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Need some help with selecting an HTPC setup

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
so I am trying to figure out the most cost effective and simple way to set this system up. My requirements are:

Play through passive speakers (which are already installed)
Play blu Ray and DVD
Web browser
Bluetooth audio
Usb playback

I am having trouble finding a way to get all of this in one box. I can use two but the more simple this is the better as people who aren't very tech savvy wil be using it. I am in australia and would buy the gear from eBay.com.au, pccasegear.com, jbhifi.com.au or any shop in Aus.

Thanks guys!
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Shinobi
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post #2 of 6
What operating system are you using? I think the OS and media programs you use will largely dictate your experience, depending on how you use it and your expectations. A lot of this will be personal preference.

I'm guessing by passive speakers, you mean the ones in your TV? HDMI should work fine. I guess you can also use DVI or VGA + RCA audio connections depending on what your TV uses.

Blu-Ray and DVD would be a simple drive. You may want to go with an external drive if you plan on burying the HTPC case. Also, if you buy a bare OEM drive, it most likely won't have any software. This means your media player needs to already have the proper codecs for video and audio playback. This also goes for media on a USB thumb drive. If you are using Windows, then I would imagine any external Blu-Ray drive should come with some sort of software. If you go with a cheaper bare internal OEM drive, you may have to pay for media software that has the proper codecs for media playback.

Web browser would be dictated by the OS, but cross platform browsers like Firefox and Chrome will be essentially the same. If you use something other than a standard desktop OS (Windows, Linux), then you would have to figure out how that OS works. I haven't played around with Kodi enough to be knowledgeable in that area, but I would imagine they have some sort of app/plugin/whatever they call it to browse the web. I have been using Linux Mint with Firefox for most browsing and Chrome only for Netflix. I use an add-on called NoSquint to magnify pages for easier reading. You can set global magnification as well as page-by-page. I find it very handy.

With Bluetooth audio, they have adapters from 3.5mm jacks to Bluetooth transmitter and corresponding receivers. This is if you want to use a remote amp or speakers. If you have Bluetooth speakers, then I'd imagine you need a Bluetooth USB dongle to pair the speakers to the HTPC. I don't know if you would be able to use the audio jacks and HDMI audio at the same time. If your TV has an audio output, or if you use the DVI or VGA + RCA audio with RCA splitters, then you should be able to easily split the sound off from there and use RCA connections to connect to an audio receiver or Bluetooth transmitter. I haven't used a Bluetooth USB dongle for sound, so I am uncertain if you can play sound across that and HDMI at the same time. If you would only be using one or the other, it should be as easy as selecting the audio output device.

For the HTPC hardware itself, it is highly subjective. Some people are fine with a Raspberry Pi 2, others would say an i5 with GTX 970 is too weak. Personally, I would recommend a socket 1150 Haswell board with Celeron, Pentium, or i3 processor. Usually you can drop the voltage on these if power consumption is a concern. My Celeron G1850 (54 watt CPU) was running ~30 watts idle and ~50 watts full load with reduced voltage and stock speeds. I just upgraded to a 35 watt i3 and haven't done power consumption testing yet, but I expect it to be similar to slightly lower power draw. I have used both Bay Trail and Braswell quad cores, and they are fine for video playback. Weak single core performance (especially with Braswell) will give a slight to moderately slower browsing experience. A majority of 3D games will be unplayable. Haswell based CPU's will have dramatically better performance for a minimal increase in price, depending on CPU of course. I'm not really familiar with the AMD side of things, but I believe Kabini falls right in between lower end Haswell and Bay Trail/Braswell boards in both price and performance.
post #3 of 6
Thread Starter 
Sorry I should have explained this a bit better, this will be going in the snowboard shop that I work in.

I have a projector and unpowered speakers (need to be powered by some kind of amp) installed on the ceiling and I will be setting this up in a cabinet in the middle of the shop.

I really just want to be this as simple as possible because i won't always be there if something goes wrong, I would just use a smart blu ray player but I need to be able to access web pages.

Its looking like I will just be using an amp and an HTPC. The most cost effective solution would be a used amp, a smart blu ray player and a raspberry pi 2 (which we already have) but after we got the raspberry pi I decided that it shouldn't be left to be used by the random people working in the shop.

Anyways any other ideas would be appreciated, thanks!
Shinobi
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Shinobi
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post #4 of 6
A lot of people seem to be fond of little devices like this Lepai Amp on Amazon. I have something similar that I picked up for $8. There are thousands of cheap little amps like that if you look around, most simply need a 12VDC wall wart or other power source. Not the highest quality, but after looking around at tutorials on building my own with a BOM in excess of $50 for a simple pair of PC speakers, I knew there had to be a different way. The one I particularly like right now is this Drok 5v amplifier. It isn't going to rock the house, but it is very tiny and you can power it with a USB cable. A bit more DIY but I figured I would throw that out there.

Something like an Intel NUC should be more than adequate for your needs. Low power, low or no noise, very compact. Then add a USB Blu-Ray drive and you should be set. You could also build your own small form factor PC. Anything else pre-built will likely be too cheap in quality or too expensive in my opinion. If you want cheaper, then there are a bunch of Android TV boxes and the Apple TV. The old Apple TV is on sale since the new one should be out in the coming weeks. Same with the Google Nexus TV player, there should be a new one due this coming season and the old one can be found very cheap. So if you have people familiar with either Apple iOS or Google Android products, those would be about as simple as you can make it. Of course this would need a stand alone Blu-Ray player which makes things complicated.

Do you have a cable for the projector running to the point where you want to use the machine? If you don't and need it to be wireless, it seems like stuffing a small NUC/TV box by the projector and using Bluetooth for your keyboard and mouse would be less problematic than trying to wirelessly stream video. I know it can be done and for many people here it is a no-brainer, but if you want something dead simple then this is certainly an option.
post #5 of 6
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the help. I ended up using the Raspberry Pi 2 with OSMC (nice easy to use media OS, it doesn't have a good browser yet but apparently its on the way), a Sherwood RX 4508 receiver, and a switch and some ethernet cable. I was going to use wifi but the adapter I have isn't fast enough for HD streaming and support for better ones seems to be a bit spotty. I also have a logitech k400r to control it all with. No DVD player sorted out yet but ive got an old one i can chuck in there if i have too.
Shinobi
(12 items)
 
  
CPUMotherboardGraphicsRAM
AMD 7700K Asus A88X-Plus XFX R9 270X Corsair 4GB 
Hard DriveOSKeyboardPower
1TB SSHD Windows 7 Ultimate Benq 27" 1080P + Benq 24" 1080P Corsair CX600 
CaseMouseMouse PadOther
BitFenix Shonibi Gigabyte M6900 Tesoro Logitech G27 
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Shinobi
(12 items)
 
  
CPUMotherboardGraphicsRAM
AMD 7700K Asus A88X-Plus XFX R9 270X Corsair 4GB 
Hard DriveOSKeyboardPower
1TB SSHD Windows 7 Ultimate Benq 27" 1080P + Benq 24" 1080P Corsair CX600 
CaseMouseMouse PadOther
BitFenix Shonibi Gigabyte M6900 Tesoro Logitech G27 
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post #6 of 6
Glad to hear it is working out for you! OSMC (formerly RaspBMC) is pretty impressive. If I remember correctly the guy that started it was 17 when he first released it, which is even more impressive. I would love to hear if they come out with a browser. That is one thing lacking in a few setups for HTPC/media center operating systems. I guess I'm a bit spoiled using a small keyboard and mouse at my HTPC, but I can't imagine paying for a system and having internet connectivity and not being able to surf the web! Definitely give an update if you get any news on that front and enjoy the new media center!
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