Quirks, Savings, and Conclusions
Welcome back to the third and final chapter in our recent cord cutting saga, in which the crew here at the PC Perspective office take a fresh look at dumping traditional cable and satellite sources for online and over-the-air content. We previously planned our cord cutting adventure with a look at the devices, software, and services that will replace our cable and satellite subscriptions, and then put that plan to action by deploying an NVIDIA SHIELD TV, Plex, and an HDTV tuner with antenna.
Now, several weeks into this experiment, we wanted to take a step back to evaluate how the process went in practice, including a look at some of the challenges we failed to initially anticipate, projections of the increased Internet bandwidth usage that accompanies cord cutting (especially important for the many of you with home broadband usage caps), and finally a calculation of the initial and ongoing costs associated with cord cutting in order to determine if this whole process actually saves us any money.
Ultimate Cord Cutting Guide - Part 2: Installation & Configuration
We're back with Part 2 of our cord cutting series, documenting our experience with dumping traditional cable and satellite providers in exchange for cheaper and more flexible online and over-the-air content. In Part 1 we looked at the devices that could serve as our cord-cutting hub, the types of subscription content that would be available, and the options for free OTA and online media.
In the end, we selected the NVIDIA SHIELD as our central media device due to its power, capabilities, and flexibility. Now in Part 2 we'll walk through setting up the SHIELD, adding our channels and services, configuring Plex, and more!
Subject: Cases and Cooling | September 25, 2017 - 10:43 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: ryzen, noctua, low-profile, htpc, cooler, APU, amd, AM4, air cooling
AMD's popularity with Ryzen CPUs (and upcoming APUs) has made waves across the industry, and Noctua have jumped in with a pair of low-profile offerings that update previous designs for cramped case interiors.
First up is the new version of the NH-L9a:
"The new NH-L9a-AM4 is an AM4-specific revision of Noctua’s award-winning NH-L9a low-profile CPU cooler. At a height of only 37mm, the NH-L9a is ideal for extremely slim cases and, due to its small footprint, it provides 100% RAM and PCIe compatibility as well as easy access to near-socket connectors, even on tightly packed mini-ITX motherboards."
Next is the new NH-L12S:
"The new S-version of the renowned NH-L12 not only adds AM4 support but also gives more flexibility and improved performance in low-profile mode. Thanks to the new NF-A12x15 PWM slim 120mm fan, the NH-L12S provides even better cooling than the previous model with its 92mm fan. At the same time, the NH-L12S is highly versatile: with the fan installed on top of the fins, the cooler is compatible with RAM modules of up to 45mm in height. With the fan installed underneath the fins, the total height of the cooler is only 70mm, making it suitable for use in many compact cases."
Noctua says that these new coolers now shipping "and will be available shortly", with an MSRP of $39.90 for the NH-L9a-AM4 and $49 for the NH-L12S.
Subject: Cases and Cooling | June 4, 2017 - 11:04 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: water cooling, SFX-L, SFF, phanteks, mini ITX, htpc, evolv shift x, evolv shift
Phanteks Project 217 prototype case is finally official and will be known as the Evolv Shift and Evolv Shift X. Both are small form factor cases that feature a unique tower design that has the approximate footprint of a large graphics card, but manages to fit quite a bit of hardware inside by building up rather than out. The skyscraper style cases measure 6.7” wide and 10.63” deep. The Evplv Shift is the shorter of the two at 18.9” tall while the Evolv Shift X is 25.9”. The Mini ITX cases are constructed from a powder coated steel frame, aluminum cover panels, and tempered glass side panels.
HardwareCanucks shot video of the new SFF cases!
The Evolv Shift and Shift X both have black aluminum insides and a silver aluminum front panel. There are fam vents around the edges of the front panel and two USB 3.0 ports tucked away on the side. The top of the case covers the motherboard I/O and has a cutout in the back for routing the I/O cables out of the case - on the Shift X this piece is also aluminum but on the Shift it is plastic to cut costs. The two tempered glass side panels and front and back panels are held on by thumbscrews to allow for easy removal to work on the build. Being able to take all four sides off should make to easier to build in the small space.
Other case features include removable case feet that enables you to lay the case horizontally on one of its two sides (so you can show off the CPU side or GPU side), dust filters up front, and separation of the two front fans and compartments so that one can be an intake and the other exhaust if you wish. For such a small case there is quite a njt of cable management going o with rubber grommets and horizontal cable tracks (with a magnetic door for easy access) to hid away your cables and pass them from the PSU compartment to the motherboard compartment). Interestingly the GPU is mounted vertically and the bracket can be rotated and adjusted left and right so that you can choose to see the back of the graphics card or (finally!!) the front of the card with the artwork -- that’s right a case that lets you see and show off the stickers and cooler of your graphics card! (hehe, it has always irked me they put the artwork on the part of thr GPU you usually never see once it's in the case.)
Internally, the case is divided into two main areas with the power supply on bottom along with room for water cooling pumps and reservoirs and the motherboard, processor, and graphics cards stacked on top of the PSU area. The Evolv Shift and Evolv Shift X both support small form factor power supplies (SFX and SFX-L), Mini ITX motherboards, and even large graphics card thanks to the riser cable and vertical mounting. The larger Shift X can also hold ATX PSUs with the caveat that you have to give up the PSU shroud.
Cooling support includes air and water coolers with up to three 120mm or 140mm fans up front and one 120mm or 140mm fan in the bottom. The case will come with two 140mm fans out of the box.
As far as storage is concerned the case had room for two 2.5” drives and either one 3.5” drive on the Shift or two 3.5” drives on the Shift X.
Oh, and there is also an included RGB controller if you want to add a bit of bling to your dual windowed skyscraper PC.
The Evolv Shift and Evolv Shift X are coming later this year for $110 and $160 respectively.
These look to be very unique cases that will look good on a desk or even in the living room as a home theater PC. I am looking forward to the reviews on these as I am curious how well the case can keep high end components cool and how easy they are to build a system in.
YouTube Tries Everything
Back in March, Google-owned YouTube announced a new live TV streaming service called YouTube TV to compete with the likes of Sling, DirecTV Now, PlayStation Vue, and upcoming offerings from Hulu, Amazon, and others. All these services aim to deliver curated bundles of channels aimed at cord cutters that run over the top of customer’s internet only connections as replacements for or in addition to cable television subscriptions. YouTube TV is the latest entrant to this market with the service only available in seven test markets currently, but it is off to a good start with a decent selection of content and features including both broadcast and cable channels, on demand media, and live and DVR viewing options. A responsive user interface and generous number of family sharing options (six account logins and three simultaneous streams) will need to be balanced by the requirement to watch ads (even on some DVR’ed shows) and the $35 per month cost.
YouTube TV was launched in 5 cities with more on the way. Fortunately, I am lucky enough to live close enough to Chicago to be in-market and could test out Google’s streaming TV service. While not a full review, the following are my first impressions of YouTube TV.
Setup / Sign Up
YouTube TV is available with a one month free trail, after which you will be charged $35 a month. Sign up is a simple affair and can be started by going to tv.youtube.com or clicking the YouTube TV link from “hamburger” menu on YouTube. If you are on a mobile device, YouTube TV uses a separate app than the default YouTube app and weighs in at 9.11 MB for the Android version. The sign up process is very simple. After verifying your location, the following screens show you the channels available in your market and gives you the option of adding Showtime ($11) and/or Fox Soccer ($15) for additional monthly fees. After that, you are prompted for a payment method that can be the one already linked to your Google account and used for app purchases and other subscriptions. As far as the free trial, I was not charged anything and there was no hold on my account for the $35. I like that Google makes it easy to see exactly how many days you have left on your trial and when you will be charged if you do not cancel. Further, the cancel link is not buried away and is intuitively found by clicking your account photo in the upper right > Personal > Membership. Google is doing things right here. After signup, a tour is offered to show you the various features, but you can skip this if you want to get right to it.
In my specific market, I have the following channels. When I first started testing some of the channels were not available, and were just added today. I hope to see more networks added, and if Google can manage that YouTube TV and it’s $35/month price are going to shape up to be a great deal.
- ABC 7, CBS 2, Fox 32, NBC 5, ESPN, CSN, CSN Plus, FS1, CW, USA, FX, Free Form, NBC SN, ESPN 2, FS2, Disney, E!, Bravo, Oxygen, BTN, SEC ESPN Network, ESPN News, CBS Sports, FXX, Syfy, Disney Junior, Disney XD, MSNBC, Fox News, CNBC, Fox Business, National Geographic, FXM, Sprout, Universal, Nat Geo Wild, Chiller, NBC Golf, YouTube Red Originals
- Plus: AMC, BBC America, IFC, Sundance TV, We TV, Telemundo, and NBC Universal (just added).
- Optional Add-Ons: Showtime and Fox Soccer.
I tested YouTube TV out on my Windows PCs and an Android phone. You can also watch YouTube TV on iOS devices, and on your TV using an Android TVs and Chromecasts (At time of writing, Google will send you a free Chromecast after your first month). (See here for a full list of supported devices.) There are currently no Roku or Apple TV apps.
Each YouTube TV account can share out the subscription to 6 total logins where each household member gets their own login and DVR library. Up to three people can be streaming TV at the same time. While out and about, I noticed that YouTube TV required me to turn on location services in order to use the app. Looking further into it, the YouTube TV FAQ states that you will need to verify your location in order to stream live TV and will only be able to stream live TV if you are physically in the markets where YouTube TV has launched. You can watch your DVR shows anywhere in the US. However, if you are traveling internationally you will not be able to use YouTube TV at all (I’m not sure if VPNs will get around this or if YouTube TV blocks this like Netflix does). Users will need to login from their home market at least once every 3 months to keep their account active and able to stream content (every month for MLB content).
YouTube TV verifying location in Chrome (left) and on the android app (right).
On one hand, I can understand this was probably necessary in order for YouTube TV to negotiate a licensing deal, and their terms do seem pretty fair. I will have to do more testing on this as I wasn’t able to stream from the DVR without turning on location services on my Android – I can chalk this up to growing pains though and it may already be fixed.
Features & First Impressions
YouTube TV has an interface that is perhaps best described as a slimmed down YouTube that takes cues from Netflix (things like the horizontal scrolling of shows in categories). The main interface is broken down into three sections: Library, Home, and Live with the first screen you see when logging in being Home. You navigate by scrolling and clicking, and by pulling the menus up from the bottom while streaming TV like YouTube.
- Corsair Bulldog 2.0 (includes case, PSU, MB and CPU cooler)
- Intel Core i7-7700K
- 16GB Corsair Vengeance DDR4
- Corsair Z270 Motherboard mini ITX
- Corsair Hydro GTX 1080
- 480GB Neutron GTX SSD
- 600 watt Corsair PSU
The barebones kit starts at $399 through Corsair.com and includes the case, the motherboard, CPU cooler and 600-watt power supply. Not a bad price for those components!
You won't find any specific benchmarks in the video above, but you will find some impressions playing Resident Evil 7 in HDR mode at 4K resolution with the specs above, all on an LG OLED display. (Hint: it's awesome.)
Subject: Storage | August 3, 2016 - 01:19 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: UHD, Thecus, storage, NAS, N4810, N2810PRO, htpc, hdmi, DisplayPort, 4k, 4-Bay
Thecus has announced their newest NAS with the N4810, an 4-bay design based on the existing N2810PRO 2-bay model. The N4810 offers up to 40 TB of hard drive storage support, and an Intel Celeron N3160 (quad-core) processor with 4GB of RAM, which can be expanded to 8GB.
Image credit: Thecus
"With the N4810 built on the hardware of its little brother, the N2810PRO, users are equipped with the same immersive multimedia experience. Delivering superb sharpness and colour contrasts in 4K resolution playback, accessed through the HDMI output or DisplayPort output, guaranteeing that the picture quality from movies is just as the director envisioned.
Connection to your digital sound system via a SPDIF output is available, providing crystal clear audio for music and movies. A new USB 3.0 Type-C port has been added to the three already equipped USB 3.0 ports. This Type-C connector is the size of a microUSB and has a reversible plug allowing cables to be conveniently plugged in either direction."
Image credit: Thecus
The NAS is geared toward the living room, with HDMI output along with DisplayPort, and display output up to UHD/4K. We took a look at the 2-bay N2560 NAS a couple of years ago, and on paper this new model offers a substantial upgrade as an entertainment/HTPC solution. Availability is set for this month.
Subject: Systems, Storage | February 10, 2016 - 03:34 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: asustor, AS5002T, NAS, htpc, baytrail
Being in the market for a Plex server and running low on patience and spare hardware I have been sniffing around NAS servers, which is why you are now reading about the ASUSTOR AS5002T. Missing Remote just picked this NAS up for review, powered by a dual core Celeron J1800 clocked at 2.4GHz instead of an ARM processor. The reason that matters is the inclusion of Intel HD Graphics onboard for real time encoding when streaming to remote devices. On the other hand it is not the most modern of processors and the AS5002T also showed some peculiarity with drive sizes. The processor is not going to be able to push 4k over some interfaces but HDMI 1.4a, IR control capability and broad support for the usual selection of HTPC programs does make this NAS a good fit for many. Read the full review to get a better idea of the capabilities of the ASUSTOR AS5002T.
"The ASUSTOR AS5002T is the first Intel based network attached storage (NAS) device tested at Missing Remote. So, I was very curious to see how its dual-core 2.4GHz Celeron J1800 would stack up against the strong showing we’ve seen from ARM Cortex-A15 based systems recently."
Here are some more Storage reviews from around the web:
- PNY CS1311 @ The SSD Review
- PNY CS2211 SSD @ TechwareLabs
- Micron M600 512GB SSD Review @ NikKTech
- OCZ Trion 150 240GB and 480GB SSD @ Kitguru
- SanDisk Extreme 900 480GB Portable USB Type-C SSD @ Kitguru
- WD My Passport Ultra 3TB USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive Review @ NikKTech
- Kingston HyperX Savage 128GB USB 3.1 Gen 1 Flash Drive @ Modders-Inc
- Kingston HyperX Savage 128GB USB 3.1 Gen 1 Flash Drive Review @ NikKTech
Introduction and First Impressions
The Zotac ZBOX CI321 nano is a mini PC kit in the vein of the Intel NUC, and this version features a completely fanless design with built-in wireless for silent integration into just about any location. So is it fast enough to be an HTPC or desktop productivity machine? We will find out here.
I have reviewed a couple of mini-PCs in the past few months, most recently the ECS LIVA X back in January. Though the LIVA X was not really fast enough to be used as a primary device it was small and inexpensive enough to be an viable product depending on a user’s needs. One attractive aspect of the LIVA designs, and any of the low-power computers introduced recently, is the passive nature of such systems. This has unfortunately resulted in the integration of some pretty low-performance CPUs to stay within thermal (and cost) limits, but this is beginning to change. The ZBOX nano we’re looking at today carries on the recent trend of incorporating slightly higher performance parts as its Intel Celeron processor (the 2961Y) is based on Haswell, and not the Atom cores at the heart of so many of these small systems.
Another parallel to the Intel NUC is the requirement to bring your own memory and storage, and the ZBOX CI321 nano accepts a pair of DDR3 SoDIMMs and 2.5” storage drives. The Intel Celeron 2961Y processor supports up to 1600 MHz dual-channel DDR3L which allows for much higher memory bandwidth than many other mini-PCs, and the storage controller supports SATA 6.0 Gbps which allows for higher performance than the eMMC storage found in a lot of mini-PCs, depending on the drive you choose to install. Of course your mileage will vary depending on the components selected to complete the build, but it shouldn’t be difficult to build a reasonably fast system.
If you’re a fan of digital video and music, you’ve likely heard the name “Plex” floating around. Plex (not to be confused with EVE Online’s in-game subscription commodity) is free media center software that lets users manage and stream a wide array of videos, audio files, and pictures to virtually any computer and a growing number of mobile devices and electronics. As a Plex user from the very beginning, I’ve seen the software change and evolve over the years into the versatile and powerful service it is today.
My goal with this article twofold. First, as an avid Plex user, I’d like to introduce the software to users have yet to hear about or try it. Second, for those already using or experimenting with Plex, I hope that I can provide some “best practices” when it comes to configuring your servers, managing your media, or just using the software in general.
Before we dive into the technical aspects of Plex, let’s look at a brief overview of the software’s history and the main components that comprise the Plex ecosystem today.
Although now widely supported on a range of platforms, Plex was born in early 2008 as an OS X fork of the Xbox Media Center project (XBMC). Lovingly named “OSXBMC” (get it?) by its creators, the software was initially a simple media player for Mac, with roughly the same capabilities as the XBMC project from which it was derived. (Note: XBMC changed its name to “Kodi” in August, although you’ll still find plenty of people referring to the software by its original name).
A few months into the project, the OSXBMC team decided to change the name to “Plex” and things really started to take off for the nascent media software. Unlike the XBMC/Kodi community, which focused its efforts primarily on the playback client, the Plex team decided to bifurcate the project with two distinct components: a dedicated media server and a dedicated playback client.
The dedicated media server made Plex unique among its media center peers. Once properly set up, it gave users with very little technical knowledge the ability to maintain a server that was capable of delivering their movies, TV shows, music, and pictures on demand throughout the house and, later, the world. We'll take a more detailed look at each of the Plex components next.
The “brains” behind the entire Plex ecosystem is Plex Media Server (PMS). This software, available for Windows, Linux, and OS X, manages your media database, metadata, and any necessary transcoding, which is one of its best features. Although far from error-free, the PMS encoding engine can convert virtually any video codec and container on the fly to a format requested by a client device. Want to play a high-bitrate 1080p MKV file with a 7.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack on your Roku? No problem; Plex will seamlessly transcode that high quality source file to the proper format for Roku, as well as your iPad, or your Galaxy S5, and many other devices, all without having to store multiple copies of your video files.