Set Up the Ultimate Steam Box

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Schbemb

...Maybe you've missed the point ... OR maybe I have since my HTPC is going to be pretty darn powerful and not the cheap, low power an HTPC is often defined as being.

I have a PS3, an Xbox 360, a laptop and an ipad. I have a rather nice Panasonic plasma TV and AVI ADM9.1 speaker system and a good subwoofer. My laptop streams audio from iTunes or JRiver media centre to my Airport Express which then goes into the speakers DAC system (since it's a great one and the Airport Express is obviously very cheap with high jitter levels). I use my iPad as an expensive remote control from which to select between my thousands of tracks - with everything at my finger tips. Since I store much of my music at higher than the bit rates you can download from iTunes, I do not store audio on my iPad, there's not enough space. Admittedly I do plan to have everything stored centrally soon.

I'm an keen downhill mountain biker and have a Go Pro 3 HD. I use video footage from this to create films (or try to) similar to those you'd fine on pinkbike.com.

Where am I going with this...?

I'm going to build an HTPC for about £1 - £1.3k, add or take a bit. A one machine does all approach. I rarely play with either console and plan to sell them, bored of fact console games have not moved on for some time. I want this PC to be powerful enough to really impress me graphically (a GTX 680 will do) and powerful enough to edit video.

(I must add that the ps3 is probably the best value media server ever! Free updates, a great bluray player and although games look tired now it's still good for that too.)

For film playback I want to use my TV to it's max which at the moment means BluRay. Yes Warrior247, you have to use discs still (bluray) for ultimate quality.

With all this in mind let's check out your iPad3.

Video playback: streaming from any source is fine. But how closely do you watch your movies? iTunes so called HD quality can be awful, and even where you might have films stored or streamed in so call hi-def, you can rarely guarantee that this video will be in the correct frame rate and will definitely result in micro stutter on your TV. Video playback is not smooth, nothing like watching bluray. Pans, especially landscape pans, can look horrid. The quality does not yet cut the mustard for anyone looking for high-end. With my HTPC I can output 1080 at 24p and have perfectly smooth video, the way it's meant to be seen, on my TV. I can bitstream true HD audio to my system and enjoy sound that's far superior to the compressed files you may have bought (and I have plenty too) from iTunes.

Screen: the iPad screen is no doubt rather lovely and perfect for still pictures and playing around with touch screen games. However, are you not frustrated by the screen drag when watching a movie on it? Apple, as well as many other manufactures, should concentrate on producing screens that can keep up with video instead of going for ever higher pixel densities. It's like watching LCD screens from a few years ago - screen drag! Come on Apple - sort it. Let's get normal HD working properly first before going for high pixel counts.

Video Editing: slightly unfair comparison but let's go there anyway. I use Sony Movie Studio which is fine to control from my conch on my large TV and if I need to get down into more detail I'll use my laptop. Whilst iPads are certainly creative devices I simply CANNOT (there is no argument here) edit 1920 x 1080 video at 60fps on an iPad. And should I wish to do edit something of lower quality a keyboard and mouse is far better. iPad's are creative in a fun sense - but you need a computer for anything even approaching amateur level.

Gaming: gaming on the move - Cut the Rope, Angry Birds, even some first person shooters are fine for whilst I'm on the train so I'll use the iPad. Should I wish to be impressed and need precision control then I'd use a console or PC. In this instance the PC will be powerful enough to run games at very high quality settings at great frame rates. An iPad via Airplay is graphically poor with an awkward control system. Stick to the simple games, which it's aimed at, and it's fine.

In summary, you have some very valid arguments. But unfortunately, if you do value ultimate quality, the ultimate gaming experience, films the way they're meant to be seen, and you want to do something with your computer other than browse the internet and play touch screen games, you need something powerful. An iPad is not a replacement for everything in no way. I have one and it's great at what it does - but accept it's limitations!

Great that you love it and are satisfied with it. But now, stop!

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Schbemb

This was aimed at Warrior 247

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Lordez4

What a great sounding set-up! But you said, "...you have to use discs still (bluray) for ultimate quality." Nope. Vudu's HDX 1080p streaming which includes cloud storage of your purchases if you buy rather than rent is every bit as good picture & sound quality as the Samsung bluray player I've got hooked up to my system (but I very rarely use anymore because of the outstanding Vudu service). Both my big screens have Vudu and other video streaming apps like Amazon, Netlix and Hulu+ built-in. BTW Netflix says they are now offering a similar hi-def experience to Vudu but my ISP (Comcast) has not yet made that available in my area. You've given me some things to shoot for. Thanks.

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Schbemb

Lordez4

Sorry, my reply was aimed at the iPad3 fanboy rather than anyone else.. Without knowing that, it looks like I'm boasting. I was trying to make the point that an iPad 3 does not compare to a really good HTPC.

Quick question to you - what's the Vudu HDX playing back video at? 24p? I really notice the stuttering on a lot streamed HD stuff.

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Schbemb

Just looked it up. 24p - nice ... Hopefully we'll get that in the UK at some point soon. No more discs !!

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Lordez4

Np. I knew whose balls you were busting. Vudu streaming is butter smooth as long as you have enough bandwith on you internet connection which I think most of the known universe is far ahead of the US. All I've got is 24mps to work with which is actually extremely good in the rural area I live in. That and a hardwired connection especially if all you're working with is the minimum bandwith. Wireless can be shaky with any streaming in my experience. Vudu is owned by Walmart which is persona non grata in some places and with some people. Still a stellar service though.

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Lordez4

I'm splurging on a man cave. I've already got two 55" 1080p led TVs one has a Xbox 360 and the other has a PS3. I already have a older pc not suitable for gaming in place. I also have a Comcast dvr cable box. Everything is running via hdmi thru a dual output hi-def av receiver with 7.1 surround. I was thinking of getting rid of the dvr which I hate for a high end Tivo dvr until I saw your article on the Velocity Micro Raptor htpc. Do you think this is a better alternative to the Comcast or Tivo boxes/pc? And is the setup I envision suitable in addition as a Steambox or is this overkill?

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roy2115

So if I decided to build my own Steambox with Linux as the OS instead of Windows, will I have repurchase games I already own that also work on Linux, such as L4D2?

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John Pombrio

I see no good reason to run a Steambox on Linux if you are going to build it yourself.

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Caboose

You shouldn't have to. When the Mac version of Steam came out, I believe that anyone that owned a copy of a game that had a Mac version was able to grab it as well for free.

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dakishimesan

Nice guide. Just wanted to add, the Xbox 360 controller whether the wired or the wireless version, is far away the best choice for a steam box. This is because Stephen client has built-in support for Xbox 360, Microsoft is really great drivers for it for Windows, and the subset of steam games that do support again had mostly have profiles written specifically for the Xbox 360 controller. It's not worth the hassle of time and aggravation to use anything else.

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AtaliaA1@aol.com

I was dissapointed that there was no included info. on setting up your sarround sound with this HTPC. A must have for any "True" gamer.

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Caboose

This is for a Steambox. Generally, you should know how to set up your home theater, and how to configure your computer sound options. If not, there are countless guides available on the internet.

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sallystudios

I think this brings up the question "Are two gaming pc's necessary?"

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gnslinger

I was thinking the same thing. I'm planning on building an HTPC, but can't decide if I want it to also be a gaming PC. There's still certain games I would want to play on my desktop, such as Civ 5 and FPS games (unless I could work out a convenient way of using a keyboard/mouse while on the couch). So that would mean I would need to keep two PCs up to date, which would get quite pricey. The other option would be to just have a cheap low-power HTPC and a next gen console to play whatever games I wouldn't play on the PC.

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dakishimesan

I hate to say it, but how about a 50 foot HDMI cable going through the wall from your main PC to TV as a mirrored monitor? This is what I do. The best of all worlds, nearly for free. Then get yourself a wireless game pad and you are good to go.

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QuadraQ

This is a fun project. I personally plan to build an AMD based PC with a Quad Core FX processor and a 7870 GPU (which should be plenty for 1080p gaming resolutions).

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iplayoneasy

At the target price point I'm kinda suck at the fact that unless you have a tone of steam games, a PS4 is shaping up to be one hell of a HTPC

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Caboose

Consoles, while they may seem like a "great" HTPC, lack some of the nice and welcomed features that a proper HTPC have.

Such as the ability to catalog and organize your media collection. My current HTPC running Win7 with MediaBrowser does that for me. Once I have my media in the right folders on my file server, MediaBrowser indexes everything, downloads boxart, backdrops, banners and all the metadata for movies, TV series and episodes. Everything is displayed nicely and organized, and is more akin to browsing through your TV guide or Netflix, than a directory tree.

The PS4, like game systems before it, is just that. A Game system first and foremost. Unless the PS4 and the XBox 720 will help to catalog and organize all of your media, grab metadata, and the like. It will only be a nice small addition and not something that will be used except to maybe watch a one or two off movie that you've downloaded.

And that's ONLY IF the system supports something like MKV.

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trgz

(Re the top image) If you're going to have an ultimate Steam box then surely you don't want the screen half way up a wall? You'll also want all parties looking at it from not-too-obtuse angles too. I despise those set shots.

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Caboose

It's hard to tell in the image, but you want your TV at eye level from your optimal sitting position. If that's half way up the wall, then that's where it sits.

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vrmlbasic

Now if only PC games retained the "split screen" options (or expanded them) of their console equivalents...

BTW, that powerline networking widget y'all are using really is slower than Fast Ethernet, despite the device itself claiming it has the potential to be 5x faster??

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mesiah

Some of them do. I know portal 2 does. But I detest split screen gaming anyway. I would rather have network multiplayer and set up a second television. Maybe split screen wouldn't be too bad if you could rotate your 60" tv 90 degrees and play over under.

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TheMissingPiece

What? Counter-Strike: Global Offensive didn't work well on a controller? I thought Valve said it was controller friendly! :P

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