Zotac's cute Zacate powered ZBox Nano-XS

Subject: Systems | May 9, 2012 - 06:34 PM |
Tagged: zotac, zbox nano-xs, SFF, htpc

Zotac's new ZBox Nano-XS is smaller than your average case fan, measuring only 4.17" x 4.17" x 1.46" (106mm x 106mm x 37mm) but is powerful enough you can stream video and even get some light game playing in on it.  The name is a bit misleading as it is powered by a dual core AMD E-450 with a HD 6320 giving it impressive graphics for its size and the 64GB Kingston mSATA SSD making the general performance of the system quite snappy.  Funky Kit does want you to be aware that this tiny PC ships without an OS so make sure that you are familiar with making a bootable USB drive with which to install your OS but apart from that they highly recommend the Nano-XS to anyone who needs a tiny PC.

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"The performance of the ZBox impressed me. It can't touch my high end desktop of course, but given the size and the price it is quite impressive. You can do some low end gaming, watch any videos you might want to regardless of their resolution and it snaps windows around and loads programs quite quickly, thanks to the SSD."

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Source: Funky Kit

Windows Media Center To Be A Pro Only Feature In Windows 8

Subject: General Tech | May 7, 2012 - 06:01 PM |
Tagged: windows media center, Windows 8 Pro, windows 8, upgrade, htpc

News is circulating around the Internet that Microsoft is taking Windows Media Center out of Windows 8 and offering it as a separate paid add-on for Windows 8 Pro users. Many are not happy about the decision.

Windows Media Center is an application developed by Microsoft that provides a TV friendly interface for all the media on your computers including photos, videos, music, and television. That last function is quite possibly the biggest feature of WMC as it allows users to ditch their cable set top box (STB) and turn their computer into a TV tuner and DVR with the proper hardware.

Windows8MediaCenter.jpg

Windows 8 Metro With Media Center Icon

The program debuted as a special edition of Windows called Windows XP Media Center Edition. It was then rolled into the general release of Windows Vista and then into many editions of Windows 7. Windows Media Center has a relatively small user base relative to the number of general Windows users, but they are a vocal and enthusiastic minority. About a month ago, I got a CableCard from Comcast (after a week of... well, let’s just say it’s not a pleasant experience) and after pairing it with the HDHomeRun Prime and my Windows 7 machines, i was able to watch and record TV on any of the computers in my house as well as on the living room TV via an Xbox 360 acting as a Windows Media Center extender. I have to say that the setup is really solid, I have all the expandable DVR space I could want, and the WMC interface is so much snappier than any cable or satellite set top box I’ve ever used. Windows 7 became that much more valuable once I was able to utilize Windows Media Center.

With that said, it is still a niche feature and I understand that not everyone needs or wants to use it. It is even a feature that I would pay for should Microsoft unbundle it. Yet, when I read a bit of news concerning Windows 8 and WMC over the weekend, I was not happy at all. According to an article at Tested.com, Microsoft is going to unbundle Windows Media Center for Windows 8 into a separate downloadable Media Center pack with a currently unknown price (so far, I’m disappointed but still willing to accept it). The Media Center pack will be made available for purchase and download using the “Add Features To Windows 8” control panel option–what was known as Windows Anytime Upgrade in previous versions of Windows.

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Windows Media Center in Windows 7 - TV Guide

What is confusing (and what I find infuriating) is that users will only be able to purchase the Media Center pack if they are using the Pro version of Windows 8, leaving home users out of luck. Due to Windows 8 Pro essentially being the Ultimate Edition of previous Windows versions, it is definitely going to cost more than the base version, and that is rather disconcerting. I have no problem paying for the Media Center pack, but I do have a problem with Microsoft artificially limiting who has the right to purchase it to begin with. It just seems downright greedy of them and is a big disservice to Media Center’s faithful users. Microsoft should go with one method or the other, not both. For example, they should unbundle Media Center, and allow users of any desktop (not RT, in other words) Windows 8 version to purchase it. Alternatively, if they are going to limit Media Center to be a Pro version only feature, it should be a free download. Users should not have to pay for the privilege to pay for the software, especially when Microsoft has said that Windows 8 Media Center will not be very different from the one in Windows 7 and will only contain minor improvements.

Rick Broida of PC World has been a bit more straightforward in stating his opinion of Microsoft’s decision in saying “I’m hopping mad.” And I tend to agree with his sentiments, except for WMC needing to be free. I’d be happy to pay for it if it means Microsoft continues to support it. I just have an issue with the pricing situation that the news of the decision is suggesting. To be fair, Microsoft has not yet released final pricing information, so it may not be as bad as I’m thinking. Even so, the news that they are making WMC a paid add on and are limiting it to Windows 8 Pro only leaves a rather bad aftertaste. Mr. Broida encourages HTPC users to not upgrade, and to stick with Windows 7. I don’t think I’m at that point yet (though I get where he’s coming from), but I will say that Windows 8 was a tough sell before I heard this news, and the WMC news isn’t helping. I can only hope that Microsoft will reconsider and, dare I say it, do the right thing for their users here.

Source: Tested

Fruit flavoured TV or DIY HTPC?

Subject: Systems | April 27, 2012 - 01:12 PM |
Tagged: htpc, apple tv

Missing Remote, masters of all things HTPC, had a chance to try a product similar to many they have reviewed in the past, only this one bears a silver fruit symbol on it.  Right from the start there were obvious deficiencies as well as good features, the power wiring was designed not to block more than one power outlet but there was no HDMI cabling.  On the software side there were exhaustive controls for colour space, but no support for the wireless WPS standard and apparently the box forgot their WPA key on occasion.  They ended by recommending this $100 device for anyone looking for a better NetFlix experience but caution that iTunes is no replacement for BluRay.

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"In our first look at the new 2012 Apple TV it was clear that the form factor and basic function was consistent with many of the other over the top (OTT) media streamers on the market, but it was the visual appealing user interface (UI) that really shines compared to similar devices which became apparent in the video walkthrough. What was not clear, given the brief time with the Apple TV, was how it performs after the first-impression sheen has worn off or how the recently upgraded 1080p iTunes content stacks up against established OTT services like Netflix and VUDU, or the current top-end option, Blu-ray. Having spent the focused energy to really get to know the device it is time to come back with answers to those questions, as well as provide a fuller picture of what is provided by Apple’s OTT streamer refresh."

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Raspberry Pi Deliveries Starting Now

Subject: General Tech | April 16, 2012 - 11:27 PM |
Tagged: Raspberry Pi, htpc

The UK charity behind the little computer that could -- The Raspberry Pi Foundation -- announced on Sunday that their Raspberry Pi computers are [finally!] shipping out to customers that pre-ordered the Model B boards. Creator Eben Upton hand delivered the first batch of Raspberry Pi computers to distributor RS Components in Corby which you can see in the video embedded below.

Some users have already reported receiving their boards, and the charity is starting to hold lectures and classes for students in the UK using the Raspberry Pi computers. In other good news, serial production of the Raspberry Pi computers has begun at the factories which means that the backlog of pre-orders should now be taken care of faster than previously estimated by RS and Farnell. More specific estimates on when you should be getting your Raspberry Pi should be provided to you later int he week from the distributor you ordered from.

I have yet to receive any e-mail from Farnell on the status of my Raspberry Pi since the first order verification email so I have a feeling I’m at the end of the line but at least they are shipping now and I’ll have some testing to do shorty!

Logic Supply has an interesting way of sizing their smaller HTPCs

Subject: Systems | April 13, 2012 - 04:15 PM |
Tagged: SFF, mini-itx, Logic Supply, LGX AG150 Fanless Mini PC, htpc, Atom N2800

Defining the size of the Logic Supply LGX AG150 Fanless Mini PC as being 1.2 litres is a unique way of describing just how small this machine is.  You can see from the picture below that a pair of serial ports takes up a significant portion of the front panel.  Part of the reason for this is the completely fanless design, the heatsink obscuring the Atom N2800 has TIM on it to allow the entire top of the case to distribute the heat.  The SSD drive also helps slim the machine down and also adds snappy performance as well.  The Intel DN2800MT mini-ITX board powers the SSD and can fit up to 4GB of RAM in its two slots and the Intel GMA 3650 powers the HDMI and VGA ports with enough processing power for you to watch HD video.  As it is a totally silent HTPC, it should come as no surprise that it was Silent PC Review who received this box for testing.

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"This new PC from specialist Logic Systems is based around the recently released Intel DN2800MT "Marshalltown" mini-ITX Atom board, a long-awaited follow-up to the original "Thin ITX" board, the Intel D945GSEJT. Super low energy consumption, 1080P video capability and a tiny 1.2 liter form factor should be compelling for Mini PC enthusiasts."

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Arctic brings the Blu to HTPCs

Subject: Systems | March 29, 2012 - 03:34 PM |
Tagged: arctic, MC001-BD, htpc

The Arctic MC001-BD HTPC will run you $600, though a good percentage of that cost is the BluRay drive and Windows Media Centre.  The system its self is a mere 5mm x 275mm x 161mm and contains a dual core Intel Atom D525 @ 1.8GHz, up to 4GB of DDR3 and most importantly either a Radeon HD 5430 or 5450 to ensure HD playback is smooth.  The connectors are quite comprehensive, on top of five USB 2.0 plugs you get a pair of USB 3.0 ports, along with ethernet, HDMI, VGA, optical S/PDIF port and the 3.5mm audio out.  The integral IR detector is a perfect touch to ensure you can control the HTPC with a remote.  Head to Benchmark Reviews to see how this machine does when put to the test.

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"Home entertainment is quickly changing, and computer technology has become integrated with the personal space. Data storage and playback is becoming more diverse and streamlined by the second. More and more entertainment can be found on the Internet; TV shows, movies, music... the list goes on. To keep up with the demand for instant entertainment, manufacturers such as ARCTIC are designing devices that are ever more sleek and quiet, usually with an array of features to keep the consumer content in their own personal empire. If you are looking to update your home theater with personal entertainment devices, or simplify your leisure time, there are many new Windows Media Center devices emerging on the market. In this article Benchmark Reviews tests the Arctic MC001-BD Entertainment Center with Blu-ray player to see if this Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium HTPC can combine the benefits of personal computer with multimedia streamer."

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Patriot's new ARM powered HTPC

Subject: Systems | March 15, 2012 - 01:24 PM |
Tagged: htpc, patriot, patriot PBO Alpine, arm

The new Patriot PBO Alpine is an ARM powered, Android 2.2 device which promises to deliver 1080p video and Dolby Surround sound from a box measuring 4.5" x 4.5" x 1".  It sports HDMI and S/PDIF audio out, an ethernet port as well as two USB ports which is a good thing as you will want to use a mouse and keyboard as opposed to the bundled remote which was [H]ard|OCP's least favourite thing about this media streamer.  Apart from that one disappointment, the PBO Alpine walked away with a Gold Award thanks to great video quality and some extras that Patriot tossed in to make this HTPC stand out in the crowd.

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"On the heels of its Box Office success, Patriot Memory has a brand new HD media player coming to market that is powered by an ARM926 processor and running Android 2.2. Could the PBO Alpine the next edition to your HD home entertainment experience? With a tremendous feature set inside a tiny footprint, we think it is worthy."

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Source: [H]ard|OCP

Lian Li's PC-Q25 brings nice features to a small HTPC enclosure

Subject: Systems | February 29, 2012 - 01:52 PM |
Tagged: htpc, Lian Li, Lian Li PC-Q25

Lian Li's PC-Q25 has a look to it that mimics other HTPCs but adds a few interesting tweaks to the basic block design other cases sport.  At 199mm x 280mm x 366mm it will only fit mATX or mDTX motherboards but it is long enough to handle graphics cards up to 12.5" in length.  The brushed aluminium exterior is meant to be shown off, not hidden with other components and could be a nice addition to any room devoted to entertainment.  Missing Remote was a little disappointed that even though the case can accomodate two decent sized graphics cards it cannot handle a long PSU.  Apart from that they like what Lian Li is doing.

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"The Fractal Design Array R2 chassis instantly recalled for us the decidedly niche, but incredibly functional, cube-style cases popular a few years ago. which were incredibly niche but very functional. The R2 was flexible, silent and sleek in a very limited amount of space. The Lian Li PC-Q25 chassis shares many of the same appealing traits, but goes for a taller design in a similar footprint. This allows it some interesting arrangements inside and allows for even more internal storage options. As a small form factor case there are always trade-offs to be made, and the omission of an optical drive space is just one of them. With some very attractive features in a small form factor cube-like chassis, the Lian Li PC-Q25 has a lot to offer a variety of consumers, which we will examine closer."

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Raspberry Pi Foundation Clears Up Misunderstanding About Their ARM Linux Computers, Still Coming This Month

Subject: Systems | February 10, 2012 - 04:17 PM |
Tagged: Raspberry Pi, linux, htpc, Education, arm

The folks over at the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the organization behind the upcoming ARM powered Linux computer, are having a field day today as they have been flooded with emails from enthusiasts and press worried about the availability and pricing of the Raspberry Pi computer as it seems someone made inferrences that then got blown out of proportion in a typical "telephone game" spiral out of control fashion.

We here at PC Perspective are among the many people who are waiting eagerly to get our hands on the fairly powerful ARM powered computer, so naturally this post by Liz over at the official Raspberry Pi website helped up to take a deep breath and relax.  The little Raspberry Pi boards are still coming at the end of this month (February 2012), and they will be priced at or below the previously announced prices of $25 for the base model and $35 for the model with more RAM and Ethernet.

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The takeaway from the article is that your plans and/or your desire to get your hands on a Raspberry Pi just because (like me) even if you don't know what to do with it yet are safe.  The point of the ARM computers are to bring a low cost, but capable computing platform to the masses for education.  Yes, the non profit foundation still needs to make a profit; however, they aren't about to jack up the price just because they can.  Liz further stated that the prices of $25 and $35 will not change, unless they can make them cheaper.  "Price is such an important part of what we’re doing in trying to change the way people use computers that we’d be totally, totally mad to move the price point."  The caveat is that the casing (that will accompany a package aimed at education customers and includes educational software and an outer shell) may add a bit to the price; however, they are going to try not to keep the price the same.

While they have not given a specific date, they state in a rather direct way (even going so far as to bold the text to get the point across- heh) that "You will be able to buy a Raspberry Pi from the end of February, from this website."  The misunderstanding, they state, relates to a statement about a different SKU of the Raspberry Pi that is aimed at education and will have a few extra accessories and features including a case to house the board, written support material, and educational software.  This version will come later this year (approximately Q3 2012), and was mixed up with the initial release this month.

Are you ready to get your hands on a Raspberry Pi?

Source: Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi Linux Computer Will Have Fast GPU For The Price

Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 26, 2012 - 11:45 AM |
Tagged: Raspberry Pi, linux, htpc, hd, gpu, broadcom

As reported earlier, the Raspberry Pi is a small computer intended to run Linux and is made to be portable and able to be powered by USB. The small board is based on the Broadcom BCM2835 chipset, which includes an ARM 11 CPU and a dual core VideoCore IV graphics card co processor. The Raspberry Pi further includes connections for HDMI, component output, and USB ports. The higher tier $35 model will further feature an Ethernet jack and twice the RAM (512 MB).

Raspberry Pi.jpg

The Raspberry Pi will soon be available for sale and if the company behind the device- The Raspberry Pi Foundation- is to be believed, the GPU in the little Linux computer will pack quite a punch for its size (and cost). In a recent Digital Foundry interview with Raspberry Pi Executive Director Eben Upton reported on by Eurogamer, Upton made several claims about the Raspberry Pi’s graphics capabilities. He explained that the Broadcom BCM2835’s VideoCore IV GPU is a tile mode architecture that has been configured with an emphasis on shader performance. Upton said “it does very well on compute-intensive benchmarks, and should double iPhone 4S performance across a range of content."

The comparison to the iPhone 4S relates to his further claims that the Raspberry Pi GPU is the best on the market and can best both the iPhone 4S’s PowerVR (Imagination Technologies) based graphics and even the mighty Tegra 2 in fill rate performance. Rather large claims for sure; however, we do have some independent indication that his claims may not be wholly inflated. The coders behind XBMC, open source media center software that allows users to play a variety of media formats, have demonstrated their XBMC software running on the Raspberry Pi. They showed the Raspberry Pi playing a 1080p blu ray movie at a smooth frame rate thanks to the Broadcom GPU being capable of 1080p 30 FPS H.264 hardware accelerated decoding. You can see the Raspberry Pi in action in the video below.

The little Raspberry Pi is starting to look quite promising for HTPC (and even light gaming) use, especially for the price!  At $25 and $35 respectively, the Raspberry Pi should see quite the following in the modding, enthusiast, and education community.

Source: Eurogamer