HTPC Advice




For general help and advice to common questions relating to choosing, installing and setting up a HTPC please click the links below to see the answers:


HARDWARE SUPPORT

- Are your 'Silent' and 'Fanless' systems actually silent?

- Do you have any advice on which processor is best suited to my requirements?

- Is WiFi suitable for streaming 1080p or 4K video files?

- What is the difference between an SSD (Solid State Drive) and a HDD (Hard Drive)



SOFTWARE SUPPORT

 - I am new to the world of HTPC's, I've tried my friends Kodi XBMC box but the video performance is lacking, can you offer any advice?


DRIVER SUPPORT

 - I'm having problems with my Ethernet not being recognised do I need drivers to fix this?


GRAPHICS SUPPORT

I would like a PC that is capable of 4K, does the N3150 also support standard 1080p?

- I am having trouble with video playback on my TV, it pauses and judders, any advice?



GAMING SUPPORT





























I am new to the world of HTPC's, I've tried my friends Kodi XBMC box but the performance is lacking, can you offer any advice?

ANSWER:

The simplest way to use Kodi is with an android box, they are the cheapest and amongst the smallest computers you can get that will run Kodi. However performance can vary greatly as they usually run on very low powered systems with minimal memory in order to keep the costs as low as possible, for some people this is more than sufficient.

If however video performance is your priority then moving up to a Mini-ITX HTPC will certainly help as they have much greater processing power along with on board graphics to take care of the video rendering, all Mini-ITX will have gigabit ethernet and will be capable of playing videos off a USB hard drive. However a Mini-ITX system is a large step up in cost starting at around £200 as it is basically a fully fledged PC but in a mini case.

There are a few different ways you can access the Kodi software with a Mini-ITX system depending on your budget and also how versatile you want your system to be, i.e. is it going to be used purely as a video player/streamer? or would you also like to use it for browsing the web, word processing or playing 3D games, etc?

Methods for accessing Kodi:

OpenElec
is an operating system available for free that is dedicated to running only Kodi. This is the simplest method but is also the most limited if you are interested in exploring other entertainment.

Ubuntu is a free Operating System based on Linux which is very easy to use. Kodi can be installed as an app, along with many other free applications such as Steam (games) and web browsers such as Chrome for Internet access. As Ubuntu is community supported some software can be a little buggy, but its free so you can’t really complain!

Windows is the most expensive option but it also gives you the most freedom to do almost anything you can think of with your HTPC including installing Kodi and many other media/games/productivity applications. Windows is also the only Operating System that supports Bluray playback (additional software required, e.g. PowerDVD 10+) and also has much better support for advanced content/formats such as 4K video coded in H.265/HEVC or VP9.
Please note that although Kodi has great support for the vast majority of video/audio formats, it may have limited support for the newest formats such as certain 4K video types. This will improve over time as the developers include support in software updates.

Processor Recommendations:
  • For 1080p content a system built around the Intel J1900 processor is recommended.
  • For a 1080p system with light gaming capability a system built around the AMD Athlon 5350 (Radeon R3 Graphics) is recommended, or for more advanced graphics AMD A6 Kaveri or above (Radeon R5/R7 Graphics)
  • For a 4K multimedia system the Intel N3150 processor with 8th generation Intel Graphics would be best, offering 4K video support through H.265/HEVC hardware acceleration (Windows only)
  • For a 4K system that will also be used for heavy work loads such as video editing then one based around Intel's latest Skylake desktop processors (Core i3 or above) will give you the best results
  • For a 4K system with full gaming capability then a system that can house a full graphics card such as our GTPC range would be your best option. Choosing a Graphics card with HDMI 2.0 such as the NVidia GTX 900 series will give you true UltraHD output (2160p @ 60Hz). HDMI 1.4a used by most devices only provides 2160p @ 24Hz max.
All the systems we sell on our website are low profile (except the mini gaming PC's which are cube shaped) and are all quiet or silent systems. The smallest and lowest price option we have is the Eco Fanless (silent) range, the J1900 is available with OpenElec, Ubuntu or Windows 10. The N3150 is available with Windows only (due to current lack of driver support from OpenElec/Ubuntu developers):

http://www.media-master.co.uk/category/fanless-htpc-silent-home-theatre-pc-quiet

We have a range of wireless accessories to choose from including a few HTPC remotes that have wireless air mouse capability (think Nintendo Wii Remote), very intuitive to use. Look for the Rii i7, Rii i24 and Rii i25 for this functionality.

http://www.media-master.co.uk/category/accessories



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I'm having problems with my Ethernet not being recognised do I need drivers to fix this?

ANSWER:

Yes some motherboards will require you to install drivers for some of the functionality to work, especially with older Operating Systems such as Windows 7 where the drivers aren't built in.
Supplied with your computer should be a driver disc that will contain all the required software/drivers. Please put this into your computer and run the setup programme to install the drivers.
If your computer does not have a DVD/Bluray drive then you will need use another computer that does have a DVD Drive and copy the contents of the disc onto a spare USB stick, or alternatively use another computer with internet access and download the latest drivers from the motherboard manufacturers website (found in the support section). Once you have the drivers on your USB stick you can then use the stick to install the drivers on your htpc.


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I would like a PC that is capable of 4K, does the n3150 also support standard 1080p?

ANSWER:

Yes the N3150 motherboard supports standard 1920 x 1080p through HDMI 1.4a, DVI-D and DisplayPort 1.1a.

It supports up to 3840x2160 @30Hz or up to 2560x1600 @60Hz and all the various resolutions and refresh rates up to and in between such as 480p, 720p and 1080p. If you are using Windows you can select the required resolution by right clicking your desktop and selecting 'screen resolution', compatible resolutions will be available to choose from.

Please visit the ASRock website below for the detailed specifications of the motherboard including graphics outputs:
http://www.asrock.com/mb/Intel/N3150-ITX/?cat=Specifications


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Do you have any advice on which processor is best suited to my requirements?

ANSWER:

Please visit our processor guide page for a comparison of the various types of processors available, depending on your requirements the guide has been split into 3 main types of HTPC uses, please click the links below:

Processor Guide - INTRODUCTION
Processor Guide - SMALL SILENT HTPCs
Processor Guide - HIGH PERFORMANCE HTPCs
Processor Guide - GAMING HTPCs




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Is WiFi suitable for streaming 1080p or 4K video files?

ANSWER:
Generally if your primary use is to stream video files then a wired connection is recommend using in favour of a wireless connection.  Wireless connections can be unreliable and affect media performance (especially large files such as 1080p and 4K files) unless you have a very strong wireless connection.
If you have a modern router with low interference from other routers/wireless devices in your environment and not too many walls or distance between the router and your PC then a wireless connection should be ok.





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I am having trouble with streaming video performance on my TV, it pauses and judders, any advice?

ANSWER:
If your video is pausing for a few seconds at a time then it is most likely a network/buffering issue (your WiFi or internet connection is not fast enough), whether that is with interference, weak signal or sub-standard internet performance, please see comments below:

1) WIFI SIGNAL STRENGTH
Location of your HTPC can greatly affect the performance of its wireless network connection.  Many factors can affect wireless performance including distance from your WiFi Router, interference from other neighbouring WiFi networks, interference from other wireless devices (baby monitors, house phones, etc), obstacles between the computer and router (walls, floors, furniture, etc).

Where is your Media PC located? The closer your computer to your router the stronger the signal will be. A good router should be able to provide a strong signal through at least 1 wall or floor, depending on the materials in your floors and walls will determine how much signal strength is lost through, for example metal pipers or underfloor heating can shield the signal.

You may find that there are WiFi 'dead spots' throughout your house, these may be found near walls or in corners, sometimes just moving your device by a foot can have a huge impact on WiFi performance.


2) WIFI BAND AND CHANNEL
What WiFi band are you using? modern routers broadcast on both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz channels, if your HTPC can pick up both bands (Dual Band WiFi) try the different bands.

The 5Ghz channel has a faster connection speed but it has a smaller broadcast range, 2.4Ghz is a more stable longer range channel that is also better at passing through walls. You are more likely to get interference using the 2.4Ghz band as it more widely used.

Within each band are a number of channels. Your router will broadcast on one of these channels, some modern routers will scan all the channels and broadcast on the channel with the least interference.  It might be worth logging into your router and checking which band your router is broadcasting on and trying an alternate channel. 

You can download free apps on your smartphone called 'WiFi Scanners' that will show which channels all the in range WiFi networks are broadcasting on, try and see if there is channel gap you can use to improve performance.



If your problem is more of stuttering/juddering (non-smooth) picture then please see comments below:

If it is a juddering issue this can be resolved by trying out a few settings on both the computer and TV that it is plugged into. The reason for juddering in most cases is due to the difference in refresh rate of the video source file, the refresh rate output of the PC and the ability of the TV to handle the differences, for instance even the most advanced graphics cards can suffer from this problem if the settings are not correct for your particular setup.

Things to try out to resolve a juddering problem are (try in this order):

1) Try an alternative web Browser
From personal experience of using a HTPC connected to a TV I find that Internet Explorer is better for playing video than Chrome and gives smoother video playback. Chrome works fine on my laptop but does not get on well with my TV, again this is due to my TV not handling the refresh rate difference very well and not the HTPC itself.

2) Change the settings on your TV
Modern TV have software built in that tries to improve your picture quality, but sometimes with PC's it can work against you and actually cause juddering video. This can usually be resolved by disabling the video enhancements in your TVs settings menu. Some TV's also have different modes, such as a 'game' or 'computer' mode/setting. Please try these also.

3) Change your refresh rate
right click your desktop > Screen resolution > Advanced Settings > 'Monitor' tab
In the drop down box you can test out different refresh rates, popular refresh rates are 50Hz and 60Hz. If your screen goes blank don't panic, just wait for 15 seconds without pressing anything and it will revert back to the previous setting, find the refresh rate that gives the best results.



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What is the difference between an SSD (Solid State Drive) and a HDD (Hard Drive)

ANSWER:

An SSD is much much faster than a traditional HDD, it can in some cases increase general system responsiveness by to 10 times for things such as booting into Windows and opening up an application. The downside to SSD's is that you get less storage for the same cost, for example a 120Gb SSD costs the same as a 1000Gb HDD.


The ideal system would feature an SSD drive for you Operating System to run off providing fast access to all your system files for a responsive system, along with a secondary storage HDD with all your data (media, documents, etc).

If you only have room in your sytem for 1 storage drive, but would like the performance benefits of an SSD with capacity of a HDD then you may consider an SSHD (Solid State Hybrid Drive). an SSHD is a standard Hard Drive with a small 8Gb SSD integrated into the drive, over time the drive figures out which files you use the most and puts them into the 8Gb SSD, this increases the system performance whilst still offering larger storage capacities at a reasonable price. 

The performance of an SSHD sits somewhere in between an SSD and HDD offering a good compromise of speed and capacity.





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Are your 'Silent' and 'Fanless' systems actually silent?

ANSWER:

The short answer is yes, many of our computers feature completely fanless cooling, resulting in absolute silent (0db) operation as there are no moving parts within the system.

Other factors can introduce noise into the system such as the addition of a Bluray drive which spins the disc to read the information, therefore whilst the disc is being read there is a small amount of sound being emitted.  When the Drive is not in use it will remain silent.


The type of Storage Drive you choose can also introduce a very small amount of sound into the system.  Traditional Hard Drives (HDD's) operate by spinning small discs inside the drive, although extremely quiet they can be heard if you put your ear close to the system.  Please note - it is unlikely you will be able to hear the Hard Drive from more than a meter or so away.

If absolute silence is your goal then it is recommended to choose an SSD (Solid State Drive), these do not have any moving parts and operate in complete silence (0db).




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