM, unplugged from the mobo (just there for OS install)
  • Cheap Logitech wireless keyboard/mouse combo (hoping i won't need this much)
  • Drobo attached to an airport extreme acting as a NAS

 

This platform has been a bit challenging to build because of the extremely slim form factor of the case, but I'm quite happy with it. The case uses an external DC power supply, so I'm fanless there. The vast majority of heatsinks won't fit in the case, including stock intel. I chose the coolermaster because it uses heat pipes and was the right height when it's fan was removed. Because I'm underclocking I should be ok with it, haven't tested yet because I need to take the whole thing back apart to install. I did do a short test with the Intel stock fan turned off and temps didn't get too high during the few minutes I watched it.

 

Only one PCI is supported by the case, on a riser, and the [email protected] is installed there.

 

Graphics has also been a bit difficult using this board, as it's a VGA connector and I plan to drive it attached to my flatscreen TV when I need a monitor. That's a disaster in and of itself as the television and graphics card vendors can't seem to get in line with supporting native resolutions over VGA. A motherboard or graphics card with DVI/HDMI out would solve the problem, but motherboards with on-board DVI/HDMI are rare and I didn't want the extra power and space requirements of a graphics card.

 

I'm currently using the laptop hard disk for OS storage, and have it set to multi-boot between Vista and XP, will probably try out Linux as well. It's very quiet, but not dead silent. Once I've settled on an OS/player configuration my plan was to reduce the power requirements and noise further by switching to the compact flash based disk. I can use Microsoft's enhanced write filter (EWF) to limit the number of writes to the disk and make it act much more like a true appliance. By the end of the year solid state drives may be coming into their own for size and affordability though, if I can afford something like this, then I'll probably just go with that - a 1 Terabyte solid state drive should keep me happy for a couple years, as my existing collection is around 500gig.

 

The silverstone case also comes with an LCD and a remote - I'm starting to think I won't be using the LCD much, but the remote has some basic mouse and hotkey functionality, so that should come in handy. This can also be mapped to a Logitech Harmony remote if something a little more integrated across components is neccessary. I've also got an ipod touch I was thinking about dedicating to remote functions, but that depends on the player software I settle on.

 

 

 

mpdPup maintainer

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Excellent, thanks for detailed reply. I'd been looking at the case in order to downsize mine a little; a built on an Australian tech website with this case incorporated my motherboard which as 780G graphics onboard and HDMI output. It can handle BluRay with relative ease, but that's the catch with this case, you can't fit a BluRay drive since I'm not sure any slimline drives exist.

 

However, using it purely as a music server and attempting to make it act like a dedicated piece of hardware as you're doing is great. When I think where I'm going with my setup, and how little I've actually watched any BluRay films - well, I think I may consider this case and downsize. Hmm ..

 

Did you find it difficult to wire everything ? I mean, there's not much room in there. Silverstone have made some even smaller cases still which look very good. You need to use an even smaller motherboard - it's a shame we can't have more power on smaller motherboards. Nano ITX just doesn't seem to offer much grunt at the moment.

 

If you get a chance post some pics, I'd like to see it.

 

Matt.

 

HTPC: AMD Athlon 4850e, 4GB, Vista, BD/HD-DVD into -> ADM9.1

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I'm using my mini and plex for video, and not really worrying about the bluray problem at the moment there. The problem with adding highdef video(1080p) to the mix is it makes it harder to go fanless - you need a serious graphics card and you can't underclock. That means something like the zalman TNN-300 is a requirement to do fanless. That said, the modern coolers these days are extremely quiet, it wouldn't be that big a deal to have a quiet active cooling system.

 

The slimline drives are just OEM laptop drives - bluray laptops are available already, so I'm certain it's possible to find a bluray player that would fit this form factor. Note you can also just rip bluray and encode it so it's on your NAS or hard disk. I've found some great looking h.264 720p stuff that was reduced down to 2GB for ~2 hours.

 

Cabling hasn't really been a problem - the only cable that was a bit tight was the 4pin ATX power connector, which could stand to be a few millimeters longer. The other cables are longer than they should be, but I just need to be a bit creative routing them. The only 'bad' cable is realy the IDE cable to the CDROM, and it's not that big a deal for me since I'm keeping it unplugged. If I had to stick with IDE I might do the hack where you slice the cable with a razor down to individual insulated wires to make a bundle.

 

I'll take some pics when I get a chance.

 

 

mpdPup maintainer

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My HTPC is an HP Media Center PC w/m-Audio Revolution card running in a closet behind the wall my RPTV is located. I have cables through the wall to my pre/pro and TV so it's dead quiet in the listening room. I am trying to get better sound out of my PC-audio setup, though.

 

It's an older MCE box so no HD therefore I have to use a rental HD-DVR/HD-tuner from my cable company.

 

iTunes is my least favorite player so I deleted it and run Zune which I find easier to use and I also run Foobar (flac, more customizable) and have Media Monkey which I mostly use for tagging. For HT display and one handed remote I use Meedio which is more customizable for music jukebox organization than MCE and uese the same remote. I also use remote desktop from my laptop for headless operation....I like to watch sports and listen to music (and sometimes I "surf" my jukebox)

 

I have a microsoft MCE wireless KB/MS which was a pain to learn but now I'm really got at using it and like the single item kb/ms.

 

I played with DVD playback from my Media Center PC using high resolutions and a few different sw players now focus my videophile interests on BD from PS3 and HD-DVD from xBox360.

 

I have watched missed TV episodes from the internet on my HTPC which was handy and before that I bought some LOST Season 1 on iTunes... I guess i could now use PlayOn to stream to my game console.

 

i really like to stream netflix (especially CSI at the moment) to my xbox for easy viewing on-demand.

 

I have a Seagate 1.5 TB usb drive for bu and two internal drives....one 250gb for os/apps and a 500gb data disk (soon to be 1tb).

 

I don't store all my DVD's on HD because I would then need even more storage. I find it's easy to browse my collection using the Collectorz database on my PC and then pull disk #x out of one of my binders of DVDs. I don't watch stacks of disks or jukebox like I do music CDs.

 

 

 

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ldolse,

 

The onboard motherboard chipset, AMD's 780G is plenty powerful enough to produce silky smooth 1080p images. It has a build in hardware decoder and works great.

 

Thanks for your comment re slim line blu ray drives - I feel like an idiot as of course they exist. Opens up a nice opportunity to downsize for me I think and maintain my current spec.

 

 

Matt.

 

HTPC: AMD Athlon 4850e, 4GB, Vista, BD/HD-DVD into -> ADM9.1

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Hoots,

 

Yeah, I know what you mean regarding the space the DVD's and anything of higher quality takes up. You'd soon find yourself filling up Terrabytes of storage with only a modest collection of hi definition material - especially if ripped at the highest bit rate.

 

How are you attempting to improve your audio ? You're on the right website to find out some more information, that's for sure !

 

Matt.

 

HTPC: AMD Athlon 4850e, 4GB, Vista, BD/HD-DVD into -> ADM9.1

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I created a thread on what my next upgrade might be so I'm open to ideas. My guess has been that I need an external DAC vs. using my Emotiva DCM-1 pre/pro. My PC setup still gives me the impression I'm listening to a PC vs my modest Denon 2900 CD player.

 

I have been a/b/c testing between Denon>coax>pre-pro & PC>coax>pre-pro & Denon>R/L>Pre-pro in 8-channel model which I slightly seem to prefer. It's possible the first two are the same which is what I would expect.

 

I double checked my Foobar ASIO setup (24/44.1, ASIO plub-in, Revo card selected, R/L mapped). I am using the latest version which has been said to sound worse (but I have assumed that is a minor delta). I am using FLAC but will try WAV. I'm not convinced I can hear the difference on my setup. I have cheap digital cables. My sound card is 44.1 and has been a budget recommended card...especially when not using it's DAC. I thought the pre/pro DAC was decent and equal or better than the Denon 2900 DAC. I tested it vs. a Perpetual Technologies P3a and it was very close but not 100%.

 

I added a PT p1a interpolation DSP with SOCS (speaker only correction software). This reduces the SPL 6 db (so I have to turn it up). My current perception is that introducing the box (even when set to bypass it's DSP functions) is a slightly negative...maybe due to the more connections and now two cheap cables....

 

I love the ease of use of my PC setup but I seem to enjoy the sound of my CD player better which I don't think should be the case. Perhaps a DAC and new cables could make the PC better than the CDP....not sure if I need a new card or something else. I could borrow a SB3 and try it vs my soundcard & sw setup.

 

I did stream a wmaLossless file from my laptop to my xbox360 connected with toslink to pre/pro and it sounded like a computer file (better than compressed wam but not CD)...not sure why.

 

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I changed Digital cables and it seems to have fixed my biggest PC audio concern. I was using a 2M ~$5 Best Buy AR digital cable and now i am using a Monster 400DCX ~$63 (although I got it 40% off during Circuit city going out of business). The old cable seems to have been just too cheap.

 

my Denon and PC seem pretty close and both would benefit from a nicer DAC....and even better connectivity....

 

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Omaura TF8 Case

Intel E6400 CPU

2GB DDR2 PC6400

Thermalright AXP-140 heatsink (no fan)

XFX Nforce 630i Mobo w/ Nvidia 7100 graphics

 

I personally have never found a better looking case (for my taste) than the Omaura cases. The Origen AE "H" series cases are very nice as well.

 

pics for reference...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Mini -> Pure Music 1.85c -> Halide Bridge -> Bel Canto e.One Dac 1.5 -> Classe CAP 151 -> ProAc Response D1

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