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I am in the process of acquiring parts for my new HTPC which will be based around a Tyan Thunder S2915-E motherboard and an Nvidia GPU (likely a GeForce 260 ...
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  1. #1
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    Linux for an HTPC


    I am in the process of acquiring parts for my new HTPC which will be based around a Tyan Thunder S2915-E motherboard and an Nvidia GPU (likely a GeForce 260 of some sort). The HTPC will be running dual quad core Opterons and 32GB of DDR2 and will carry a 6TB RAID6 array.

    My current system is running WinXP (x86, 32bit) but due to the hardware (64 bit) and addressing requirements I will need to upgrade from XP if I want to benefit from the upgraded hardware... that being said, I would like to avoid Windows7 if at all possible... however, when I say "would like" I am cognizant of the fact that ultimately this might be my only upgrade path.

    I'm willing to take another shot at Ubuntu... my first less-than-stellar experience with Ubuntu being my old NC8000 laptop (limping along with no bluetooth, poor audio and graphics support).

    Our current HTPC is used primarily for the following:

    BeyondTV: watching and recording cable/broadcast TV via a Hauppauge video capture card. MythTV might be a possible replacement...?

    Netflix: only compatible with IE however I've been told that it might be possible to get IE running in a VM of WinXP running on top of my Linux distro.

    Hulu, YouTube, Pandora etc: should be okay as they are supported by Mozilla Firefox

    BitTorrent: again, should run fine under Linux.

    Rip DVDs/Virtual Drives: when I get movies from Netflix (granted, less and less these days do we actually get physical media, however it is still useful functionality to have...) I typically rip them immediately then return the movie. I keep the .iso until I get a chance to watch the movie at which point I erase the file (please understand, this is simply a convenience to maximize my turnaround with Netflixh and I've never nor do I intend to create pirate any of my Netflix movies). Currently I use Slysoft + IMGBurn + Daemon Tools under WinXP but will need some similar software under Linux to rip and mount dvd .iso files.

    VLC/RealMedia: get a lot of .mkv and .rm clips and currently use VLC and RealAlternative under WinXP... I know VLC is supported for linux but is there any kind of .rm/.ram support under Linux?

    I also have a wireless Bluetooth keyboard (that we like immensely since I favor having a keyboard+trackpad for my HTPC vs a standalone mouse).

    So now... finally... my question:

    If in the next few months I install Ubuntu 9.04 (64bit) how much of this functionality can I realistically expect to keep under Linux

    Along with my list of functionality I've listed out potential Linux "equivalents"... I know MythTV has been around for awhile but I feel like my VMWare->XP->IE->NetFlix solution may be a bit strained... however Netflix (instant viewing) access is make or break functionality that my HTPC must have, the only possible (undesirable IMO) alternative being some kind of Roku box that streams to a separate port on my LCD or Projector.

    While attempting to build an HTPC with the above features what are the major obstacles/pitfalls that I should expect to encounter... what issues can I study up on in advance?

  2. #2
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    You may need that kind of hardware for your windows HTPC, but it is WAY overkill for Linux. You should take it and build two Linux HTPCs with it.

    If it wasn't for the TV capture card and the Netflix, I would suggest XBMC for your build.

    XBMC Media Center for Mac OS X, Windows and Linux

    For a TV capture PVR, you can't beat MythTV. It also has a Netflix plugin, although I think it only let's you interact with the account, not watch the videos. MythTV isn't so good for music and ripped movies. That is what XBMC is good for.

    I have heard that some install both XBMC and MythTV. Use MythTV for recording and watching TV shows (and managing Netflix account). Then use XBMC for everything else.
    Please do not send Private Messages to me with requests for help. I will not reply.

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    Thanks for the suggestions... I came across this article regarding "Guide To Building An Open Source HTPC / Media Center on Ubuntu" on linuxlookup.com (cannot post the http since I am new to the forum but you can easily google and find it)...

    Do you have any experience with the other distros mentioned in the article besides XBMC... namely Elisa ( I gather Aeon is mainly a front-end for XBMC)?

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    I have used a few media PC distro's and apps...MythTV, Elisa, and LinuxMCE just to name a few.

    The most comprehensive mediaPC/home automation distro I have seen is LinuxMCE. (LinuxMCE includes Myth for TV duties.) For something that is just a media PC, Elisa is my current favorite - it's only drawback is no TV plugin (which I don't care about) but has great support for streaming online media - movies and audio.

    As mentioned, you may want to install a few apps to get just the options you want.

    * I am in the process of installing Boxee now...we'll see how that goes.

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    My comments are somewhat out of order, but here they are:

    1. There is a RealPlayer that works ok with Linux (not great), but you can play most .rm/.ram files. I think VLC will play them as well if you get the good, bad, and ugly gstreamer codecs.

    2. Install a 64bit OS (Ubuntu or whatever), but intstall the 32-bit Firefox so you can use the Adobe flash and other media plugins that don't work well yet in 64-bit mode.

    3. Install VirtualBox and you can run XP in a VM just fine. If you are running a nVidia card with nVidia driver and install the Guest Additions in the Windows system, then you can run full-motion video reasonably well in the VM. Serious first-person shooter type games might be marginal in performance. You're going to have to try them to see. If you need to, then dual-boot the system to run that sort of cruft.

    4. Ubuntu 9.04 handled my bluetooth and wireless headset just fine. I haven't tried it with other bluetooth devices yet so I cannot say what the situation might be with your keyboard. How well it works as a bootup device depends a lot on the BIOS on your motherboard.

    About 18 months ago I built a high-performance workstation with many of the same purposes in mind that you mention, although I also need it for heavy-duty software and database development. I chose an Intel server/workstation motherboard and dual quad-core Xeon E5450 processors, along with an nVidia 8800GT video board. I don't have a TV tuner on the system, but I do quite a bit of video processing, a LOT more efficiently than I ever could in Windows. Conversions of high-def video that would take 8 hours on a 3GHz Windows machine takes about 15 minutes on my 3GHz 8 core system - the ffmpeg video processor application can be threaded, which really speeds things up! I usually have it run with 8 threads (1 / core), and the speedup is almost linear.

    Anyway, my goal was to eliminate Windows altogether, and except for 2 applications that I cannot duplicate on Linux (my options trading software, and my enterprise software modeling tool), I have eliminated all Windows applications except a couple of utilities that run just fine with Wine. Those 2 applications run just fine in a Windows virtual machine, so I don't bother dual-booting the system.
    Sometimes, real fast is almost as good as real time.
    Just remember, Semper Gumbi - always be flexible!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rubberman View Post
    My comments are somewhat out of order, but here they are:

    1. There is a RealPlayer that works ok with Linux (not great), but you can play most .rm/.ram files. I think VLC will play them as well if you get the good, bad, and ugly gstreamer codecs.

    2. Install a 64bit OS (Ubuntu or whatever), but intstall the 32-bit Firefox so you can use the Adobe flash and other media plugins that don't work well yet in 64-bit mode.

    3. Install VirtualBox and you can run XP in a VM just fine. If you are running a nVidia card with nVidia driver and install the Guest Additions in the Windows system, then you can run full-motion video reasonably well in the VM. Serious first-person shooter type games might be marginal in performance. You're going to have to try them to see. If you need to, then dual-boot the system to run that sort of cruft.

    4. Ubuntu 9.04 handled my bluetooth and wireless headset just fine. I haven't tried it with other bluetooth devices yet so I cannot say what the situation might be with your keyboard. How well it works as a bootup device depends a lot on the BIOS on your motherboard.

    About 18 months ago I built a high-performance workstation with many of the same purposes in mind that you mention, although I also need it for heavy-duty software and database development. I chose an Intel server/workstation motherboard and dual quad-core Xeon E5450 processors, along with an nVidia 8800GT video board. I don't have a TV tuner on the system, but I do quite a bit of video processing, a LOT more efficiently than I ever could in Windows. Conversions of high-def video that would take 8 hours on a 3GHz Windows machine takes about 15 minutes on my 3GHz 8 core system - the ffmpeg video processor application can be threaded, which really speeds things up! I usually have it run with 8 threads (1 / core), and the speedup is almost linear.

    Anyway, my goal was to eliminate Windows altogether, and except for 2 applications that I cannot duplicate on Linux (my options trading software, and my enterprise software modeling tool), I have eliminated all Windows applications except a couple of utilities that run just fine with Wine. Those 2 applications run just fine in a Windows virtual machine, so I don't bother dual-booting the system.
    rubberman - thanks for your comments. I actually posted this same question to the ubuntuforums and got just about nil.

    I don't plan on using the system for high-end gaming... at least not anything that will require a VM of XP to run. I may host an L4D server on it - depending on how much effort this is (not on my list of must-haves). My vision is that it should be as much a media server as an HTPC... I will have a projector set up in my main media area with a (much smaller) secondary HTPC attached and hope to be able to stream the bulk of my media content over a wireless connection.

    Again... dunno how much of this feasible. We shall see.

    Are there any major pitfalls that you ran into when you built your HTPC last year that in hindsight might have been avoidable?

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    Quote Originally Posted by allbread View Post
    Are there any major pitfalls that you ran into when you built your HTPC last year that in hindsight might have been avoidable?
    Not really, but I did as much reading and research as possible and stayed with devices and boards that I was comfortable would work well with Linux, such as the Intel motherboard, nVidea 8800GT video board, and such. Since the Penryn CPU had just been released, I knew that there might be some issues, and sure enough I had to download and install a BIOS update in order to run Linux on it. The good news was that it was easy to find and install from the Intel web site, so it didn't slow me down more than about 15 minutes or so. All in all, I've been very happy with it.
    Sometimes, real fast is almost as good as real time.
    Just remember, Semper Gumbi - always be flexible!

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    Have you considered splitting up your build into a back-end media server, that does all the hard work and a small, quiet, low-power front-end using a Nvidia ION based system?

    The advantage is that you don't have to worry about hard disk or fan noise, or an unsightly big case in your living room as you can tuck away the server wherever you want (basement, loft, broom cupboard). Also you can chose a very large case for your back-end, that has room for additional hard disks (many big tower cases can easily hold 8-10 hard disks), as you will soon find that hard disk space is never enough!

    This is becoming more and more the preferred way of building a HTPC, especially among Linux HTPC builders.

    Have a look here for a choice of Atom+ION based front-ends:
    Code:
     home.linuxtech.net/features/nvidia_ion_products_overview.html
    (this forum doesn't allow me to post URLs yet so you will have to copy&paste it into your browser)

    This solution might be a bit more expensive initially (but you already save money on the graphics card of the back-end, which can use any cheap bottom of the range graphics card as it won't be used for playing video) and in the long run it will save you money as it's much more expandable.

    The other advantage is you can have several front-ends running off one back-end (one in the living room, one in the bedroom, etc).

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    Quote Originally Posted by tux99 View Post
    Have you considered splitting up your build into a back-end media server, that does all the hard work and a small, quiet, low-power front-end using a Nvidia ION based system?

    The advantage is that you don't have to worry about hard disk or fan noise, or an unsightly big case in your living room as you can tuck away the server wherever you want (basement, loft, broom cupboard). Also you can chose a very large case for your back-end, that has room for additional hard disks (many big tower cases can easily hold 8-10 hard disks), as you will soon find that hard disk space is never enough!

    This is becoming more and more the preferred way of building a HTPC, especially among Linux HTPC builders.

    Have a look here for a choice of Atom+ION based front-ends:
    Code:
     home.linuxtech.net/features/nvidia_ion_products_overview.html
    (this forum doesn't allow me to post URLs yet so you will have to copy&paste it into your browser)

    This solution might be a bit more expensive initially (but you already save money on the graphics card of the back-end, which can use any cheap bottom of the range graphics card as it won't be used for playing video) and in the long run it will save you money as it's much more expandable.

    The other advantage is you can have several front-ends running off one back-end (one in the living room, one in the bedroom, etc).
    I have considered something like this... in fact, I intend to try something pretty similar, which is to try and use a PS3 to stream media from my Linux HTPC... I know that the PS3s can be partitioned to support Linux although I'm relatively sure that the graphics will be gimp'd so as not to allow hard core gaming... but I've read that the PS3 partition itself can stream media from a Samba server, in which case, this is all I will really need.

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    I did a little how-to for the beginner Linux DVR enthusiast. This how-to will help you get an idea of what you will need to get started.

    How to build a Linux DVR | eHow.com

    If you need assistance beyond that let me know. I've built quite a few Linux DVR's and I would be willing to assist.

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