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Thread: HTPC building?

  1. #1
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    Default HTPC building?

    I looked a bit on these forums and didn't see much discussion about HTPC building.

    Personally, our family is needing a replacement for our worn out (and never any good to begin with) Blu-Ray player/Streaming machine. Since my wife doesn't want a repeat of buying a Player that has issues like freezing up and requiring an unplug and restart to make it work, or having an interface that doesn't let you add extra services (it doesn't support Amazon, etc.) she wants me to find her a good one with good reviews (which we should have checked before buying our old one) and is willing to pay the premium for one that works properly and can do everything she wants it to. For that reason I've been discussing building an HTPC instead of buying a Player. Long story short, she wants me to show her what I could build and explain what the upsides of having it instead of a box would be.

    As far as hardware I've come up with this extremely affordable, yet quality build:
    PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant


    CPU: AMD A6-5400K 3.6GHz Dual-Core Processor ($39.99 @ Amazon)
    Motherboard: Asus A78M-E Micro ATX FM2+ Motherboard ($37.98 @ Newegg)
    Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 4GB (2 x 2G DDR3-1600 Memory ($34.00 @ Newegg)
    Storage: Kingston SSDNow V300 Series 120GB 2.5" Solid State Drive ($50.78 @ OutletPC)
    Case: Antec Minuet350 MicroATX Slim Case w/350W Power Supply ($71.08 @ Newegg)
    Optical Drive: Asus DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS DVD/CD Writer ($17.79 @ OutletPC)
    Wireless Network Adapter: Rosewill RNX-N250PCe 802.11b/g/n PCI-Express x1 Wi-Fi Adapter ($18.98 @ OutletPC)
    Total: $270.60
    Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available
    Generated by PCPartPicker 2015-02-09 14:34 EST-0500

    I'm actually really happy with this, but when you add the $100 for windows, it's a bit pricey. Ideally, I'd just use Ubuntu and run Kodi (XBMC). Unfortunately, from what I can find that doesn't even allow me to install apps for Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon. There is a work-around using a $40 program AND the use of another PC in your network to relay these streams to your box, but that seems kind of inconvenient and um, shall we say wonky?

    With these components, though, I'd be very tempted to just go ahead and get Windows and use it as a full-function PC for browsing and whatever else on the TV. If it were simpler to use streaming on Ubuntu this would all be a moot point and I'd jump right on it. Not to mention that I could easily convince my wife that it's worth it to have an XBMC HTPC instead of just an off-the-shelf player.

    I wish I were more knowledgeable about this niche. I'd love any input regarding;
    1)Build options that would compete more directly with HT components.
    2)Options for operating systems and seamless incorporation of streaming services.
    3)Things that would make an HTPC much more valuable than a simple Player without being an "Extra PC that isn't as good as an old laptop."

    I keep running into one of two walls. Either it's too expensive to justify only using it as a Player most of the time (and not even a convenient one with the restrictions of Streaming in Ubuntu). OR It's cheap enough to justify adding Windows, but then with that cost added it becomes just an equivalent for a cheap desktop that's had Kodi installed. Speaking of which... That also makes me wonder if there's such as a compact low-end PC that comes with Windows included that would actually help bypass this barrier.

    Anyway... your thoughts?


    (P.S. If there's a forum here that this thread would be better fit into, could a Mod please move it there as I'm not sure where in these forums HTPC discussions should be.)

  2. #2
    Gu3
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    Default Re: HTPC building?

    OK. My opinion is likely different from many here.

    I can't find ANY reason at all to put a PC in the living room if what you really want to do is Stream & watch Blu-Rays.

    To do that, a Blu-Ray player and a ROKU is a better solution.

    @$35-99 depending on the model, it's hard to beat. (And, no, Chromecast isn't even in the same league IMO).

    Roku has Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, Vudu, MGO, Plex, Pandora, etc, etc.

    PLEX (www.plex.tv) allows me to stream my own 350+ title library of Blu-Ray & DVD content, which I store on my own Media Server in MKV and M4v (MP4) format (The server is an i3 3200 with 4GB of RAM and 16TB+ of disk space, and sits in a corner elsewhere in the house).

    The ROKU comes with a remote, and is compatible with Logitech Harmony, and a variety of iOS/Android remote control apps.

    Frankly, it just works.

    I have about 5 ROKUs currently operating, and my PLEX Media Server has been up and running 24/7 for about 2 years (Ubuntu Server LTS). Personally, I like the ROKU 3 and the ROKU Streaming Sticks the best.

    I looked at a classic XBMC solution, but the Roku just seems more space and power efficient, and achieves (on it's own) 99% of what I want to do for streaming media. Adding the PLEX Server back end, gave me the other 1%. Blu-Rays are watched rarely in my house, normally I rip them, process them and store them on the media server before putting the disk into the Media Cabinet. Then, I watch them from the Server. The convenience is that Plex is on Roku, iPad, Android, PC, etc. I can play media from it from anyplace in the USA. (and overseas through a vpn to my server).

    There's a bit of maintenance on the server, and converting the content is a pain in the ass, but otherwise this is a pain free approach. Oh, and no MS Windows required. Ubuntu and Plex are both Free, although some advanced features of Plex come with a small subscription fee.

    As I said, my opinion and therefore solution is likely different than most. It'll be interesting to see other answers though.

    Scott

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    Default Re: HTPC building?

    I agree with Scott. I have 3 Roku 3's and have had no problem with them. One of them I gave to my grand-daughter which she uses at college and is very happy with it. I control everything on my main TV with a Logitech Harmony One. Since my Yamaha receiver only has 2 HDMI inputs I had to add a HDMI switch which handles the Roku and BluRay signals, all controlled with the Harmony. As Scott says, "it just works".

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    Default Re: HTPC building?

    The reason I will go with a HTPC is because:

    - Game Emulators

    - Streaming tv shows for free

    - Streaming movies

    Those would be my top 3. But if Roku or something else does all those for ~$50 then I would defentily but a Roku instead. Never messed around with those so I don't know.

    Also the satisfaction of building your own PC and if possible then modding it.
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    Default Re: HTPC building?

    I know a few people that use a Roku. They have came a long way and added a lot of features that could only be found on a full HTPC. With them signing deals to bring more content to the Roku it may make more sense to just pick one up and go with it. Having it tied to a media server is a great idea. GU3 has it mapped out perfectly.

    There are some things I do to gain entertainment that a Roku, Kindle Fire Stick,box or Google whatever it is will not do or allowed to do. Recently I have switched my full HTPC out for the Liva X mini PC I reviewed. Could not be happier. Freed up space, it is silent, does everything my previous HTPC does, Supports XMBC, Linux or any other OS. Can even boot and run it using Windows2Go thumb drive. I do really use disc anymore so a Blu Ray isnt important to me. When I do i use the PS3.

    If you want to get it up and running with as little hassle as possible get a Roku device. If you want 100% freedom pick up a Liva X, NUC, The Zotac boxes or build a small HTPC.
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  6. #6
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    Default Re: HTPC building?

    The Liva X sounds interesting. I need to look into that.
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    Gu3
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    Default Re: HTPC building?

    Quote Originally Posted by ali500mph View Post
    The reason I will go with a HTPC is because:

    - Game Emulators

    - Streaming tv shows for free

    - Streaming movies

    Those would be my top 3. But if Roku or something else does all those for ~$50 then I would defentily but a Roku instead. Never messed around with those so I don't know.

    Also the satisfaction of building your own PC and if possible then modding it.
    Yeah, unless you want to play Angry Birds, the ROKU certainly doesn't do gaming <grin>. But I'm old, I don't game on my TV. At least not since my Atari 2600 disappeared into the distant past!

    ROKU Streams anything that has a "channel", including a lot of free content from website that people have written channels for. However you cannot stream direct from Web Sites...

    As for Movies, yeah. It streams Movies. <grin>.

    For your last point. Yup. No argument, I love that too. But, I just shifted that to my Media Server. Fitting 8+ 3.5" HD's and an SSD into a NODE 804 using onboard SATA and my only PCI-E Slot for 4 more SATA was FUN. Installing Ubuntu Server, Plex Media Server & Buildiing a ZFS RAIDZ2 on the 8 WD Reds was even more fun! Learning how not to nuke the ZFS array was even more funner! Keeping the Media Server Up and running once the Mrs figured out she could stream movies anytime/anyplace to her iPad is absolutely Mission Critical. (One might call it Marriage Preserving Mission Critical).

    S.

  8. #8
    Gu3
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    Default Re: HTPC building?

    Quote Originally Posted by Cyberburnout View Post
    I know a few people that use a Roku. They have came a long way and added a lot of features that could only be found on a full HTPC. With them signing deals to bring more content to the Roku it may make more sense to just pick one up and go with it. Having it tied to a media server is a great idea. GU3 has it mapped out perfectly.

    There are some things I do to gain entertainment that a Roku, Kindle Fire Stick,box or Google whatever it is will not do or allowed to do. Recently I have switched my full HTPC out for the Liva X mini PC I reviewed. Could not be happier. Freed up space, it is silent, does everything my previous HTPC does, Supports XMBC, Linux or any other OS. Can even boot and run it using Windows2Go thumb drive. I do really use disc anymore so a Blu Ray isnt important to me. When I do i use the PS3.

    If you want to get it up and running with as little hassle as possible get a Roku device. If you want 100% freedom pick up a Liva X, NUC, The Zotac boxes or build a small HTPC.
    I do like the Liva and NUC, I just can't figure out what I'd use them for. I have a Galaxy Tab (& the Mrs has assorted iPads) for the critical browsing IMDB/Wikipedia/casual gaming while watching TV, so I don't need surfing capability. Between Plex and all the Roku Channels, I can't imagine what I'd watch from the "Web" or why I would web browse on the TV...and I have a SONOS Connect in the Living Room for Music...so I'm stumped. I WANT to build a HTPC, I just need that one Use Case to justify it...

    I mean don't get me wrong, I could take the "Build it and they will come" approach...but...yeah that might not fly by the Mrs. LOL

    S

  9. #9
    Gu3
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    Default Re: HTPC building?

    Quote Originally Posted by Cyberburnout View Post

    If you want to get it up and running with as little hassle as possible get a Roku device. If you want 100% freedom pick up a Liva X, NUC, The Zotac boxes or build a small HTPC.
    On another note Sandy, did you see this:Raspberry Pi 2 runs free Windows 10, costs $35 - CNET ? I'm thinking that if it'll run an ARM Win10, it ought to run a full blown Linux Desktop like a dream....

    S.

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    Default Re: HTPC building?

    Quote Originally Posted by Gu3 View Post
    On another note Sandy, did you see this:Raspberry Pi 2 runs free Windows 10, costs $35 - CNET ? I'm thinking that if it'll run an ARM Win10, it ought to run a full blown Linux Desktop like a dream....

    S.
    Yeah I made a comment about the RP2 and Win 10 on another thread. The upgrades, size and free Win10 just put the RP2 at the top of my wanted toy list. The memory upgrade will make Linux run like a champ.
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    Default Re: HTPC building?

    The Roku, Chromecast, Firestick, Amazon Fire Media Box, WD Media and Apple TV all have there place in the HT media arena.

    While I use Chromecast and Apple TV in my home and have most my media sync'd to my iPad and Plex Server, they can't do everything I want.
    That's what I have my NUC's for. I have 2 Intel i5 Nucs and they do everything I want including running emulators (NES, SNES, Genesis, Neo Geo and most of the older gen consoles). can't run the higher end games, but it can handle the basic stuff with no problems.

    I also run XBMC on my nucs for media that I do NOT have on my plex.
    I only have part of my library on plex, I don't host everything on there since some of the media I have is from old rips I've kept for years and don't feel the need to have it on there.

    But for those only looking to stream media, the Roku, Chromecast, Firestick and all these media box sets can go the job.
    The only think I don't like about the Roku is that you have to "buy" the Plex channel in order use it with your plex server. Seems silly to charge a small fee for something you already payed for.

    Where as most of the other devices offer this app for free (this includes my Samsung and Vizio smart TVs).
    I've tested my rounds of media boxes to find the best option for me, but Chromecast and Apple TV has been the best for what "I" do and my set up.
    especially since I use my iPad to control everything.

  12. #12
    Gu3
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    Default Re: HTPC building?

    Yeah, and you have to buy it for the tablets too as I recall. Forgot about that. Since it was a one time small fee, I completely forgot about it. But as you point out, it does require a one-time payment of $4.99 for the Roku Plex app.

    Excellent point!

    S.

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