Need HTPC video card reccomendation

I built a Home Theater PC and I need advice on a video card that will fit all of my needs and work with Linux. If I can’t find something suitable, I’m going to have to break down and go buy Windows 7.

Here’s my setup:
Asus P5Q-E LGA 775 Intel P45 motherboard
Intel E8400 Core2 Duo, 3.0GHz, 1333MHz FSB, 6MB L2 Cache
Corsair XMS2 4GB 800MHz 240-PIN DDR2 Dual-Channel RAM
LG 6x Blu-Ray drive
Ultra LSP650 650-watt PSU
GIGABYTE Radeon HD 4550 512MB video card

As you can see, I’m currently running an ATI Radeon HD 4550. This feeds a 46" 1080p 120Hz LCD via HDMI. Right now, the HDMI goes straight to the TV, but soon it will feed to a receiver which will then go to my 7.1 speakers and my TV. My goal is to get smooth, uncompressed video and 7.1 sound through HDMI. I don’t need great 3D support as I am not a gamer. I also don’t need a TV tuner or anything of the sort. I don’t receive any kind of broadcast television. I just need outstanding 1080p video support for Blu-Ray discs, movies and shows stored on the hard drive, and HD flash shows I watch on sites like Hulu and such.

My current video card is capable of all this, but not with Linux. I have a lot of trouble with sound in certain applications (like flash) and full-screen flash videos are choppy and unwatchable.

I would really like to find a card that can give me what I need without dumping Linux. I’m a big fan of openSUSE and I really want this to work. Is there a video card out there that works great for what I’m doing? I’m about to go pick up Windows 7, but I want to give this one last shot.

Well, you need to git rid of the Radeon Video Card. The best video card I have on openSUSE connected to Receiver is a nVidia 9800 GT. I use a DVI to HDMI cable to the LCD TV. The motherboard has a coaxial output which I take straight to my 7.1 Sony Receiver and it works great in SuSE. Now to get 7.1 or 5.1 for a standard movie, I must run Kaffeine from KDE3 which uses XINE and can be set to audio spdiff pass through mode for movie watching. On another TV, I found an nVidia 9500 video card with an HDMI output. It has an interesting setup in that it has a coaxial input on the back of the video card which accepts the coaxial output from the motherboard sound. The HDMI cable goes directly to a LG TV including audio. Then, I have an optical cable from the LG TV to a Sony 5.1 Receiver. On the LG with this setup, I keep my Receiver on the same input and the TV switches me between movies from my PC and the cable box for HD TV. I also have a nVidia GT 240 card with HDMI output which does work with Linux, but I have yet to try the audio from the HDMI to a Receiver to see if it also works.

I prefer to use the TV to do the HDMI switching because I do not want to always turn on my Receiver to hear any sound. If your TV, like my LG, passes through 5.1 or 7.1 to your Receiver, then it works just fine. One thing is for sure, nVidia has the best Linux graphics support, so you just got to go that direction and use the nVidia binary driver.

Thank You,

Having the TV do the switching seems like a smart setup. I might consider that.

It sounds like getting 7.1 sound is a bit of work. Is that just a quirk of your 9800GT, or is it an openSUSE thing that will be an issue regardless of the video card? I’d really like to just run everything out through HDMI. I run KDE4 and I use mostly VLC. I’ve also been using PulseAudio so I don’t know if that would make a difference.

I looked up some nVidia 9500 cards and found these:
MSI GeForce 9500 GT
ZOTAC GeForce 9500 GT

I also saw the GT220 and GT240 reccommended for HTPC.
ZOTAC GeForce GT 220
ZOTAC GeForce GT 240

Out of these two, the major difference is 48 vs 96 stream processors. I don’t play any games, but I do like nice desktop effects. My primary need is video playback on Blu-Ray disc, 1080p video files, and HD flash from YouTube and Hulu. Is 96 worth the price jump, or would 48 suit my needs? Or is the 9500/9800 the better bet? I also noticed that the 9500 supports OpenGL 2.1 whereas the GT220/240 supports OpenGL3.1. Not sure how important that is.

Thanks for your help.

Both of the 9500 cards are like my card on my home entertainment system, which works well with Linux. This is not a high powered game card, but it supports HDCP and movie decode. The difference from my video card is that they both require a SPDIFF cable output on the inside of your computer case instead of a COAX phono plug on the outside like mine. To use these cards you either need a SPDIFF connection and cable from the motherboard or sound card. Or you are going to use a SPDIFF cable to a phono plug on a spare card slot on the back of your computer that you create. Then using a short COAX cable, connect an external motherboard or sound card coax output to the rigged jack you created. Either way, your sound card (add-in or built-in) has to have an internal or external SPDIFF/Coax output. A HDMI cable uses a coaxial audio signal.

The GT220 & 240 video cards are better, but they have built-in sound output to drive the HDMI cable. While I know the 240 works with Linux, I do not know about the HDMI sound output on either card. The 240 has been around $50 here at Fry’s and not a lot of money to take a chance on, but Linux Audio support is unknown to me.

Using the 9500 cards is more of a rig job, but it can be made to work if you already have a supported sound card with a coax output. This is if you are set on sending the audio down the same line with the video in a HDMI connector. As a temporary setup, take the coax output directly to your receiver to determine if it works before going any further.

As I said before, the only way I have got 5.1 or 7.1 audio to my receiver in openSUSE 11.2 is to use the KDE3 version of Kaffeine. It can be setup to use XINE and for audio output it can be set for passthrough mode. All other audio output will be PCM 48 mode.

Thank You,

Hmm, this is not encouraging. I need a hardware and software/driver combination that will work like it should. I really don’t have a lot of time to tinker with this thing. I’ve already wasted too much time as it is trying to get this ATI card to work properly.

Perhaps this particular setup is a little outside the Linux realm. I’ve been running openSUSE 11.2 on my laptop for the last year and I’ve never been more pleased with anything in my life, but as for the media center, perhaps Windows or maybe even OSX is the ticket.

Different products have their strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps the media center/HDMI/Blu-Ray/1080p deal just isn’t where Linux shines.:\

I can tell you that getting the right hardware to work with Windows is no picnic either with the same basic hardware issues. There is more hardware support, but only if you know what you are doing. If you have a coaxial audio output, it can be taken directly to your receiver and bypass the HDMI part and with a nVidia video card under openSUSE, the HDMI output works great with any good LCD TV. Any worthwhile endeavor requires time, effort, knowledge and some luck.

Just last Friday night I watched Avatar (on regular DVD) with glorious 7.1 sound using openSUSE. And, you can ask around the internet how many people had a problems with the latest DRM updates that went into the Blu-Ray version of the movie. If you did not have an internet connected Player, you probable only watched the Blu-Ray box last week.

Good luck in whatever you decide to do and do not hesitate to come back by for more assistance if required.

Thank You,

**Glorious resolution!!**rotfl!

This was just a shot in the dark as I really didn’t think it would make a difference, but I installed Ubuntu 10.04. After installing the fglrx driver, Adobe Flash, and VLC from Synaptic, everything works! I have smooth 1080p video with sound (using VLC) and flash with sound in the Firefox browser. Even 720p flash on full screen is smooth and responsive! I’m not sure if switching to Ubuntu made the difference, or if dumping KDE for Gnome simply was the key. I didn’t think it would matter because I thought the fglrx driver was the same everywhere, but this seems to have saved the day.

All this being said, I used to run Kubuntu on my laptop work station and it doesn’t even touch the ease of use and stability of openSUSE 11.2. I guess the lesson here is each distribution has its strengths and weaknesses, and the key is not to give up on Linux just because a particular distribution or desktop environment isn’t working for you.

Thanks for your help. I’m glad I could stick with Linux for my media center.

I am happy you got your video working. Thanks for letting us know.

Thank You,