My setup, and some HTPC questions please

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My setup, and some HTPC questions please

Postby Propup » Wed Jan 28, 2004 4:46 pm

Hi everyone!
My first post after about a month of browsing here. First, some background on what I have now, and then a question or two at bottom

Sony KP-53XBR200
Onkyo TX-DS939 (currently provides 2 zones of audio)
Sony DVPCX777ES 400 Disc DVD (just ordered it.. not in yet)
Energy XL Series speakers for listening room (5.1)
2 DirecTV rec, 1 Hughes DirecTivo (40 hr.. will eventually upgrd to 80+)
Whole-house audio, deck, pool, etc. all have sound off 2nd zone

HTPC (sorta) is as follows:
Compaq Presario (2.5GHz Celeron I think)
256MB RAM
160GB disk
Sound Blaster Audigy Platinum
GeForce2 MX (NVidia) with S-Video out to Sony XBR
Logitech wireless keyboard / mouse

Other: I've recently wired entire house. Every room has minimum of 2 CAT5e / 2 RG6 Quadshield / 2 phone. Entire house is GB ethernet and have cable modem access for internet. I have vid distribution available, but not in use for both CATV and SAT.

I have just rec'd the eval of ML and am checking it out...
For the last year plus, I have used the system for my MP3 (albums only) collection of almost 600 albums and display album art on the sony, and do play lists for parties, etc. It works pretty good. Sound is great.

I use the S-Video out of the card directly into the Sony, with the Audigy output into the Onkyo. The video quality on the big screen is very bad... I've lowered the resolution to 800x600 and increased font sizes just to read stuff. ..Do any of you have advice (or a web resource) on what vid card I should try on the PC? I suspect that I may not have made the best choice.
Note: The output from a current DVD players and DirecTV is excellent.

My goals are to run the 777ES changer from ML / DVD Lobby and at least for now use the Sony XBR for all the video. I hope to use Music Lobby for the MP3 album collection. I've read positive feedback on the recently released 777ES plug-in, so I'm hopeful that I can get that working.. but what do you think about control of the other components? Does it sound like I can keep and control the Sony and Onkyo as well?

Thanks in advance to any who have an opinion or suggestion!
This seems like an active, helpful community, and I've already learned a bit, but I have a lot still to learn!

Thanks!

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Postby gregoryx » Wed Jan 28, 2004 5:40 pm

Is the "quality" you're talking about on the XBR when using a PC application such as a web browser or when playing a movie through the PC?

All your other components can be controlled via IR or S-Link. The Slink-E will do both; it is a bit more expensive than IR-only solutions. Do any of those devices support serial command?

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Postby midi-guy » Wed Jan 28, 2004 5:48 pm

If most of your equipment is one central location, it should be a snap to control them with an IR tranmitter (Slink-e, USBUIRT/Girder).

SVideo is not ideal. In fact, no matter what desktop resolution you set all you're going to get is 480i. And depending on the video card, that may be crap.

My suggestions:
Get a Radeon series card + HDTV adapter. Your TV set probably does 480p, but I think it won't do HDTV. (If you can, get a HDTV. Even for playing DVDs, it makes a difference, and most of these programs are designed for > 480p).
Otherwise, invest in a VGA->component transcoder and connect using the TV's component ports.

Get Media Center
With MC and MuL you can do Multi-source/Multi-zone audio from the MP3s on the PC.
You'll probably need another sound card. M-Audio makes good inexpensive ones that don't have the K-mangler issue that Sound Blasters have.

The 777ES is a good choice for DVDLobby and or Velocity Server w/ RS-232 control.

If you need more specific info, I could give you links, models # etc.

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Postby Propup » Wed Jan 28, 2004 9:39 pm

Thanks guys for such a quick reply!

gregoryx: The quality is fine watching a DVD, SATV, etc. It's the PC video that is terrible for web surfing, other progs, etc.
The SOny XBR has S-Link / Control jacks on the back 3 out, 1 in but I do not understand how to use them...
The Onkyo has no such jacks

midi-guy: All my gear is in one room, with equipment in two separate racks. (one to each side of the Sony XBR.
I've looked at both Slink-e and USBUIRT/Girder. I guess for control of Onkyo then, I'm IR-only (with a stick on?) but I could control the Sony via S-Link?

*BTW, a friend just gave me some Niles pieces and parts.
An IRP6+ (which is a six IR sensor unit) and IRR4D+ (an IR RC extender) and some IRC-2 microflashers. (the actual sensors for the equipment I guess...) Can I make use of these? Would they replace what the Slink-e and / or USBUIRT would do or just possibly add to it?

Regarding video:
I have not considered sending video stream direct from PC. I'm not sure I understand the advantages of a video server .vs. output of the changer to the TV... perhaps someone can enlighten?

I'm not sure what you mean by an HDTV adapter. If these are only for HD sets, then they don't apply to me right now.

The KP-53XBR200 is not HD. It does have Composite, S-Video, and Component inputs however. If I bought a Radeon, your saying to use an HDTV adapter to connect to the Sony? That part confused me. I did find a bunch of transcoders on the web (from key digital, etc.) These look cool. (expensive, but cool) but I see warnings that I must connect to a HD-ready set... so I'm confused. would any of these work with my Sony?
I don't have the budget yet for HDTV... so that's out for now.

"K-mangler" had to look this up, but found nothing... :oops: what does that mean? I also could not find references to "Velocity Server".

Mario did recommend the CX777ES for RS-232 control. That plus other good reviews I read led me to that purchase. (I get it tomorrow.. yeah!)

The M-Audio products do look good. My sound has always been good with the SB outputs driving the Onkyo for the audio stuff I'm doing, but I'm totally open to improvements.
I've d/l and installed eval of MC and added the plug-in to ML. Got it all working. Pretty cool, but I just started yesterday with the Cinemar eval.
(a lot to absorb!)

That's a lot I know... I REALLY do appreciate the feedback.
I'm going to do more research on IR control and look for product specific guides to see if that clears the fog in my head any...
Thanks again!

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Postby midi-guy » Wed Jan 28, 2004 10:08 pm

K-mangler is a reference to Windows' K-Mixer, which behaves the same way as SB cards that use the E-mu 10K or 10K2 chip(All f them).

Since those chips are hardwired at 48Khz, any sound sent through its SPDIF port will be upsampled/Downsampled to 48K. Most audio CDs and cpmputer audio are at 44.1KHz or some other frequency. SPDIF is mostly used to Pass-through the digital audio unaltered. SB's don't do this.
So with those cards, you don't get exactly what's came from the source.
This is not exactly good! :)

The Niles stuff may not of be of much use except for use as emmiters/extenders. They should work with the Slink-E though.

Along with the 777ES, you should be able to control the Sony TV via Slink-e. Mario sells those too.

The Slink-e is both a hardwired S-Link controller, and it does IR Receive and decode too.

You may still connect your DVD player to the TV. You do not need to connect it to the PC (AFAIK, you don't have a HDTV capable set).

As for your TV, if it supports 480p, then the cheapest route for you may be a Radeon card + HDTV adapter. You will need to setup a resolution of 480p on your desktop.
However, you could keep your Geforce and add a transcoder to get the same result.
The AA 9a60
or
KDS vtca3 are good transcoders. The KDS is a little more flexible.

Lastly, take a look at Velocity Server here.

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Postby gregoryx » Thu Jan 29, 2004 2:56 am

My $.02 regarding trying to output a PC's Windows-based output to a 480i-at-best input device is that you are bound to be disappointed no matter what you do.

Via 480i component (assuming you're getting that), the best you can get is 480 pixel resolution vertical. If you have a 4:3 (standard) monitor/set, that means 640x480 resolution. If you have a wide-screen (16:9), that means 853x480 at most.

If those numbers don't ring a bell, they're "VGA" resolution. We're in an "XGA" (1024x768) or better world now, for the most part. What the video cards do when you output XGA to an SVID or composite or such is scale what would be an XGA display resolution down to 640x480 or such. It looks like hell.

Movies are a different story. Play a movie over SVID or composite with the appropriate software and such and a PC can positively trounce a $1000 DVD player. This is because DVD content is 480i (usually 720x480) at best and a PC has WAY more processing power than most DVD players. If it is used appropriately, the PC can certainly display every bit as good of an image as a DVD player for appropriate content. Nothing can make a VGA resolution output of PC text content blown up to 30 inches or more look good.

YMMV... :?

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Postby DavidL » Thu Jan 29, 2004 7:55 am

Lots can be done with Dscaler and ffdshow on the PC to improve the image....

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Postby gregoryx » Thu Jan 29, 2004 7:00 pm

True for movies on a PC, smoothtlk, but not for "web surfing, other progs, etc." as Propup says he's having trouble with.

I don't know of a way to make ffdshow clean up a 480i screen to make it act like an LCD PC monitor at XGA. Can it?

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Postby blafarm » Sat Jan 31, 2004 2:38 am

Apologies for jumping into this thread but, regarding playback of ripped DVDs, is there a MPEG2 to NTSC video card option that outperforms a Radeon card scaling an XGA display resolution down to 640x480?

Thanks

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Postby gregoryx » Sat Jan 31, 2004 5:27 pm

Can you elaborate a bit there, blafarm? I think you're talking about something different here: propup was talking about using a web browser on a television set; you're talking about playing movies on something with a 640x480 resolution (also a television set?), right?

For curiousity, are you looking for component, SVID, or composite out? Or VGA?

As far as scaling to a Radeon - or any other similar video card - the card doesn't really do the scaling, the software does it and/or the drivers (which run on the PC's main processor, not "on the video card"). I know that may not seem like a significant distinction, but for comparison, the Sigma Designs X-Card actually does the scaling with an on-board processor. This introduces a whole different set of issues, however, so if you're considering that read carefully first.

If you're using a Radeon or other similar video card, the software you use will make ALL the difference in the quality. There are a number of folks who will argue that a Radeon (nearly any recent model - from the 7000 and up) with ffdshow and TheaterTek's or WinDVD's video scaling software will out-perform DVD players costing many hundreds - even thousands - of dollars. In my experience, my HTPC with a Radeon 7500 without ffdshow running TheaterTek is as good or better than my Sony CX777ES for picture quality. I am outputting to a 1366x768 projector on a 120" screen so that is a bit different comparison, but the "which is better" should still be relevant.

What is it that you're seeing? What is your point of comparison? What software are you using? How old is the card? How old are the drivers? How old is the software? These are more relevant questions than "which video card will work better" for the most part.

Did I help or confuse?

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Postby blafarm » Sun Feb 01, 2004 12:43 am

gregoryx,

Thanks for your reply. I am talking about something different and I do feel like I've hijacked this thread - and that I should have started one of my own, but I'll try to make this short.

As you know, I'm new to this product, as well as the details regarding optimizing playback of DVD's using HTPCs. I'll be purchasing a projector in the not too distant future - and realize that a Radeon card, along with scaling and deinterlacing software, is one of the common techniques for providing a high quality signal to that display.

But, like many other enthusiasts, I have a bunch of zones that still have traditional direct view NTSC interlace monitors - with "S" and composite inputs. For that older technology, which will be replaced in the not too distant future, I'd like to use a fairly inexpensive solution that can delivers a respectable picture. I'd also like to use a solution that uses hardware-based processing, so I can support those legacy zones with less expensive computers/processors and with less investment of time and energy.

I have looked briefly at XCard, and the price and feature-set are attractive (especially the embedded audio support), but I've have heard that the picture may not be very impressive. I have also heard that Zoom Player, graphedits, Girder Plugin and either XMD or Jove are required to make use of it - and I have no experience with any of those or getting them to work with the Lobby suite.

I am really looking for a turnkey solution to support equipment that is not long for this earth - and my cryptic question was: Are there any interesting products that might serve this purpose.

Thanks for your feedback - and sorry Propup for the detour.

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Postby gregoryx » Sun Feb 01, 2004 1:22 am

If I understand correctly, it sounds like your ideal device would have an ethernet connection on one end (I suppose you'd probably prefer wireless) and an SVID and composite on the other and stream movies to any TV set from your server? Is that what you're getting at?

For curiousity, what is your price goal for this solution? "Less expensive" is clearly relative... to something.

BTW, I wouldn't sweat the "hijacking the thread"... I think it was dead.

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Postby blafarm » Sun Feb 01, 2004 2:11 am

I suppose that type of "dedicated appliance" approach would be the most simplistic and elegant. I didn't think that such a product existed, or if did, that it was supported by ML .

I had done some research on CPU utilization using Xcard here and here
and had assumed that I could build end-points using $59 - Small Form Factor Reconditioned 466Mhz Dell Optiplexs found here

But, then I dug a little deeper and realized that it wasn't that simple. I'm flexible on price but something on the order of $2-300 would be attractive. And, as for wireless, it's not an issue - I'm totally commited to a wired infrastructure - for quality and dependability reasons.

I was also entertaining the thought of using some of those Optiplexs as easy to hide, back-end processors for touch screens. They would be hard wired to my ethernet switch - and hard wired to the touch screen, and they would require Thinsoft.

Any thoughts?

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Postby gregoryx » Sun Feb 01, 2004 12:08 pm

I think you're on the right track. If you're not doing much image processing and such (ffdshow), you should be able to play a movie from a small PC with a moderate amount of horsepower over a 100Mb LAN connection without too much trouble.

For quiet, I've found the Shuttle (and OEMs thereof) are excellent - though more expensive. I have two Shuttles in use now have purchased another to put together (just need to install drives, memory, CPU - not a big deal, but I haven't taken the time yet). The SK41G AMD Shuttle barebones are in the $150 range. They have SVIDEO on board. You can use an adaptor to go from SVID to composite if necessary.

I have also played with a few other SFF systems for another project I'm working on; they are all louder than the Shuttle systems.

Doing the math:
Shuttle SFF Barebones $150
Athlon $60
256M RAM $50
40G HD $60
Total: $320

You could probably do it a bit cheaper, but this is what I saw on a quick glance for prices. If you have any memory or drives laying around, that's a few bucks saved. I have run a system nearly identical to the above in the past and it was a very reliable unit; another family member has it now and continues to use it - including for playing DVDs.

One advantage to the above system: it is "modern" enough that you could even run some image processing on it (ffdshow), which can potentially improve the image quality that much more.

Let us know where you go with this and what works; I, for one, am eager to hear other experiences.

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Postby blafarm » Sun Feb 01, 2004 3:01 pm

Good to hear of your experiences with Shuttle. I had been researching the ST61G4 that has the new ultra quiet 250-watt power supply, both of which are reviewed here. But then I dug deeper and decided that the SB75G2 (with one of the new power supplies) might be a better decision, reviewed here.

I was considering using the SB75G2 to drive my future projection system. I thought I'd put a 3.0 processor, 1 GB RAM and a higher-end Radeon card in it to insure flawless performance (nice that it has GigaEthernet on board - lots of headroom for higher bandwith media requirements down the road). But, this was going to feed my projector - not my legacy monitors.

Questions:
Are you suggesting using a Shuttle with on-board SVid (and composite adapter) to feed the legacy monitors? Have you had any experience with the SVid out from these machines and would you think they would be equal to, say, an XCard's performance. Do you think the time and energy associated with integrating an XCard would rewarded with image quality that would be noticeably better than using a Shuttle with SVid? And, finally, are you aware of any other XCard-type products that might offer a more turnkey out-of-the-box solution that could support my legacy monitors.

Thanks for your feedback.


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