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Dune, PCH or something I build?


pepar

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I pretty much have my media server parts list pulled together and am starting to research Dune and Popcorn Hour networked players. And then I began to wonder if a DIY solution might be a better way to go.

 

Video is streamed directly to the display in the digital domain and only becomes analog in the display, so a high-end video card doesn't seem necessary. But what about audio? There are DACs in the chain and that, I thought, might be where a high end AUDIO card could noticeably outperform the chips that off-the-shelf players use.

 

Any thoughts on this?

 

Thanks,

Jeff

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My immediate thought is that you should try XBMC via OpenELEC.

 

The second though was that if you think you think you can hear the difference audio cards then none of these are for you and you want to head down your local audiophile shop with a barrow full of cash :)

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Hi Jeff,

 

XBMC is not currently for audiophiles.  There is work currently going on to re-develop the audio engine within XBMC which will help a great deal, but it's not finished yet.  Current audio processing is relatively limited and depending upon the underlying OS being used, can be limited to 14 bits I believe.

 

My thoughts...  A high-end audio card is not ideal in that its performance will often suffer from the electrical noise of the PC environment.  It would I think be better to use an external DAC for audio, regardless of whether using a HTPC or a dedicated media streamer box.  Most media streamer boxes are poor at audio playback.  Most do not play tracks gaplessly (gapless playback is a must have, in my view) and often they suffer from poor internal audio processing (they focus too heavily on video with audio as an afterthought).  One other thing that I look for is bit-accurate playback.  This is not just for good audio, but it also permits the streaming of AC3 and DTS soundtracks that I have previously ripped from music concert DVDs and similar material.  My receiver then does the surround decode.  Unless the playback is gapless and bit-accurate then of course AC3 and DTS will not be decoded correctly any you'll end up with noise.

 

Personally, I have used various solutions for video, including XBMC (which I like a lot), but for audio I use the venerable Roku SoundBridge since it satisfies my audio needs, is easy to use and does not require the TV to be on when listening to music.  I use the DAC in my Marantz AV receiver fed via S/PDIF from the SoundBridge.  Although no longer made, there are many available via eBay and similar.

 

One media player product I am playing with currently is the Netgear NeoTV 550.  It does a pretty good job with video and it does play audio gaplessly (from FLAC files for example) and is bit accurate when its internal volume control is set to 0dB, so it does permit streaming of AC3 and DTS from suitable FLAC files.

 

You ask about Dune and PCH.  PCH always looks a bit "unfinished" in my view.  Dune looks very nice, but detailed information is lacking and they are too expensive for me to "just try it", although I like the look of the one with the display in the front...

 

Hope this helps,

 

Les.

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My immediate thought is that you should try XBMC via OpenELEC.

 

The second though was that if you think you think you can hear the difference audio cards then none of these are for you and you want to head down your local audiophile shop with a barrow full of cash :)

I can hear the difference between decent DACs and really good DACs and I'd bet that you could as well. ;)

 

Jeff

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Hi Jeff,

 

XBMC is not currently for audiophiles.  There is work currently going on to re-develop the audio engine within XBMC which will help a great deal, but it's not finished yet.  Current audio processing is relatively limited and depending upon the underlying OS being used, can be limited to 14 bits I believe.

 

My thoughts...  A high-end audio card is not ideal in that its performance will often suffer from the electrical noise of the PC environment.  It would I think be better to use an external DAC for audio, regardless of whether using a HTPC or a dedicated media streamer box.  Most media streamer boxes are poor at audio playback.  Most do not play tracks gaplessly (gapless playback is a must have, in my view) and often they suffer from poor internal audio processing (they focus too heavily on video with audio as an afterthought).  One other thing that I look for is bit-accurate playback.  This is not just for good audio, but it also permits the streaming of AC3 and DTS soundtracks that I have previously ripped from music concert DVDs and similar material.  My receiver then does the surround decode.  Unless the playback is gapless and bit-accurate then of course AC3 and DTS will not be decoded correctly any you'll end up with noise.

 

Personally, I have used various solutions for video, including XBMC (which I like a lot), but for audio I use the venerable Roku SoundBridge since it satisfies my audio needs, is easy to use and does not require the TV to be on when listening to music.  I use the DAC in my Marantz AV receiver fed via S/PDIF from the SoundBridge.  Although no longer made, there are many available via eBay and similar.

 

One media player product I am playing with currently is the Netgear NeoTV 550.  It does a pretty good job with video and it does play audio gaplessly (from FLAC files for example) and is bit accurate when its internal volume control is set to 0dB, so it does permit streaming of AC3 and DTS from suitable FLAC files.

 

You ask about Dune and PCH.  PCH always looks a bit "unfinished" in my view.  Dune looks very nice, but detailed information is lacking and they are too expensive for me to "just try it", although I like the look of the one with the display in the front...

 

Hope this helps,

 

Les.

It does help, and it has made me re-think what a digital media player is doing.  For some reason I was thinking it converted digital to analog, but my use will be strictly Dolby and DTS lossless, MLP (DVD-A) and DSD (SACD) and those are passed in digital domain to my pre/pro for decoding.  I think I was imagining a problem where one does not exist.  :-[

 

Jeff

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Most audiophiles would not use a media centre since its an extra layer of abstraction between the raw source and the speakers. There is a smaller subset that will take tier collections and convert them to lossless formats for convenience but in all my years in XBMC IRC land ive seen perhaps 2 which represents a % so small as to be almost meaningless.

 

The debate of who can hear the difference between things is age old and unwinnable. It will become a flame as it always does so I wont comment on that but to say that currently there are no OpenSource audiophile capable media centre projects. Some like XBMC are catching up but they have a ways to go. You need to look at something from the big boys like B&O and B&W but even then you might be stuck.

 

 

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When the new audioengine is finished for xbmc and it can bitstream the lossless formats over hdmi or decompress and send them as pcm will that be considered "accurate" by audiophiles or will there be some bias against using it still?

 

You risk confusing "accurate" and "religion"...  :P  (some audiophiles will naturally have aversion to audio from a PC or other similar device - a debate that I will not get into)

 

Yes - When the XBMC work is finished I am pretty confident that I would consider it accurate.  An audiophile may what to discuss bit jitter and other stuff, and that is a valid concern for a small number of people, but they matter relatively little if the DAC hardware is good at recovering the data from a bit-stream.  And it won't matter whether XBMC decodes to LPCM or if the conversion is done outside (in the receiver for example).  It will give people the option to do what they need for their particular hardware setups.

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Well, this has all caused me to actually google "xbmc" as I had previously thought it meant X-Box Media Center, something which I wouldn't expect to be in my future.  Now that I know what it is, I prefer a player solution that does not involve yet another PC in my house.  So I guess that points to Dune or Popcorn Hour.

 

Thanks all!

 

Jeff

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Well, this has all caused me to actually google "xbmc" as I had previously thought it meant X-Box Media Center, something which I wouldn't expect to be in my future.  Now that I know what it is, I prefer a player solution that does not involve yet another PC in my house.  So I guess that points to Dune or Popcorn Hour.

 

Thanks all!

 

Jeff

It use to be that the software did run on an xbox.

 

XBMC on a nettop type computer is a win win for me.  I run Openelec (XBMC appliance like distro) on a JetWay mini-top and use my logitech harmony remote.  Works a treat for me.

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Ahhh, that explains it. 

 

Let me back up a bit and qualify my previous post.  I did not intend to caste negative aspersions on anyone who uses this software - or an X-Box for that matter - it's just that I already have seven PCs in the house, don't use an HTPC and didn't care to use one.  For me, it's not a solution that I find appealing. :)

 

Jeff

 

It use to be that the software did run on an xbox.

 

XBMC on a nettop type computer is a win win for me.  I run Openelec (XBMC appliance like distro) on a JetWay mini-top and use my logitech harmony remote.  Works a treat for me.

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I personally use XBMC on an Acer Revo, and LOVE it (Not to mention that anyone who comes over and sees it begins lusting after it as well  ;D). The interface itself is beautiful and truly makes your media library shine. Until recently, I haven't seen any other media player/streamer able to come close.

 

That said, Popcorn Hour seems to have released a new version of their jukebox that actually looks quite nice, and seems to incorporate a lot of the visually goodness that is XBMC. It displays cover art, downloads data automagically from IMDB, sorts by genres etc...

 

I believe it comes standard on the A210, and can be installed on many of their newer models as well. The only negatives I've seen is that it runs a bit slowly because the hardware is a bit dated... Keep in mind this is not my opinion based on facts, merely regurgitating Internet dialogue :)....

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The other thing about some flavours of XBMC (XBMC Live, Openelec, etc) is that it is used as an appliance.  Such variants boot a Linux distribution (very minimal in the case of Openelec) and within 20 seconds or so from first switch on you have the main XBMC screen.  To all intents and purposes it does not appear as a PC to the user (so can be relatively family friendly), and with some of the mini-itx solutions and cases it need not look like one either.

 

 

 

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Perhaps the topic of "or something I build?" was a bit misleading ....

? You think ?  I am building a computer right now on the table next to my laptop.  Would there be people reading this post that might be tempted to picture me stuffing components on a mobo and wave soldering them in place?  ;)

 

Coming in here, my options seemed to be buying a PCH or Dune, or building another computer.

 

Realistically you need to look in avsforum or the like .

Got that covered, just thought I'd ask on a forum that is dedicated to the subject of servers/media servers.

 

Jeff

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I personally use XBMC on an Acer Revo, and LOVE it (Not to mention that anyone who comes over and sees it begins lusting after it as well  ;D). The interface itself is beautiful and truly makes your media library shine. Until recently, I haven't seen any other media player/streamer able to come close.

 

That said, Popcorn Hour seems to have released a new version of their jukebox that actually looks quite nice, and seems to incorporate a lot of the visually goodness that is XBMC. It displays cover art, downloads data automagically from IMDB, sorts by genres etc...

 

I believe it comes standard on the A210, and can be installed on many of their newer models as well. The only negatives I've seen is that it runs a bit slowly because the hardware is a bit dated... Keep in mind this is not my opinion based on facts, merely regurgitating Internet dialogue :)....

From my quite peruse of the XMBC site, it appears that like PCH there are skins that can give it different looks/GUis ... displays art, info, etc.  From that aspect, it seems that XMBC on a computer is a competitor to PCH and Dune.  Right?

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The other thing about some flavours of XBMC (XBMC Live, Openelec, etc) is that it is used as an appliance.  Such variants boot a Linux distribution (very minimal in the case of Openelec) and within 20 seconds or so from first switch on you have the main XBMC screen.  To all intents and purposes it does not appear as a PC to the user (so can be relatively family friendly), and with some of the mini-itx solutions and cases it need not look like one either.

 

Excellent point! And mine doesn't get booted for months at a time (Only if I'm fiddling with it). Just goes to sleep when 'turned off', and wakes up before the rest of the system is even ready. I use a Harmony remote to do it all at once, and never need to wait for XBMC. Very high WAF factor :).

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The other thing about some flavours of XBMC (XBMC Live, Openelec, etc) is that it is used as an appliance.  Such variants boot a Linux distribution (very minimal in the case of Openelec) and within 20 seconds or so from first switch on you have the main XBMC screen.  To all intents and purposes it does not appear as a PC to the user (so can be relatively family friendly), and with some of the mini-itx solutions and cases it need not look like one either.

 

Excellent point! And mine doesn't get booted for months at a time (Only if I'm fiddling with it). Just goes to sleep when 'turned off', and wakes up before the rest of the system is even ready. I use a Harmony remote to do it all at once, and never need to wait for XBMC. Very high WAF factor :).

To be fair, I suppose that I should enquire about what $$$ I would get into throwing together an XMBC/Openelec box?

 

Just googled Acer Revo and see what you mean.... very attractive.

 

Jeff

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From my quite peruse of the XMBC site, it appears that like PCH there are skins that can give it different looks/GUis ... displays art, info, etc.  From that aspect, it seems that XMBC on a computer is a competitor to PCH and Dune.  Right?

 

In my opinion, XBMC is not a competitor, but more like the gold standard. Everyone wants to be like XBMC. In my search for a media player/Streamer, I started with the WD Live, but was disappointed with the GUI. Like the rest of the settop media players out there at the time, the GUI looked like it was designed by... well... developers. Functional and useable but UUUGGGLLY!

 

In my search for a better player, all the reviews I was reading kept comparing the devices' GUI to XBMC's. It was at that point that I decided that rather than try and find a settop box that was close to XBMC, I would just go with XBMC!

In the immortal words of Morpheus:

What are you waiting for? You're faster than this. Don't think you are, know you are. Come on. Stop trying to hit me and hit me.

 

Best decision I ever made. Once you go XBMC, there ain't no going back!

 

;D

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To be fair, I suppose that I should enquire about what $$$ I would get into throwing together an XMBC/Openelec box?

 

Just googled Acer Revo and see what you mean.... very attractive.

 

Jeff

 

1. Don't do what I did!  :-[. I bought the Revo with an OS. That was a mistake. Never once used the Windows 7 partition. Buy a barebones model and add ram and drive yourself (I recommend a small ssd drive. Sooooo fast!)

 

2. Stick with something with the ion chipset. You get video hardware decoding on the GPU and flawless 1080p playback.

 

3. Mine has the Ion 1/330 chipset and I don't believe the newer Ion 2 /525 chipset performs any better in this application (It may even do worse). You'll want to confirm that though. Just going by memory. There may also be something new out there I'm not aware of.

 

There are some bitstreaming issues with Dolby Master Audio and TrueHD that I don't have time to get into though, that some of the settop players do not have. I believe the issues are being addressed in the next version of XBMC, but who knows how long before that comes out. Not a deal breaker for me, as I just send the core DTS to my receiver and then matrix the side channels to the back speakers and it sounds great to me! :)

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Well, this has all caused me to actually google "xbmc" as I had previously thought it meant X-Box Media Center, something which I wouldn't expect to be in my future.  Now that I know what it is, I prefer a player solution that does not involve yet another PC in my house.  So I guess that points to Dune or Popcorn Hour.

 

Thanks all!

 

Jeff

 

FWIW I have both a PCH-C200 and XBMC-HTPC setup running in our home.  I started with the C200 and then added the XBMC setup.  Both work well for me for streaming Blu-ray and DVD movies from my WHSv1 media server (in process of moving to unRAID  :)!).  Certainly the PCH-C200 is a more cost effective solution relative to building an HTPC, but in my experience setting up & maintaining a large movie collection was much more straightforward with XBMC than it was with YAMJ on the C200.  Then again I was able to leverage all of the NFO files I created for YAMJ and reuse them for XBMC.  In both setups I'm passing LPCM, DTS, DTS-HD, DD or DD-TrueHD through HDMI to a Denon receiver.

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The bitstreaming Lossless HD formats from XBMC is a bit of a nuisance right now.  I believe that audioengine (the Next version of XBMC's Audio processor) will fix most of the issues, not necessarily by bitstreaming them (hardware limitations on a lot of cards prevent this) but by decoding them and sending uncompressed pcm etc.  Several ATI cards can bitstream the HD formats, as can a few of the Nvidia 4xx cards, the Nvidia ION (1 and 2) can't, I believe there are some onboard intel solutions that can do it.  Whatever you do just make sure you research it thoroughly so you don't get buyers remorse, but I think your post here is an indication that you are already doing that =)

 

Now as far as XBMC goes the customization it can offer and the different skins etc really do make it the gold standard like DoeBoye said.  Plus being open as it is anyone can write a plugin or add support for some random bit, you're not stuck waiting on a company to possibly do it.  For example if you're into comics at all, or even if you're not, check out this thread for a good example of what can be done with XBMC if someone puts their mind to it, http://forum.xbmc.org/showthread.php?t=48191.

 

In the end from everything I've read about them online I don't think you'd be disappointed by a Dune or PCH c200, as far as your question on cost, you can put together a VERY reasonably priced HTPC to run openelec for around the same price I believe.

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