One of my home passions (which irks my darling wife to no end), is tinkering around with the whole concept of running a Home Theatre PC or HTPC as they are known. I have been doing this since the Windows XP days, and while I cant say I am an expert in setting it up, each different OS or component adds new challenges. When it is set up, I absolutely love it, as does the family.
My only problem is that each time I do a new setup, I never document what I did, and then spend forever trying to fix it. So now I am going to try and document my setup and address some of the technology challenges I have been having, so the next time, I can come back and get the answers I need faster.
Current Setup at Home
The Display: LG 55-inch 4K TV
Yeah I am an early adopter here, but my last TV just died, and it actually lasted us about 5 years, so if I have to wait that long to get another TV I might as well get the latest. The other point I could have gone bigger, but the living room really isn’t that big so I didn’t want to be too crazy about it.
The other nice thing about this TV is the slide out sound bar at the base, because of this I have removed my amplifier and 5.1 surround setup, again you might wonder why ditch the amp, but again the issue came down to my room really not being a precision room for optimal sound, so clarity and simplicity overruled here.
The HTPC: A Sony Vaio Z
Its almost sad to see that this machine has been discontinued, its been my work horse PC for three years, and is still a kick ass system, it has an Intel Core i7, 256 GB of SSD, and a separate attachment for running a Blu-Ray drive that also has a secondary video card from AMD on it, it can certainly pump out the performance. So until I really need to get a new PC to replace this one as a HTPC, I think I’m going to stick with it.
The Operating System: Windows 8.1
I know there are a lot of haters out there, but for my money, Windows 8.1 has the right layout for a large screen TV with Tiles, and the ability to run all the applications I need are of paramount importance, also important is familiarity for my wife, the kids are still too young to use it, but having consistent operating systems from the study to the living room just makes everything that much simpler.
For Movies and TV Series: Apple iTunes
Because there are no other movie services anywhere else in our region, Apple delivers the best option, especially with the fact that we have Apple TV and a number of iPads in the house. What this means is that we can have our movies on the smallest screen to the largest screen in the house all running at 1080P. Couple that with the Fiber Optic internet, we don’t even have to download, we can stream directly on the HTPC with no problem at high def.
For Music: Spotify
I just think Spotify is one of the best services out there for music today, I run it on my work PC, my Phone (and also connected via Bluetooth in the car) and on the big screen TV. Their entire library doesn’t seem to disappoint, and just keeps getting better. The problem is that they haven’t really come up with anything good for the new layout in Windows 8.1, however an application has just been released to deliver such an experience for paid users of Spotify called Spotlite (http://spotifywindows.herokuapp.com/desc), its definitely a must have app which runs great on Windows 8.1, and looks great on a monitor of any size!
THE PROBLEMS AND THEIR SOLUTIONS
Getting the best resolution to reduce judder etc…
So with any big screen TV you want to push it to its maximum to get the best out of it, and in my case with the LG 4K TV, the native resolution is up to 3840 x 2160. Now while the Sony Vaio Z can output this much resolution, and looks great on the desktop, any sort of movie playing struggles when you get to the panning scenes, such as the opening scenes in movies like “The Hobbit”, I found dropping the resolution back to 1920 X 1080 helped to eliminate some of the judder that I was experiencing, but there was still some there.
The second area I looked at was the Screen Refresh rate, by default it sets it to the highest supported for the resolution I was using, which for 1920 x 1080 was around 60 Hertz, by dropping this back to 24 Hertz, I eliminated a lot of the judder, and for some reason it unlocked some of the TruCinema features of the LG TV, which when turned on, just made those scenes look amazing.
I am hoping that with the next PC, I am going to make sure I get a pretty hefty video card, with HDMI 2.0 output when it becomes more common, to help with the bandwidth required to run all apps and content at the 4K levels, of course this still relies on LG ensuring that there is an update to the TV HDMI ports to HDMI 2.0, come on LG, don’t let us down here!
Lip Sync Issues
Man I can honestly say, this one bugged me the most out of all the problems, and was an issue between Apple’s iTunes and Windows 8.1, I just couldn’t get the screen to sync with the sound. The LG tv has an audio sync feature, but by changing that, it alters the experience on other inputs like cable and the Xbox. After much researching, I learnt that it had to do with ensuring the playback settings for audio were set the same on iTunes as they were in Windows.
The settings I speak of are in the Preferences in the main menu, where you navigate to a tab called Playback, that looks like this;
You want to make sure you take note of the settings
- Bitrate for Audio Playback
- Bits Per Sample For Audio
These are the two things that need to match with your Windows Settings, which can be found under your Playback settings for audio. That one looks like this;
I have put the two screens side by side here, you chose your audio device and then go in to the properties, and from there to Advanced.
In the default format, you need to make sure the selection here matches the settings that are in iTunes. If you make a change to iTunes, you will need to change the settings here. Once this is done, give your PC a reboot, and you shouldn’t have anymore lip sync issues, at least with iTunes.
I haven’t seen this having a negative effect on any other applications, but as long as the movies look and sound great, it makes for happy families.
Well that’s it for now, Ill keep adding to this post as I experience more, and maybe update with the new PC configuration when I get round to setting it up, or maybe when LG updates the HDMI ports.
Maybe this will help someone and not have to go through all the hoops and research I had to go through…