Suggestions on a Media Center PC


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I'm going to be purchasing a

Sony KDSR60XBR1, basically it is a 60" Rear Projection TV w/ SXRD technology and such (we also do have a surround system currently), well actually my dad is going to be purchasing it, but he's asked me to help him choose a Media Center PC to go with it. Does anyone have My dad will probably only want to spend up to 2,500 CDN but I would like to see alot of options if they even go over that amount. Basically I don't know where to start, I understand alot about computers but coming to a Media Center PC I just don't know where to start. My dad would like to have a large Hard Drive to store movies and everything on, plus I think recording Live TV would be a nice addition. So does anyone have any suggestions on systems to look at?

Thanks,

Esoteric

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How about the Sony VAIO VGX-XL1 Digital Living System.

It has a sweet design that doesn't look out of place on an AV deck.

The only sticking point with this machine is the GeForce 6200TC graphics card which won't run games well, and since it has a HDMI output, I'm not sure if you can swap it out later. You'll have to ask Sony about that.

And the default 200G hard drive (which can be increased) will fill up pretty quickly.

But it pretty much has everything else. :laugh:

Edited by gunnerhkjp
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That looks nice, but maybe a bit overboard on some areas and lacking in others. I would like a unit with a good video card, as well I do not need something that can hold 100 cd's. Also that unit only seems to be available in the US but I did look at what Sony Canada had to offer but I can't seem to navigate to that site at this moment.

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The whole WMC idea is sweet but I'd hate to lose the actual functionality of the computer. Granted music and video files stored on the computer actually don't "take up that much space" and I'd love the option of playing computer games so I opted to keep XP SP2 running on an AMD home built box. The computer is a mid tower atx form factor in a coolermaster case. It's a bit clunky and it doesn't lay flat in my media center rack, but I have it conveniently standing upright acting as my "magazine/book" end.

I'd definitely recommend a wireless keyboard/mouse combo if you do plan on looking for a media center pc. Also, my media center pc is fully networked so I have the internet capability as well as network storage drives, so there isn't much need for me to have a large disk on my media center machine. I'd say 200gb is a decent size for price for useage. I'll occassionally use it as an internet portal when I am too lazy to turn on my production machines.

Go for it, I'd say a media center pc should be the most cost efficient but you must assess it's actual usage.

For me:

Play DVDs

Play MP3s

Play PC Games (if I choose too)

File Transfering (access portal via VPN when I'm not at home)

Burning machine (dvd+rw/cd+rw)

And Internet Portal

That's about it, everything else I choose to do on my other computers. So keep it simple, cheap yet effective, and definitely map out what you want the computer to do for you. Also, this saves me money by not having to buy a stand-alone dvd player. All inclusive as well. I use my optical out on my audigy 2zs plat to handle any 7.1 into my receiver.

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Definately looking for the wireless setup too, in fact if a bundle doesn't come with it I have a spare one in my closet.

As for network storage, it would be nice, but the hard drives on all the computers are pretty much at 75% full or higher so this computer will need to solve its own storage issues (But of course when we get it, I'm going to be transfering a large amount of my movies and such onto it).

As for what I'm going to use it for, everything I possibly can (I have my own agenda, hehe), but it is not the only computer in the house, we have 3 others, the best of which is mine (3ghz, ati radeon 9800 pro). I can hook it up to our router and we will be able to get internet on it, and what you were saying SourDiesel with WinXP, but would I be able to dual boot so I could have MCE and XP on it (I don't see any reason why not?).

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Actually, there is no need to dual boot a MCE machine with WinXP seeing as MC really just runs on top of XP as an application. Simply shut down the MC interface and your right into XP...

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The whole WMC idea is sweet but I'd hate to lose the actual functionality of the computer.  Granted music and video files stored on the computer actually don't "take up that much space" and I'd love the option of playing computer games so I opted to keep XP SP2 running on an AMD home built box.  The computer is a mid tower atx form factor in a coolermaster case.  It's a bit clunky and it doesn't lay flat in my media center rack, but I have it conveniently standing upright acting as my "magazine/book" end. 

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Don't know what Media Center apps you've used, but video files take a tremendous amount of space, with the best qualty taking over 3g an hour or more. If you're using something like BeyondTV and having it auto-compress into Divx, or using a Divx capture device on Sage, then true space isn't as big of a concern.

For me, I set up a server PC with just shy of 1TB of storage, Windows XP Pro as the OS, and use SageTV for the PVR application. It's coupled with 2 Leadtek PVR2000 boards, and a Adaptec tuner card currently, and I'm adding another PVR150 so I can have 4 tuners running at once. I'm also planning on adding my Motorola HD cablebox to the system via firewire soon, for HD recording. (So that's a total of 5 tuner devices, and believe me, we need 'em in my house).

As for the UI boxes, I'm using several PC's for the HD TV's in the house, and Hauppauge MediaMVP's on the SD TV's, with the UI fed to those boxes by another server I have set up just for that purpose.

Remember, if you go with Microsoft MCE, you are limited to 2 Analog tuners, and one HD tuner by design (although there are hacks to work around that, not sure if they work with the latest update to MCE2k5 or not tho). You are also a bit more limited as to additional TV's being added (must use either a Media Extender box, or a Xbox with a media extender addon).

So I guess my suggestion would be, get a nice HTPC case, build your own machine, and check out the available HTPC software products (SageTV, BeyondTV, MCE2k5 for windows-based solutions, MythTV for Linux-based). You'd be better off in the end this way, as you can custom-load the machine with whatever hardware you want, and have more control over the finished product.

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Whoa out of context, sorry I was unclear. What I meant was the functionality of WMC is similar to basic applications used to play video/music files. It's like people who use windows media player versus winamp. It's all preference.

As for video files, I wouldn't think to store all video files on a disk. I mean at the rate and cost of media (dvd/cdr) wouldn't it be wise to organize that way? Again preference, I choose to keep most video files on media. I don't believe one would have terabytes of music files (then again I can be wrong).

I'm extremely anal when it comes to my media and organization methods. I mean, to me it's more about a CD binder of movies than a playlist of files. For music thats a different story.

I didn't mean to say that wmc and xp are different platforms in which you would need to dual boot. I meant that a standard desktop pc (xp, 2kpro, etc) is my preferred method. Folder structure and file organization is what keeps things in line for me. I hate to rely on an application to organize my stuff. Example is importing music files into itunes to manage my music, like almost all mp3 player software tries to do. I mean the files exist in a folder, they should be organized there not in some application. I guess I conveyed my message improperly sorry I can blame the better half of the morning without coffee as an excuse.

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Ahh ok, well I really have no idea about anything about Windows MCE, I had no idea it had the basic WinXP interface built into it (sorry if my terms may not be correct, but I do comprehend that idea) also recording everything to a portable media would be a good idea, I had not in fact thought about that since I currently do not have large amounts of movies stored on my computer.

And if I was to build my own media center desktop, what all wll I need to get, and how does the TV Tuner work? I have built my own computers, but those were geared towards gaming, I have not built one that would be geared for use in conjunction with a TV.

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Ahh ok, well I really have no idea about anything about Windows MCE, I had no idea it had the basic WinXP interface built into it (sorry if my terms may not be correct, but I do comprehend that idea) also recording everything to a portable media would be a good idea, I had not in fact thought about that since I currently do not have large amounts of movies stored on my computer.

And if I was to build my own media center desktop, what all wll I need to get, and how does the TV Tuner work? I have built my own computers, but those were geared towards gaming, I have not built one that would be geared for use in conjunction with a TV.

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The way I have mines set up isn't all that "top of the line"

It's just a media computer/internet portal.

The heaviest process it will ever run will be burning dvds. And thats for my own library so I don't have to worry about stressing my machine. Here's what I have

AMD Athalon XP 2700+

1gb OCZ

1-80gb OS Drive, 1-200gb Data Drive

1-Samsung DVD+R, 1-Samsung DVD

Audigy 2zs Plat Pro (optical out to my receiver)

ATI X800 (dvi out to my lcdtv)

MS Wireless Keyboard/Mouse Combo

That's about it. I mean my processor is ****, the mobo is an ASUS (i forgot the model) basically it does what i need it to do and that is play music on my 7.1 surround sound when i'm pregaming for a party, play 7.1 for my dvds, and maybe hitting the internet really quickly. I also invested in a nice 420W PSU since it stays on a great deal of the time. I also have a side monitor (vga) on a side table where my keyboard/mouse receiver is in case I want to just go near the monitor and setup downloads, or what not. I'm pretty happy with my setup, I'll take pics soon of my rig and my HTS once I mount my tv. Hope I helped.

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Yes you definately have helped, I've gained more insight on what a media center is and what I would need, but now I have another question.

What is the difference between a media center pc and a digital entertainment system as shown here...

Digital Entertainment System @ Bestbuy

This is what they had hooked up to the TV on display, and it doesn't seem exactly like its a PC but it does have an O/S and such, is there a big difference, if any?

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Well based on the specs listed, it just looks like a computer with a more media rack fashionable computer case. I mean all the internals are pieces of a computer, it's like just a computer that boots into an WCE type of interface? I don't have any experience with the link you provided, but I can't be had to say that all the internal items are parts that make up a computer. I'm not sure, I guess someone can chime in here who has more experience.

Remember, I'm only 1-2months in on my Sony Bravia 40" LCD HDTV so I'm still tweaking my own config.

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What is the difference between a media center pc and a digital entertainment system as shown here...

Digital Entertainment System @ Bestbuy

This is what they had hooked up to the TV on display, and it doesn't seem exactly like its a PC but it does have an O/S and such, is there a big difference, if any?

586788541[/snapback]

That is just a Media Center PC in a nice case...

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Alright, well I've been looking around, and can anyone see any possible problems with this setup? My dad in fact does want to get a pre-assembled computer and not build our own, which I agree with.

Sony VAIO

It doesn't seem pricey at all, which makes me wonder if I'm being shafted on something.

It also doesn't specify if it has a sound card, so if I were to buy one after the fact and install it myself, are there any good sound cards that will work in a PCI Express slot?

(Sorry for all the questions, but this is totally unexplored territory for me)

Edited by Esoteric
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Looks pretty good, except that radeon x300 won't run games that well, and it doesn't have a HDMI output.

Although the importance of the HDMI output is still up in the air since its not certain whether it is going to be incorporated into the next-gen copy protection. :unsure:

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Well I mean for the price (1.5k) I don't think its worth it at all. First you are getting a generic mobo and case and psu. The specs are all of a computer, it's something you can purchase quality pieces and assemble yourself versus purchasing a pre-assembled computer with generic parts. I mean everyone is different when it comes to their opinion. I just think for 1500, without a monitor and a crappy video card (x300@128mb?) you can definitely do better. I'd even say a 6600GT and Audigy 2Zs would be the most expensive pieces to building a new computer. Atleast you know you have a quality graphics card, a quality audio card, and a reputable motherboard, with whatever manufacturer you choose it'll be better than a generic sony mobo which probably cost sony about $1.55 to make in bulk. I mean I cant justify that amount of money for convenience and sacrifice quality. You could probably run the same setup for about a 1000 flat.

One good positive thing is that Sony might have installed an OS-like MCE platform which will allow you to navigate through the computer fairly nicely with some preset GUI/Remote Control functionality which is a plus. Just for me a computer should be a computer, you can literally do all the functionality from a keyboard and mouse versus a remote control with a scroll feature. I don't know about you but going through 80gigs of mp3s while pushing the down arrow kind of sucks IMHO.

All in all, if you have the money and it fits your needs then I say go for it. You can't lose out with a branding product, as long as your warranty is decent you should be ok. Hope you enjoy! :)

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Well I mean for the price (1.5k) I don't think its worth it at all.  First you are getting a generic mobo and case and psu.  The specs are all of a computer, it's something you can purchase quality pieces and assemble yourself versus purchasing a pre-assembled computer with generic parts.  I mean everyone is different when it comes to their opinion.  I just think for 1500, without a monitor and a crappy video card (x300@128mb?) you can definitely do better.  I'd even say a 6600GT and Audigy 2Zs would be the most expensive pieces to building a new computer.  Atleast you know you have a quality graphics card, a quality audio card, and a reputable motherboard, with whatever manufacturer you choose it'll be better than a generic sony mobo which probably cost sony about $1.55 to make in bulk.  I mean I cant justify that amount of money for convenience and sacrifice quality.  You could probably run the same setup for about a 1000 flat. 

One good positive thing is that Sony might have installed an OS-like MCE platform which will allow you to navigate through the computer fairly nicely with some preset GUI/Remote Control functionality which is a plus.  Just for me a computer should be a computer, you can literally do all the functionality from a keyboard and mouse versus a remote control with a scroll feature.  I don't know about you but going through 80gigs of mp3s while pushing the down arrow kind of sucks IMHO.

All in all, if you have the money and it fits your needs then I say go for it.  You can't lose out with a branding product, as long as your warranty is decent you should be ok.  Hope you enjoy! :)

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The best one I've seen right now, and the one I want is from Shuttle (inventors of the Small Form Factor PC). Look at this bad boy!

http://sys.us.shuttle.com/M1000.aspx

M 1000

PROCESSOR

Intel? Pentium?M 740 1.73GHz 533MHz FSB, 2M L2 cache,

Socket479, support EIST

MEMORY

512MB DDR-333 (2 x 256MB SODIMM)

GRAPHICS

NVIDIA 6600 LE PCI-Express x16 Graphics Card, 256MB

AUDIO

Creative High Definition 7.1 channel Audio

Optical SPDIF I/O support Dolby Digital

INTERNET CONNECTIVITY

10/100/1000 Ethernet (Broadcom) (Base-T)

Support Wake-on-LAN function

802.11 b/g Wireless LAN

STORAGE

250GB (7200 RPM) SATA/150 Hard Drive with 8MB buffer

CARD READER

Integrated 8-in-1 Media Drive

(SD, MMC, SM, MS, MS Pro, CF Type I/II, Micro drive)

OPTICAL DRIVE 4X DVD Dual drive Support Dual Layer

INTERNAL PERIPHERALS

Versatile Front-panel Display (VFD)

Dual analog Tuner Card (PCI Interface, support PAL/NTSC Mode)

FM Tuner

EXTERNAL PERIPHERALS

Wireless Keyboard with tracking ball

Remote Control

SYSTEM COOLING

Integrated Cooling Engine (ICE)

Intelligently-engineered airflow mechanics

POWER

150W PSU with active PFC

Input: 100 ~ 240V AC

EMI Certified: FCC, CE, BSMI

Safety Certified: UL, TUV, CB

Power Plug: Region Specific

MATERIAL

Metal

FRONT PANEL

(2) USB ports

Mini IEEE1394 port

Mic-In, Earphone-Out

8-in-1 Media Drive

Versatile Front-panel Display (VFD)

Power Button

Reset Button

2.5? USB Enclosure HDD

BACK PANEL D-sub VGA port

DVI VGA port

RJ45 Ethernet LAN port

(4) USB 2.0 ports

IEEE1394 port

Clear CMOS Button

Cable/ANT in

FM Radio antenna in

Component Output

(8) Analog Audio Output

SPDIF Optical I/O port

SPDIF Coaxial Audio Output

DIMENSION 350(D) x 442(W) x 78(H) mm

OPERATING SYSTEM Microsoft Windows Media Center Edition 2005 with Update Rollup 2

SOFTWARE System Recovery DVD (Include system driver)

Shuttle Extras CD (Adobe Acrobat Reader Trend Micro PC-cillin2005

Cyberlink PowerDVD (MCE support)

ACCESSORIES System Manual

MCE User Manual

MCE Remote Control / Receiver

DVI Cable

TV cable

Wireless antenna

FM radio antenna

2.5? HDD external box

AA/AAA Batteries for Keyboard / Remote Control

CERTIFICATION Design for Microsoft Windows XP Pro

FCC、CE、BSMI (optional)

WARRANTY 1 year limited hardware warranty

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XPS 600 Qty 1

Pentium? D Processor 830 with Dual Core Technology (3.0GHz, 800FSB), Genuine Windows? XP Media Center Edition (English) Unit Price $2,348.00

Catalog Number: 70702

Module Description Show Details

Dimension XPS 600 Pentium? D Processor 830 with Dual Core Technology (3.0GHz, 800FSB)

Operating System Genuine Windows? XP Media Center Edition (English)

Memory 1GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz - 2 DIMMs

Keyboard Dell Wireless Keyboard and Optical Mouse

Video Cards 256MB PCI Express? x16 (DVI/VGA/TV-out) nVidia GeForce 6800

Hard Drive 250GB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM)

Floppy Drive and Media Reader 13 in 1 Media Card Reader

CD or DVD Drive Dual Drives: 16x DVD-ROM Drive + 48x CD-RW Drive

Sound Cards Sound Blaster Audigy? 2 ZS (D) Card w/Dolby 5.1, IEEE 1394 capability

Hardware Support Services 1 Yr Limited Warranty with 1 Yr NBD Onsite Service and 1 Yr Tech Support

Media Center Enhancements Dual TV Tuner + Remote Control - watch one channel while recording another

TOTAL:$2,348.00

I just selected all that from Dell, is this a good deal? And does anyone know what the Dual TV Tuner is like that Dell has?

If it isn't a good TV Tuner, I will just opt out of that and buy one afterwards and install it myself.

(oh and SourDiesel, I don't plan on having too many MP3's on this computer, most of the music we own is on CD's)

Edited by Esoteric
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