Help me plan my HTPC
October 9, 2009 10:17 AM   Subscribe

Old-school SD TV with only coax and composite video inputs seeks modern HTPC for MythTV and maybe light Hulu. Can this relationship work?

I ♥ my modded Xbox with XBMC, but I find myself wanting to do some things it can't handle. If I'm to build a new HTPC, I need to keep it cheap. Toward that end, I don't want to replace my TV. I'd expect a new HTPC will probably natively have DVI, and maybe S/Video output.

What's the easiest/cheapest way to bridge the gap between those outputs and my TV's inputs? (You can assume I know a fair bit about computers, and not much about A/V.)
posted by Zed to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know what the quality would be like, that hardest part will be resolution settings. As for the actual connection, if the HTPC has a S-Video output, you can get a cheap adapter to convert that to composite.
posted by Climber at 10:21 AM on October 9, 2009

the amount of money to build a decent bare bones htpc (~300 bucks) would be probably be better spent towards a low end lcd which you could then presumably hook up this computer you're typing on to it for huluing!

For hulu, unfortunately until flash 10.1 comes out, you need to have some hefty CPU to lift the HD and even the standard streams. Once that's good though, you should be able to use anything on the nvidia ion platform (check out the aspire revo) to base your PC around.

If you always have your PC running, you might consider using playon / windows media center and buy a 360 for $250 and have the added bonus of being an xbox 360.
posted by CharlesV42 at 10:57 AM on October 9, 2009

Response by poster: hardest part will be resolution settings

I can probably handle setting up the appropriate down-conversion. The software bits I'm good at.

better spent towards a low end lcd which you could then presumably hook up this computer you're typing on

Whatever hardware-swapping might occur, I need to end up with the same number of usable desktops in the house. And one of the points I should have made in the original question is that I want to continue to route the video through an SD-only receiver, replacing which would be another barrier to going HD.

you might consider using playon / windows media center

None of the other machines are running Windows. I figure I'll stick to Linux-only.

posted by Zed at 11:20 AM on October 9, 2009

From a practical perspective, once you have the computer driving the TV, you'll have the problem of finding a half-way decent UI. There are skins for various HTPC front ends that work on SD, but they can be hard to find, since most of the people working on the projects are home entertainment-geeks scratching their own itch who have had HD TVs for 5 years.

In your specific case, Hulu's desktop app is going to hurt on an SD set, and they've been aggressive at shutting down any 3rd party alternatives.

I've found it useful to hook my PC to an SD set anyway, but if you are expecting SD awesomeness, you might want to temper your expectations.
posted by Good Brain at 11:26 AM on October 9, 2009

I've built various HTPC setups over the years. I too, have an older tube-tv with only coax/composite connectors.

To answer your question, the easiest thing is to get a cable that is S-video on one end, and composite on the other (either by using an adapter from The (radio) Shack, or online), and to make sure your video card has svideo out.

But, to address your hulu needs, MythTV (and therefore linux) may not be satisfying. I'm a heavy user of hulu and netflix instant, but Hulu was always choppy on linux, and Netflix only works on OS X and Windows. Sadly, I had to rebuild my server under windows to get all the things I wanted. However you can use xbmc on either of those systems, or boxee, or Front Row/MCE respectively.

The bigger question is: What's your longterm wants out of a HTPC? Media streaming? DVR functionality? File server, backup, torrent tank, etc? It's been my experience that once you have a media server, you'll find all kinds of other uses for it, even with ancient hardware.

Feel free to contact me directly if you have other questions, I'd be happy to help.
posted by gofargogo at 11:31 AM on October 9, 2009

I had a friend ask the same thing. Here's what I sent him:

1st off - I would not buy a HTPC pre-built until Windows 7 comes out on October 22. With that in mind, here is a 2009 HTPC Budget system. Focusing on the following:

* Saving $
* Being able to upgrade in the future
* Very Quiet
* Doesn't use much power


MotherBoard - $89.99
Foxconn G45M-S LGA 775 Intel G45 HDMI Micro ATX Intel Motherboard

Processor - $67.99
Intel Pentium E5200 Wolfdale 2.5GHz 2MB L2 Cache LGA 775 65W Dual-Core Processor

Harddrive - $84.99
Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EADS 1TB 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5

Case - $83.99
nMEDIAPC Black Aluminum / Acrylic / Steel HTPC 5000B Micro ATX Media Center

Power Supply - $43.99
SeaSonic ECO 300 300W SFX12V (v.3.1) 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC Power Supply

Memory - $62.99
G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory

DVD Burner - $39.99
PLEXTOR Black 24X DVD+R 8X DVD+RW 12X DVD+R DL 24X DVD-R 6X DVD-RW 12X DVD-RAM 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-R 32X CD-RW 48X CD-ROM 2MB Cache SATA 24X DVD/CD Writer LightScribe Support

TV Card - $129.99
Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250 Media Center Kit Dual TV Tuner 1213 PCI-Express x1

Doesn't include an operating system but your local tech can supply you with one.

2 Issues might arise from this build:
1) Does the case fit your TV center?
2) Video will come from onboard HDMI. You don't have an HDMI input on your tv - what about getting something like this while your in tv limbo - #3
posted by bleucube at 12:00 PM on October 9, 2009

What's the easiest/cheapest way to bridge the gap between those outputs and my TV's inputs?

For cheap/easy conversion of S-video to composite, try this.
posted by fhqwhgads at 12:02 PM on October 9, 2009

Response by poster: you'll have the problem of finding a half-way decent UI [...] Hulu's desktop app is going to hurt on an SD set

Thanks for the warning. What'll be so bad about Hulu's desktop app in SD? Is it just that the UI is so busy that it'll be hard to see/use the interface elements at low resolution?

to address your hulu needs, MythTV (and therefore linux) may not be satisfying [...] What's your longterm wants out of a HTPC?

My priority is DVR, and my preference is MythTV, if for no other reason than inertia -- I'm familiar with its front and back ends. I've been increasingly frustrated with the Xbox because it's become a marginal platform for XBMC development and it seems half the plugins' current versions don't work on the Xbox anymore. The release of the Hulu client for Linux is part of what's inspired me to think of building a new box, but, to a large extent, I don't really know what I want to do yet because I don't really know what's possible, having had such a limited platform.

I figure I'll move the PVR card (Hauppage HVR-2250) to the HTPC and let it be the back end, too, so it'll be always-on. Once it's an always-on machine, it'll probably start acquiring other lightweight centralized server functions for my home network -- privoxy, ntp, apt proxy. I have a NAS for backup, and don't file-share outside of torrenting new Ubuntu releases (but who knows -- maybe I'll seed them by night.)
posted by Zed at 12:13 PM on October 9, 2009

I have several MythTV setups, 2 of which output to regular old SDTVs. The way I do this is via the S-Video output on the video card. All you have to do, when building the system, is make sure you get a video card of the chipset you desire (NVidia ones seem to work best) that has S-Video. It is pretty much plug-and-play from there. You set the resolution to 800x600 (or pretty much anything else that's 4:3) and the card handles creating an NTSC signal from that in hardware.

Mine actually lets me see the console boot messages on the TV, if I turn it on when the system is starting up.

There are some other ways of doing it, like by using DVI to NTSC or VGA to NTSC boxes, but I think just using the S-Video output (and an SVideo to composite cable, very cheap, if necessary) is the most trouble-free way. Plus, if you upgrade to an LCD you can just plug it into the DVI port on the card, adjust the resolution, and not have to replace anything.

I think my video cards are all NVidia 5600s or something like that. You don't need a powerful card for SDTV, so you can grab practically whatever you want out of the <$20 bargain bin at your favorite retailer if you want.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:33 PM on October 9, 2009

The main problem with Hulu Desktop is their choice of type sizes. I have a good sized SD CRT and decent eyesight and too much of the UI it is hard to make out from the couch. My hookup is S-Video, and I'm going to try component, but I think even if it were as crisp as possible, the type size would still be marginal.
posted by Good Brain at 1:55 PM on October 9, 2009

« Older Irreverent and informative news podcast   |   Highway measuring devices...maybe? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.