I came back from Taipei, and instead of an Asus Eee Box I dreamt about, I got a much cheaper box with much better specs: the Acer Aspire Revo. For around 180 Euro this is what I got:
- Intel Atom 230 1.6GHz
- 2GB DDR2 RAM
- 250 GB HDD
- nVidia ION Integrated with HDMI
- Wifi b/g/draft-N
- 6 USB ports, 1 eSATA, 1 SD-HC card reader, 1 Gigabit Ethernet port
- Wireless Keyboard and Mouse
- Linux RevoBoot
A pretty good price for what is inside this box. The Linux RevoBoot is not a serious distro. It is just provided to be easily replaced by whatever OS you plan to install.
I did install a Windows 7 RC on the HDD, and an XMBC Live on a SD-HC card. By pressing F12 at start up, you can choose which OS to boot from. Connected to a 50″ LCD screen through HDMI at 1080p, it looks pretty cool as a STB.
In order to enjoy HD video payed from this box, it is important to know that the Media Player software needs to be capable to use the hardware video acceleration, that is, able to off-load video decoding tasks to the nVidia ION GPU. The Intel Atom 230 processor by itself will not be able to decode HD smoothly without losing frames.
As of today that means that:
- On Windows, the media player must support DVXA (DirectX Video Acceleration):
Windows Media Player supports DVXA ONLY for Windows Media Video. A popular player like VLC, does NOT support DVXA. Boxee for Windows does not support DVXA either. I did installed Media Player Classic – Home Cinema, which supports video acceleration for h264, the codec normally used in Matroska popular HD video downloads.
- On Linux, the media player must support VDPAU (Video Decode and Presentation API for UNIX), which is the case for MPlayer ot MythTV, and specially by the XBMC Media Center and Boxee, the favorites media centers of the Linux crowd.
Unfortunately Flash does NOT support HW acceleration, and that means that most online video does NOT play totally smooth on the Revo. Adobe and nVidia are said to be working on it.
All in all, a good box to attach to your LCD TV and control with the wireless keyboard and mouse from the sofa. Great performance as a Media Center for your media library, but with shortcomings to enjoy online video on your TV.
This is the main drawback of boxes like the Revo and the Eee Box with an Atom processor that has trouble playing Flash video encoded in h264. A Mac Mini, woudl not have that problem, but it would cost 3 times the price.
Another thing to note is the poor Wireless-N performance of the Revo. If you do not have Ethernet wiring to your living room, you’d better budget for HomePlug adapters instead of a Wireless-N router upgrade.