What is a HTPC anyways?
Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series? Catch up on them here:
- Cutting the Cord Part 1: The Assessment
- Cutting the Cord Part 2: Building your HTPC – The Hardware
- Cutting the Cord Part 3: Building your HTPC – OS Install and Tuning
- Cutting the Cord Part 4: Building your HTPC – Installing and Configuring Windows Media Center
- Cutting the Cord Part 5: Wrap up - Media Center Add-ons and Options
Continuing with our series on Cutting the Cord and building your own HTPC, we move beyond the "Assessment Phase" we discussed in part one and into the realm of actually building your own Home Theater PC with Windows 7 Media Center. In Part 2, we walk through our hardware picks for our HTPC. But before we dive headlong into that, I need to get something off my chest.
My Experience: /rant on. When I first planned to write this article, I thought it would be interesting to write a new HTPC building guide soon after Windows 8 was released in order to spotlight Windows 8 Media Center. While I initially had some concerns with Microsoft’s choice of separating Media Center from Windows 8 itself, and some other issues I heard rumor of, my own experience attempting to build a Windows 8 Media Center would push this long time Microsoft fan to the limits. Long story short, I spent nearly two days working up the article and building a Windows 8 Media Center only to come to terms with the fact that Microsoft has so jacked with some of the key features of Media Center in Windows 8 that I can’t recommend anyone use it. With that being said, I had to start over from scratch, rebuilding my HTPC with Windows 7 and doing a complete rewrite of the article. I want to thank Microsoft for showing us that they care more about cramming the Metro UI down our throats than they care about the passionate Media Center community that has rallied around and supported them these many years. Anyways, /rant off and back to our previously schedule HTPC building guide.
The market is currently littered with all manners of bringing content to your television set. There are devices that help you manage your current cable/satellite television subscription such as TiVo, Xbox with Verizon FIOS, Xbox with Comcast XFinity, or even the Google TV . There’s devices out there that give you access to additional features above and beyond your television viewing such as the Apple TV, the Roku, or the Boxee Box. There’s even a slew of “Smart TV’s” and Streaming Sticks that will turn any TV into a Smart TV that are loaded with applications to overlay content or get access to other services. For the hardcore DiY crowd, there’s also some other options to build your own devices with distributions like MythTV or XBMC (Xbox Media Center).
With so many new boxes, devices and options hitting the street just about every day and it’s easy to get lost in the flood of options. Luckily Veronica Belmont’s Mega Set Top Box List is still being maintained and has some great information to help you weed through the mess.
With so many options, many of which are $100 or less, you’d think that building a $500-$700 Media Center PC is overkill. Unfortunately many of these devices will not do everything you want them to do and I’ve not found anything that combines all the capabilities and functions I wanted into a single package as good as Windows Media Center (though the new Boxee TV Box might be a new contender on the block.) Building and running your own Media Center offers the flexibility and power all in one package to meet every scenario you could throw at it. You’re not stuck waiting for some developer to get around to writing new firmware or applications to add in support for what you want. If you can View, Read or Watch it on a Windows desktop, then you can most likely get it working directly through Windows Media Center. I still don’t understand why Microsoft hasn’t licensed or even produced their own device with their excellent Media Center UI.
Subject: General Tech | November 7, 2012 - 11:51 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: servers, linux foundation, linux, hp, hardware
The Linux Foundation announced today that PC OEM Hewlett-Packard (HP) is upgrading its membership status to Platinum – highest level of membership. HP joins Fujitsu, IBM, Intel, NEC, Oracle, Qualcomm Innovation Center, and Samsung.
As a Platinum member, HP will have a seat on the Linux Foundation’s Board of Directors and will be able to influence the future direction of the organization. Reportedly, the OEM is making Linux a priority and is looking to further integrate the open source software into its hardware offerings. For $500,000 a year, HP will also be given priority at events like LinuxCon. HP's branding will also be on the Linux Foundation site and as sponsors at any events.
According to Jim Zemlin, the executive director of The Linux Foundation:
“With one of the richest and most recognized stories in technology, HP has a history of innovation and market success. Because of this history and innate knowledge of software development, HP understands that Linux and collaborative development can benefit its business across its product portfolio. We’re looking forward to the work we can accomplish with HP.”
It is certainly an interesting move, and hopefully one that means HP wants to commit more to the direction of Linx and its adoption on HP hardware. You can find the full press release on the Linux Foundation's website.
Subject: General Tech | September 14, 2012 - 06:48 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: Z77, Sabertooth, hardware, contest, asus, 660ti
Today ASUS kicked off a new PC building contest where they are offering up hardware and gift cards to winners. Called the ASUS Skills Challenge, the hardware company is challenging enthusiasts to time themselves building a computer, and the three fastest times will get Newegg cards and hardware grab bags. In addition, the PC builder that puts their computer together faster than JJ from ASUS will win a grand prize.
Prizes for the Skill Challenge include:
- The enthusiast that builds their PC faster than JJ wins a grand prize that includes all of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes as well as a "top of the line" ASUS grab bag.
The fastest build time of all entrants, 1st place prize:
- ASUS Sabertooth Z77 Motherboard, ASUS GTX 660Ti, and a $500 Newegg gift card.
The second fastest build time, 2nd place prize:
- ASUS grab bag and a $250 Newegg gift card.
The third fastest build time, 3rd place prize:
- ASUS grab bag and a $100 Newegg gift card.
Alternatively, ASUS is offering up a random prize draw as well for those that want a chance to win without entering the speed building contest. In the random prize draw, one entrant will be chosen, and ASUS will award the winner with a $100 Newegg gift card and an ASUS grab bag.
The contest begins today and will end on October 14th, 2012 at 5:00 PM PDT. To enter, you will need to "Like" this ASUS Skills Challenge contest page, and then provide the company with your name, birthday, and email. If you are doing the building challenge, you will further need to provide an unedited video of yourself assembling a PC with a timer of some sort in the foreground.
Basic contest rules are that you be at least 18 years old, and live within the United States or Canada. If you do not use Facebook, you can also enter the contest on this webpage. The winner list will be posted on the app on (or before) October 19, 2012.
You can find the official rules on the contest page. Best of luck in winning some ASUS hardware!
Introduction, expert discussion panels, hardware workshop
The final day of Quakecon 2012 featured more expert discussion panels from leaders in the gaming industry about the latest games people at Quakecon were excited about like Dishonored, Halo 4, and Borderlands 2 to name a few. We also hosted our annual hardware workshop and gave away more than $30,000 worth of hardware and prizes to over 2,000 workshop attendees!
The BYOC area and exhibit hall also reached capacity for Quakecon attendees to see the semi-finals for the annual Bawls chugging competition and play in Tribes: Ascend mini tournaments at the Alienware exhibit. We also got a demonstration of John Carmack's original prototype virtual reality headset that he initially debuted at E3 this year. Carmack is working with Oculus Rift to design VR headsets for gaming that include stereoscopic 3D and a wide 110-degree field of view. The day concluded with a huge party to watch the annual case mod contest finals, Bawls chugging finals, and Quake Live finals.
Subject: General Tech | July 7, 2012 - 05:32 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: motherboard, hidden gems, hardware, gigabyte, contest
Motherboard manufacturer Gigabyte is currently running its Hidden Gems contest asking for users to submit photos of their old and trusty Gigabyte-based computers. On August 10th, they will pick three winners who will receive brand new Gigabyte motherboards. The contest ends July 31st, 2012 and winners will be chosen on August 10th. For those curious it does involve “liking” Gigabyte on Facebook, and you must be at least 17 years old. It is unclear but does indeed seem to be open to those outside the United States.
According to Gigabyte, it is running the contest to celebrate “our illustrious history as the leading motherboard manufacturer.” The company wants its users and fans to dig up old photos or videos of their old Gigabyte motherboards and computers. Those photos will then be shared with other contest entrants where they can be talked about and voted on.
After liking the Gigabyte Motherboard Tech Column Facebook page, you can navigate to its website and upload a photo or video of your Gigabyte PC. The Grand Prize will be awarded to the submission that gets the most votes while the “Team Gigabyte” prize will be given to the users chosen by the Gigabyte team. Finally, the “Most Deserving of an Upgrade” prize will be awarded to the entry that shows off the oldest motherboard.
The Grand Prize winner will receive a G1.Sniper M3 motherboard – which we recently reviewed. It is a micro ATX socket 1155 motherboard that features Intel’s Z77 Express chipset and support for its Ivy Bridge processors. It has four DDR3 DIMM slots, one PCI-E x1 and three PCI-E x16 slots. Rear IO includes four USB 2.0, two USB 3.0, a PS/2 port, and VGA, DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort video outputs. The G1.Sniper M3 also features eSATA, Gigabit Ethernet, optical audio output, and 5 channel analog audio output.
For the Team Gigabyte prize, the winner will receive the Gigabyte Z77X-UD3H motherboard which is an Ivy Bridge compatible board that supports up to 32GB (4x8GB) of DDR3 memory, two PCI-E 3.0 x16 slots, Gigabit Ethernet, 7.1 channel analog audio output, 8 USB 3.0 ports, and six USB 2.0 ports. This board is regular ATX sized which accounts for the increased expandability.
Last but not least is the “Most Deserving of an Upgrade” prize. The winner will be given a Gigabyte B75M-D3H motherboard. This motherboard is powered by the B75 chipset and features an LGA 1155 socket, four DDR3 DIMM slots, two PCI-E x16 slots, two PCI slots, one SATA 6Gbps port, and five SATA 3Gbps ports. Rear IO includes a PS/2 port, four USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, VGA port, HDMI port, Gigabit Ethernet, and three analog audio jacks.
If you aren’t against using Facebook and have some Gigabyte motherboards around, it might be worth checking out. Just remember to get your entries in before July 31, 2012 if you do want a chance to win. More information can be found on the Hidden Gems contest page at event.gigabyte.com/hidden_gems/.
Subject: General Tech | May 4, 2012 - 12:02 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: Raspberry Pi, hardware, embedded systems, arm
It is not often the tech community gets excited about a minimalist piece of hardware like the Raspberry Pi; unless you follow Limor Fried it is unlikely you are even aware of the last time a new Arduino shield was released or just what you can stick in an Altoids tin. Be that as it may, the $35 Raspberry Pi has been making news and peaking the interest of a large range of people. The specs don't stand up if you compare them to a netbook but the footprint on the Pi is much smaller, at 85.60mm x 53.98mm x 17mm. Both models are powered with a 700MHz ARM1176JZF-S CPU core, 256MB of RAM and a Broadcom VideoCore IV GPU with the Model A lacking ethernet and a single USB 2.0 port, the Model B has 2 USB ports and ethernet. Tim has been covering the troubled path to retail for the Pi but has yet to get his hands on one. TechSpot did get a hold of the Model B and put together a brief tutorial covering the basics of setting up your Pi but they can't really show you how to use it, as the entire point of the Pi is that it is a flexible platform that is probably capable of fulfilling anything you can imagine a low powered system could do.
"When the first 10,000 devices shipped in mid-April, the organization graciously sent us a sample for coverage. Along with a hands-on review of the Pi, today we'll be covering basic steps for setting up the computer and other elemental post-installation tasks to get you up and running with applications. In other words, this should serve as a starting point no matter what you want to do with your Raspberry Pi."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Emilio Ghilardi leaves AMD @ SemiAccurate
- AMD may be able to increase server platform global market share through joining OCP @ DigiTimes
- DeployStudio: Heavy-duty imaging software for OS X @ Ars Technica
- AMD’s Chuck Moore has passed away @ SemiAccurate
- Fairly simple hack makes Samsung TVs reboot forever @ Hack a Day
- Printing point-to-point circuits on a 3D printer @ Hack a Day
- Microsoft Windows 8: Mostly A Crap Wreck @ Phoronix
- Samsung Galaxy SIII / S3: Product Overview, Specs and Pricing @ Tech-Reviews
Subject: General Tech | April 24, 2012 - 08:28 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: Raspberry Pi, hardware, embedded systems, arm
We’ve been covering the Raspberry Pi computer for quite some time now, and after a slew of delays the boards are finally shipping. UK based hardware site Bit-Tech has managed to snag one of the Model B Raspberry Pi boards and recently posted a review of the small ARM computer.
They do note that the ARM11 processor leaves a lot of performance to be desired, but no other boards offer the same features for the price. Once software matures to the point that hardware accelerated drivers are available out of the box, the user experience should improve. Also, the relatively powerful Videocore IV GPU will really start to shine.
Head on over to see how they tested the board, what sort of overclocking headroom the SoC has, and what their final verdict is!
Further Raspberry Pi coverage:
- Raspberry Pi Delays
- Raspberry Pi Passes EM Interference Testing
- Raspberry Pi Computers Have an Operating System For Everyone
- A Case for the Raspberry Pi
- Raspberry Pi Deliveries Finally Going Out
Anyone else still waiting on their slice of Pi to arrive in the mail?
In a recent press release, Zotac unveiled three new ZBox small form factor computers, including one PC that features a blu-ray optical drive. Specifically, the new models include the ZBOX ID82, ZBOX Nano ID61, and the ZBOX Blu-ray AD05. In addition, the company offers "plus" versions of the three ZBOX computers that add 2GB of RAM and a 320 GB hard drive to the hardware package. Carsten Berger, marketing director for ZOTAC stated that the company is constantly pushing the small form factor envelope and the latest Intel Core i3 Sandy Bridge processors "enables us to give demanding users the performance edge they need."
The ZBOX Nano ID61
The ZBOX ID61 is the smallest of the three PCs and is the latest in their Nano form factor. It is powered by a dual core Intel Celeron 867 processor, a single DDR3 SO-DIMM slots, and an integrated multimedia card reader. Connections include HDMI, Displayport, 2 USB 3.0, two USB 2.0, 1 eSATA port, Bluetooth 3.0, and a built in IR receiver. The ID61 plus further features 2 GB of DDR3 1333 MHz laptop RAM and a 320 GB SATA III (6Gbps) hard drive.
The ZBOX ID82
The ID82 represents the latest ZBOX PC, and while it is a big bulkier than the Nano series, it packs a lot more punch with an Intel Sandy Bridge Core i3-2330. The new Intel CPU is a dual core 2.2 GHz processor which further includes Hyper-Threading tech for a total of four virtual cores. Further, the PC has two DDR3 SO-DIMM slots, two USB 3.0 ports, four USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, DVI-I, and Bluetooth 3.0. The ZBOX ID82 Plus includes 2 GB of DDR3 RAM and a 320 GB laptop hard drive.
The ZBOX Blu-ray AD05
Finally, the ZBOX Blu-ray AD05 is a small form factor PC that moves to AMD for their processor and GPU with the AMD E-450 APU with integrated Radeon 6320 GPU. The extra hardware horsepower provides the "oomph" needed to support smooth blu-ray playback. The mini PC holds a 4x Blu-ray reader that doubles as a 8x DVD +/- writer. It includes support for two DDR3 SO-DIMM slots and an 2.5" SATA II hard drive. Connections include HDMI, DVI, two USB 3.0, one USB 2.0, and one combo USB 2.0/eSATA port. The ZBOX Blu-ray AD05 Plus version further includes 2 GB of memory and a 320 GB hard drive.
All three of the mini ZOTAC ZBOX PCs (wow, that's a lot of caps) also feature Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and a bundled Media Center remote and USB IR receiver. No matter the model, the user is still responsible for providing an OS as one does not come bundled. Unfortunately, there is no word on pricing or availability.
Subject: General Tech | November 1, 2011 - 08:25 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: windows 8, tablet, software, kal-el, hardware, Android
With Asus’ previous tablets being a success, the company has decided to push forward with four new tablets that are slated to debut next year. The new tablets will join the ranks of the Transformer and soon to be released Transformer Prime tablets under the Asus Eee Pad lineup. Of the four new devices, two tablets will be running Google’s Android OS (Operating System) while the remaining two tablets will run Microsoft’s Windows 8 OS.
The two tablets running Android are slated for release in the first quarter of 2012. While Asus has not released any specific hardware specifications, they will likely be powered by the quad core Nvidia Kal-El ARM processor like the upcoming Asus Transformer Prime (or the Kal-El’s successor).
On the other hand, quarter 3 of 2012 will see the release of two tablets running Windows 8. Interestingly, Intel’s Ivy Bridge processors are also supposed to launch in 2012, which would make for a nice match of technology. Whether we'll see Ivy Bridge powered tablets; however, will depend on how soon Ivy Bridge launches and how quickly Asus can turn around and roll out a product designed around it.
The marketing speak in the above slides indicates that at least the marketing department is excited about the prospect of what they have dubbed hero products. They are striving to win mind share and achieve a “perfect” product. Whether they will achieve that or not remains to be seen; however, having more Windows 8 tablets isn’t a bad thing! More information can be had here.
Are you still holding out for your “perfect” tablet, and if so what are you looking/waiting to see from a tablet?
Subject: General Tech | November 1, 2011 - 03:58 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: webOS, software, hp, hardware, computers
In a move by HP that is becoming less surprising by the day, the company has reconsidered (yet again) its position on WebOS and will be keeping WebOS hardware and software around for the foreseeable future (or at least until their next announcement).
Although several tech sites reported last week that WebOS would soon be getting a final nail in the coffin and abandoned by HP, Vice President (for the Personal Systems Group) Todd Bradley stated the exact opposite sentiment in an interview recently.
3 heads of a dragon all going different directions... sound familiar HP?
Specifically, Mr. Bradley appeared on the television show Bloomberg West to talk about the company’s plans to keep the PSG (Personal Systems Group) part of the company. When questioned about WebOS, he stated that the various reports on HP shutting down the WebOS division were “unfounded rumor(s).” He further stated that HP is in fact continuing to invest in WebOS software and WebOS hardware. You can see a video of the full interview here (fair warning: the video is set to auto-play on the site).
Speaking of WebOS, Best Buy has recently snagged Touchpads while HP itself has depleted its inventory. Unfortunately, Best Buy is only willing to sell the HP Touchpads to customers who also purchase a HP or Compaq laptop or All-In-One computer, at least if you want a reasonable price on the units. More information on that can be found over at Maximum PC.
Any bets on how soon it will be before HP changes directions yet again and I have to eat my words?