Pulse-Eight Internal HDMI CEC Adapter

Oct 09 2012

Pulse-Eight LogoIn an HDMI A/V environment, Consumer Electronics Control (CEC) is the glue that ties components together into a cohesive unit--able to be controlled by a single remote without the hassle, or expense, of a normal universal as well as removing infrared’s (IR) line-of-site requirement for playback devices. Where there can be problems with the protocol, most often the root cause is linked to the unfortunate fact that CEC works [best] when every component on the HDMI bus supports it – which until recently has left home theater PC (HTPC) users out in the cold. Coming to market with an HDMI+USB dongle, Pulse-Eight brought this segment into the modern age, but with the form factor trade-offs demanded of an external adapter and lacking of wake-from S5 (soft- off) some compromise was still required. Fortunately for those with Intel Media Series motherboards offering an HTPC_HEADER like the DH61AG or DH77DF, Pulse-Eight is back with an internal solution able to correct both of these gaps.

Device

Consistent with each of the packages I have received from Pulse-Eight, the Internal CEC adapter arrived safely, encased in bubble wrap and sporting a foam pad to protect its pins. Just a bit larger than a quarter, the PCB fit easily into the Wesena ITX5. Unfortunately I was not able to find a place in the case to mount the board using the holes provided; this is not unexpected so Pulse-Eight provides a mounting pad which can be used to attach it directly to the chassis. Control is supplied via USB, so besides the HTPC_HEADER which provides power and access to the CEC and REC_LED pins, a free internal header is required. I had no trouble finding one on the Intel DH77DF used for testing, but since the BIOS on the board does not implement the necessary support for the REC_LED it was untested in this review. For those leveraging this feature, it is important to note that while four pins are present for structural stability, the LED should be attached to the two pins furthest from the edge marked with a “+”  opposite the set marked with “NC”. Electricity consumption was minimal with only a 0.1 watt difference noted in various states with the adapter fully installed.

Use

Like the NYXBoard, Pulse-Eight’s internal HDMI CEC adapter receives the strongest support inside of the XBMC ecosystem. With those opting for their builds of OpenELEC enjoying an almost entirely hassle-free experience. While it is still necessary to configure the device in more complex installations, using an audio video receiver (AVR) for example, once finished the adapter completes the goal of OpenELEC - combining CE usability with the flexibility and features of a home theater PC (HTPC). I could go on about this, but nothing I would write here captures the experience as well as the video above.

Having seen how well navigation works, being able to manage all of the power states is another part of the CE experience which is often not matched by the HTPC. Both of Pulse-Eights HDMI CEC adapters can wake the system from S3 (standby) in OpenELEC and Windows, but because of its tighter integration, the internal adapter provides functionality not possible from its USB predecessor – wake from S5, or soft-off.

While OpenELEC provide a more seamless installation experience, it cannot be said that other platforms must suffer to enjoy the same integration in alternate builds of XBMC--including Microsoft Windows. Inside XBMC the experience is almost identical, with only a slightly higher tendency to detect register two key presses when only one was intended (an issue that will be fixed shortly). Those with slow fingers, or overly sensitive remotes, would benefit from a configurable minimum delay between presses to avoid the problem, but given its infrequent nature the current state is certainly livable.

Support outside of XBMC, both in the operating system (OS) and other applications is currently an area where more work is required. Fortunately Pulse-Eight has already identified this need and is working on a tray application which will provide configurable support for other applications including Microsoft Windows Media Center. I hesitate to comment in too much depth on the feature set currently available because the application is still early in the BETA phase, but I have used it and while still a little rough around the edges (as most BETA apps are) there is tremendous promise. That said, there is no need to wait on Pulse-Eight to deliver this application if you have the desire and .NET expertise because they provide an open source (free for non-commercial use) software development kit (SDK) for programming against both adapters.

Conclusion

Finding the strengths and weakness in a product is an area which receives a significant amount of attention in our reviews, so it is somewhat frustrating when the “Con” list reads like a set of nitpicks instead of serious complaints – which is the case with Pulse-Eight’s internal HDMI CEC adapter. Irrespective of platform, XBMC users enjoy an outstanding control experience and can comfortably place the system anywhere in the A/V cabinet without fear or need for a keyboard. Full support for Microsoft Windows and applications outside of XBMC is still a work in progress however, so I look forward to watching that develop in the next few months. It is clear to me that by offering all of the features expected from a device of this type, including waking the PC from S3/S5 and input selection, this device makes the HTPC a first class citizen on the HDMI bus. That it comes in an outstanding form factor and at a reasonable price means everyone wins.

Pro:

  • Small, low power HDMI CEC solution
  • Can wake PC from S5 (off) and S3 (standby) in Linux and Windows
  • FOSS SDK for non-commercial use

Con:

  • Requires a motherboard with HTPC_HEADER
  • Currently only XBMC enjoy full support

Thanks to Pulse-Eight for providing the review sample.

Comments

How long are the included USB- and HTPC-cables?

I'll just answer myself if anyone else is interested. The USB-cable is about 20cm and the HTPC-cable about 35cm long.

Sorry. I put this on my TODO list, but haven't been able to find the time when it's convenient to rip the PC apart Smile.

Very cool tech.
Wish I had a compatible motherboard in my HTPC.

Now to look for an external HDMI CEC Adapter that could do the same thing.
Can anyone recommend such an addapter?

Pulse-Eight also makes an external CEC adapter.

Yes I was looking at it on the site.

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