HTPC Goodness – A Brain Dump

Some pure geekery ahead – and possibly a lot of misinformed rambling. You have been warned! This is as much for me as it is for you guys… I had a load of this stuff going around in my head so much today that it was getting distracting.

One thing anyone who really knows me will tell you, is I’m very interested in the whole media centre PC thing (also known as HTPCs). I really like the idea of storing/accessing all my media content (music, TV, film and photo) through one networked device which connects to my TV/speaker system and has a nice, friendly, interface. Heck, to be honest, I’ve been eying up having a decent home cinema system in any shape or form for some time – the HTPC route is just the most appealing of late. At the moment, I have a fairly cheap DVD player, my Gamecube, and a Sky digi-box – not exactly the most cutting edge setup!

The HTPC has been begging to be built for some time. In fact, I’ve got all the bits except the case. I did make one previous, aborted attempt, using a VIA Mini-ITX board and Linux – but hardware compatibility issues killed that one off. This time, I have a 3.2GHz P4 monster just waiting to find a new body. I’ve got my eyes on a DiGN HV5 case, but it’s expensive enough to make my wallet whimper in fear.

The biggest problem, however, is when the time comes to connect everything together.

Here in the UK (I don’t know about anywhere else), most AV connections are done through SCART sockets and leads. It provides good quality audio and video connections using just one cable. The Sky Digibox produces best results when connected via SCART. My lovely widescreen TV has only two SCART connectors and an RF connector (it also has an S-video and RCA connections, but these are on the side of the TV – not practical when you have a toddler). The HTPC doesn’t do SCART. Doh.

What the HTPC does do, is S-Video and SP-DIF audio in and out. It also does good old RF in. This is where a new box of tricks is introduced: the A/V Receiver. A good A/V Receiver will take all your audio and video inputs and let you switch between them. It will output your sound to your speaker systems (after running the sound through an internal Dolby/DTS decoder and amp/preamp) and will give you a variety of ways to output the video signal. So in my case, the inputs would be my HTPCs S-Video and SP-DIF, and my Gamecube. The output goes to by TV by way of a component to SCART converter.

You may have noticed something missing from the above – the Sky digi-box. This is where I’m not sure where to go. The digibox really, really, really wants to be plugged into a SCART socket. Unfortunately, I want to run it through my HTPC so I can record TV and do all that other cool DVR stuff. The simple thing to do would be to run it into the RF socket of the TV tuner card, but I’m not too sure how much the picture/sound quality would suffer… Does anyone know by any chance?

While I’m canvassing opinion, I will add that if anyone has any suggestions for my setup, please give them. I’ll point out that I’m on an extremely tight budget, but I’ll hear any and all advice!

Advertisements