Tag Archives: media center

Aspire Revo: The Ultimate STB?

aspire-revo

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.

The Ultimate STB!

I will be in Taiwan in a few days, and I do not plan to leave without one of these boxes. I already posted about it. The newest Asus Eee Box is a great product. Small-form that can be (VESA) mounted on the back of the TV, quiet, low power, Wifi-n for true multimedia without wires, HDMI and SPDIF output…  and it is much more affordable than a Mac Mini.

I have not found any cons yet. And what’s more, see the video clip for the Eee Stick, the killer accesory to control the Eee Box from the sofa.

Install the Boxee version for Windows XP, or simply “tune-in” into http://www.youtube.com/xl for your Online Video experience on the TV.

Boxee: Hulu’s Dilemma

Boxee is getting so successful that many of its users are seriously considering to stop their Pay-TV subscriptions.

Boxee is a cool open source software for Media Centers based on Mac or Ubuntu. This software transforms a Mac Mini, Apple TV or any Linux small-form PC into a social network  set-top-box. With a great user interface, Boxee enables you to enjoy on your TV not only your media library but also online video such as YouTube and Hulu, as you interact with your buddies.

Hulu -the joint venture of NBC Universal and News Corp- offers a sensational online catalog of  TV shows from their parent companies and others, that has made their user growth in 2008 stunning.

Such is the success of the Boxee-Hulu combination that Hulu’s content providers have requested Hulu to be removed from Boxee,  in an attempt to stop cannibalizing their traditional revenues from TV ads and Cable networks.

Again the traditional Innovator’s dilemma in front of a disruptive threat. Innovate first and cannibalize yourself? or wait and risk to be eaten by others with less to lose?

NBC and News Corp might worry about Online TV in the short-term, but in the long-run it will ony bring good news:

  • CPM of Online TV should be higher than traditional TV. As marketers say, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”. Online TV ads can be targeted to specific viewers.  Interactive responses can be measured. That should  reduce wasted ads, and therefore advertisers will be ready to pay more for an Online TV Ad.
  • Online TV might display less ads per show than traditional TV, but ads are at least seen.  A way to avoid all the wasted ads wiped out by DVRs and Tivos.
  • Online TV can enable Content Providers to sell subscriptions for premium content and VoD directly to the user without any Cable intermediary.

If Hulu is able to build a stronghold in online TV, they will capture all the benefits of a richer online TV in the long-run.

The ones to worry about Boxee are the Cable and IPTV operators that will need to ad significant value to avoid being by-passed by over-the-top solutions such as Boxee, and dumped by their customers. There is time. Boxee is great, but still for Mac or Linux geeks, a minority.

“The question is not whether Telcos want to be a dumb or a smart pipe. They are already a dumb pipe. The question is do they want to be something else on top?”

Max Foresite – Telecom, Internet & Media Analyst

The Ultimate Media Center from Asus

Taiwanese vendor Asus brought the Netbooks to mainstream with their popular Eee PC, leading the way for other manufacturers to jump into a now crowded category. Following that success, Asus introduced a small-form-factor desktop, the Eee Box, creating a new NetTop category, that so far has failed to take off.

But this could soon change with Asus recent announcement of the new Eee Box B204 and B206 models.  The new models are powered with an ATI HD graphics cards that delivers High Definition video through an HDMI port. Asus completes its box Media Center capabilities adding their Eee Cinema software controlled by a remote control, for a complete home theater experience.

The tiny Eee Box can be VESA mounted on the back of a display, it is quiet (26 dB) and consumes only 20 watts of power! An ideal box for a Media Center front-end, to play content from a media library on a back-end Home Media Server (NAS or Desktop), as well as being an ideal device to enjoy Internet TV (Hulu, YouTube, etc) and Amazon Unbox downloads in the living-room.

Asus has not unveiled the price of these new models yet, but if it is close to the $300 of previous Eee Box models, this could be the ultimate box for a PC2TV / HTPC / Media Center solution.

Still to be seen if the 1.6GHz Atom would be capable of any TV recording, but even it is not, the B204 and B206 boxes are still great lightweight front-end solutions.

Specifications from Asus website:

Model B204 B206
Operating System Microsoft Windows XP Home Microsoft Windows XP Home
CPU Intel Atom N270 (1.6GHz) Intel Atom N270 (1.6GHz)
Chipset Intel Chipset Intel Chipset
Graphics ATI Radeon HD 3400 series with 256MB DDR2 memory ATI Radeon HD 3400 series with 256MB DDR2 memory
DIMM DDR2 SO-DIMM 1GB DDR2 SO-DIMM 1GB
Storage 160GB HDD SATA II 5,400rpm
10GB Eee Storage
160GB HDD SATA II 5,400rpm
10GB Eee Storage
Card Reader SD/SDHC/MS/MS Pro/MMC SD/SDHC/MS/MS Pro/MMC
Bluetooth Yes No
Wireless 802.11n 802.11n
LAN 10/100/1000Mbps 10/100/1000Mbps
Audio Chip Realtek ALC662 Azalia CODEC Realtek ALC662 Azalia CODEC
Rear I/O Giga LAN x 1, USB 2.0 x 4 Giga LAN x 1, USB 2.0 x 4
Video out: HDMI port x1 / DVI-D port (through adapter)
Audio ports x 1 (with S/PDIF out)
Video out: HDMI port x1 / DVI-D port (through adapter)
Audio ports x 1 (with S/PDIF out)
Other Built-in battery that performs a U.P.S. function N/A
Accessories Remote control, stylish stand and 36W adapter Remote control, stylish stand and 36W adapter

Video: Linux MCE vs Microsoft MCE and other alternatives

Two more impressive videos to enjoy with the possibilities of Linux MCE.

Many people will be reluctant to move to linux because of lack of official support. Yet you can get tons of support from the many Linux Forums.

On the other side, other options fighting to be the center of home entertainment have significant flaws:
– apart from the infamous red circle of death, the Xbox 360 does not support Xvid and Divx, so a big part of my media library in my PC can not be accessed from the Xbox 360 in the living room – unless trancoded, with loss of quality.
PS3. No support either from Xvid and DivX. The interesting alternative is to install Linux on the PS3, and use VLC to watch your media
Wii is not really an option as a Media Extender. You can only receive streamed video by installing ORB on your streaming PC, set videos to transcode to flash, and access them from the Opera browser in the Wii. Low quality video and no convenient access to library
KiSS Players. Not a bad option, but until recently the SW to install on your PC was not Vista compatible
Apple TV. No Xvid, nor DivX, and no games…Nice design but not open. Not taken seriously by Apple.

Linux MCE will let you easily record TV shows, rip your music and DVD to your media storage with no DRM issues, and on top it will integrate with Home Automation systems and Voice over IP providers (e.g. FWD) among other possibilities.

Linux MCE Video Demo: Impressive!

You can download this video in high-def with the text sharp and readable: http://wiki.linuxmce.com/index.php/Video

Running on Kubuntu, Linux MCE is probably the most advance Media center in the market, and probably the best option for your digital home… if you are a Linux savvy.
I must admit that installation for the Linux MCE is straight-forward. Now, the configuration of many of the features in the video, including simply to discover media in other PCs in your network, might take some more time and IT skills.

Nonetheless if I get it to do what it promises, this is really the Media Center and Home Automation system of my dreams.

There is a more simple option that installing yourself:  Fiire builds HW with Linux MCE pre-installed. Fiire is the vendor of the gyro and the thin media extenders in the demo video.

Although somehow overpriced, I must admit that the product definition from the Fiire guys is outstanding.