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Author Topic: Media centre PC  (Read 6968 times)

roseway

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Media centre PC
« on: December 01, 2007, 02:11:03 PM »

Over the last few weeks I've been quietly putting together a media centre. I made a few mistakes along the way, but it's now at the point where it's fully functioning except for automatic shutdown and wakeup, which I'm still working on.

Obviously a media center has to be very quiet, so I spent some time selecting quiet hardware. The case I ended up with is this one: http://www.ebuyer.com/product/130945 . It's not particularly pretty, but it's clean and inoffensive, and big enough for plenty of stuff inside. With the fans running at their lowest speed, everything stays nice and cool.

The motherboard is an Asus M2NPV-VM (now discontinued by EBuyer, I seem to have a talent for picking these :) ). I chose this as it has good quality onboard sound and graphics (nVidia, the best choice for Linux) and a full complement of TV and monitor connectors. The processor is Athlon 64 X2 4200 with 2 GB of RAM.

Another potentially noisy component is the hard disk, and I chose a Western Digital WD5000AAKS (500 GB SATA) and it's proved to be an excellent choice, fast and silent.

The CPU cooler was my first mistake. I chose one on the basis of low noise and good customer reviews, but after I fitted it I found that it was too tall for the case. I would have had to cut a hole in the lid, which didn't seem a good idea. Being impatient to get it going, I rushed out to PC World where I found a very nice quiet cooler at a rather high price.

Tuners. I wanted two, so I could watch one program while recording another, and I chose the Hauppauge Nova-T 500. With a bit of fiddling this worked very well, but it proved to be unstable - after some channel-hopping it would stop receiving anything until it was re-booted. I think that this is a problem with the Linux driver, which was supposed to be fixed but doesn't seem to be. After trying out a few others, I ended up with an old Hauppauge Nova-T PCI and a Nova-T USB stick plugged in the back. These both work well, and the latter gives me the option of taking it out and plugging it into a laptop, so I can watch TV anywhere there's a good enough signal for the little stick aerial.

The operating system which I ended up with after trying several was MythBuntu. This is a dedicated version of Ubuntu, with MythTV preconfigured as the user interface. MythTV is a pig to set up manually, but has a wealth of features which I think put it way ahead of anything comparable. Getting it all working wasn't completely plain sailing of course, but the community support is first rate, and I've now got a system I'm fairly proud of. In use it's just like any other set-top box, controlled entirely by the remote control. I can watch and record TV, and recordings have automatic advert skipping. All the expected live viewing features are there, such as pause and skip-back. Recordings can be scheduled from the EPG.

As well as TV the machine can play and record CDs and DVDs, receive and transmit streaming video and audio over the network, and it's even got a built-in web browser and news reader. As I said, the one feature which I have yet to get working is automatic shutdown and wakeup, but I know it can be done.

Would I recommend this route to anyone else? I think it's fair to say that you do have to have a bit of experience with Linux. There's nothing particularly difficult if you're used to Linux, but it's definitely not a simple install-and-go. Very satisfying though.
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  Eric

kitz

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Re: Media centre PC
« Reply #1 on: December 01, 2007, 03:03:06 PM »

Case doesnt look too bad eric - Mines also an Antec. (cant remember now if I actually posted any pics?) I dont think I ever posted the specs though.
Looking through yours we have some remarkably similar hardware inside.

I dont think Ive had any real probs with the Antec case (Fusion v2) - the lcd display stopped working for a while but was fixed after full a power-off.
Like you I also went for an Asus Mobo (PL5-VM which is the Pentium version) which should be ok for sound and graphics. Chris kindly bought me a graphics card in the end to try help overcome some "jerkiness" when viewing TV/video..  but still not sure if that is entirely down to Vista.
Western Digital drive - although my budget only stretched to 320GB. (Western Digital WD3200AAKS)

Hauppauge Nova-T 500 - what I also have - and have a couple of yet unresolved problems with it.
1) it searches for all the channels and doesnt list them in correct order..  so BBC1 is about channel 30.  I havent had the patience yet to go through the whole list rearranging the whole lot.
2)and I still havent found things like UK history and several others.  Despite me being able to get them ok on the TV & also both freeview boxes I have.

heh dont have the nerve to try linux on it though.
Well done you :D
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guest

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Re: Media centre PC
« Reply #2 on: December 01, 2007, 03:21:53 PM »

Not a thread hijack but for anyone just wanting a digital video recorder for freeview then I have had one of these :

http://www.maplin.co.uk/Module.aspx?TabID=1&ModuleNo=221276&doy=1m12

for a month or so now. If you have an old parallel ATA (wide ribbon cable) hard drive lying about then its a blindingly good deal. Surprisingly (at that price) it actually works too :)

I spent what seems like forever trying to build HTPCs (media centres if you prefer) a couple of years ago but simply couldn't find a price/performance ratio that worked. Perhaps I should look again as that sounds like a nice box Eric.

Especially when I read things like this :

http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3165

A passively cooled 8800GT (65nm G92) card opens up all sorts of new possibilities :)
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roseway

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Re: Media centre PC
« Reply #3 on: December 01, 2007, 04:57:32 PM »

That Maplin offer does look like a bargain, and the high powered but silent graphics card looks good too. I have to say though that my main reason for building the media centre was technical interest rather than economics.
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roseway

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Re: Media centre PC
« Reply #4 on: December 01, 2007, 06:51:59 PM »

>> Looking through yours we have some remarkably similar hardware inside.

I guess we did similar research and reached similar conclusions. I considered the Antec Fusion case, but it seems that the front panel display doesn't play nicely with Linux, so it would be redundant for me.

I've come across the unsorted channels problem with other TV viewing software, but MythTV sorts them into the normal order so I was spared that bit of hassle. It's not related to the TV card, but the software using it.

One of the cards I tried (Hauppauge HVR-1100) had a similar problem to you, only receiving some but not all of the available channels. I never got to the bottom of it, but I suspect that it was just a question of tuner sensitivity because I live in a rather poor reception area.
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mr_chris

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Re: Media centre PC
« Reply #5 on: December 02, 2007, 02:23:32 AM »

I'm not sure whats wrong with kitz's media centre. The digital tv isn't smooth at all. Kitz's card is a nova td rather than a t, which hauppauge were shipping as a substitute. I hope this isn't anything to do with it. Need to try xp on it i think. I'm not convinced about vista's multimedia capabilities!

(Posting this from my phone on the m62 on the way back from york - i'm not driving before anyone wonders!)
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Chris

kitz

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Re: Media centre PC
« Reply #6 on: December 02, 2007, 02:38:11 AM »

>> Posting this from my phone on the m62 on the way back from york

I did wonder wth you were doing home much earlier than anticipated.

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kitz

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Re: Media centre PC
« Reply #7 on: December 02, 2007, 02:44:55 AM »

>> The digital tv isn't smooth at all. Kitz's card is a nova td

after just reading erics post a few mins ago - Ive been doing a bit of reading...  I originally went in search looking for something about the channel list and came across some other stuff..  not sure if its good news or not.

I was actually looking at the T model though... and think I may know perhaps why the td was shipped out - need to do some more reading before I come to any conclusions.   But you know the jerkiness I mentioned in the post above and how we thought it was perhaps vista/ or it did needed a dedicated graphics card...  and how you kindly bought me a graphics card to try and rectify it which although it did make things a little better it didnt fully solve it??

Need to do some more research first me thinks. :/
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roseway

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Re: Media centre PC
« Reply #8 on: December 02, 2007, 07:25:20 AM »

The TD version of the Nova-T 500 is the so-called 'Diversity' model which is actually a more expensive model which Hauppauge shipped temporarily to deal with a production shortfall of the regular version. It uses a completely different chipset (and doesn't work at all with Linux). I doubt if that explains your problem though, as it's supposed to work perfectly well with Windows.

Do recordings play jerkily as well as live viewing? On my system I get a very occasional brief glitch, and I've found that if I hit the skipback button so I'm actually watching a recording made 30 seconds earlier, the viewing is completely smooth. I haven't really thought this through as it's a non-problem, but it may tell you something if you try it.
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Pwiggler

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Re: Media centre PC
« Reply #9 on: December 02, 2007, 08:28:10 AM »

i built my media center nearly 2 years ago from old pc parts i had lying around apart from the nove-t which i had to buy.  stuck xp mce on it and its fine.  i then thought i'd try vista mce  :D  no thanx !!

jerky, slow, incompatible and unreliable - so it was back to xp mce and all the probs have gone.  its used every day for kids games, homework, the missis browsing then tv/vids all night - no problems at all.  couldnt do without it for a day !!

kitz - does yours play vids/avi's ok or is everything jerky?

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Paul

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Re: Media centre PC
« Reply #10 on: December 02, 2007, 09:22:10 AM »

Hauppauge DVB-T cards (I had two) used to have a dreadful reputation for being rubbish unless your signal strength was just right. Too low - or too high - a signal and there goes half your channels. I compared a Hauppauge Nova-T to a Compro DVB-T300 and the difference was remarkable - at least 15 channels appeared on the DVB-T300 which the Nova-T couldn't receive.

I wouldn't touch Hauppauge now but obviously YMMV :)
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roseway

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Re: Media centre PC
« Reply #11 on: December 02, 2007, 09:59:12 AM »

The original Nova-T with a Philips chipset was pretty awful, but the later version with a Conexant chipset is fine. The Nova-T 500 is different again, with a DiBCom chipset, and has no sensitivity problems. Hauppauge's own software still has a pretty poor reputation, but their hardware is generally reckoned to be up with the best these days.
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kitz

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Re: Media centre PC
« Reply #12 on: December 02, 2007, 12:55:37 PM »

It's a bit unfair of me to take over erics thread -
Just suffice to say that despite having done a few weeks research before buying the parts - there seems to have been one problem after another with the system.

The spec should be fine.  The PC part is good and its nice and quiet- it is a nice machine..... but its the bits that should make it the media centre where it all seems to fall down.
Some of the problems werent the fault of the box itself such as the wireless problem nor did I expect my existing 5.1 surround system box to die a couple of weeks later...  so until I have some more money to throw at the system its been a bit of a disappointment :/
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roseway

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Re: Media centre PC
« Reply #13 on: December 02, 2007, 04:14:12 PM »

You're not taking over my thread, it's just a discussion about media centre PCs really. If you've got a reasonably fast modern CPU and enough memory (I would say that 1 GB should be plenty) then it does rather suggest that Paul may be right to say that you would be a lot better off with XP rather than Vista. I'm the wrong person to comment on that of course, so I won't. Other things which come to mind are:

Memory type - needs to be fast enough and suitable for the motherboard, but I'd be surprised if you got that wrong.
Hard disk - must have DMA enabled, so it's possible that this is set wrongly in the BIOS setup.
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kitz

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Re: Media centre PC
« Reply #14 on: December 02, 2007, 05:07:10 PM »

CPU - Intel Dual Core E4400 - 2MB L2 cache 800 MHz FSB
Memory -  2GB Crucial Kit PC2-667 CL5
Hard disk - must have DMA enabled. -   Im pretty certain it does and it was set up right...  but I'll double check next time I boot it up.
Graphics Card - Asus GForce 7300GT Silent 256MB DDR DualVGA/HDTV/DVI

Like I say it should be a pretty sweet machine. 
It irks me to have to put XP  on it when I forked out for Vista.  I certainly cant be affording a copy of XP Media Centre right now.

The whole thing was done to a strict budget from a one off source..  The specs were researched and planned for weeks/months to try and get a decent machine.  The one extravagance really was the Antec Fusion Case, which I specifically wanted as it was also to replace my old music center/cd player which was on its last legs.

It is perhaps looking like some of the problems may be Vista related :(


BTW Chris
Youre in BIG trouble when I next see you because Ive only just 2 mins ago seen how much that card really was - and it wasnt just "a few quid".
« Last Edit: December 02, 2007, 05:12:40 PM by kitz »
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