Review: "Build Your Own PC Home Entertainment System",Underdahl


P

Paul

(A typical POS McGraw-Hill project-Ed.)

Consistently pessimal in every respect

This book was presented to me by my sister in the hope that I would
build her such a system. After reading it, I came to the conclusion
that not only would I not build such a system, but that no
knowledgeable person would either. I can't conceive of any reason
behind any of the choices he makes other than perhaps get some freebie
hardware from the vendors he plugs in this book.

"Pessimal" seems a strong word, but no other seems appropriate. Where
does one start addressing his bad choices?

Firstly, a PC does not make a very good stereo or home theater system,
because of the overhead of a general purpose operating system and the
poor optimization of the display and D/A technology vis-a-vis home
theater or high-end audio components for their purposes. Yes, you can
do all the things he speaks of, but you can't do them as well.
(Although good audio gear is expensive, my speakers were made in 1978
and my power amplifiers originally constructed in 1959 and reworked by
myself in the late 1980s. PC components, by contrast, have an economic
half-life of around nine months to a year.)

When that operating system is Microsoft Windows, you have the added
problem of the extremely huge overhead, the lack of optimization
inherent in general purpose computer software, and the simple fact
that Windows, of any variant, is in simple computer science parameters
mediocre-to-poor software. Because of the large numbers of awkward
choices Windows' designers made for 'backwards compatibility' and to
implement a big feature set in a minimum amount of time, from a large
pool of programmers, Windows is just not suited very well to the task.
A dedicated product such as QNX or the now-defunct BeOS would have
drastically improved matters, but a Linux or FreeBSD distribution
specifically designed for the task would have been a far better choice
and could have been included with the book at very little additional
cost. The author's one-sentence dismissal of Linux consists of utter,
provable nonsense.

Computer speakers and sound systems are generally inferior not only to
high-end stereo components, but even inexpensive hobbyist home
recording gear. I would strongly look at inexpensive Mackie, Yamaha,
or similar powered (active) monitor speakers before I would look at
most anything specifically marketed to the computer segment. I would
also keep in mind that even low-end pro audio users select sound cards
substantially more expensive than the ones offered to consumer buyers,
and for good reason.

Finally, I very definitely would not use MaxBlast or any other
proprietary program to format my HDD if I were running Windows (or any
other OS). When you first install a drive, write zeroes to it using a
program such as the ones offered by most drive vendors, then partition
and format the drive from the installation CD of whichever OS you
choose to run. Proprietary programs solve problems such as using
larger drives in machines built before their size was supported, or
running multiple OSes, but in a new clean instll these are not
concerns-or if they are you need new hardware. Windows in particular
likes its own partition and formatting routines.
 
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M

Mac Cool

(e-mail address removed) (Paul) said:
Firstly, a PC does not make a very good stereo or home theater system,
because of the overhead of a general purpose operating system and the
poor optimization of the display and D/A technology vis-a-vis home
theater or high-end audio components for their purposes. Yes, you can
do all the things he speaks of, but you can't do them as well.

The author may or may not have made bad hardware and software choices but
I think that you are missing the point of the book. Most people are not
audiophiles or videophiles, most of us can't tell the difference between
good and great. The point of the book, AFAICT, is not to create the über
home entertainment system, but to build a PC that can simulate a stack of
audio/video components, at a fraction of the price.

You could probably build your sister a home entertainment PC that can act
as a TIVO, DVD, CD, divx, VCD, SVCD, & MP3 player without the book. The
components that can do that now, will be able to do that well into the
future. If you don't want to build, buy a Shuttle and install the
software.
 
T

Ted Azito

"Pessimal?" Underdahl got a smackdown there, but it was fair coming.


First, it's horse manure that "most people can't tell the difference"
between good audio and PC audio. Ever had a Whataburger? How about a
McDonalds? I wouldn't call Whataburger haute cuisine, but they are a
whole bunch better than McDonalds. I might not be able to describe the
difference in gastronommically correct terms, but I know one tastes
pretty good and the other tastes anywhere from no flavor at all, to
rancid and dry, to slimy most of the time.

Secondly, Windows XP Media Center is only available bundled with
"media PCs", usually proprietary and overpriced style/lifestyle type
systems. XP Professional does not have those features, features BeOS
was designed since inception to do well and which Linux has been
adapted with far better results in many ways than Windows. No one runs
Windows on render farms, only Linux or Free BSD. He's sitting on
Bill's peg here (do a Google search on 'pegboy' if this reference
escapes you). BeOS, it has to be admitted, a dead product, which Palm
bought for absolutely no discernible reason.

There's also the little issue of SACD's and DVD-Audio discs.
 
M

Mac Cool

(e-mail address removed) (Ted Azito) said:
First, it's horse manure that "most people can't tell the difference"
between good audio and PC audio.

I never stated that. I stated that most people are neither audiophiles nor
videophiles and can't tell the difference between good and great. Great
being the sound achieved by high end audio or video components as opposed
to your run of the mill consumer grade which 90% of us own that produces
'good' sound.

Like I said, I don't know if the book is any good, but the OP was ranting
that a PC could not take the place of high end audio/video components
which is not the point. The OP might also argue that MP3s do not sound as
good as original CDs, but they are very popular anyway and I just don't
believe most people can tell the difference between a high bitrate MP3
(256) and an audio CD. I can't.
 
T

Ted Azito

Like I said, I don't know if the book is any good, but the OP was ranting
that a PC could not take the place of high end audio/video components
which is not the point. The OP might also argue that MP3s do not sound as
good as original CDs, but they are very popular anyway and I just don't
believe most people can tell the difference between a high bitrate MP3
(256) and an audio CD. I can't.

People with no experience _can_ tell the difference between CD and
SACD or DVD/A, a first rate vinyl track, or an open reel 2-track tape
as sent to a mastering house. Big difference. That .mp3 is
"indistinguishable" from the CD it was ripped from means, as Walter
Sear said recently, 'What shade of brown do you want?' (and at that,
it usually is distinguishable. In some cases it's _distinguishable
when played back through a guitar amp_ as I i did in a demo once.
(With a line level signal fed into the effects loop in of most guitar
amps, they sound remarkably like a 1930s radio at low volume....which
in a sense is what they are, albeit highly ruggedized.)

Tom Monaghan proved that when it's suitably packaged, Americans will
eat absolutely anything. And their listening habits are similar.
 
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Mac Cool

(e-mail address removed) (Ted Azito) said:
People with no experience _can_ tell the difference between CD and
SACD or DVD/A, a first rate vinyl track, or an open reel 2-track tape
as sent to a mastering house. Big difference.

Look, you're just posting one strawman argument after another. The home
entertainment PC that is being discussed is not going to play SACD, DVDA,
vinyl or open reel nor has anyone (except you) made any discussion about
those formats. What is your point with these replies?

If you are trying to make the point that a PC isn't a substitute for high
end A/V equipment, that point has already been conceded.
 
G

gothika

(e-mail address removed) (Ted Azito) said:


Look, you're just posting one strawman argument after another. The home
entertainment PC that is being discussed is not going to play SACD, DVDA,
vinyl or open reel nor has anyone (except you) made any discussion about
those formats. What is your point with these replies?

If you are trying to make the point that a PC isn't a substitute for high
end A/V equipment, that point has already been conceded.

With the right hardware and software you CAN rival all that expensive
high end snob crap.
The key is purchasing a pro audio card for good sound output.
 
M

Mac Cool

gothika said:
With the right hardware and software you CAN rival all that expensive
high end snob crap.
The key is purchasing a pro audio card for good sound output.

I have a scarred ear drum in one ear and congenital defect in the other
ear so I can't hear a full range of sounds and stereo is really more like
70/30, forget about surround sound, LOL!
 
T

Ted Azito

If you are trying to make the point that a PC isn't a substitute for high
With the right hardware and software you CAN rival all that expensive
high end snob crap.
The key is purchasing a pro audio card for good sound output.

Yes, but by the time you get through buying all that hardware-you can
mostly use free sw under GPL OS, maybe Win too-you have, in fact,
bought a High End stereo system. You're going to need transducers and
ampliifiers to drive them, which is where most of the money is. They
don't care where the signal comes from, they just raise its level and
convert it from one form to another.
 
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G

geo

Ted Azito said:
"Pessimal?" Underdahl got a smackdown there, but it was fair coming.


First, it's horse manure that "most people can't tell the difference"
between good audio and PC audio.

Like most people I dont' listen to MP3s in a pristene environment but in my
car with traffic, road, A/C noise; at home with A/C, computer, outside,
people noise. Maybe in a clean room it's not perfect but in the real world
it sounds great.

Natural Light Black and White Photography
http://mysite.verizon.net/geost/
-George-
 
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