Valve and Gabe Newell Confirm Steam Box for Living Room PC Gaming

Subject: General Tech | December 11, 2012 - 01:47 PM |
Tagged: valve, steambox, Steam Box, steam, htpc, gaben, Gabe Newell, big picture mode

Well it finally happened this week - Gabe Newell confirmed what we all assumed was going to happen - a Valve software branded and controlled PC for gaming and computing in the living room.  We first started grumbling about the "Steam Box" back in March at GDC when Valve announced the Big Picture Mode for Steam and rumors of the hardware platform first began.   The next moth, Valve's Doug Lombardi denied the rumors but fell short of saying it wouldn't happen in the future.  In September the Big Picture Mode for Steam went into beta bringing the Steam interface into the world of TVs and 10-ft design, followed this year with the full release. 

And let's not forget the Linux client beta currently on-going as well as the capability to buy non-gaming software on Steam.  Valve has been a busy PC company.

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Big Picture Mode was the first necessary step

Based on an interview with Gabe at Kotaku, there are a surprising amount of details about the hardware goals that Valve will set for the "Steam Box" in addition to the simple confirmation that it is a currently running project. 

He also expects companies to start selling PC packages for living rooms next year—setups that could consist of computers designed to be hooked up to your TV and run Steam right out of the gate.

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HTPC builders have been making "Steam Box" computers for some time...

Interestingly, Valve is saying its contribution will be more tightly controlled than we might have thought:

"Well certainly our hardware will be a very controlled environment," he said. "If you want more flexibility, you can always buy a more general purpose PC. For people who want a more turnkey solution, that's what some people are really gonna want for their living room.

No time tables were discussed and we are left once again with just a hint of what is to come.  I think its pretty obvious based on the direction Valve is going that we are going to see a Linux-based small form factor PC with Steam pre-installed available for consumers in 2013.  If Valve starts pushing Linux support as hard as we expect it could mean quite a bit of trauma is ahead for Microsoft in the enthusiast community, one that is already reeling from the problems with Windows 8.

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If you were to potentially add to the "Steam Box" a pre-configuration tool like NVIDIA's GeForce Experience that sets game options based on your hardware for you, the PC could easily turn into a solution that is nearly as simple as the console for gamers.  And because Steam is already accepting non-games, it won't take much for there to be Netflix and Amazon apps in addition to anything else you currently have running on HTPCs or tablets. 

Source: Kotaku
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer:

What is a HTPC anyways?

Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series?  Catch up on them here:


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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).

 

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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.

 

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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. 

 

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Read on to dive headlong into our HTPC build!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Various

The Skinny about Cutting the Cord

Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series?  Catch up on them here:


There was a time in the not too long past that having a Cable or Satellite TV subscription was just a given.  Like water, phone or electricity, if you wanted to watch anything other than a few local networks or crazy UHF stations you had to pay your local cable /satellite conglomerate a tidy little sum to pump the channels into your TV.

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That’s where I was back in January of 2010.  Staring at a $150 bill for Time Warner Cable with the “Basic Package + HD” and a pair of TiVo’s I began to wonder if I was just wasting money since 80% of our regular viewing consisted of a dozen or so shows scattered across only four or five channels.  Within a month, and after some deliberation, we decided we’d try to ‘cut the cord’ and since that time I’ve happily saved nearly $5,000 that would have been lining the pockets of some Time Warner/TiVo executives.  Ponder that for a moment, $5,000 spent on television.  Even after I factor out the cost of hardware I needed to buy and setup, that’s enough money to buy a new big screen TV every year and then some.

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Regardless of what big cable and satellite companies say, between 2008 and 2011, 2.65 million households dropped cable/satellite subscriptions.  A recent survey found that 9 percent of the people surveyed had cancelled their cable subscriptions in the last year and Time Warner Cable alone has had 10 straight quarters of Pay for TV customer losses.

This multipart series on PC Perspective will walk you through the process of becoming a “Cord Cutter” yourself.  Starting with some thoughts on whether or not cutting the cable is right for you we’ll walk you through everything from start to finish.

  • 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

I’ll also include a few little personal tidbits from My Experiences in my quest to cut the cord and stay that way for the last few years.  

To Cut, or Not to Cut, That is the Question…

While dropping your cable or satellite subscription can save you some serious money, it’s not for everyone.  Television is a central part of the entertainment for many households, and you need to look at it from all angles before you call your provider and tell them you want out.  Cutting the cord may require some concessions and serious changes to the way you get your television content.  While you might not mind some inconvenience, your significant other or children may have a meltdown if they can’t get their regular fix of Honey Boo Boo or Yo Gabba Gabba the moment it’s aired.

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Regardless, with some consideration and pre-work you can determine if cutting the cord is right for you and make the transition nice and smooth if you decide to kick your cable or satellite provider to the curb.

If you’re willing to take that chance, read on to see if Cord Cutting is for you!

XBMC 12 Beta Now Live, Brings Several Improvements

Subject: General Tech | November 18, 2012 - 07:27 AM |
Tagged: xbmc 12, xbmc, Media Center, htpc, frodo

A new version of XBMC recently became available on the developer’s website. After eight months, XBMC version 12 “Frodo” is now in beta, and it brings several improvements over previous iterations of the media center software.

XBMC 12 Frodo splash screen.jpg

The XBMC 12 beta is available to download for Windows, Linux, OSX, Raspberry Pi, iOS, and AppleTV2. The beta is also rolled into a customized Ubuntu-based Linux distribution called XBMCbuntu which comes as an .iso image download. New features in the XBMC beta include:

  • HD audio support via the new XBMC AudioEngine:
    • DTS-MA and Dolby True-HD
  • Live TV and PVR support
  • h.264 10bit (aka Hi10P) video software for decoding anime
  • 64-bit version for OSX
  • Improved image support and additional formats
  • Raspberry Pi support
  • Initial Android platform support
  • Improved Airplay support across all platforms
  • Advanced Filtering in the library
  • Advanced UPnP sharing
  • Translations now powered by Transifex

In addition, the user interface and software startup feels snappier from my informal testing. After loading up my video and music folders, it worked without issues or crashes. XBMC does note that this is still beta software, so it is not advisable to use in a production environment. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to try out the live TV functionality.

 

 

You can grab the new beta from the XBMC.org website.

 

Have you tried the new XBMC 12 beta?

 

Source: XBMC

Lenovo Launches IdeaCentre Q190 SFF PC

Subject: Systems | November 17, 2012 - 03:59 AM |
Tagged: SFF, PC, Lenovo, ideacentre q190, htpc

Lenovo recently launched a new small form factor PC with the IdeaCentre Q190. This small desktop measures 192mm x 155mm x 22mm and packs some hardware punch that handily surpasses the specs of traditional net-top computers. Exact hardware specifications have not yet been released, but the company has talked about the top-end model.

Lenovo IdeaCentre Q190.jpg

The IdeaCentre Q190 PC will have up to a 2nd generation Core i3 Intel Sandy Bridge processor, 8GB DDR3 memory, HD3000 integrated (processor) graphics, a 1TB hard drive, and a 24GB caching SSD. These specifications are, of course, for the top end model.

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The IdeaCentre Q190 with the optional optical drive attached.

In addition, the Q190 can support a DVD writer or Blu ray optical drive that mounts on top of the PC, which adds a bit of depth but can still be mounted vertically with the supplied stand. Other optional accessories include a handheld wireless keyboard and mouse trackpad.

Lenovo IdeaCentre Q190_2.jpg

External IO includes an SDXC card reader, S/PDIF optical audio port, VGA video output, two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, and a Gigabit Ethernet jack.

The Q190 will come preloaded with Windows 8, and an option for Windows 8 Pro. Lenovo is pushing the HTPC merits of the computer, and it will certainly do a serviceable job. It would also make for a nice low-power desktop system as well, and it looks nice enough to display on your desk.

The Lenovo IdeaCentre Q190 will be available in January 2013 and will have a starting price of $349, with the top end model described above costing a bit more (the exact amount is as yet unknown).

Source: Lenovo

Zotac Updates ZBOX AD06 With New AMD APU

Subject: Systems | November 7, 2012 - 05:04 PM |
Tagged: zotac, zbox ad06, zbox, SFF, htpc, barebones, APU, amd

Zotac has updated its small form factor ZBOX AD06 PC with a new AMD Accelerated Processing Unit that features a faster GPU portion and a dual core Zacate CPU that Zotac claims offers up to a 10% boost in performance versus the previous ZBOX.

Zotac ZBOX AD06 With New AMD APU.jpg

On the outside, the ZBOX AD06 is approximately the size of a Mini-ITX motherboard, comes with a bundled VESA75/100 mount (to attach it to the back of your monitor), and features a number of ports. Internally, the ZBOX AD06 features an AMD E2-1800 APU with two CPU cores at 1.7GHz and a Radeon HD 7340 GPU. The “Plus” version bundles in 2GB of DDR3 memory and a 320GB hard drive, otherwise it is very much a bare-bones system that allows you to add your own storage.

External ports and connectivity options include:

  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • 4 x USB 2.0
  • 1 x Gigabit Ethernet
  • 1 x SD card reader
  • 2 x analog audio jacks
  • 1 x DVI
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 1 x S/PDIF optical audio output
  • 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0

The Zotac AD06 also features a bundled media center remote that will work with Windows Media Center or XBMC. And thanks to the more powerful APU, it should work well as a low-cost home theater PC. Unfortuantely, there is no word on pricing or when the AD06 or AD06 Plus will be available for purchase.

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You can find the full press release below.

The Ceton Echo Windows Media Center Extender is exactly what it says it is

Subject: Systems | November 6, 2012 - 03:32 PM |
Tagged: wmc, htpc, echo windows media extender, ceton

The Ceton Echo is not a competitor to Roku or other streaming devices which hook you up to Netfix and other online sources, instead it competes against the XBox as a way to utilize Windows Media Center without having a PC as well as retrieving online sources.  If you do have a PC, especially one with a TV Tuner then the Ceton Echo becomes even more powerful as you can use it to handle DVR duties as well as to stream content from your PC.  Missing Remote just got this device in and will be testing it over the next few days to find out just how useful this device is; it will be available to the general public at the end of November.

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"The XBOX 360 has ruled the Windows Media Center (WMC) extender market since it killed off third-party completion with the release of Windows Vista, but for many the brutish gaming console’s size, appetite for electricity, and unpleasant noise levels made it unwelcome in the A/V stack. With a lithe chassis, miserly power consumption, and a modern system-on-a-chip (SOC) offering the potential for proper HD file support the Ceton Echo could be just the thing to breathe fresh life into Microsoft’s aging platform. Our sample just arrived so it has not been run through the wringer yet, but since the hardware is set and pre-orders starting it is worth taking a look to getting a basic understanding of what the Echo has to offer. Check back later for our full review when the software is finalized."

Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:

HTPC

BioStar's Hi-Fi Z77X is aimed at HTPC users

Subject: Motherboards | October 15, 2012 - 03:44 PM |
Tagged: Z77, biostar, Hi-Fi Z77X, lga 1155, htpc, atx

While you might not think of a full ATX board being the basis for an HTPC system, BIOSTAR is hoping that you will consider their Hi-Fi Z77X when you next spec out a possible system.  The extra size allows you to have more add-in card options with three 16x PCIe slots (8x, 8x, 4x) and two PCIe 1x slots, which simply would not fit on a mATX board.  The back panel offers VGA, HDMI and DVI out, so even without a discrete card you have quite a few output options as long as Intel onboard graphics are enough to meet your needs.  They also include a Realtec CODEC which is better than [H]ard|OCP expected on a sub-$150 motherboard and were also impressed by the overclocking ability on this value board, not as good as an enthusiast board but still pleasantly capable.

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"BIOSTAR generally has a reputation for making low end or budget oriented motherboards. Fortunately that isn't all BIOSTAR designs and builds. The Hi-Fi Z77X is an unusual motherboard in that it seems to be targeted towards HTPC and media type duties while still addressing enthusiast hardware and overclocking concerns."

Here are some more Motherboard articles from around the web:

Motherboards

Source: [H]ard|OCP

What good is your HTPC if you don't know what's on?

Subject: Systems | September 21, 2012 - 03:04 PM |
Tagged: htpc, hdtv, guide

Missing Remote posted something a little different but perfect for their niche, a compendium of links to shared calendars in which you can find the broadcast times of every show on a wide variety of channels.  The links are either shared Google calendars or ICS links which are compatible with most calendar applications.  Never miss a TV show again, even if your guide is on the fritz or you are setting up a recording remotely.

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"Missing Remote is proud to have many writers that are avid television watchers. When we were looking around for a list of shows and their start dates we found just those--list after list, so we have done the hard work for you and compiled these lists into shareable Google calendar with internet view or you can download and use it. Make sure you subscribe or come back, as we will be updating these all season. If you are like us and prefer to schedule only when it shows up on the guide, you will be watching this list daily when you can add your new shows up to 14 days in advance. We have made HTML links to look at the Google Calendar links and you can subscribe through that link, or ICS which is read by many of the popular desktop calendar applications, and you can subscribe to them through there"

Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:

HTPC

Build a micro ATX Llano system for less than $300

Subject: Systems | September 17, 2012 - 01:05 PM |
Tagged: micro ATX, llano, htpc, gigabyte, GA-A55M-DS2, amd, a8-3870K

If you are on a tight budget and can't afford the cost of a Llano based notebook, or simply just don't want a mobile PC then Legit Reviews can help you out with their new system build guide.  For just under $300, shipping included, they will show you how to set up an A8-3870K based system on Gigabyte's GA-A55M-DS2 motherboard, 4GB DDR3-1333 and an OCZ Vertex Plus R2 60GB SATA II SSD along with an optical drive and a micro ATX case.   It won't win any overclocking awards but it has enough outputs to make a decent HTPC system and will handle light gaming duties thanks to the integrated graphics on the A8-3870K

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"Are you looking to build a budget PC, but have a limited budget to work with? We have had a number of readers and businesses that we consult with looking for new systems that will save power and be faster than the systems they currently have. When we started to look into low cost Do-It-Yourself (DIY) systems we found that you could easily build an AMD Llano system for less than $300. And when we say under $300 we mean with shipping included! You would think that for under $300 we would have to cut corners and use knock off brands, but that is not the case here. We are using the top of the line AMD A8-3870K APU and an OCZ Vertex Plus R2 60GB Solid-State Drive (SSD) into this system. The one corner that we did cut is..."

Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:

Systems