buying a non-laptop PC for VLOBLIVE use

Laptops are great for use at a portable VLOBLIVE gig.

If, however you are looking to make a more permanent installation, or you are using the PC as the video scaler (See this entry for details) then you are pretty much stuck with a ‘desktop’ PC (there are very few, if any analogue video capture cards that work in a PC Card slot in a laptop). Here are some tips for configuring a portable media PC for VLOBLIVE use…

There’s nothing worse than lugging a big muckle PC tower to and from gigs, so I suggest you follow the example of Newtek and look for a Small Footprint PC case (SFP) like Shuttle cases that are nice and wee, can be locked using a leash like a laptop and would let you put a good dual-head graphics card (PCI Express slot) and video capture card (PCI card) in.Here is a review of just such a shuttle box.

Note that most of these SFP PCs come are ‘barebones’ systems that have to be configured, so unless you are pretty sure what you are doing, it would be best to get an integrator to do it for you.

Stuff to watch for:

  • You don’t necessarily need the absolute fastest CPU – anything up around 3GHz is fine. CPU prices ramp steeply past a certain point, so don’t spend more than you have to.
  • Having two HDs (even if they are smaller) is better for video than one monster one. A 120GB system one and a 200GB media one for example (Rather than one 250GB). SATA is preferred.
  • MAKE SURE that you specify a properdualhead graphics card and MAKE SURE it will fit in the box (including the heatsink!). Be careful as a lot of graphics cards have DVI and VGA connectors but are NOT proper dualhead cards.
  • Get plenty of RAM, especially if you are switching between apps – min 1GB DRAM.
  • Consider fitting two DVD drives if you plan on running projection software that lets you access DVD clips directly. This means you can have two commercial movies cued at once (without worrying about ripping VIDEO_TS folders etc.)
  • If you can afford it I would recommend fitting a DVD writer (mainly to backup all your media files, coz you’re going to HATE it if this PC dies or gets nicked.)
  • Get it with XP Pro (not home) as you might need to use the remote desktop feature (connect remotely over ethernet from another PC) for doing clever stuff to control it.
  • Forget the floppy – waste of time these
    days – get a multi memory card reader instead so you can read images out of a DSC.
  • Watch out for fan noise – try to go for one that has as many ‘silent’ features as possible. Generally the ones targetted at media centres are along the right lines. 

that’s it – just some pointers

P.S. If the Mac Mini could drive two screens, then I would recommend that instead,
but for the moment it doesn’t. Of course you could use a Matrox dualhead adapter to drive two screens from a mac mini!!


One Response to buying a non-laptop PC for VLOBLIVE use

  1. Mike says:

    The entry on de-interlacing is on your old blog, so I’m posting here.

    I found a program to convert video to VGA (including de-interlacing!) using an XP machine as a scaler.

    It’s called AMcap and it’s at:

    It’s scaling my dv camera full-screen right now, and I will try my analog to dv converter later today. With the Matrox dualhead adapter, it might even stretch the input across two screens.

    It also looks like I can get an expresscard video capture card for my laptop for $32…since the program uses Directshow, any XP video capture card should work.

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