Subject: General Tech | July 14, 2012 - 02:39 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: quad core, arm, SoC, Android, xbmc, htpc, mini-itx
This week has been rife with ARM computers. The latest ARM system comes in the form of a mini-ITX form factor motherboard and quad core ARM processor combination from embedded system manufacturer Kontron. Named the KTT30/mITX, it measures 17 cm x 17 cm, the little motherboard provides a plethora of IO ports and the relatively short (depth-wise) motherboard would be great in a HTPC box, assuming the software is there (an XBMC release ported over from the Raspberry Pi build would be nice to see, for example).
The motherboard is paired with a quad core ARM Cortex A9 processor running at 900 MHz, video hardware acceleration coprocessor, and up to 2GB of DDR3L memory. It is reportedly capable of playing back 1080p H.264 videos. Internal connectors include two SD card clots, a SIM card socket, and two mPCIe connectors. Rear board IO includes three USB 2.0 ports (one micro, two regular-sized type A), an HDMI port, Gigabit Ethernet NIC, S/PDIF audio, two RS232 serial ports, and three analog audio output jacks.
It looks like a neat little board, though only if the price is right. If it is prohibitively expensive, it may be bumping up against AMD’s APU and accompanying motherboards. And because the APUs can utilize x86-64 software, that is a big positive in its favor. With that said, if this board is cheap enough, it could make sense as the base of a cheap HTPC.
Read more about the Mini-ITX ARM-powered system over at Fanless Tech.
Subject: General Tech | June 29, 2012 - 10:17 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: sony, smart tv, htpc, google tv, google, Android
Yes, it does appear that Google TV is still a “thing” – though I am only reminded because Sony has not stoppsed releasing new boxes running Android. The NSZ-GS7 is a small box designed to sit between your TV and cable box to add additional smart TV-like functionality. It is running a dual core Marvell ARM processor, and has 8GB of storage space, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth radios. Rear IO on the device includes two HDMI ports (for HDMI passthrough of your cable box or other media device), optical audio output, an IR blaster port, Ethernet, two USB ports, and a power input port.
The interesting thing about these Google TV products has always been the remotes. There have been some strange designs in the past, but the Sony NSZ-GS7’s remote actually looks nice and comfortable. The front of the remote resembles any standard TV remote with a track pad added to it while the back of the remote features a full QWERTY keyboard. It also has an accelerometer and is allegedly capable of detecting which side of the remote you are using – and will turn off the buttons on the underside to avoid accidental key-presses.
I really like this remote. Image credit goes to Tom's Hardware.
Beyond the hardware itself, the Google TV box is running Android 3.2 Honeycomb. It is able to acts as an enhanced TV guide as well as providing web access and Google App functionality (for the few apps that have been modified to work specifically with Google TVs anyway). One of the cool apps available is one that can control a Parrot AR.Drone on the big screen with the TV remote, which sounds like fun (my dog would go nuts!). It is also capable of doing picture-in-picture where users can browse the web while also watching the TV in a smaller window.
Tom’s Hardware managed to gets a hands-on demo with the new device courtesy of Sony Canada. They managed to snag several good photos of the hardware and interface. They note that the NSZ-GS7 Google TV box will be coming out next month for those in the US and UK – a Canadian launch is following in August – for $199. You can find more photos at the link above.
Especially with the release of the Nexus Q, I have to wonder if Google is even aware that Google TV is still around, because it really feels like they launched it and then walked away from it. Now that they are focusing on “the cloud” for media playback, the Google TV has even less relevance to the company. On the other hand, I could see an perspective where both devices are able to coexist and flesh out total living room media functionality with the Nexus Q handling the social and cloud media playback and Google TV acting as a better cable box for “offline” media. I am curious though, what you think of Google TV. Do you like it, or would you rather have a beefier HTPC running Windows or Linux on x86/64 hardware? Where do you think the Google TV fits into the living room?
Other Google I/O News:
- Google I/O: Day One Announcements
- Google Glasses
- Google Selling Nexus 7 At Cost, Pushing Its Google Play Store
- The ASUS tablet that became the Nexus 7
- Google I/O talk on the PC Perspective Podcast
Subject: Motherboards | June 6, 2012 - 06:04 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: Z77, msi, motherboard, mini-itx, Intel, htpc, computex
MSI is showing off a lot of motherboards at Computex 2012. One in particular that stuck out to me was a mini ITX motherboard that sported Ivy Bridge compatibility, four SATA ports (2 which are SATA 6Gbps), and PCI-E 3.0 compliant making it perfect for an high performance HTPC build. The motherboard in question is the MSI Z77IA-E53 and as the name suggests it is based around Intel’s Z77 chipset.
The mini-ITX form factor motherboard sports MSI’s ClickBIOS II UEFI BIOS and its OC Genie II technology as well as THX TruStudio Pro audio. Other features include an LGA 1155 socket for Ivy Bridge or Sandy Bridge (Core i7, i5, i3, Pentium or Celeron) processors, two DDR3 DIMM slots (up to 16GB of 2800MHz), and a single PCI-E 3.0 x16 slot at the very bottom of the motherboard.
On the back of the board, the Z77IA-E53 features HDMI and VGA video outputs, two USB 3.0 ports, four USB 2.0 ports, an eSATA port, Gigabit LAN, PS/2 port, optical audio outpu, three 3.5mm jacks for analog audio output, and WiFi and Bluetooth radios.
Unfortunately, there is no word yet on pricing or availability.
Subject: Motherboards | June 5, 2012 - 06:40 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: trinity, msi, htpc, fm2, computex, amd
Located at Booth L0810 in Nangang Hall 4F, MSI is showing off a tong of new hardware. One of the interesting displays is a wall of new motherboards based on AMD’s desktop Trinity APUs. Using the company’s Hybrid Digital Power design, the FM2 socket-based motherboards come in three sizes: EATX, ATX, and mini-ITX to meet various project needs.
MSI's Trinity display at Computex 2012. Source: MSI
The smallest of the bunch is the MSI A85IA-E53 motherboard, which is designed for HTPC use. Based on AMD’s A75 chipset, the mini-ITX board features an AMD FM2 socket in the middle, with two DDR3 DIMM slots (a maximum of 16GB of memory) below, a single PCI-E 2.0 x16 slot to the left, and four SATA 6Gbps ports to the right of the FM2 socket.
Rear IO on the board includes a combo PS/2 port, optical audio (TOSLink) output, VGA and HDMI video outputs, three eSATA ports, two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, a Gigabit LAN port, and analog audio out via three 3.5mm jacks. The motherboard also features integrated WiFi and Bluetooth radios. Built with the company’s military class III components, the A85IA-E53 comes packed with the ClickBIOS II, OC Genie II, and support for HD7000 series graphics cards.
MSI has two mid-sized ATX form factor motherboards with the the MSI A55M-P33 (F2) and MSI A85MA-35. The former is intended for traditional desktop use cases while the latter is rather shallow in depth and is meant to be used in living room HTPCs.
MSI A55M-P33 (F2)
The MSI A55M-P33 (F2) is the company’s budget desktop motherboard. It supports OC Genie II and ClickBIOS II technologies as well as AMD Dual Graphics which allows the pairing of a Trinity APU integrated graphics card and discrete AMD GPU. In adition to the FM2 socket, the board features two DDR3 DIMM slots (maximum of 16GB of 1866MHz memory), four SATA 3Gbps ports, one PCI-E 2.0 x16 slot, one PCI-E 2.0 x1 slot, and one legacy PCI slot.
This motherboard is actually based on the AMD A55 chipset which explains the lack of 6Gbps ports and USB 3.0 support. The company describes the board as the “value choice” for those upgrading to a new Trinity-based system. Rear IO on the A55M-P33 (F2) includes eight USB 2.0 ports, six 3.5mm jacks for analog audio output, Gigabit Ethernet, and DVI and VGA display outputs.
The second ATX motherboard is the MSI A85MA-E35. This motherboard has been designed wider and shallower than traditional desktop ATX boards so that it can fit into slim HTPC cases (that usually have more room longways than height-wise as they need to be able to fit into AV racks and other short spaces). It is essentially the mATX A85IA-E53’s big brother as it takes the AMD A75 chipset and takes advantage of the larger PCB area to add additional functionality. The motherboard features MSI’s OC Genie II and ClickBIOS II technology and AMD’s Dual Graphics support for pairing a dedicated GPU with the Trinity APU’s graphics portion.
The board is rather spaced out as the PCB is stretched out to keep things as shallow as possible. It does feature two DDR3 DIMM slots (maximum of 16GB 1866MHz RAM), the AMD FM2 processor socket, one PCI-E 2.0 x16 slot, two PCI-E 2.0 x1 slots, and one legacy PCI slot. The only motheboard component with a heatsink attached is the southbridge, which is powering six SATA ports, at least four of which are 6Gbps (MSI only lists four 6Gbps ports in the documentation, seen above and to the right of the board [TechPowerUp indicates that all six are 6Gbps, however]). Rear IO includes four USB 3.0 ports, six analog audio out jacks, Gigabit LAN, and what is likely a PS/2 port and optical audio output.
Finally, the FM2 motherboard to rule them all (or at least the company’s AMD lineup) is the MSI A85XA-G65. The board comes packed with MSI technology including Military Class III components, OC Genie II, ClickBIOS II, Hybrid Design Power, THX TruStuio Pro, AMD Dual Graphics (APU+discrete card), AMD CrossFire, NVIDIA SLI, and AMD Eyefinity.
In other words, MSI has bolted just about everything it could to this board. They confidently labeled the motherboard as the board for enthusiasts to use to push Trinity overclocks as far as possible. The first thing I noticed about the image (seen below) of the A85XA-G65 was the massive heatsinks on the VRMs and southbridge – did I mention they were huge? In addition to the well-cooled VRMs, the motherboard features four DDR3 DIMM slots (max of 32GB 1866MHz RAM), two PCI-E 2.0 x16 slots, three PCI-E 2.0 x1 slots, and two legacy PCI slots towards the bottom of the board. To the right is the southbridge (with relatively large heatsink) powering eight SATA 6Gbps ports.
The A85XA-G65 supports DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI, and VGA video outputs. Beyond that, rear IO includes a combo PS/2 port, four USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit LAN, six 3.5mm jacks for multi-channel analog audio outputs, and an optical audio output. If you want to push desktop Trinity to the max, this board definitely seems like a good place to start.
MSI has definitely come out in full force with a slew of AMD Trinity motherboards. The HTPC ones, and the mini-ITX one in particular, interest me. The beastly A85XA-G65 is also pretty neat for overclocking potential. Stay tuned to PC Perspective for more Computex 2012 coverage! What do you guys want to see from the show? You can see a few more photos after the break.
Subject: Systems | May 30, 2012 - 02:21 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: htpc, motorola, Pulse-Eight, Motorola NYXboard Hybrid, wireless keyboard
Pulse-Eight's Motorola NYXboard Hybrid Wireless Keyboard and IR Remote is a double sided device, with a minimalist keyboard on one side and a more traditional TV remote control on the other. It is perfect for those with an HTPC or set top box which allows web browsing and other features that a standard remote just can't fully control. An internal switch ensures that only the buttons on the side of the device which are currently on the top are active to make usage a lot more convenient. At 144 x 48 x 21mm (5.7" x 1.9" x 0.8") it is too small to have a full standard keyboard but thanks to numerous key chords you get a lot of functionality out of this tiny device. Check with Missing Remote to see if this is the remote missing from your life.
"Not long ago it was easy to lean primarily on a traditional remote control – universal, of course -- relegating the keyboard and mouse to the audio & video (A/V) cabinet, closet, or other locale of last resort –dragging it out just for occasional maintenance or troubleshooting. However, as over-the-top (OTT) content providers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and YouTube have become more pervasive, the traditional remote can no longer provide enough functionality as we transition to a search, browse and consume environment."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- Dune HD TV-301A Universal FullHD Network Media Player Review @ NikKTech
- Noontec A9 Smart TV Box @ Kitguru
- Pivos aios HD Media Center Review @ NikKTech
- Roku HD (2012) Review @ TechReviewSource
- Samsung BD-D6500 3D Blu-Ray Player Review @ Tweaknews
- SilverStone Grandia SST-GD08B HTPC Chassis @ Tweaktown
Subject: General Tech, Cases and Cooling, Systems | May 22, 2012 - 05:22 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: VIA, htpc, APC
VIA tops Gingerbread with a banana for some reason. They also unveil a $49 system powered by Android 2.3 which has been customized for mouse and keyboard support. The system draws between 4 and 13.5 watts (idle and load respectively) and can be mounted into any standard Mini-ITX or microATX chassis as well as chassis for the new Neo-ITX standard.
I guess VIA wants to be more than just Android-in-law to HTC.
It seems as though the low powered computing market is continuing to be eaten by ARM with devices such as VIA’s just announced APC Android PC. The APC seems to be aimed at the home theatre and enthusiast markets. VIA also hopes that the low price point will introduce more people to computing.
Apparently VIA prefers bananas to Apples.
The APC is powered by an 800MHz VIA ARM11 system-on-a-chip with 512 MB of DDR3 RAM. 2GB of flash memory is embedded on the device which can be expanded by a microSD card slot. It may also be possible to install extra memory through one of the four USB2.0 ports on the device although that is not explicitly stated in the press release. Display output will be limited to 720p. Power usage will vary between 4 and 13.5 watts depending on load.
VIA is also promoting the device for its Neo-ITX form factor. The APC is 17cm x 8.5cm in dimensions -- which is just under 6 3/4” by 3 3/8” for you non-Metrics -- and can mount in Mini-ITX or microATX cases. It apparently is also smaller than a banana.
The APC is expected to ship this July for $49.
Subject: Systems | May 9, 2012 - 06:34 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
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.
"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."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- Noontec MovieHome V8 NAS Media Player @ Kitguru
- Australian Blu-ray Importing: May 2012 Buying Guide @ Tweaktown
- ASRock's High-End Vision 3D 252B HTPC @ AnandTech
- Egreat S-Series R300 Network HD Media Player Review @ NikKTech
- SilverStone Grandia GD07 Review: Centering and Serving Your Media @ AnandTech
- Thermaltake Element Q Small Form Factor Chassis @ TechwareLabs
- ZOTAC A75-ITX WiFi A-E @ techPowerUp
Subject: General Tech | May 7, 2012 - 06:01 PM | Tim Verry
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.
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.
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.
Subject: Systems | April 27, 2012 - 01:12 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
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.
"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."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- HIS Multi-View & Sound Adapter Review @ NikKTech
- Eminent HD Media Player EM7280 @ Kitguru
- Panasonic DMP-BDT220 Review @ TechReviewSource
- Logitech Harmony 1100 Advanced Universal Remote Review @ NikKTech
Subject: General Tech | April 16, 2012 - 11:27 PM | Tim Verry
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!