PiixL Launches EdgeCenter PC, Hides Powerful Media Center Behind Your TV

Subject: General Tech | March 16, 2013 - 03:08 PM |
Tagged: piixl, PC, Media Center, htpc, edgecenter

London-based startup PiixL recently launched a new media center PC called the EdgeCenter that attaches to the back of your television via VESA mount to turn any TV into a so-called smart TV. The PC comes in one of three configurations with (Media, Gamer, and Max) Windows 8 and increasing levels of hardware performance. The aluminum EdgeCenter chassis will attach to most TVs larger than 32-inches and can extend to bring the optical drive and other front IO ports to the edge of your TV for easy access. The EdgeCenter reportedly offers a quiet cooling system capable of dissipating 500W in a chassis that is (up to) 54mm thick. Users can use traditional mouse, keyboard, or remote to control it, or they can use gesture-based controls from up to 5 meters away.

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The Media Edition offers up an AMD A10 5700 APU with HD7660D graphics, 1TB of mechanical storage, and 4GB of RAM.  The Gamer Edition steps things up a notch with an Intel Core i5 3550 processor, an AMD 7870 2GB graphics card, 2TB of mechanical storage, and 8GB of RAM. Finally, the Max Edition features an Intel Core i7 3770 CPU, a NVIDIA GTX 680 4GB graphics card, 2TB HDD, 20GB SLC SSD (Intel SRT), and 16GB of RAM. Not bad at all for a PC that sits behind the TV. Having a PC mounted via VESA mount is not a new concept, but the EdgeCenter looks to pack the most horsepower an OEM has managed to cram into such a PC.

 

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All three models support Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0, Blu Ray playback, optical and analog audio output, and an SD card slot for getting your media onto the device. The Media Edition EdgeCenter has VGA, HDMI, and DVI vidio outputs, while the Gamer edition has DVI, HDMI, and two mini-DisplayPort outputs. Finally, the Max Edition EdgeCenter PC has one DisplayPort, one DVI, and one HDMI port. It is definitely an interesting design with plenty of computing horsepower for gaming and media center needs. PiixL has fitted each model with an 80+ Gold power supply and has stated that the PCs are designed with 24/7 operation in mind.

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The PiixL EdgeCenter is available for purchase now, but the performance will cost you a lot more money than your typical media center PC. The Media Edition, Gamer Edition, and Max Edition PCs start at £720.28, £1,116.76, and £1,513.25 respectively. For US customers that works out to about $1,085.97, $1,683.74, and $2,281.45. And that’s the bad news, it offers some impressive hardware, but is fairly expensive. Hopefully, if the EdgeCenter does well, we will see cheaper versions stateside at some point.

You can find more information about PiixL’s EdgeCenter PC on the company’s website. A full specifications comparison chart is also available here.

Source: PiixL
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Microsoft

Windows Media Center Add-ons and Plugins – Page 1

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


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Now that we have our Windows Media Center up and running, we can investigate a few additional add-ons and plugins that can further improve upon the experience you can get from your Media Center.  In addition to discussing some great add-ons, I’m going to discuss how well our HTPC build has done with our power efficiency goals, so without further ado let’s jump right into it!

My Experience: The add-ons and plug-ins that I’m going to walk through are by no means all that’s out there.  There are tons of add-ons that will add anything from Local Weather to full overlays for your movie collection.  One thing to keep in mind is that any add-on or plugin can completely bork up your Media Center.  Always test the add-on on another box first, or even better, do a full image/backup of your Media Center before you try any new add-on or plugin.  You do have a full image of your brand new Media Center build on another machine that you can re-image yourHTPC with right?  (Check out Clonezilla or Acronis True Image if not…)

Windows Media Center Add-ons and Plugins

Windows Media Center is excellent right out of the box, but there are a few add-ons and plugins I like to add to our Media Center to give us some additional functionality and increased usability.  By a wide margin, the one we use the most is Netflix.

Netflix

 

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Back when Netflix was a scrappy newcomer, trying to get subscribers, they were putting their client on every device and platform that would talk to them.  They worked out a deal with Microsoft to have the Netflix client pre-installed right into Windows Media Center menu.

My Experience: The built in application was apparently a joint project between Microsoft and Netflix, which may seem great, but has actually turned out to be a quagmire of finger pointing.  Since it was originally released, the application has not been updated since and both companies have washed their hands of it and point to the other as being responsible for the application.  The UI badly needs a facelift, in particular with the way you navigate through titles that have multiple seasons.  While all seasons of the title will show up as a single entry in your Instant Queue, there is no way to easily jump from season to season and the only way to navigate episodes is to pull up episode lists that starts at Season 1, Episode 1, every time you open up the episode list.  While this may not seem like a big deal, if you watch a show with a lot of episodes (like Cheers with 11 Seasons and 275 episodes) you have to scroll past every single prior episode to get to the next one you want to watch.  Clicking the down arrow on your remote over 200 times to get to the next episode you want to watch not only gets old real fast, but eats batteries like mad.

 

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Episode list problems aside, we still use Netflix on a daily basis and it’s relatively easy to setup.  First, scroll up to the “Movies” line and select the Netflix tile.

 

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You’ll be greeted with a full Netflix splash screen.  Put a check in the “I have read and understand the Terms of Service and Privacy Statement” checkbox which will then activate the “Install” button.  Click on Install and off we go.

Read on to see more add-ons that you can add to your Media Center!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Microsoft

Running Windows Media Center for the First Time

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


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We’ve finished tweaking our Windows 7 Home Premium installation in preparation for Media Center in our previous installment and now it’s time to get down to the core of our project and finally roll our sleeves up and dive into Media Center itself.  Windows Media Center is an excellent product with an extremely passionate group of fans and one simply needs to check out the Green Button forums or the DTVUSA Forums to find like-minded Cord Cutters.  Considering how well thought out and excellent Media Center is for most ‘set top box’ type tasks, I never understood why Microsoft didn’t put more effort behind pushing it and yet they worked double time to try and push projects like Clippy and the Kin.  Unfortunately, not only has Microsoft not supported Media Center, some of their actions with Windows 8 make it feel like they’re actively working to kill it off.

Regardless, Windows Media Center is still the product to beat for an all in one Cord Cutting solution in my opinion.  While I’m building my media center in Windows 7 Home Premium, if you are building a Windows 8 Media Center, many of the steps will be very similar, if not the same, to what I’m doing here.  Many of the setup screens are mirror images between the two versions of Windows and you should be able to follow along with this guide for Windows 8 as well.  Unless you just absolutely must use Windows 8 for some reason, I highly suggest using Windows 7 for your Media Center as Microsoft has decided to leave some key features out of the Windows 8 version that makes Windows 7 superior in my opinion.

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My Experience: Working through the Windows Media Center setup is much easier to do on a computer monitor as opposed to trying to do it while hooked up to your Television.  We’ll hook our HTPC up to a television when we’re wrapping things up, but in the meantime, save yourself some hassle and just do everything on a monitor.

Continue reading Cutting the Cord Part 4 to “Get Started” with Windows Media Center!

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.

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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
Author:
Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: Lenovo

Introduction, Design

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If the netbook was a shooting star, the nettop was an asteroid that never quite entered our atmosphere. Instead it flew silently by, noted by NASA, written about in a handful of articles, and now forgotten.

That doesn’t mean it has ceased to exist, however. It’s still out there, floating in space - and it occasionally swings back around for an encore. So we have the Lenovo IdeaCentre Q180. 

Of course, simply advertising a small computer as - well, a small computer - isn’t particularly sexy. The Q180 is instead being sold not just as general-purpose laptop but also as a media center (with optional Blu-Ray, not found on our review unit). There’s no doubting the demand for this, but so far, attempts to make PC-based media center computers have not done well - even Boxee, with its custom Linux-based operating system, was fussy. Can the Q180 succeed where others have stumbled? Let’s start with the specs.

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It’s been awhile since we tested anything Atom. Since our last look at this line of processors, Intel has updated to the code-name Cedertrail processors, allowing for higher clock speeds. The 2.13 GHz dual-core Atom D2700 looks quite robust in print. But this still the same old architecture, so per-clock performance doesn’t come close to Intel’s Pentium and Core processors.

Also included in AMD’s Radeon HD 6450A, a version of the HD 6450 built for small systems that don’t have room for a typical PCIe graphics card. This makes up for the fact that all Atom processors are still using hopelessly outdated Intel Media Accelerator graphics, which is entirely unsuitable for HD video.

Continue reading our review of the Lenovo IdeaCentre Q180!!

Windows Media Center Confirmed For Windows 8

Subject: General Tech | September 3, 2011 - 07:31 PM |
Tagged: Media Center, htpc, microsoft, windows 8

There are quite a few aspects of Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system that are still an unknown; however, a recent MSDN blog confirmed quite a few bits of software that will make the cut into the final version of the operating system. One piece of software in particular that will definitely be included in Windows 8 is Windows Media Center. Steven Sinofsky stated “I want to reassure customers that Media Center will definitely be part of Windows 8. No doubt about it.”

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While the good news lies in Media Center’s inclusion in the new operating system, the announcement comes with two bits of bad news. Firstly, they are not able to release details about the Media Center application itself, so there are no details on any new features or speed increases. Further, Media Center will not be included in most of the pre-release builds of the operating system. While Microsoft reports that the beta testers of the application are pleased with it, the majority of consumers and enthusiasts will have to wait until the operating system gets closer to RTM (release to manufacturing) before getting a look at the application.

Microsoft further stated that the Media Center application will be included in the “premium” SKUs of the operating system, assuming the upcoming OS will imitate its predecessor’s multiple SKU strategy. More information on upcoming Windows 8 features can be found on the MSDN blog.

What are your thoughts on Media Center? Is it an application that you find useful, and if so what features would you most like to see improved upon? Personally, I use the Media Center extender functionality quite a bit to watch videos on the living room TV, and I would love to have Microsoft implement some performance increases to speed up the often pokey interface (which admittedly might be partly attributable to the Xbox 360’s hardware).

Source: Microsoft