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 Post subject: CFD: Mappit A4F 19-1HE, the perfect HTPC?
PostPosted: Thu Feb 19, 2004 9:57 am 
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In this thread I outlined the features for the perfect HTPC. They are:
  • Fanless
  • TV-Out (so it can plug-in directly to the TV)
  • S/PDIF out, so 5.1 signals get decoded by a nice receiver rather than stock DACs
  • PCI slot for TV/Video capture card.
  • Hard drive large enough/fast enough to record at least 2 hours worth of TV at DVD quality.
  • Space for a quiet DVD-ROM.
  • Small enough and tough enough be stacked on something (and have something stacked on it).
One possible additional feature would be an AGP slot so that one could use a high quality graphics card so that they can play computer games on their home theater, but this borders on lunacy, IMHO, since good graphics cards are beasts in both size and heat dissipation.

The Mappit A4F 19-1HE has all the features listed above, save the AGP. Do you think that this machine is the perfect or closest to perfect for a Home Theater PC (HTPC)?

Here are the downsides I can see (note: I'm being REALLY picky here and I know it)
  • Limited A/V-out - No component video out. Also if you want S/PDIF out, you HAVE to use S-Video and S/PDIF Coax.
  • Company located overseas - If you want to RMA any of the components, it's gotta go to Australia or Germany. Likewise, to purchase one, it has to come from one of those two locations, which brings me to the next point....
  • Expensive - You can build a machine that comes close to the above for a fraction of the price. Plus, in addition to the costs you see on their site, there's the cost of shipping and duty.
  • Unclear specs - This may just be me fussing, but the specs are less clear for the A4F 19-1HE than they are for their little brother. For example, the website makes no mention of the PCI slot, and/or if the TV-out does NTSC. Working environment specs would be useful too since many Home Theaters are warm and poorly ventilated.
RD mentioned in the other thread that it could be equipped with a Western Digital drive. For us silent PC users, that's probably too loud. The Samsung drives would probably be ideal since they run both quiet and cool.

RD, what would the total costs be (including shipping and duty) for an A4F 19-1HE equipped with the 1GHz processor and an 80GB Samsung hard drive?

Everyone else, what are your thoughts on this machine?


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 19, 2004 10:49 am 
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1. No HDTV options, as the on board video is not Powerstrip capable (like a Radeon chipset would be).

2. There's no point to only being able to store 2 hours of video, but this point is relatively unimportant if you have a file server networked to the HTPC. Note that hard drive/network speed is almost a non-issue for recording and playback, even at HDTV rates. Video EDITING, on the other hand, calls for as much speed as you can get your hands on.

IMO, there isn't much point to an HTPC without HDTV capability--a Tivo would have superior video quality for recordings, and a standalone DVD player would have superior video quality for DVD playback. An unfortunate fact is that currently there is NO GOOD S-VIDEO OUTPUT hardware/software options for HTPC. S-Video output on HTPCs have issues with downscaling (scaling 640x480 down to about 640x440 to counter overscan) and interlace field swapping/jitter.

In constrast, HTPC output to HDTV resolutions is outstanding. Current hardware/software is excellent at deinterlacing and upscaling. An inexpensive HTPC outputing to an HDTV can produce far nicer looking results than an equally priced DVD player.

Basically, HTPC with S-Video output just isn't up to snuff. They can't even do something as simple as passing through an S-Video signal, much less recording and playing back a decent reproduction of the original.

Well...actually, there are some PVR cards which have their own S-Video output which bypasses the computer's video output altogether. Some of these are rather good, but still not on the same level as Tivo and these outputs are for TV viewing/playback only--no Windows desktop or anything else.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Feb 19, 2004 12:19 pm 
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I'm at a loss for words here, since I'm not at all familiar with HDTV. I don't know if my TV is HD capable or not, but the Shuttle SN41G2 that I have acting as an HTPC can output a resolution of up to 1024x768 (or so the display settings claim).

Again, I haven't noticed any downscaling in terms of video playback.

I wasn't aware that the onboard video isn't Powerstrip capable. In fact, I couldn't find any information on what Powerstrip DOES support.
-----------
Just spent about an hour looking around online. This guy claims to have used Powerstrip successfully with this type of system. I'm not very familiar with Powerstrip, but I figure that if he was able to use Powerstrip to get it to reduce the resolution, then maybe it would be possible to use Powerstrip to get HDTV resolutions out of it.

Later on though, he chastises this machine for failing to perform something that I think is critical in an HTPC. DivX playback. This is a rather serious problem and would definitely disqualify it (in my mind) as the perfect HTPC


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 19, 2004 12:43 pm 
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You can find out about Powerstrip at Entech Taiwan's web site:

http://www.entechtaiwan.com/

Powerstrip's capabilities on graphics chips which it doesn't explicitely support is very hit-and-miss. That guy was able to get 640x480 to work, but probably that's the limit of what Powerstrip could do--merely enabling existing resolutions which were hidden for whatever reason.

If you go into Paint, you can easily test whether or not your S-Video output is doing any downscaling. Zoom in so you can draw a series of alternating horizontal black and white lines--each one pixel tall. Use cut-and-paste to create a large block of these lines. Zoom out. If there is no downscaling, then this will look like a flickering block rapidly flashing between solid black and solid white. If there is downscaling, then it will look different. The flickering will be between two different greys, and/or it will look striated, and/or it looks like there are stripes.

In any case, this means that the vertical resolution is reduced, and there's no way to properly reproduce an interlaced TV video.

If you do NOT have any downscaling, then a 640x480 desktop should NOT fit on your (US) TV. The bottom and/or top edge will not be visible, meaning that either you can't see the start button or the title bar of a full screen window or both.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Feb 19, 2004 11:05 pm 
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Yeah, I read up briefly on Powerstrip and it seems that most people are using so that they can get their HTPCs to play HDTV quality stuff :). I've never used that program, so who knows if it can or cannot do all its functions on the Via.

I did the little test you suggested. At 640x480, it was tough to tell. No real flicker as I'd call it, but I felt like I could see the horizontal refresh. It was generally gray. The whole screen was blurry. nVidia used to include an anti-flicker setting, but I can't seem to find it. The anti-flicker was basically a low-pass filter that would blur the screen if set too strongly. At 800x600, I thought I could see two different shades of gray lines, but it seemed more like a mental illusion to my eye :?. At 1024x768, there were obvous light and dark gray lines at regular intervals :(

Truth be told, I honestly don't know how not being able to replicate interlaced TV video has affected viewings of anything. DVD-Video has always come out virtually crystal clear. Likewise for high-quality DivX/Xvid material.

Anyways, being able to play high-quality Ogg Media and Matroska files is a priority in my mind for HTPC. The ultimate goal for an HTPC should be that any media playable on a PC should be playable on your Home Theater, and ideally, can also replace both DVD-player and TiVO. If the A4F 19-1HE cannot do this, then it cannot be called the ideal HTPC by any stretch of the imagination. Can anyone who owns a C3 comment on how well it does DivX?


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Feb 20, 2004 5:22 am 
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Eh, that seems like a very inflexible system IMO. 2.5" hard drive? No AGP? Those are two deal-killers right there.

I'm in the midst of building an HTPC with one fan, it is very quiet and could be even quieter with a different hard drive:

* Silverstone LC02
* Samsung slim CD-RW/DVD
* Via Epia M9000 with the stock HS/F replaced by a Zalman northbridge cooler (the blue one). The case comes with what appears to be a solid power supply; I replaced the stamped grill with a chromed wire one and the fan is nearly inaudible.
* 512MB DDR
* Seagate 200GB 7200.7
* Hauggaupe WinTV PVR-250

Yeah, I realize I said no AGP was a deal-killer and I don't have a board that has AGP, but the Silverstone case can take up to a full ATX motherboard; pop in an nForce2 board and a mobile Athlon and you're golden. What's more, you've paid far less.

Just my $.02/E1.65

Pete


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Feb 20, 2004 5:53 am 
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The A4F 19-1HE uses a 3.5" drive. Its little brother, the A4F uses 2.5" drives. So maybe that's a deal un-killer?

It is true that you can build something that's better for cheaper. Question 1 and 2 are, can you build it to be fanless and of the same size? I noticed that your case, the Silverstone LC02 is 4 times the size of the A4F. And it's larger in volume (space, not sound) than my current A/V receiver

I do have a question for you assuming your machine is up and running. How well does it do DivX playback? I just want to see whether Dansdata was correct that the current Epias were too slow to handle DivX movies properly.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Feb 20, 2004 7:29 am 
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AFAIK, DivX and other MPEG4 based videos are progressive, so reproducing interlaced video can't be done anyway. For video sources which are essentially progressive, this is okay (as long as the encoding was done properly). Essentially progressive video sources include movies, animation, and TV shows shot on film. When properly encoded, these videos are deinterlaced into the original progressive full frames.

With these sorts of videos, interlace mismatch isn't a concern. If these are the sorts of videos you are interested in, then the only real downside to using S-Video is the loss of resolution. And yes--your S-Video output is losing vertical resolution, based on your description of the test pattern.

Interlace mismatch is a problem for live and prerecorded TV shows shot using video cameras.

Isaac Kuo

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Feb 20, 2004 9:20 am 
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Well, you've made a strong case for the AGP port. The problem as I see it is that including an AGP port, the system size MUST go up in order to accommodate the AGP card.

Are there any known on-board video solutions that can be used for HDTV? Or is this a lost cause in HTPCs?


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Feb 20, 2004 11:02 am 
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I am not absolutely positive, but I expect Powerstrip to be fully functional with on board Ati Radeon 9100 (as in the Shuttle Zen XPC). Basically, Powerstrip's capabilities with onboard video depends entirely on how closely it matches supported video cards--and Powerstrip is first and foremost designed around Ati Radeon chipsets.

Note that "on board" hardware still typically looks like an expansion card to the OS and software. They're like hardwired PCI or AGP cards. In the case of the Shuttle Zen, the on board video is essentially an AGP card.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Feb 21, 2004 5:20 am 
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Well, the LC02 is smaller, width-wise, and only slightly taller, height-wise, than a high-end CD player:

Image

Volume makes little difference to me, since much of the additional volume is usually in depth. Moreover, higher volume in a PC will generally mean a cleaner path for airflow, so better quiet cooling. IME PC's that are that exotic tend to be of far less use to me than PC's that I have built myself.

In the end, to each their own. My ideal is a very quiet PC, not a silent PC. Either PC could be completely silent when you're sitting 10-12 feet away...

I hope to have it finally up and running this weekend. I have been waiting for the release of BeyondMedia but they're taking a long time to release it so I'll just go with BeyondTV3 for now.

Pete


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Feb 28, 2004 9:46 am 
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The LC02 case is nice - with a real Hi-Fi feel.

It isn't specifically designed for mini-iTX cases & as such, has some issues - like the PCI slots.

But it it very quiet & has a high build quality..

Nigel


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