Best way to set up computer server on the cheap?

I recently got a cheap but new PC with XP home which has a cd/dvd burner in it, and I really like the xp media server interface and am thinking of using a computer to take the place of some or all of my mid to high end front end of my home theater.
1. Where can I find "starter" info on the most cost effective way to do this and get comparible performance to my existing front end which is currently the NAD 585 universal player(1k) and I have used the Yamaha Musiccast as a music server....
2. Can I expect to get ok sound just by adding a descent sound card and coax digital connection to my Arcam AVR300 and use it as the DAC?
3. If so, which sound card?
If I can better the Yamaha's sound for library music, I would be happy for starters, as I expect to still have to use a good dvd player to get ok video scaling for my LG 50" plasma, OR will I?
Any help for these question would be greatly appreciated....Thanks
I would answer #2 and #3 as yes, and the M-Audio 24/96 sound card. Relatively cheap, easy to install, allows for direct bit-streaming. New is around $149, though ebay would undoubtedly do better than that.

The cheapest way to do what you're suggesting is to use Windows Media Player and the purchased sound card. WMP can rip the music to your hard drive, and provide the playback interface. My guess is that you'll get very good sound out of this setup. There are many threads on other tools for ripping / playing back, and all the benefits of getting away from WMP - many of the tools are free. Basically, all you need is some time to experiment and an internet connection, in addition to a way to generate a direct bit-stream feed out of the computer, and you're good to go.
I am using a PC with windows XP as a music server (no video - it's too old!).
I use a soundcard with optical output (chaintech 7.1 channel - 20 bucks on ebay) and an external DAC (the beresford tc-7510 ~150$ from
Its a killer DAC which is nearly as good as the benchmark.
EAC to rip tunes using flac.
FooBar2000 to play tunes.
I tried the kernel streaming bypass but it just slowed down my machine with no noticable difference in sound.
In any case, the sound from my setup is easily as good as my rotel CDP and is much better for enjoying my whole cd collection.
If you're willing to use iTunes, and rip everything into Aiff or 320kbps MP3, you can get an Airport Express for $90 and stream everything wirelessly.

It's got a built in DAC, probably not the best, but better than nothing, or you can connect via optical into your system.

See how it works out, it's only $90 and really convenient. Especially if you eventually end up getting a laptop. I love my Macbook, but all this stuff works for PC as well.
1. One of the best sources of information I know of is the "PC Audio" forum of A'gon (just a click or two away). There is much more information and discussion related to your questions there than on the "Digital" forum of A’gon.

2. It's my understanding that because of interference generated inside the computer, internal sound cards (even those with SPDIF outputs) are the worst option for getting PCM out of the computer. The best option is to get the PCM out using USB. Some people use USB DACs which put out analogue. Other people use USB converters which put out SPDIF. I am in that camp. I use a USB converter which delivers digital or optical output to my stand alone DAC which in turn is hooked to my pre-amp. But I have also hooked the USB converter to the digital inputs of my AV Receiver and gotten very good sound.

3. IMO if you are going to spend a couple of hundred dollars to deliver good PCM data to your Receiver you should buy a good USB converter rather than an internal sound card.

Like you, I’m keeping my stand alone DVD player a while longer. IMO there are no “killer aps” out there that justify converting my computer to a Home Theater PC. I do have one system that combines audio and video. But in that system I send video from the DVD to the LCD and send audio from the DVD to the receiver.

But before you spend any money check out the PC Audio forum on Audiogon.

Welcome aboard the HTPC train!!
Well for starters to get the best out of the PC for audio you need to use an outboard Dac or a USB converter.The other option is go wireless.

For movie and basic music playback, the PC's SPDIF out is just fine. You'll probably be happy with it compared to the Yamaha music cast system.

Also you'll be very surprised at how good your PC can do video or DVD playback. I don't know what type of PC you have or the video card. But you need an HDCP compliant video card.
I say this because if you plan to use this PC for Blu ray playback in the future..this is a must.

You can go to Cyberlink and download the Cyberlink BD advisor
. This will check your PC to make sure it has an HDCP compliant video card and also make sure you have the proper memory and processing speeds to handle Blu ray playback.

If it is a fairly new PC, it is probably already setup for this.

I personally have no use for a separate DVD player. The PC does just as well of a job and does it with more features as a whole. Th only draw back is, if your video card doesn't have true HDMI sound and video output. You can't play the HD codecs. It will down convert the format so your SPDIF can handle the signal. You'll still get the Hi Def video from the HDMI connection however.

Stock your PC has a DVI output. This will give you Hi Def picture..just no sound through this connection. You can buy a DVI to HDMI adapter along with an HDMI cable and hook this to your Plasma.

If you do not have a processor that can decode the new HD audio formats..this really isn't a big deal. Remember you'll still get DTS and Dolby digital sound if the BR disc has it out of your PC's SPDIF output.

You can download all sorts of codecs making your PC able to playback movies from any place on earth! No region code problems when using a PC.

K lite codecs is a good place to start. This is something the average stand alone players can't do. You can play DVDs or Blu rays from any region.

In the future you can upgrade the sound card to true HDMI output... once the prices of these video cards come down.

You can install a Blu ray drive for as little as $125.00. This is a lot cheaper than $400 for the average stand alone. It will play your standard DVDs as well.

So far the highest bit video processor I've seen used in stand alone BR players is 10 Bit and 12 bit/ 297 Mhz video processing. That's Denon's 3800 and the Pioneer BDP-51FD.

You have separate video cards you can install yourself that will easily exceed this climbing pass 400 bits in processing power. The average PC video cards more than double the processing speed of the standalone players currently on the market.

So in short...I wouldn't worry about picture'll be pleased with the proper video card. There's a lot more you can do. These few suggestions are to get you started.

You can increase your audio performance going with a different audio player like J. River media center. or Amazon is a good place to get a Blu Ray drive.