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HTPC Media Centres

Discussion in 'Hardware' started by CrazyBlade, 15 Feb 2015.

  1. CrazyBlade

    CrazyBlade New Member

    1 May 2011
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    Hello all!

    I've been out of the game for a while due to, well, life stuff, and need to ask some advice on media centres.

    It seems like in the couple of years the media centres / htpc scene has exploded and it's difficult to know where to start, especially with the arrival of the premades like Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast. So what I'm looking for is a brief starter guide to what's available, what can do what, which can stream from pre-existing hard drives etc.

    I currently feel like a confused newbie again, and I really don't like it. Bah!

    Best wishes,

  2. Guinevere

    Guinevere Mega Mom

    8 May 2010
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    I went down the Homebuilt HTPC, NAS, Asus HTPC (bad idea!) routes and scrapped them all (The Asus literally, worse £1k I ever spent).

    I have ended up with a WD-TV box attached to a 4TB USB 3.0 drive.

    I load up my content on the drive organised as _Movies, _MoviesKids, _TV, _TVKids, _Exercise etc. Everything plays, no hassle, no windows updates, no networking issues.

    New content gets loaded up from a USB 3.0 stick onto the main drive (Sneaker net) as it's much quicker and a bit more reliable than wi-fi sharing across the dual access points I run here.

    Nice and simples.

    It won't stream from our iOS devices but we don't need it to. It'll do iPlayer and YouTube for the very rare times we may want to do it.

    If the kids lose the remote then the WD-TV app works as a remote.

    I have another 4TB 'mirror' of the media drive in a different room, every few months I ensure they stay in sync.

    A dedicated HTPC + NAS combination sounds like a wonderful idea until you realise that in the time you spend on it could be used to do something more (or less!) productive.
  3. johnim40

    johnim40 Well-Known Member

    23 Apr 2009
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    Have a look at plex you set up on any system the server side all your content can be put in folders and then you either use another small system, a smart tv, android device, loads of devices. A cheap option it the now tv box from sky for £10 which can be hacked to use plex with a bios update perfect for this but a 720p output

    I use a mitx system with win 8 for the main media center in the frontroom and bedroom the kids have the now tv box

    Or just released the new pi 2 would be perfect
  4. flame696

    flame696 Terminating People Since 1980....

    15 May 2009
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    I had a htpc for a while but scrapped it aboat a month ago and replaced it it with the Amazon Fire TV. I was only using the htpc for running plex to view movies, TV shows etc. It was just being wasted and took up to much space. The amazon TV is perfect it has an ethenet connection so streams without any problems.
  5. Noob?

    Noob? New Member

    18 Oct 2009
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    Depends on what you're looking to do?

    As many have said, there's cheap options and then there's the more expensive route, will you be gaming on it?

    Plethora of cases now too which aren't overly big. If you do go down the HTPC route and build, a good MCE remote is essential IMO, I do from time to time bring out my Dinovo Edge but that seems to gather dust on the mantle more than anything.

    All the best.
  6. Bungletron

    Bungletron Well-Known Member

    25 May 2010
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    I would say the main reason to go with a PC based HTPC solution over relatively cheap streaming, nettop, smartTV and NAS alternatives (that will likely playback everything you throw at them video file wise) is if you want to install TV tuners and/or do big screen PC gaming. MY HTPC is probably a throwback for this reason and originally evolved as the left overs from my old rig around 6 years ago when nettops were scarce and shoddy, it is now a AMD FM1 APU. At the minute I use Windows Media Centre on Windows 7, on windows 8.1 it is a premium add on. A good remote or media keyboard is essential, I still use the now defunct Dinovo Mini, never seen anything better for a Windows HTPC but your only chance of finding one now will be second hand :(.
  7. Noob?

    Noob? New Member

    18 Oct 2009
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    As the man says, damn, forgot about my Dinovo Mini too! Its recrntly been more used as a remote/keyboard for the Smart TV. LOL.

    As stated - TV Tuners and PC Gaming - How essential are they to you?
  8. nimbu

    nimbu Well-Known Member

    28 Nov 2002
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    I used to have a dedicated PC in an Antec Fusion case on HTPC duties, but always found the build to be louder than I wanted. Then when I replaced my TV with one that used to display at 1920 x 1200 rather than 1080P, this caused all manner of ball ache.

    Moved to a JB Apple TV2, with XBMC and plex for all my media consumption needs. When that began to show its age and I had replaced the TV with something that had a native res of 1080 I built a rig based around a Antec ISK 100 and an AMD fusion board. Again lots of ball ache and a lack of a decent remote meant that the wife demanded for the apple TV even with its slowness, crashing and only 720p output was put back.

    More recently I picked up an Amazon Fire TV, installed Kodi and havent heard a complaint from the wife.

    I also put together a Rasp Pi with Openelec for my dad, which works really well with CEC however even changing to less intensive skins the menu is a little laggy. the new RPi 2 might be worth looking at.

    So summary, if you are looking for player with no local storage or tuners to just stream from other sources that just works and likely to get that all important wife approval, the Fire TV is great.
  9. Nexxo

    Nexxo * Prefab Sprout – The King of Rock 'n' Roll

    23 Oct 2001
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    A home-built HTPC gives you the maximum flexibility but until recently was not a cheap option and also, to an extent, a kludge.

    My first experience was around an AOpen i945GM Pentium mobile motherboard in a passively-cooled HFX case.
    • First problem: the motherboard wouldn't work with a PSU rated lower than 300W even though it ran on a low-power mobile chipset and did not remotely need all that power. Enter an expensive fanless 280W PSU (that recently packed up).
    • Second problem: Windows Media Centre is great, but essentially still runs on the back of an unnecessarily big, lumbering OS that wants to update at the least convenient times.
    • Third problem: although the Windows MCE remote is good (if you get one of the rarer ones which also allows you to turn the TV on and off), the USB IR port tends to go to sleep when the system is in S4 standby, thus the HTPC does not always wake up.
    • Fourth problem: although the right MCE remote can turn the TV on and off, and the volume buttons can be remapped to talk to the TV rather than MCE, you still occasionally need a remote for the TV.
    • Firth problem (recently): the Aopen on-board GPU can't handle HD very well.

    Apart from that it has been a good device for our needs, which is mainly TV recording and time-shift viewing with DVD playback. I rarely stream from the internet. With quad tuner card you can serve multiple media extenders at once.

    Until recently a quality fanless system (rather than an old repurposed PC) would set you back some money. However with CPUs becoming increasingly powerful for lower TDP, it is now very easy to build a cheap, fanless system. Moreover some mobos now have a HTPC header which allows you to hook up a small circuit to allow the HTPC to talk to the TV via HDMI, so that you only need one remote (the TV's) to talk to the HTPC and the TV together. They also have a CIR header which is a dedicated IR interface so you don't have to cope with a USB IR that goes to sleep no matter how much you tell the power saving settings to not let USB go to sleep. Tuner cards are also getting better all the time.

    The current pinnacle in HTPC-ness is the ASRock Q1900TM-ITX: a thin ITX mobo with HTPC and CIR header, HDMI out, 10W TDP passive cooling and the ability to handle at least 5 HD streams simultaneously at 50% CPU load. Use Windows MCE or Linux Kodi; it's all good.

    The Raspberry Pi is also an excellent little device if you don't mind USB tuner dongles and USB DVD. I don't know how many HD streams it can handle at the same time however.

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