A system such as the one described in this series of articles can make
quite severe demands on a system's CPU, disk drives and video system --
but high-performance hardware is not cheap.
The most sensible compromise between raw performance and affordability
resulted in a box with the following configuration:
Hardware Placement Considerations
It's worthwhile giving some thought as to where the PC itself
will be located.
I've found that it looks and fits just fine and dandy next to the
large cabinet that houses my other home entertainment electronics, however
there are some caveats:
Don't place the PC on top of a speaker cabinet -- the vibrations, especially
the low frequencies from bass, explosions and other loud noises may
Don't place the PC right beside the TV set. TVs have a powerful degausing
system that emits a very intense magnetic field each time they're turned on and
that could, in theory, fritz the data on your hard-drive or crash your system.
If you're using a CRT monitor, don't place it near a speaker cabinet because
it will really screw up the colors.
Don't be tempted to stuff the PC into a small cupboard unless there's
very good ventilation available. Modern PCs create quite a bit of heat and
this can rapidly build up to a harmful level if operated in a confined space.
- Processor: 1.8GHz Intel P4
- Memory: 256 MB
- Hard disk: 2 x 40GB 7,200 RPM ATA100 drives
- Video: Geforce MX440 with 64MB DDR-RAM and TV-out
- CDRW: Sony 16x
- DVD: Sony
Perhaps my biggest concern was that a regular PC in a mini-tower case might
be too noisy. What's the point in having a smart gadget that emits a
distracting whine or roar?
If you'd like your own system, it is recommended
that you purchase the parts, or a ready-configured version
from the project's sponsor.
The system provided by Advantage Computers is astonishingly quiet however.
Just about the only time you can hear any perceptible noise is when one of
the hard drive is having hysterics moving its heads back and forth between
two different files -- and even then you have to actually be listening
hard to hear it.
Even the boring beige minitower case doesn't look at all out of place as part
of an entertainment centre and it's certainly not visually intrusive.
The 1.8Ghz processor is enough to provide reliable realtime MPEG-1 (VCD)
and MPEG-2 (SVCD) compression, although its limitations begin to appear
if you try to create a high-res DVD capture in realtime. Fortunately that's
not really a problem since SVCD quality is adequate for the
casual recording and short-term archiving of free-to-air broadcasts. There's
also no way that single-pass realtime MPEG encoding is actually going to give
you DVD-quality results.
The Sony CDRW/DVD drives to a perfectly good job of reading and writing
virtually everything I've thrown at them. The only caveat is that the
Sony DVD drivers seem a little more sensitive than some others to the CSS
encryption used on DVD disks. This would only affect those who might choose
to break the law by illegally copying DVD movies onto SVCD (with freely
available "ripping" software -- and even then it's simply a case of
ejecting/reinserting the disk and hitting "retry".
As with most TV-out cards, the GeForce MX440 produces a TV image that doesn't
quite reach he very edge of the TV screen. This is because an automatic "overscan"
border is added by the card -- on the assumption that you don't want important
information being out of view.
Fortunately, the borders are nowhere near as large as they are on my old ASUS
V3400 TNT card and tend to go unnoticed after you've been watching for a few
minutes. The card has an SVideo output and a very impressive 1024 pixel
horizontal resolution. When watching DVDs, the output of the system
and this card is virtually indistinguishable from that of a dedicated DVD player.
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