HTPC Home Theater PC setup & review with BenQ PB6200

home theater projectors: DLP vs LCD vs LCOS - technology review
Using a universal remote control: review by Adrian Biffen, Software For Homes HTPC Home theater PC set up and review -
using with BenQ PB6200/PB6100 projector
Understanding HDTV - DLP front projection 

by Adrian Biffen
Systems Administrator 
AeroHOST Web Systems
July 13, 2004
  Bulletin: RollerTrol™ Automation Systems is Launched!  
  • We have been busy making and selling roller blinds and projector screens for some time, and we have decided to start selling the components at so others can do the same.
  • Take a look at our online store for tubular motors and other associated products - make your own custom shade or screen size that fits your room perfectly! We also have special motor kits that work with x10 automation systems.
  • While you're at it, check out our tubular motors with built-in radio controllers. When used with our multi-channel remotes, you can control the screen AND blackout blinds with a single remote!
  End Bulletin: RollerTrol™ Automation Systems  

My eMachines M5312 wide screen laptop arrived, right on schedule this morning.HTPC - eMachines M5312 wide screen laptop This was a re-certified unit that showed no signs of being used, and for about $1000 I figured it was a pretty good buy. It was time to upgrade to a new laptop anyway, so this machine will serve a double purpose - I really didn't want to build a desktop unit just to watch DVD movies.

This laptop has a high contrast widescreen display (1280x800 pixels), with a fast response time that displays motion video quite well. It has a 2 GHz AMD Athlon Mobile XP2400+ processor, 60 GB Hitachi hard drive, 512 MB ram, DVD ROM player, and a 64 MB video card with the ATI Radeon chipset. It also has a built in 802.11g wifi system that works very well with the wireless internet network I deployed in my home, and any hotspots I run into in hotels and airports when I travel. The built-in firewire and USB ports give me the connectivity I need, and the cardbus PCMCIA slot provides for further expansion options. I added a Bluetooth card so that I could use my Nokia 6820 GSM smartphone as a modem, giving me another internet connection option on the GSM GPRS data network, which works quite well.

Video processing involves some pretty complex software that can easily crash Windows XP, so for backup I used an external 2 1/2" hard drive enclosure that runs off either the firewire or USB ports. With Norton Ghost, you can do a complete clone of your internal hard drive and then swap it with the external hard drive when it fails; it will boot up almost as if nothing happened. You'll lose any data created since your last backup, but it sure beats starting from scratch! I have crashed XP many dozens of times, and although the new NTFS file system is fairly robust, I have schplorked it several times beyond recovery, and had to swap in my backup drive. Folks, if you don't employ a backup strategy like this, be prepared to endure a lot of frustration.

This series of articles is designed to help you get through the complicated process of choosing and setting up an HDTV home theater system. It is part of our overall website, which is about the X10 home automation system that uses the A/C wiring in your home - you don't need to run any wires. (for complementary home automation products such as lighting control and motorized blinds and shades, see our home automation DIY kit article) Here's a brief topic summary of these home theater articles, with direct links:
Article# Topic
1 HDTV Definitions and terminology used in home theatre systems
2 HDTV news from Jan 2005 Las Vegas CES show
3 HDTV remote control consolidation issues
4 DLP projector decision: My reasons for purchasing
5 BenQ DLP 6200 review -projector setup process
6 HTPC: using home theater PC for DVD display
7 DVD software player review: watch DVD on your PC
8 Upsampling DVD player vs HTPC - comparison with Zenith DVB 318
9 Sony HDRHC1 Handycam review: widescreen high definition 1080i camcorder
10 Wireless video sender solves the 'extra tv' problem
11 SED Toshiba-Canon HDTV display review - the flat panel HDTV race heats up!
12 Canon SX 50 Realis LCoS projector review - first 3 chip LCoS projector under $5,000
13 Optoma H78DC3 'DarkChip3' DLP projector review - first 'Dark Chip3' DLP projector under $4,000
14 Xbox 360 review: best buy for game play online? - Windows Media Center Extender
15 Play Station 3 vs Xbox 360 - Sony and Microsoft Compete for gaming market
16 SXRD vs SED vs DLP - Sony raises the HDTV bar with Qualia and Grand Wega series
17 LED DLP light engine from Samsung vs SXRD, SED - 1080p resolution arrives
18 HD DVD vs Blu-ray: We review the new Toshiba HD DVD players (HD-XA1 and HD-A1)
19 H.264 AVC: High Definition advanced codec for movie downloads and HDTV Online

There are plenty of detailed discussions about high definition and picture resolution on the internet, so I'm going to try and keep it simple for the purposes of this article. The highest official High Definition TV format in the USA is 1080i - interlaced 540 line fields with 1920 pixels per line. It is the 'Holy Grail' of picture quality (at the present time) that I want to display on my PB6200 projector. After that comes 720p, 720 progressively scanned lines making up the picture (1280 pixels per scan line). Plain old NTSC TV resolution is 480i, with an approximate maximum horizontal resolution, under ideal conditions, of 440 pixels per line (see the terminology table at the end of this article for the difference between 720i and 720p).

It's important to keep in mind that a regular DVD (at this time) is pressed at a resolution of 480p, so we are limited to using upscaling techniques to achieve 1080i or 720p until a new DVD recording format has been established. These upscaling techniques insert interpolated content that doesn't really exist to simulate the higher resolution. It certainly improves the picture quality, but it's not even close to real HD that we will get with the next generation of DVD disks.

There are a few movie and documentary DVD releases that feature the new WMV HD format from Microsoft that can be viewed on a PC DVD player using Windows Media Player 9 (or the new version 10), but you'll want at least a 3 GHz PC to watch the 1080 high resolution versions. I downloaded some WMVHD clips and found I could watch 720p (with the occasional dropped frame) with my new laptop (played from the hard drive), but 1080i was out of the question - it pinned my CPU to the max. Nevertheless, 720p was superb on my projector and I'll be really happy if I can get similar results from a regular DVD.

When playing video on your PC, you can monitor the performance of your computer by watching the performance graph in the Windows Task Manager (right click on the taskbar to bring it up). If you have a PC with Windows XP, you can download some real HDTV clips and try it for yourself (provided that the new Windows Media Player is installed).


Remember Bruce Brown's "Endless Summer" surfing documentary in the '60's? Well, his son Dana has created what could be called the sequel: "Step Into Liquid". There is some truly awesome footage in this film, and it comes in a 2 disk set - one pressed in the regular DVD 480p format, and the other pressed in the WMV HD 720p format. The HD version can be played on your PC DVD drive, or a DVD player that supports WMV HD playback (my Zenith does not), and the standard DVD can played back from any regular standalone DVD player (or HTPC). 

Aside from the sheer enjoyment of watching towed surfers released to go screaming down 70' waves 100 miles off the coast of San Diego, it is a good set to get because you can more directly compare true 720p (on the HTPC) vs upscaled 1080i (on the Zenith DVD player). While switching back and forth (an A-B switch would be nice), I thought the HD 720p was slightly clearer than the upscaled 1080i on the Zenith, but I could not get the Dolby 5.1 to work properly (the narration channel was severely attenuated), even on Windows Media Player 10, and it wasn't worth sacrificing the superb full Dolby experience that my Zenith 318 puts out (the sound is half the film, in my opinion).

To summarize, if you're watching DVD on a regular TV, the DVD player will be generating an interlaced output, sending 480i to your screen. If you have progressive scan output from your external DVD player, and a monitor or projector that will accept it, you'll be watching 480P. If you have a PC with a DVD player built in, you'll also be watching 480p, and bona fide 720p if you get one of the new WMV HD disks, such as Step Into Liquid (some of these new WMV HD disks are also pressed at 1080i). 

You can obtain a considerably better picture by upscaling regular 480p disks to 720p or 1080i, provided that you have a display like the PB6200 projector that can accept these higher scan rates via RGB, component, or digital inputs. The upscaling can be done in three different ways:

 -using an HTPC and appropriate upscaling software
 -using a dedicated DVD player with built in upscaling hardware (eg Zenith DVB318)
 -using an external 'black box' to upscale any video source prior to display

We'll be discussing the first two methods in this series, and I may try an external stand-alone scaler at a later time. This particular article deals with using an HTPC to process DVD video; a following article will discuss the alternative of using a dedicated DVD player (Zenith DVB 318), if you just want to watch DVD without messing around with computers at all (you'll live longer).

* * * * *

So I hooked up my PB 6200 projector to the external monitor connector, put a DVD (LOTR) into the DVD drive, and turned on the projector. The BenQ hunted briefly for an input, and promptly displayed my computer screen - nice! Whereas my Dell laptop can only display the screen content on either the LCD screen or external monitor, but not both at the same time, this new unit can display on both screens simultaneously, making it much easier to control. 

I launched Windows Media Player, started the DVD and immediately ran into the first "gotcha" ... the video portion of the screen was displayed on my laptop LCD, but the window was blank on my projector image. It turns out that the video can only run on one or the other, not both at the same time.ATI Radeon driver control panel

Fortunately, the ATI display driver has a lot of flexibility, as you can see in the driver control panel on the right, and I was able to reverse displays, making the projector the primary screen and the laptop LCD the 'external' monitor. At that point, I had the DVD output on my projector screen, running very smoothly. There is an alternative "video overlay" method of doing this with the ATI driver, but I found that reversing displays produced the best result. Later, I discovered that using only the projector connection (with the LCD laptop screen turned off) gave me an edge in processing power, which allowed 720p sources to play smoothly.

I played extensively with the resolution settings on both the laptop and the projector, but even though both are capable of 1280 x 1024, I found the best results were obtained with both units set at the native resolution of the projector @1024 x 768 (this is known as 1:1 pixel mapping).

After watching a few films, I decided I wanted more control over the picture display parameters than Windows Media Player offers, so I embarked on the long journey of finding the ultimate software player for my HTPC. I also hadn't really improved the picture quality from my Dell laptop - it was running at 1024 x 768 too. The video jerkiness problem had been solved by upgrading the Dell 333 MHz Celeron CPU to a P3 600 MHz, and both laptops were producing a similar level of quality.


I was anxious to start some upscaling experiments that I couldn't do on the Dell, and I was planning to try out Dscaler (a public domain upscaling software program), but it turned out it won't work with ATI video chipsets. So, on I went on a quest to find an alternative. There were a couple of brands of players thrown in with my laptop software bundle, but they crashed very shortly after being deployed, and they were very quickly deleted from my hard drive. I just don't have the time or patience to mess with things that don't work, and I sometimes wonder if manufacturers go to the trouble of actually having someone sit down and try out some of this stuff ...

I purchased two of the top rated DVD software players, WinDVD Platinum, then TheaterTek, and my experience with them will be the subject of the next article. In particular, I will be discussing the use of FFDshow (a third party public domain DirectX upscaling filter) with TheaterTek. The issue of getting full Dolby Digital audio out of the system also turned out to be not trivial at all, and it will also be the subject of a seperate future article. There is also another issue around PVR (Personal Video Recorders) that we will be exploring; see the Hauppauge tuner card above (it can also control your satellite or cable receiver to change channels when recording a program).

My Zenith DVB 318 1080i upscaling (Faroudja scaler chip) DVD player has arrived, and I'll be writing about that too, comparing it to the HTPC experience. It is fairly unique in that it provides the upscaled 1080i on the component output, for all of us that don't have a display that accepts DVI digital input. I am getting excellent, hassle free results with it on my PB 6200 component input.

I have heard some people say that the digital output of the Zenith at 1080i is not significantly different from the analog component output. If this is true, this may be because both outputs are a result of artificial upscaling from 480p. Keeping the signal within the digital realm may not be so important until the next (first) generation of HD DVD.

* * * * *

For the sake of clarity, here are some acronym and terminology definitions relating to the various display technologies, used in the other table below to compare the various screen types:
TLA Three Letter Acronym
HDTV High Definition Television. The highest quality video picture available in Digital TV. In the U.S., the 1080i and 720p resolution formats in a 16:9 aspect ratio are the two acceptable HDTV formats. Regular NTSC analog TV is 480i.
HTPC Home Theater Personal Computer. The use of a PC as a processing and source control platform for a home theater system.
RPTV Rear Projection TV. The type of home theater screen system where the image is projected onto the back of the screen. Can be DLP, LCD, CRT projection technology.
Lumens An ANSI Lumen is a measurement of light radiation or brightness. A 3,000 Lumen projector creates a brighter picture than a 2,000 Lumen unit. The ANSI prefix is a standards designation (American National Standards Institute).
Nits Plasma and LCD manufacturers use this term to define the brightness of their screens. Another term for Nits is Candelas per square meter (Cd/m2). One nit = 0.2919 foot-lambert. Nits includes an area definition, unlike lumens, so you can't simply divide by Watts to establish a Nits/watt spec.
480i 720p 1080p resolution measurement in lines, p for "progressive scan", i for "interlaced scan". Conventional TV (e.g. 480i) is interlaced whereby the screen is scanned twice by alternate lines that are interleaved (interlaced), whereas HDTV (e.g. 720p) can scan all lines sequentially (consecutively or progressively).
DVI HDCP Digital Visual Interface technology with High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection. Developed by Intel Corporation, HDCP is a specification to protect digital entertainment content through the DVI interface. The HDCP specification provides a transparent method for transmitting and receiving digital entertainment content to DVI-compliant digital displays. Some products, such as set-top boxes and DVD burners will require this connector. Even if you have a HDTV set-top box, if it lacks the DVI, your signal may be degraded.
HDMI High Definition Multimedia Interface. Like DVI, HDMI is another digital interface, and from what we saw at CES 2005, it may become the universal standard. Developed by Sony, Hitachi, Thomson (RCA), Philips, Matsushita (Panasonic), Toshiba and Silicon Image, the High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) has emerged as the connection standard for HDTV and the consumer electronics market. HDMI is the first digital interface to combine uncompressed high-definition video, multi-channel audio and intelligent format and command data in a single digital interface.
SACD Super Audio CD uses a new recording technology called Direct Stream Digital. DSD records a one bit digital signal at a sample rate of 2.8 million times per second, 64 times higher than conventional CD's. 
NTSC Existing color TV standard developed in the U.S. in 1953 by the National Television System Committee. NTSC vertical line resolution is 525 lines/frame and the vertical frequency is 60Hz. The NTSC frame rate is 29.97 frames/sec.
CRT Cathode Ray Tube - venerable old style picture tube
PDP Plasma Display Panel, plasma is a physics term for an electrically charged gas
LCD Liquid Crystal Display, same as laptop screens
TFT Thin Film Technology, a type of LCD
DLP Digital Light Processor, a reflective light switch chip developed by TI. Has a very fast response time - no motion lag
TI Texas Instruments Corp., original manufacturer of DMD's and DLP's
DMD Digital Micro-mirror Device - chip for DLP technology by TI
DNIe Digital Natural Image enhancement - chip for optimizing video picture quality, by Samsung (used in their DLP units)
LCoS Liquid Crystal on Silicon, reflective light switch
SXRD projection Silicon X-tal Reflective Display: Sony's incarnation of LCoS technology. Sharp picture, no pixelation, very high resolution, reflective system won't burn out picture element, "no moving parts" design usually incorporates 3 imaging chips for primary colors, instead of color wheel.
SED Surface conduction Electron emitter Display by Toshiba/Canon
FED Field Emission Display: New technology from Sony
OLED Organic Light Emitting Diode display: new technology from Seiko-Epson
D-iLA Direct Drive Image Light Amplifier, LCoS chip developed by JVC
QXGA high screen resolution of 2048 x 1536, attained by D-iLA chip
DCDi Directional Correlation Deinterlacing (a de-interlacing method to eliminate jagged edges (jaggies) along diagonal lines caused by interpolation, developed by Faroudja corp. An important feature to look for, this Emmy® award winning technology was once only available in products costing $20,000 or more, and is now available in numerous products costing well below $2,000
aspect ratio ratio of screen width to height. An aspect ratio of 4:3 is conventional TV and 16:9 is HDTV (and film)
3-2 pulldown a method of film-to-video conversion
twitter and judder   terms describing film conversion related artifacts
anamorphic lens   a special lens that compresses the pixels of a 4:3 screen into a 16:9 format, and allows a projector to use the full brightness of the display, without black bars above and below the image. Must normally be removed for regular 4:3 viewing.
SDE  Screen Door Effect is a term used to refer to the visible pixel structure on a screen.
YADR! Yet Another Dang Remote! A common exclamation heard from people who just bought their third or fourth home audio/video component. And then there are further unmentionable expletives when you find out a component isn't supported, or it's just too complicated to program everything in?? Maybe it's time to read about our experience in the remote control review article.

The following table provides a quick comparison of the display types; "pixelation" refers to the ability to see individual picture elements (pixels) at normal viewing distances (note that all the types below can contribute to the YADR index). Please note that these products are being constantly improved and not all manufacturer's models may be subject to the disadvantages listed below:

CRT conventional
picture tube
Cathode Ray Tube: very sharp and bright, high contrast ratio, good picture view from side, low cost, handles regular analog NTSC channels well, no moving parts heavy and bulky, limited in size to about 36", picture can fade 
CRT projection
low cost, large screens possible, no moving parts heavy and bulky, limited viewing angles, visible raster lines, mis-convergence can be a problem, picture can fade over time 
LCD flat screen panel Liquid Crystal Display: bright, sharp picture, light and compact, can hang on wall, solid state, no moving parts picture can fade over time
LCD projection fairly bright, large screens possible, sharp picture, no moving parts display can fade due to heat damage to organic compounds that some manufacturers use in the LCD, projector bulb can fail
PDP Plasma flat screen panel Plasma Display Panel: bright picture, light and compact, can hang on wall, wide viewing angle, no moving parts, handles fast motion really well expensive, some pixelation, display can burn out.
DLP projection Digital Light Processor: bright, sharp picture, high contrast, no  pixelation, reflective system won't burn out picture element, very fast response time - no motion lag. possible visual "rainbow" artifacts on single chip versions caused by spinning color wheel, projector bulb can fail
LCoS projection Liquid Crystal on Silicon: bright, sharp picture, no pixelation, very high resolution, reflective system won't burn out picture element, "no moving parts" design usually incorporates 3 imaging chips for primary colors, instead of color wheel. projector bulb can fail
SXRD projection Silicon X-tal Reflective Display: Sony's incarnation of LCoS technology. Sharp picture, no pixelation, very high resolution, reflective system won't burn out picture element, "no moving parts" design usually incorporates 3 imaging chips for primary colors, instead of color wheel. projector bulb can fail
SED panel display Surface conduction Electron emitter Display: very bright picture, very high resolution, can hang on wall, very high contrast ratio, can be viewed from any angle, no moving parts, handles fast motion really well expensive at first, not available yet
FED panel display Field Emission Display: New technology from Sony, properties are similar to SED expensive at first, not available yet
OLED panel display Organic Light Emitting Diode display: new technology from Seiko-Epson expensive at first, not available yet

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