First Look - Ceton Echo Windows Media Extender

Nov 02 2012

Ceton EchoThe 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.

First Look

With all the competition between little black media boxes Ceton can be forgiven for the Echo’s prominent logo placement, where it taking space on the front (currently lit when on, but should be controllable at launch), the top, and the bottom of the device. The chassis is extruded aluminum with a solid, quality feel very consistent with its price. Similar to many modern streamers connectivity is limited to HDMI and TOSLINK (optical S/PDIF), but power is provided via a mini-USB port on the back. This an interesting option, because it raises the question whether it is possible to power the Echo directly off a TV with USB – and it is as long as the display can provide the 3-4W demanded. There is some variance between TVs though, so it may not work, but at least with the Panasonic VT25 tested it was a resounding success. This is of course and unsupported configuration, but too slick a possibility to not include here. Unfortunately HDMI CEC does not appear to be enabled in the BETA, so we will have to test that later, but assuming that Ceton adds the feature it will make the Echo just about perfect for a low-touch-back-of-the-TV install.

Where USB power provides flexibly, the included wall wart takes it away in spades – requiring at least four inches of clearance off the wall. It is of course swappable for something slimmer, and provides easier access to other electrical standards when Ceton releases in other locales I just wish the behind-the-dresser use case had carried more weight during planning.

The urge to compare the Echo to over the top (OTT) media streamers, like the Roku 2 and AppleTV, because of form factor is somewhat understandable, but the feature sets are too fundamentally different to find any real value in doing so. In fact, the best competitive device is the (no longer available) SageTV STP-HD300 also shown in the gallery above. OTT streamers provide access to services like Netflix, VUDU, Amazon Video, etc., but are extremely limited when it comes to consuming local content. As an Extender for Windows Media Center the Ceton Echo provides access to the WMC experience without connecting a PC to your TV. In some cases a second home theater PC (HTPC) can be used with the primary WMC digital video recorder (DVR), but even if all of the channels are not encrypted only an extender provides Live TV and a useable experience when viewing files as they record. Both areas where the Echo has been tested, works as expected, and consumes much less power when doing so than a HTPC. Consumption of other file types is an area where significant additional focus will be paid in the full review, but time and readiness did not allow for that today.

Where the Ceton Echo has a quality feel about it, my first impressions of the remote are not positive. More time is required to see if it grows on me, but so far the only strongly positive thing I can say is that I am really glad that there are discrete power buttons included. Otherwise the lack of lettering on the number keys (which make triple-tap difficult) and poor tactile response from the buttons signal strongly that it is intended for programming a universal and not much else.

Wrapping Up

Over the next few weeks our Ceton Echo will be tested much more thoroughly, but with the pre-order page on Newegg going up today and a $10 gift card plus free shipping (by 11/30) available for a limited time, it seemed important to get as much information out there as possible. While the answers to most of the “will it play X” are still unknown the hardware is solid, low power, and completely silent – if you’ve been waiting for a more discrete Windows Media Center Extender the Echo is it.

Comments

I'm thinking of picking this up for my parents, but need to know if the remote uses the same Microsoft codes that previous extenders' remotes (and the xbox remote) did.  Let me explain...

I have a strange compatibility issue with their TV downstairs.  If you use a Media Center remote, the TV responds to (and misinterprets) some of the commands.  For example, the "Left" button on the remote causes the TV to switch inputs; definitely a deal-breaker.  MCE Remotes like the one for PC, the old D-link and Linksys extenders, and even the xbox 360 remote all would cause the tv to respond.  The reverse is also true, in that commands from the TV remote would be picked up by the MCE devices.

Does the Echo use it's own coding, or does it follow the MCE Remote standard?

So far, I've been making due by having them use a wireless gamepad to control the Xbox.  (They complain about this endlessly!)

The Echo will work with any WMC remote or universal remote programmed with the WMC codeset.  I use my Harmony One to control the Echo and it works great.  Aside from the software glitches in the beta units that are still being worked, the remote seems to be the one major gripe most people have about the Echo.  Apparently this was designed by committee and is was a great matter of contention between the designers.

Ceton off-the-shelfed an existing design. I'd guess that they focused the development/BOM $ on the Echo itself and not on the remote figuring that it's impossible please everyone. I'd also guess that most enthusiasts (target market for this device) have a quality universal so IMO it was the right decision.

babgvant wrote:

Ceton off-the-shelfed an existing design. I'd guess that they focused the development/BOM $ on the Echo itself and not on the remote figuring that it's impossible please everyone. I'd also guess that most enthusiasts (target market for this device) have a quality universal so IMO it was the right decision.

Sorry, but Ceton should have left this design on the shelf, IMHO.  The supplied remote is simply too small for the average user.  The buttons are way too small and run together in a continuous horizontal bar, making it virtually impossible to detect the correct button by tactile feel.  The placards for the buttons on the bottom two rows are too small to read, especially in low light.  For $179 I think the prospective buyer should be given a remote they can actually use.  While I agree that most users will switch out the remote for another one, it's a pretty lame excuse for providing such a crappy remote.  Based on the feedback Ceton is getting in the Echo forums, it appears that I'm not alone in my opinion.

I'm really starting to like the Echo the more I use it, especially with the anticipation of new features that have been all but guaranteed, but the remote just plain sucks.  If the price point were below $100 then I wouldn't complain about the remote because it's clear that it was an afterthought.  I suspect the Echo will hit that price within a year or so if the Echo's track record is anything like the InfiniTV4.

captain_video wrote:

Sorry, but Ceton should have left this design on the shelf, IMHO.  The supplied remote is simply too small for the average user.  The buttons are way too small and run together in a continuous horizontal bar, making it virtually impossible to detect the correct button by tactile feel.  The placards for the buttons on the bottom two rows are too small to read, especially in low light. 

Agreed, and why is there an "Eject" button at all? Still trying to figure out what it does Smile.

captain_video wrote:

For $179 I think the prospective buyer should be given a remote they can actually use. 

If getting a better remote raised the SRP to $190 would it be worth it? If I was a device maker I would probably do the same thing and take the heat for shipping a low quality remote. No matter what they chose someone would have a problem with it. I can't remember when I was happy with anyone's remote, I don't even like my Harmony that much - it just happens to be the best of the worst Smile.

 

babgvant wrote:

If getting a better remote raised the SRP to $190 would it be worth it? If I was a device maker I would probably do the same thing and take the heat for shipping a low quality remote. No matter what they chose someone would have a problem with it. I can't remember when I was happy with anyone's remote, I don't even like my Harmony that much - it just happens to be the best of the worst Smile.

My point was that a better remote should have been provided at the current price, not a higher one.  By better I actually mean bigger.  The supplied remote is just too small.  The buttons need to be larger and separated so they can be used without looking at it.  It's just too easy to hit the wrong button or even multiple buttons if you have big hands.

I couldn't agree more about remotes in general.  There is no such thing as the perfect remote.  It's almost impossible to configure the button layout where everything you need for every situation is right at your fingertips.  I don't like touchscreens because there's no tactile feel that would enable you to use it without having to look at it. 

OTOH, I like my Harmony One for it's simplicity.  I only use the touchscreen when I absolutely have to.  The buttons are big enough with ample space between them so I can tell which is which just by feel.  It's also got an ergonomic design to make it fit my hand more comfortably.

They could have used the Linksys remote which at least had a better layout and some programmable buttons for tv on/off, volume and mute.  The other problem is there is not additional remote code so it can't live in a room with a remote controlled HTPC or a Linksys extender.

A much better remote was the one supplied with the HP280n which could have programed buttons as well as set up for tv, cbl, dvd, and aux. A much better button layout and backlight.

Hopefully keyboard support will help out on the remote issue as soon as the unit supports the HID codes for keyboards (it doesn't now) and then you could search, etc with keyboard support and will be important when the "browser" shows up.

I still use the old gray Microsoft MCE remote (I use 2 of them). I hope it will work with the Echo...

Chasseur wrote:

I still use the old gray Microsoft MCE remote (I use 2 of them). I hope it will work with the Echo...

No worries.  It should work fine.

Compared with an XBOX 360, other than noise and possibly running costs due to higher electricity usage of the XBOX, can someone outline advantages of this device over the 360? My understanding is its 'just an extender', or is there more to it?

The Echo will have more codec support than any previous extender, including the X-Box 360.  This means it will have the ability to play more video formats.  The Echo will be more like a combination of an extender and a media player rather than "just an extender."  There are still a lot of bugs to be worked out in it, but it's getting there.

How long does it take to boot? Booting Xbox 360 to MCE is quite long when you want to watch tv for a few minutes...

Chasseur wrote:

How long does it take to boot? Booting Xbox 360 to MCE is quite long when you want to watch tv for a few minutes...

I'll let others comment on the boot time but one nice thing about the Echo running @ ~5W MAX compared to an Xbox is that you can leave it on w/o feeling guilty or hearing it Smile

Boot time is less than a minute and probably less than 30 seconds.  I haven't actually timed it but it's definitely not all that bad.  There's supposed to be a new firmware being released sometime this week so maybe I'll time it after mine's been updated.

Absolutely no reason to turn it off.  Extremely low power consumption, heat is inconsequential, and it's dead silent.

yeah, outside of force of habit. well that and until they turn the CETON light off, it's too bright to forget it's on, considering it's in my bedroom.

Mike Garcen wrote:

yeah, outside of force of habit. well that and until they turn the CETON light off, it's too bright to forget it's on, considering it's in my bedroom.

Shush you. I'll add that to the next update.

Please tell me it isn't a beam of blue light? Good to hear it is going away though, or atleast having the option to be turned off. 

http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Health_Letter/2012/May...

I always have to put electical tape over the lights on my pcs, wireless routers and such that I can see when in a dark room.

So the Echo runs at ~5W Max, but it has a ~4W light on front?
Maybe put a tape on front to hide that CETON light. Smile

Can you comment on MKV support? Why does MS make it so hard to get basic video container support like MKV in their products?  Does Divx need to be installed on the WMC PC like with the Xbox 360?

mbial wrote:

Does Divx need to be installed on the WMC PC like with the Xbox 360?

Duh... You made the lightbulb go off... that is why my movies stopped working on my new HTPC.. forgot to install DIVX again.. 

There is no IR extender connector? How could this be mounted behind a TV?

Chasseur wrote:

There is no IR extender connector? How could this be mounted behind a TV?

There's a USB port on the back of the Echo.  It's been reported that you can plug any IR receiver that's WMC compatible into this port and it will work with the Echo so you can place it out of sight.  I haven't tried this myself but I've read where it's worked for others.

What about bluetooth remotes?

chestnu1 wrote:

What about bluetooth remotes?

Can't say I've ever seen a bluetooth remote for a PC so I can't really answer that.  However, there's no way to set up a bluetooth device on the Ceton so my gut tells me it won't work.  Right now the Echo does not have any sort of interactive GUI for setting up the Echo itself.  It just acts as a conduit to a WMC PC.

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