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.

Lenovo IdeaCentre Q190_1.jpg

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

Small Form Factor Intel NUC PCs coming in October for under $400

Subject: General Tech | September 16, 2012 - 12:16 AM |
Tagged: ssd, small form factor, SFF, nuc, Ivy Bridge, Intel, htpc

Earlier this year, Intel showed off a small motherboard and processor combination that piqued the interest of many enthusiasts and attendees. The rather oddly named Next Unit of Computing (NUC) PC was originally intended to power digital signage, kiosks, and embedded systems (car PC anyone?). However, in response to the interest shown by enthusiasts, the x86 chip giant has decided to bring the super-small form factor computers to retail.  

The Next Unit of Computing PC’s main attraction is its small size: the motherboard is tiny, measuring a mere 4” x 4.” For reference, the mini-ITX standard is a 6.7” x 6.7” motherboard, and VIA’s Pico-ITX form factor boards measure 3.9” x 2.7.” In that respect, the NUC is not the smallest PC that you can build, but it will be the fastest – and by a significant margin thanks to the bundled Ivy Bridge CPU.

While i3 and i5 editions were allegedly designed, currently Intel is only bringing the i3 to the retail market. Specifically, the CPU powering the NUC will be an Intel Core i3-3217U Ivy Bridge processor, and it will be soldered onto the motherboard. That particular CPU is a 1.8GHz dual core/four thread part with 3MB cache, and Intel HD 4000 graphics (there is no Turbo Boost functionality). Not bad for a small form factor PC!

Intel SFF NUC Computer.jpg

Image credit: PC Pro.

The boards will have two SO-DIMM slots for RAM, an mSATA port for an SSD, and a mini-PCIe slot for a Wi-FI card. Intel is making two versions of the NUC motherboard that will differ only in IO. One motherboard will have 3 USB 2.0 ports, 1 HDMI output, and 1 Thunderbolt port. The other board will have 3 USB 2.0 ports, 2 HDMI outputs, and one Gigabit Ethernet jack. Intel believes that the Thunderbolt-equipped model will be more popular with consumers while the Gigabit-Ethernet and dual HDMI model will be used more by businesses.

Intel is reportedly sourcing several chassis designs for its custom form factor motherboard (there are at least two cases at present), and you will be able to build out a barebones system with one of the custom cases, integrated heatsink, and power supply. Additionally, when spec'ed out with the Intel i3-3217U CPU, 4GB of RAM, Wi-Fi card, and a 40GB Intel SSD, the company expects the entire NUC computer to cost around $399 in the US. The parts will be available for purchase in October, according to Engadget.

Hopefully, we will see OEMs take this form factor and make something cool with it. It's not clear which specific OEMs will be first to bring pre-built systems to market but they should be coming in the future.

Personally, I’m a big fan of small form factor computers, and despite the odd “NUC” name I’m excited to see where Intel takes this platform. If you were looking for a small but powerful computer to drive your next project, it might be worth keeping an eye on the NUC. What do you think of this sub $400, approximately 5” (with case) PC?

Read more about SFF and HTPC components at PC Perspective.

Source: Engadget

Biostar Launches Mini-ITX A68I-350 Deluxe Motherboard

Subject: Motherboards | September 10, 2012 - 09:29 AM |
Tagged: mini-itx, htpc, fusion, biostar, APU, amd, a68i-350 deluxe, a68

While Intel has gotten a lot of Mini-ITX love lately, AMD is not out of the game yet. Motherboard manufacturer Biostar recently launched an AMD Fusion APU powered Mini-ITX motherboard that would make for a nice little HTPC. The A68I-350 Deluxe is based around some of the latest technologies including support for DDR3, PCI-E 3.0, and USB 3.0 standards.

Biostar A68I-350 Deluxe (2).jpg

The A68I-350 Deluxe motherboard measures 17 cm x 17 cm and comes with a bundled dual core AMD Fusion 350D APU. A heatsink and passive cooling for the south bridge are also provided in the package. The graphics card, memory, storage and other accessories are up to you, however. The Mini-ITX board features two DDR3 DIMM slots that support a maximum of 16 GB. Located in the lower right-hand corner are three SATA 3 6Gbps ports. Below that is a single PCI-E 3.0 x16 slot for a graphics card or other peripheral. Additional internal IO includes:

  • 1 x printer header
  • 2 x USB 2.0 header
  • 1 X front panel audio
  • 1 X front panel header (hdd, power, reset, ect)
  • 1 x S/PDIF-OUT header
  • 1 x CPU fan header
  • 1 x system fan header
  • 1 x serial header

According to Biostar, the motherboard also uses all solid capacitors to improve longevity.

Rear IO on the board is not quite as extensive as some of the other offerings available, but is still fairly good for the price. It features two PS/2 ports for keyboard and mouse, one HDMI out, one VGA output, two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, one Ethernet port (Realtek RTL8111F Gigabit controller), and three audio output jacks (Realtek ALC662 6-channel HD audio).

Biostar A68I-350 Deluxe (1).jpg

The AMD APU that comes with the A68I-350 Deluxe features Radeon 6310 graphics, which are not the fastest but will still provide plenty of oomph for watching videos on the big screen. While it has not yet shown up at online retailers like Amazon and Newegg yet, it is reportedly already shipping and will have an MSRP of € 66 (euros) or approximately $84 USD. Considering the Intel options that have recently surfaced are going for $100+ easily, this Biostar motherboard should provide a nice budget option for your next HTPC or small form factor PC build!

You can find more information on the A68I-350 Deluxe over at the Biostar website.

Read more about Mini-ITX motherboards at PC Perspective.

Source: Biostar