Reviews

Feb 02 2010

Review - Thinkflood's Redeye: A True iPhone Infrared Remote

 

redeye-environment-thumb.jpg

ThinkFlood's RedEye

The idea of an app for the iPhone that allows you to control your A/V equipment is not new, but Thinkflood is unique in that it adds hardware into the mix.  RedEye by Thinkflood attempts to convert the iPhone into an activity based learning infrared remote that is competative with the biggest players in the industry.  The infrared extender is similar in form factor to the standard Apple charging cradle but packs some specialized hardware.  Inside the base station are multiple infrared LEDs that when connected to the iPhone via Wi-Fi allow you to control just about anything with an IR sensor.  At an MSRP of $188 this device is priced in the middle of high end activity based radio frequency remote controls.  Will it be the "ultimate evolution of the remote control?"                  


Jan 30 2010

Review - EFO RF Wireless Handheld Keyboard

main.jpg
Review: EFO RF Wireless Handheld Keyboard

 

Everyone comes to a point sooner or later where having a remote control in front of you just doesn't meet all of your needs.  For those times it is handy to have a keyboard nearby.  But who wants to lug out a big keyboard that tethers you to the HTPC?  It's much more convenient to use something wireless and easy to hide.  Let's have a look at an offering from EFO to see if it fits your needs.

Jan 25 2010

Review - Patriot Box Office HD Media Player

PBO_16-thumb.JPG

Patriot Box Office HD

Patriot has been around for years, mainly known for memory type products. Recently however, Patriot has branched out quite a bit in their product lineup and have now introduced a viable high definition media player to compete in the somewhat crowded world. This particular unit takes a similar media player concept and hardware platform and expands upon it, allowing hard drive expandability and a few other neat extras to go along with its already solid file support. Could this be the media player to replace all others?

 

Jan 18 2010

Review - QNAP TS-419P

   
 

main.jpg

QNAP TS-419P Review

Recently released from QNAP the TS-419P is the new addition to their four slot NAS family. Read on to see if it will fit your storage needs.

Introduction

We recently took a look at the TS-219P NAS from QNAP and found it to be a good unit at that price point. Today, we are going to take its big brother, the TS-419P , for a spin to see how it compares.

Hardware Stuff

Similar to the TS-219P, the packaging for the QNAP TS-419P is covered with information about features and stats. There is no blank brown box here.

 

tncimg6525.jpg tncimg6526.jpg
Packaging front Packaging back

 

 

The NAS itself looks very similar to the TS-219P but with the addition of two more drive bays for a total of four, and an LCD panel for a digital readout of the NAS status. To navigate information on the LCD screen there are Enter and Select buttons.

The front of the TS-419P has four LED status indicators for STATUS, LAN, USB and eSATA. There is also a power button as well as a USB port encircled by a Copy button. Pushing the Copy button with a USB drive attached will automatically copy the contents of the USB drive into a predefined folder called QUSB. This makes it very easy for a user to copy MP3s or photos onto the NAS for safe keeping.

 

tncimg6532.jpg tncimg6533.jpg
TS-419P front TS-419P back

  

The rear of the TS-419P has a 90mm fan, 2x eSATA, 2x LAN, 3x USB, reset button and power input. As with the smaller TS-219P unit, the fan on the rear is powerful enough to keep the drives nice and cool while still remaining extremely quiet. I have been running this unit on the shelf next to me for a couple of weeks now and do not notice the fan noise unless I put my ear right next to it. While this is not a quantitative analysis I would feel comfortable putting this unit directly on top of my entertainment center and not need to worry about noise. According to QNAP the operating sound level is 35.1dB during operation.

The TS-419P is necessarily larger than the TS-219P due to the additional two drive bays but still maintains a small footprint with overall dimensions of 177(H) x 180(W) x 235(D) mm. The bare unit weighs in at just over 6.5 lbs with no drives installed. Of course, a fully populated unit will be a bit heavier.

The TS-419P uses the same drive sled mechanics as the TS-219P reviewed earlier . The drives screw into the bottom of the sled with four screws without any rubber isolators but no drive noise appears to be transferred into the rest of the system. Once attached to the sleds, the frames are inserted into the NAS using  the latches on the front. When closed, these latches hold the drive sleds in place to keep them from moving. Locking the mechanism keeps the lever in place preventing you from removing the drive. In order to reduce confusion when swapping out drives, each sled is marked with HDD1, HDD2, etc and there is a sticker on the top of the unit that indicates the order of the drives in the NAS.

 

tncimg6538.jpg tncimg6535.jpg
Drive sleds Drive sleds in NAS
tncimg6539.jpg
Sled bottom with screws

  

Specs and Features

Hardware:

CPU Marvell 6281 1.2GHz
DRAM 512MB DDRII RAM
Flash Memory 16MB
HDD

4 x 3.5" or 2.5” SATA I/II HDD

NOTE:
1. The system is shipped without HDD.
2. For the HDD compatibility list, please visit http://www.qnap.com/pro_compatibility.asp

HDD Tray 4 x hot-swappable and lockable tray
LAN Port 2 x Gigabit RJ-45 Ethernet port
LED Indicators Status, LAN, USB, eSATA, HDD 1, HDD 2, HDD 3, HDD 4
USB

4 x USB 2.0 port (Front: 1; Back: 3)

Supports USB printer, disk, pen drive, USB hub, and USB UPS, etc. 

eSATA 2 x eSATA port (Back)
Buttons Power button, USB one-touch-backup button, reset button
LCD panel Mono-LCD display with backlight and buttons for configuration
Alarm Buzzer System warning
Form Factor Tower
Dimensions

177(H) x 180(W) x 235(D) mm
6.97(H) x 7.09(W) x 9.25(D) inch

Weight Net weight: 3 Kg (6.61 lbs)
Gross weight: 4.6 Kg (10.14 lbs)
Sound Level (dB)

W/o HDD installed: 33 dB
Stand by: 33.2 dB
In operation: 35.1dB
(Background: 25.5 dB)

Power Consumption (W) Sleep mode: 11W
In operation: 26W
(with 4 x 500GB HDD installed)
Temperature 0~40ËšC/ 32~104°F
Humidity 0~95% R.H.
Power Supply Input: 100-240V AC, 50/60Hz
Output: 12V DC, 10A, 120W
Secure Design K-lock security slot for theft prevention
Fan 1 x quiet cooling fan (9 cm, 12V DC)


Features:

The following is a list of the features found in the TS-419P as described by QNAP. Many of these features were recently discussed in our review of the TS-219P .

 

feature01.jpg

 

QNAP TS-419P Turbo NAS is the 4-bay, 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch SATA HDD network-attached storage server with

feature02.jpg

iSCSI applications dedicated to SMB, SOHO and home users. As a storage centre for mass data backup, management and sharing, the TS-419P Turbo NAS supports excellent hardware design, outstanding performance, high system reliability, and numerous powerful software applications.

Excellent industrial design and hardware specifications

The low-powered TS-419P Turbo NAS adopts Marvell 1.2 GHz CPU and 512MB DDRII RAM and is able to maintain superior performance in an intensive data access environment. The NAS supports four hot-swappable SATA hard drives, two Gigabit LAN ports for multi-IP settings, failover, and load-balancing, four USB ports and two eSATA ports for external storage backup, and is also equipped with an LCD panel for convenient system status checking.

Superior performance and abundant server applications

The TS-419P Turbo NAS supports cross-platform services across Windows, Mac, Linux, and UNIX. Enhanced industry-leading features are also provided, e.g. EXT3 and EXT4 file systems, built-in iSCSI target service (max 8 iSCSI targets), virtual disk drive (VDD) by built-in iSCSI initiator for storage expansion, RAID 0/ 1/ 5/ 6/ 5+spare, single and JBOD disk configurations, online RAID capacity expansion, online RAID level migration, RAID recovery, policy-based IP blocking, instant SMS alert notification, schedule power on/ off, and 4 IP cameras (optional purchase) for network surveillance.

Maximize the enjoyment of your home multimedia centre

The built-in UPnP/ DLNA media server (with TwonkyMedia enabled) of the Turbo NAS supports a wide range of DLNA media players such as Sony PS3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 gaming consoles and works well with NFS-supported High-Definition (HD) digital media players for HD video streaming. By installing the DLNA/ UPnP application on your iPhone or iPod touch, you can access the Turbo NAS on the local network and play the multimedia contents, e.g. videos, music, and photos on the server. In addition, the high-speed PC-less Download Station with the unique QGet utility enables you to manage the BT/ FTP/ HTTP download tasks remotely over the local network or the Internet.

Brand new user Interface available

feature03.jpg

 

Advanced RAID Management with Hot-swap Design

The NAS offers advanced RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, 5 + Spare, Single, and JBOD disk configurations. It also supports hot-swap design that a failed drive can be replaced by hot swapping without turning off the server. Besides, the best-in-class RAID on the NAS brings users a higher level of data security by allowing one more hard drive failure than other NAS of the same level. Online RAID Capacity Expansion

Online RAID Capacity Migration

feature04.jpg

The storage capacity of a RAID configuration can be expanded by replacing the hard drives with larger ones. All the data will be kept and seamlessly moved to the newly installed hard drives. There is no need to turn off the server during the process.

 

 

 

 

Online RAID Level Migration

feature05.jpg

You can upgrade the disk configuration to higher RAID level with the data retained. There is no need to turn off the server during the process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virtual Disk Drive (VDD) adds flexibility to storage expansion along with ease of management

The unique "Virtual Disk Drive" adds flexibility to expand the capacity of NAS. By using the built-in iSCSI initiator, the NAS can connect to other iSCSI targets on the network and turn them into virtual disks, which become multiple single volumes on the NAS. Up to 8 virtual disks can be stacked. The NAS serves as the storage stack chaining master. The user only needs to connect to this single entry (QNAP NAS) and is able to reach and use all the iSCSI target storages on the network.

feature06.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Built-in iSCSI Target Service

The TS-419P can act as a NAS and iSCSI target server at the same time. It provides a cost-efficient iSCSI solution to set up an IP-SAN. You can make use of the built-in iSCSI target service to add up to 8 iSCSI devices. Different iSCSI Target LUNs (Logical Unit Number) can be defined as storage expansion or backup destination of the existing application servers, such as database servers and mail servers.

Furthermore, the "Virtual Space Allocation" (Thin Provisioning) feature is provided which allows you to flexibly allocate the capacity of iSCSI LUN (Logical Unit Number). When the physical storage capacity of the volume is going to be full, you can easily expand the storage capacity by "Online RAID Capacity Expansion", or adjust/ remove the current unused volume space according to the demands.

feature07.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

S.M.A.R.T & Advanced HDD Health Scanning (HHS)

The NAS supports Hard Disk Drive S.M.A.R.T (Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology) for monitoring the hard drive status. Moreover, the NAS is embedded with HHS Technology which supports disk checking and bad blocks scanning.

UPS Support

The NAS supports the majority of USB UPS devices (usbhid-ups supported) which enables the users to store the data in time and avoid critical data loss when power outage occurs during data transfer.

Complete Backup Solution

QNAP Backup Software - NetBak Replicator

The backup software, NetBak Replicator, is provided for the NAS users to perform real-time synchronization or schedule backup from multiple PCs to the NAS.

3rd Party Backup Software Ready

The NAS works well with other backup software, e.g. Acronis True Image, CA BrightStor ARCserve Backup, EMC Retrospect, Symantec Backup Exec, and LaCie Silverkeeper.

Encrypted Remote Replication

The data on the NAS can be backed up to or from another Turbo NAS over the network securely.

One Touch USB Auto Copy

The one touch button can be configured to trigger instant data backup from the external USB device to the NAS or the other way round (applies to the USB device connected to the front USB port of the NAS only).

feature08.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cross-platform Data Sharing and Storage Centre

Sharing Files across Windows, Mac, Linux, and UNIX

The NAS is designed for users to share the files across Windows, Mac, Linux, and UNIX environment.

Support Windows AD

The Windows AD feature enables server manager to import user accounts from AD domain to NAS to reduce the time and effort for account setup, and users can use the same set of login name and password.

Web File Manager

The NAS provides Web File Manager for you to easily download, upload, and manage the files on the server by web browser.

Ease of User and Share Folder Management

The NAS supports batch creation of users and share folders to save the time and effort of the server manager in account and folder creation. For the security of Windows network environment, server managers can hide or show network share folders.

Power Management

Hard Disk Standby

You can configure the hard disks to enter standby mode if there is no disk access within the specified period.

Schedule Power on/ off

The flexible schedule power on/off feature is now provided on the NAS for IT administrators to manage the NAS server's up time according to the working hours. You can set the time for automatic system power on, power off, or restart on any days of the week.

feature09.jpg

 

 

 

 

Secure data storage, access, and sharing

  • Comprehensive event logs: Detailed logs of file-level data access to the NAS via samba, FTP, AFP, HTTP, HTTPS, Telnet, and SSH, and networking services accessed by online users are all recorded.
  • SSL security (HTTPS): The NAS can be accessed and configured by web browser securely.
  • Remote login to the NAS by SSH (secure shell) or Telnet connection is supported.
  • Secure FTP: The data can be transmitted with SSL/TLS (explicit) encryption. Passive FTP port range setup is also supported.
  • Write-only access right on FTP server: The third party partners are allowed to upload data to the NAS but not able to read or edit the data on FTP server.

Policy-based Automatic IP Blocking

To prevent the NAS from malicious attacks, the server manager can create an IP filter policy to allow, deny, or auto-block the IP address or network domain which attempts to connect to the NAS via SSH/ Telnet/ HTTP(S)/ FTP/ samba/ AFP.

Powerful All-in-one Server Features

 

feature09a.jpg

File Server

You can create the user ID and password, and define the access right and storage quota of each user on the NAS.

feature10.jpg

FTP Server

You can establish your own FTP server using the NAS and share the files conveniently with others.

feature11.jpg Backup Server

The automatic backup software, NetBak Replicator, is provided for you to perform real-time synchronization or schedule backup from multiple PCs to the NAS.

feature12.jpg Remote Replication

The data on the NAS can be backed up to or from another Turbo NAS or Rsync server over the network.

feature13.jpg

Web Server

The NAS supports Joomla!, MySQL, SQLite and editable php.ini.

feature14.jpg MySQL Server

The NAS can be flexibly applied in various deployments such as a database server of another web server in remote site or as an additional backup database server.

feature15.jpg

Printer Server

The NAS supports network printer sharing function (max 3 USB printers).

feature16.jpg

UPnP Media Server (with built-in TwonkyMedia Server)

The NAS is a perfect media storage centre and it works well with DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) compliant media players. You can play the photos and videos on TV, or listen to your favourite music and Internet radio on your Hi-Fi System.

feature17.jpg

Multimedia Station

You can share you photos, video, or music over the network by the Multimedia Station of the NAS.

feature18.jpg

Download Station

The NAS supports PC-less BitTorrent, FTP, and HTTP download. TCP/ UDP, encrypted BT download function, and DHT (Distributed Hash Tables) are also supported.

feature19.jpg

iTunes Server

You can stream the mp3 music on the NAS to the computers on the home network and listen to the music by iTunes over wired or wireless network connection.

feature20.jpg

Surveillance Station

The Surveillance Station enables you to configure multiple IP-based security cameras simultaneously for real-time monitoring, recording, and playback.








 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most comprehensive support for numerous brands of IP cameras

The Surveillance Station of QNAP NAS supports all the leading network camera brands such as AXIS, D-Link, IPUX, LevelOne, Linksys, Panasonic and Vivotek etc. By using particular models, users can use two-way video and audio monitoring and recording, and smart PTZ control to control the monitoring direction via the web interface. Each of the supported cameras has been put through stringent tests with the NAS series in QNAP's laboratory to guarantee 100% compatibility and reliability with all these camera brands.

feature10a.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Live audio and video monitoring, recording and playback over the Internet

  • High quality video recording in MPEG-4 and Motion JPEG format
  • Real-time monitoring and recording for up to 30 fps per channel
  • Live 2-way audio supported for monitoring and voice broadcasting
  • Easy installation and management from remote location

Powerful System Management Tools

Smart Fan

The fan rotation speed is automatically adjusted according to the server's temperature. You can also define the system temperatures to trigger high speed or low speed rotation of the fan. By manually setting the fan rotation speed, the fan will rotate at the defined speed continuously.

Instant SMS/ Email Alert

You can configure the SMTP server and SMSC server settings on the NAS in order to receive instant system warning or error messages by email or SMS.

SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol)

Enable SNMP service on the NAS to collect the information, warning or error of the NAS and send to max 3 SNMP servers for centralized management and real-time monitoring of your NAS.

SSL Secure Certificate

The administrator can upload a secure certificate and an RSA private key in X.509PEM format issued by a trusted provider in order to allow the users to access the NAS by secure SSL login.

Syslog Settings

All the system event logs and connection logs can be saved to a remote syslog server.

Network Recycle Bin

The files deleted from the network shares of the NAS will be moved to a particular recycle bin folder. You can restore your data anytime in case of unintended file deletion.

Comprehensive Event Log System

The logs of connections to the NAS via samba, FTP, AFP, HTTP, HTTPS, Telnet, and SSH, and networking services accessed by online users are all recorded.

Detailed System Information

You can view the system status, e.g., CPU usage, total memory, free memory, packets received, packets sent, error packets, system up time, CPU temperature, system temperature, HDD temperature, and system fan speed.

DDNS Support

You can register a unique domain name from a DDNS service provider and assign it to your NAS. Your users can access the NAS by the domain name instead of the IP address.

Excellent Hardware Expansion

The TS-419P supports 4 USB 2.0 and 2 eSATA ports. You can connect external storage devices to the NAS for data backup or storage capacity expansion.

Software Expansion and Website Management

QPKG Software Package Platform

The QPKG software package platform enables the users to maximize the usage of the NAS by installing additional software packages developed from the users and community worldwide. This can be done by simple "download & install" clicking without going through any complicated process.

feature12a.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Installation and Use

 

Setup:

Installation of the QNAP TS-419P was literally a ten minute process. First, connect the power and network cable to the unit. Then, connect the other end of the network cable to your switch or router. Next, use the QNAP software to find the newly attached NAS. Modify settings as necessary although the defaults will work OK for most people to get up and running with. Finally, map the NAS to a drive letter and start copying files.

It really is that easy. As with most things however, there are additional settings that can be tweaked and features that can be enabled to better meet your needs. Some examples include Linux NFS support for sharing files with a Linux network, and the Download and Multimedia Stations.  The Download station allows you to setup http, ftp or BitTorrent downloads directly to your NAS and the Multimedia Station allows you to share your multimedia with other people (on your internal or external network) with user accounts that you setup to control who can see what.  It could be an easy way to make your shows available outside of your home when combined with the built in ability to use DDNS.

User Interface:

The web interface used by QNAP has received a much needed facelift. As you click on the icons in the background of the initial web page, they rotate into the foreground. It is a very stylish look. Within the administration portion of the UI the layout remains similar to what it was before but the look and feel of it has been improved nicely.  The overall flow of the configuration pages seems much easier to navigate.

 

tnimage19.jpg tnimage44.jpg
Main page
Administrator page

Test Setup and Results

  

Test Setup and Results:

Many of the value added features of the QNAP series of NASs have been covered in our review of the TS-219P . With this in mind, instead of repeating ourselves this review will cover only the NAS functionality itself in a home environment. The unit came with four 750GB Western Digital Caviar Black hard drives in a RAID5 configuration. Given that this is being reviewed from a Digital Lifestyle perspective, the unit was tested with a large number of small file transfers (i.e. backing up digital photos or MP3s) as well as with individual and groups of large files (i.e. backing up TV/movie recordings).  Each test was performed by transferring a group of files three times and averaging the times.

Writes to NAS:

No. of Files Total data size (MB) Elapsed Time (min:sec) Transfer Rate (MB/s)
294 606 0:36 16.8
84 45597 36:24 20.9



Reads from NAS:

 

No. of Files Total data size (MB) Elapsed Time (min:sec) Transfer Rate (MB/s)
294 606 0:26
23.3
84 45597 8:13
24.1

 

Power Consumption:

 

Idle 40W
File Copy 43W

Conclusion

If you read our review of the QNAP TS-219P you will know that it is a good NAS unit.  The TS-419P reviewed today shares all the same features but also increases the storage capacity to four drives instead of two while also adding an LCD to the front.  If you are looking for more storage for your home theater environment this is a good solution.  It's more than capable of streaming HD content to and from your HTPC without causing any buffering.  And with a max storage capacity of 8TB it's hard to go wrong.  After using the review unit for a couple of weeks I have seen nothing but stability from it.  It runs silently and uses very little power.  With the addition of the other features that QNAP has designed into their units which are accessible via a nice looking, easy to use interface, the TS-419P offering is a very good product.  Its size and looks allow it to fit into almost any setting and QNAP has suggested a reasonable price for what you get @ $599.  All in all, if this unit fits your needs you will not have any regrets.

Jan 04 2010

Review - Intel's DH55TC and Core i5-661 - Clarkdale

 

intel core i5

Intel DH55TC & Core i5-661 (Clarkdale) Review

The family of processors code-named "Clarkdale" has sparked a great deal of interest since its existence and some basic performance information spread out across the web in late September.  Teasing home theater PC (HTPC) enthusiasts with incredibly low power usage and built in HD codec bit streaming all packaged together with enough performance to tempt those in need of a full featured HTPC. 

Given Intel’s somewhat troubled history with integrated graphics there has been a lot of skepticism on how well (and if) Intel can deliver a serious contender for space in your A/V stack.

 

Dec 29 2009

Review - QNAP TS-219P

  
 

maints219p.jpg

QNAP TS-219P

Recently released from QNAP the TS-219P is the new addition to the two slot NAS family. Read on to see if it will fit your storage needs.

Introduction

Previously, we took a look at the TS-209 Pro II NAS from QNAP and found it to work very well. Today we will take a look at the new addition to the TS-2xx family, the TS-219P. Instead of making this review into a quick-start guide as was done in the past, I wanted to quickly cover the TS-219P hardware and then touch on some of the value-add features that are included in addition to the generic NAS features that you will find in most, if not all, NAS units available today.

Hardware Stuff

The packaging for the QNAP NAS hasn’t changed much from our last review of the TS-209 Pro II except that the box background is white now instead of black. The packaging otherwise contains similar information about features and stats.

 

tn1ts219p.jpg tn2ts219p.jpg
Packaging front Packaging back
 

The NAS itself has undergone quite a facelift though. The last unit that we reviewed required that you remove the front faceplate to get access to the drives. The plate was held on with four screws that I thought stuck out quite a bit. In this unit however, the drives are always accessible but can be locked in place for security reasons.

 

tn5ts219p.jpg tn6ts219p.jpg
TS-219P front TS-219P back

 

The front side has four LED indicators for HDD1, HDD2, LAN and eSATA activity. There is also a power button and a One Touch Copy button as well as a USB port. The One Touch Copy button allows you to insert a USB stick into the front USB port and then copy the contents from that drive onto the NAS without need of a PC. This is very handy if you want to transfer photos or MP3s or something onto the NAS with minimal hassle.

The rear of the TS-219P has a 70mm fan, 2x eSATA, 1 LAN, 2x USB, reset button and power input. The fan on the rear is powerful enough to keep the drives nice and cool while still remaining extremely quiet. I have been running this unit on the shelf next to me for a couple of weeks now and do not notice the fan noise unless I put my ear right next to it. I know that this isn’t a quantitative analysis but I would feel comfortable putting this unit directly on top of my entertainment center and not needing to worry about noise. According to QNAP the operating sound level is 36.3dB.

This unit has also undergone a size reduction compared to the TS-209 Pro II with overall dimensions of 150(H) x 102(W) x 216(D) mm. One of the ways that this was achieved was by rotating the drives to be vertical instead of horizontal. This also aligns with some of their larger offerings, such as the TS-419P, which will be reviewed here shortly.

The drives attach to the unit by way of drive sleds. The drives screw into the bottom of the sled with four screws. The drives are screwed directly to the sled without any rubber isolators but no drive noise appears to be transferred into the rest of the system. Once attached to the sleds, the frames are inserted into the NAS with use of the latches on the front. When closed, these latches hold the drive sleds in place to keep them from moving. When locked, the mechanism prevents you from being able to lift the lever which prevents you from removing the drive. In my opinion it is a very nice design.

 

tn8ts219p.jpg tn7ts219p.jpg
Drive sleds Drive sleds in NAS
 

====================================

Power level:

====================================

 

Hardware Specs

 

CPU Marvell 1.2GHz
DRAM 512MB DDRII RAM
Flash Memory 16MB
HDD

2 x 3.5" SATA I/II HDD or 2 x 2.5" SATA HDD

NOTE:

  1. The system is shipped without HDD.
  2. For the HDD compatibility list, please visit http://www.qnap.com/pro_compatibility.asp

 

HDD Tray 2 x hot-swappable and lockable tray
LAN Port 1 x Gigabit RJ-45 Ethernet port
LED Indicators HDD 1, HDD 2, LAN, eSATA, Status, USB
USB 3 x USB 2.0 port (Front: 1; Back: 2)
Supports USB printer, disk, pen drive, USB hub, and USB UPS, etc.
eSATA 2 x eSATA port (Back)
Buttons Power button, USB one-touch-backup button, reset button
Alarm Buzzer System warning
Form Factor Tower
Dimensions 150(H) x 102(W) x 216(D) mm
5.91(H) x 4.02(W) x 8.5(D) inch
Weight Net weight: 1.74kg/ 3.84 lb
Gross weight: 2.92kg/ 6.44 lb
Sound Level (dB) W/o HDD installed: 32.5 dB
Stand by: 32.7 dB
In operation: 36.3 dB
(Background: 25.2 dB)
Power Consumption (W) Sleep mode: 5W
In operation: 21W
(with 2 x 500GB HDD installed)
Temperature 0~40ËšC/ 32~104°F
Humidity 0~95% R.H.
Power Supply External power adaptor,60W, Input: 100-240V
Secure Design K-lock security slot for theft prevention
Fan 1 x quiet cooling fan (7 cm, 12V DC)

Extra Features part 1

Linux Shares:

Linux uses a protocol called NFS to mount network folders locally. In order to mount directories from the TS-219P the first thing that needs to be done is to enable the NFS service in the NAS. This can be done by connecting to the NAS web interface (enter the NAS’s IP address into a web browser or open the QNAP Finder tool and double click on the NAS of interest) and logging into the administration section.

 

tnimage12.jpg tnimage1.jpg
QNAP Finder Administration icon

 

Once logged in click on the Network Services folder and then NFS Service. In the NFS Service window check the Enable NFS Service box. Then click the Apply button. At this point the NFS service has been enabled and you can either mount one of the default folders or create a new one. Folder specific NFS access will be described shortly.

 

tnimage13.jpg
NFS Service

 

Windows Shares:

Windows uses a similar setup as Linux except that it is done via Samba. To share folders on the TS-219P with a Windows system, log into the NAS as described above. Then select Network Services and then Microsoft Networking. Here you need to verify that the Enable file service for Microsoft networking checkbox is checked, although this should be selected by default. Once that is completed click on the Apply button and the default folders should be available to your Windows systems.

 

tnimage14.jpg
Windows Networking

 

Creating new folders:

If you would like to create new folders to share from your NAS, log into the NAS as previously described and select Access Right Management and then Share Folders. This will list all of the folders currently available from your NAS. To create a new folder click on the New Share Folder button. This brings up a wizard to aid in the creation of a new folder. Click Next. On the next screen give the folder a name. You can optionally enter a description here if desired. Click Next. Select the privileges you want to give this folder – Full Access, By User, By User Group or Only the system administrator (admin) has full access. General users have Read Only access. Click Next. Confirm your settings and click Next. Once the folder has been created successfully click Finish. The new folder should now appear in your Share Folders window.

 

tnimage15.jpg tnimage16.jpg
Share Folders Share Folder Settings
tnimage17.jpg tnimage18.jpg
Access Control

 

Linux folder access:

Once the folder has been created the NFS permissions can be modified specifically for that folder. To do this, click on the NFS button for the folder you wish to modify. In the NFS Access Control window you can modify the Access Right – available options are Deny access, Read only and No limit. There is also a section that allows the user to specify which IP addresses and domains can access it. Wildcards (*) are accepted here. For example, if you want to allow your local network to access the NAS but not anyone else you can enter 192.168.1.* in the box (assuming that you use 192.168.1.xxx for your IP addresses). Click Apply when finished.

 

tnimage19.jpg
NFS Access Control

 

To mount the drive under Linux, as root run the following command:

mount –o vers=3 (IP address):/(share folder) (directory to mount to)

For example, if the IP of the NAS is 192.168.1.109, the folder that you want to mount is Public and you want to mount it under /media/TS-219P then the command would be:

mount –o vers=3 192.168.1.109:/Public /media/TS-219P

Note that the directory that you want to mount to needs to be created ahead of time. In the case of our example above, this means that /media/TS-219P was already created. You can create folders in Linux using the command:

mkdir (folder name)

For example: mkdir /media/TS-219P

If all has gone well, at this point you should be able to run the df command and it will show that the NAS folder has been mounted to your local filesystem.

 

tnimage20.jpg
df output

 

Windows folder access:

Mounting folders from the NAS in Windows works the same way as mounting any network folders. Open Windows Explorer, and click on Map network drive at the top. In the Map Network Drive window, select a drive letter to assign to the share and then choose the folder to map. You can use the Browse… button to select the folder if you are unsure of the server name and folder share name. Click Finish when done. Once that has been completed the shared folder will show up as a local drive in Windows Explorer.

 

tnimage21.jpg tnimage22.jpg
Windows Explorer Map Network Drive

 

Apple Networking:

Untested in this review, the QNAP TS-219P also has the capability to work with an Apple network. Similar steps are followed to enable the Apple Networking functionality as described for Microsoft Networking and NFS.

 

tnimage26.jpg
Apple Networking

 

Multimedia sharing – UPnP:

An easy way to share your multimedia files stored on the NAS with other systems is via the TwonkyMedia Server. To enable this feature, log into the NAS as described previously, select Applications and then UPnP Media Server. Check the box for Enable UPnP Media Server and then click on the URL on that page to configure the server.

The linked URL brings up the TwonkyMedia Configuration page. By default the QMultimedia folder will be shared. Additional folders can be added by using the Browse button. If you would like to keep adding more folders to share there is an Add new content directory button that will insert new folder text boxes.

There are a number of additional settings available that can be further tweaked, but things work pretty well with the defaults.

 

tnimage23.jpg tnimage24.jpg
UPnP Media Server TwonkyMedia Configuration page

 

iTunes:

Another feature available on this QNAP system is the ability to have it serve up your iTunes media collection. In the TS-219P administration section under Applications there is a section called iTunes Service. To enable this functionality check the box labeled Enable iTunes Service and enter your iTunes password. When that completes click on the Apply button. After enabling the service you can create playlists by selecting the SMART PLAYLIST tab and entering in the appropriate information.

 

tnimage27.jpg tnimage28.jpg
iTunes service  iTunes playlists

Once it has been setup you can use the TS-219P to act as an iTunes server, sharing your music collection throughout your home.

 

Extra Features part 2

  

Photos:

Using the Multimedia Station portion of the QNAP NAS, you are now able to share digital photos easily via the web. Multimedia station allows for user accounts as well as guest access so that you can control who has access to each photo. If you do not wish to have the NAS connected directly to the Internet (i.e., if you are using a router to share the Internet connection with multiple systems) QNAP also includes DDNS access that can associate a website with your NAS IP address.

Once setup, making your photos available is as simple as uploading the photos to the NAS and configuring album access. QNAP also provides CoolIris photo browsing support for a little extra bling if that is of interest.

Web Server:

Another value-add feature for the QNAP NAS units is a built in web server. The server is enabled in the admin page under Networking Services -> Web Server. Check the Enable Web Server box and away you go. QNAP NAS units use phpMyAdmin and Joomla! for their web server support – phpMyAdmin to administer the MySQL database and Joomla! for the actual website. QNAP has a good page on how to get things setup.

Backup:

QNAP also provides a Remote Replication feature which allows you to mirror a shared network folder to the NAS for backup purposes. This allows you to setup either a manual or scheduled backup of other systems in your house so that you never have to worry about a drive failure again.

Bit Torrent:

Another feature that is provided is a built-in bit torrent downloader. All you need to do is enable the Download Station (Applications -> Download Station -> Enable Download Station) and then add the bit torrent task with a previously downloaded torrent seed. No longer do you need to have a full system running to do BT downloads. As the download progresses there is even a nice download status window available.

Not only does the download station download torrents, it also allows for downloading from http or FTP.

Home Surveillance:

For those of you that have security cameras at home, the QNAP TS-219P also includes a Surveillance Station. This allows you to monitor and control IP based camera feeds. The interface allows for Pan-Zoom-Tilt control and can be set to record continuously or on motion detection.

Print Server:

For those looking to use this in a home or small business, the QNAP NAS units also have the ability to act as a print server, allowing connection of up to three USB printers. The printers are then made available across your entire network.

Conclusion

  

If you're looking for additional storage capacity for your HTPC but don't have more drive bays or SATA ports available, a NAS is a good option for you.  The TS-219P being offered from QNAP is one such option and as you've seen it has many features to offer in addition to its storage capability.  The TS-219P can house two drives for a total capacity of up to 4TB.  After using the review unit for a couple of weeks now I have seen nothing but stability from it.  It runs silently and uses very little power.  Adding to that all of the other features that QNAP has designed into their units accessible via a nice looking, easy to use interface, the TS-219P offering is a very good product.  Its size and looks allow it to fit into almost any setting and QNAP has suggested a reasonable price for what you get @ $399.  All in all, if this unit fits your needs I don't think you will have any regrets.  This unit is MissingRemote Recommended.

Dec 15 2009

Review - VIA Artigo A2000 2-Drive Barebone System

Via Artigo A2000
VIA ARTIGO A2000 2-Drive Barebone Storage Solution

 

We have covered a wide range of home server storage solutions, from the popular four drive systems from HP, to simple NAS solutions from QNap and even the 8-drive offering from Via. For a lot of people that simply don't need that much storage, Via has developed the Artigo A2000. It's a two hard drive barebone systems that offers an increasing amount of flexibility for your storage needs.

 

Nov 10 2009

Review - HippoRemote - An iphone Remote For Your HTPC

hipporemote_logo.png

HippoRemote: An Iphone Remote For Your HTPC

Every HTPC user has had a time where they needed a keyboad and mouse; whether it was for software updates, viewing streaming video content from a popular website or you just wanted to use your 100" front projector screen as the worlds largest word processor.  There are many products that fill the niche of a small keyboard with a touchpad mouse for HTPC use but few have precision and accuracy of a capacitive touch screen.  This is where the iPhone and HippoRemote come in.

Nov 06 2009

Review - MCE: Digital Cable Advisor Tool Available Now!

Well, shortly after word hit that the ATI 1.19 copy free firmware has hit Windows Update, now we have the Digital Cable Advisor tool making its appearance on MCE Extras Galleries across the country. This will enable any capable Windows7 Media Center system to be able to use the ATI Digital Cable tuners. Here's the full process in screenshots.

MCEAdvisor1.JPG
 
Click Read more to see all the screenshots!

 

MCEAdvisor1a.JPG
 Once installed you can find it in your Extras Library as well
 MCEAdvisor2.JPG
 First page of the installer
 MCEAdvisor3.JPG
 Nice 10' Installation process
 MCEAdvisor4.JPG
 Downloading the app
 MCEAdvisor6.JPG
 Installing - Note, you will need to click OK on the permissions popup, which may work via remote
 MCEAdvisor7.JPG
 The Advisor is automatically launched
 MCEAdvisor8.JPG
 Beautiful terms of service required agreement
 MCEAdvisor9.JPG
 One more button, almost done!
 MCEAdvisor10.JPG
 Analyzing your system...
MCEAdvisor10FAIL.JPG
 Three phase checklist, if you fail you'll see this screen and no cable card fun for you
 MCEAdvisor10AlreadyConfigured.JPG
 If you try the app on a system already cable-card enabled you'll see this
 MCEAdvisor11.JPG
 If you pass the tests, you are able to click the "Update System Settings" button to complete!
 MCEAdvisor12.JPG
 Need permission to finish this step...
 MCEAdvisor13.JPG
 Once completed, you'll get this lovely message!

And that's all there is to it! Kudos to ATI and Microsoft for finally making the process, and then making it really simple to implement! Now all we need is the ATI Tuners to be sold via Newegg and make everyone's life that much easier (or for Ceton to release theirs)!

Nov 03 2009

Review - GlideTV Navigator

 

GlideNav3-thumb.JPG

GlideTV Navigator Review

The GlideTV Navigator has gained a significant amount of buzz recently, being a handheld device with a fairly unique design. Its premise is simply to provide a handheld touchpad device which allows you full control of your HTPC to with literally the click of its touchpad button. With remotes growing ever increasingly complex in size and number of buttons, the GlideTV goes the opposite way, featuring a minimalistic number of controls and leveraging the wide touchpad at your fingertips. With so many options and with the GlideTV MSRP of $150, can it be the end all control device you have been missing?

 

 

Nov 02 2009

Review - VidaBox Wireless Keyboard Review

I use my HTPC for computer uses a good portion of the time, so I am always on the lookout for a quality keyboard that can help me on my endeavours. My first foray into this was the Gyration combo that I enjoyed but was always plagued by reception problems and eventually the keyboard died after a couple of years of use. Next up, I decided to go for the king of wireless keyboards to solve my problems, the full-sized diNovo. A great key board, with the best reception I have come across. However, the touchpad was not not terribly convenient.

This brings me to VidaBox's offering. I wanted to try something that felt more natural when using. The trackball and mouse keys seemed like a perfect fit to me. Specifically, I was looking for something that would allow me to access Hulu, message on occasion and surf a bit. Of course, having solid reception while doing this is pretty damn important as well.

 

Specifications

Oct 22 2009

Review - My Movies 3.0

Hello MissingRemote.com! I’m CrAzY, a moderator of TheGreenButton.Com and former Media Center MVP. I’ve been using Media Center since its release in 2002 and still using it to this day (now on Windows 7 Media Center, of course), but find my needs vastly different than when I first entrenched myself in the HTPC world. When I first started, my goal was to build a DIY Tivo box because I was not going to pay subscription fees for a service that I knew I could accomplish myself. Now, I host my recorded TV shows on a NAS and watch them from my desktop in my room or the HTPC in the living room when I have time.

Over the years I have ripped my DVD library and compressed them to ISO’s and no longer have a standalone DVD player set up in my home theater--I now use My Movies almost exclusively to watch movies on either Media Center.

I’ve been using My Movies since the original version of Windows Media Center Edition and have never felt like I was missing out on anything until Mike’s review, Battle of the Media Center Movie Managers. It had me thinking it might be time to consider a new solution for managing my DVD library. Mike, however, personally convinced me to stick to My Movies and not sacrifice the simplistic management that I have become accustomed to for the frontend aesthetics of its MCML competitors.

With the release of Windows 7, Brian and the gang of Binnerup Consult present My Movies 3.0 to the Media Center Community!

My Movies 3.0

Click Read More to continue reading the review!

 

I am not going to fluff things up, dumb things down or blow any smoke-- I don’t have time for all of that, my time is valuable to me, and I’m not going to pretend yours isn’t as well, so I’ll give you what I have and spare the speculation of what I don’t know. I’ll share my experience with My Movies 3.0, the user interface changes from 2.x and a few things that I felt were shortcomings for Version 3. And to make things simple, I tested the Standalone version of My Movies 3.0, so I won’t be touching on any of the Server-Client functionality in this review.

Here are the key changes from 2.x:

  • A Single Installer
  • Updated User Interface (MCML)
  • Addition of “Similar Movies”

All I keep hearing the back of my head is, “One ring to rule them all.” And that’s exactly what 3.0 has done here – one installer for them all! A single installer for everything – One file for either OS Version; 32-Bit or 64-Bit, and the same for the installation of your choice; Client, Server-Client or Standalone. All of that in a lean 35MB package – How is that possible!?! It’s pretty simple actually, it no longer includes the SQL Server installer within the package. If you already have SQL Server on your system the installer detects it and proceeds to install everything else. If you don’t have SQL Server on your system, not to worry, it automatically downloads it within the Setup window and then completes the My Movies setup. Including the download of SQL Server, the installation of 3.0 clocked less than 5 minutes. A very simple and quick process for newbies and experts alike.

My Movies 3.0 My Movies 3.0

My Movies Collection Manager appears to have maintained the same look, feel and construction as 2.x and because of that, I didn’t have a problem finding my way through my collection and importing new titles. However, one thing you should note with My Movies 3.0 and the Collection Manager: if you’re running Windows 7 64-Bit and using images, be sure you download SlySoft’s Virtual CloneDrive--if you’re not using it already--as 3.0 does not work with Daemon Tools Lite, even if you were using it with 2.x.

My Movies 3.0

My Movies 3.0 is installed and the Collection Manager is all set up, so let’s see what we’ve been waiting for…

The user interface has finally received a much anticipated face lift while many of the options remain unaffected; sort (By title, By star rating, By production year, By cinema release date, By disc release date, By parental level and By published date) and section (Movies, Movie Genres, Movie Trailers and Cast & Crew) are now accessed through a top panel with search and view.

Ushering in MCML so you can look upon your movies in a whole new way, 3.0 gives you four ways to adore your collection; Covers full screen, Covers and details, Covers centered and List and details.

Collection Views

My Movies 3.0

Covers full screen Covers and details

My Movies 3.0

My Movies 3.0

Covers centered List and details

My Movies 3.0

My Movies 3.0

I’ve taken a liking to “List and details” - staying on one selection long enough takes away the list and gives you a full screen background image with movie description on each one (this is achieved in other views as well).
My Movies 3.0
Select a movie and you’re given a bevy of details and movie options, not to mention the full screen background image of each movie. For movies that did not have a background image, the background remained blank.
My Movies 3.0
I was expecting the UI changes in 3.0 and was completely ecstatic with the eye candy my movie collection now provided me, yet I wasn’t expecting the last thing I discovered…

My Movies 3.0 now brings the Amazon.com and Netflix concept of, “You may also like,” with Similar Movies. If you are in the mood for a comedy, but maybe not the one you were just looking at, you can easily check out what else might tickle your funny bone without having to go back out to your main collection.

My Movies 3.0
Conclusion

I am pleased with 3.0. I plan to move my environment to a Server-Client solution shortly and I’ll give you a more in-depth look at how it performs along with the Collection Manager of My Movies. If you are an existing user of My Movies 2.x, there is no reason you should not already be downloading 3.0 by the time you read this. It is everything you have loved with a new paint job and that new car smell. If you have never used My Movies before, 3.0 is the perfect opportunity and enticement to get started. There is no reason you should not already be downloading 3.0, it brings everything you need in reliability for your collection and the track record of a Camry. Brian has been developing My Movies for more than five years and a number of system integrators and builders leverage this exceptional tool. You can put aside your hesitation if you are worried about maintaining an unsupported library, Binnerup and My Movies will not be leaving the community any time soon. While I’m happy to get an updated user interface to my beloved movie manager, there were a couple of shortcomings. While not deal breakers or showstoppers, they are things I hope to see addressed in the very near future:

  • SQL Server 2005: We’re stuck using a database technology that is nearly 5 years old. SQL Server 2008 offers better performance, especially on 64 Bit systems. From what I understand, it may be possible in the near future for expert users to install SQL Server Express 2008 themselves and utilize it for their collection.
  • More…:  Similar movies is great! It was like an Easter egg when I discovered it – And now I want more! Similar actors, similar producers, similar movie butter popcorn… Okay, the titles could use some work, but you get the idea.

My Movies 3.0 is an excellent addition to the Media Center Community, thanks Binnerup!

Oct 21 2009

Review - Video: InternetTV for Windows 7 In Action

Along with the Netflix icon for Windows 7, users will also see a tile for InternetTV, which is the next version of Microsoft's online video content offering. A short while ago, it was rumored and hoped that Microsoft was in the works with Hulu.com on being able to integrate their amazing library of shows into Media Center...however, it's clear that is not going to happen.

InternetTV brings together a number of online video content sources, some new and some previously present in the InternetTV Beta in Windows Vista. Previously existing was the content from MSNBC and MSN TV, which provides news clips and some older shows such as the Twilight Zone. New to Windows 7 is some content from CBS and a Zune Video Podcast section. CBS' offering is some full episodes and a lot of clips and trailers, while Zune's Podcast section has a large selection of Videos such as HD Nation. Rounding out the offerings is full episodes from PBS, and clips from Showtime and the CW network.

Here's Part 1 of my video recording of InternetTV in action, specifically covering the installation not only of the application itself, but of the Flash plugin (yes, I said Flash) for Media Center.

 

The 2nd Part covers usage of the application itself. As you can see, there's no clear way to find full episodes to watch. You basically have to go to each show and then just hope there's an "Episodes" section instead of "Clips." This is an increasingly frustrating piece, and becomes more so given that a lot of the content is available as full episodes online.

 

My favorite part of the InternetTV app is actually the Zune Video Podcasts, which has a nice selection of content, but not nearly as much or customizable as the now defunct TV Tonic application. Also, the ability to launch Netflix from within this app will allow me to hide the Microsoft Movies row so I can continue to use Media Browser, My Movies or whatever Movie app I prefer. Maybe I'll use Media Center Studio in the future to move the Netflix tile, but honestly I just don't use Netflix enough to justify. 

Oct 21 2009

Review - Video: Netflix for Windows 7 Installation and In Action

I've seen lots of screenshots of the new Netflix inside Windows 7 Media Center, but to get a better sense of the experience I thought I would capture some videos of it. It hasn't had a HUGE facelift since Windows Vista, but I found it to be very responsive and I like the new interface.

I separated this into two parts for a reason. First up is the actual Netflix installation which BLEW me away! I'm actually more impressed with the install process more than the application itself. After years of begging, we finally have a plugin for Media Center which can be installed without having to leave the 10' Interface!! And the entire process took less than 30 seconds!

And then the action of Netflix within Media Center. You can see the slight UI changes as well as the responsiveness of the app. Overall Very pleasant and should make you fans happy it's back.

 

Oct 05 2009

Review - ASUS AT3N7A-I ION Mini-ITX Motherboard

 

boxpic.jpg

ASUS AT3N7A-I Motherboard Review

Few platforms have been as anticipated by the small form factor (SFF) HTPC community as Nvidia’s ION.  Combining the low power Atom CPU with a full featured mobile integrated graphics processor (IGP) capable of Blu-ray 1080p hardware decoding and multi-channel lossless audio seems like the perfect solution for those looking for a low power, but still fully capable addition to their home theater.

Let’s take a look at ASUS’s AT3N7A-I to find out how the ION matches up against these expectations. 

 

Sep 29 2009

Review - Habey BIS-6550HD SFF Client PC


  

tn0habeyprimary.jpg

Habey BIS-6550HD Review

We've seen what the Atom N270 can do when paired with the 945GM and ICH7M Intel chipset, and we've see what the N330 can do with the 9400M Nvidia chipset.  Today we are taking a look at another implementation of the Atom N270 paired with the Intel 945GM and ICH7M chipset, but this time there is one more trick up the sleeve.  Read on to see if Habey's configuration is enough to make up for where the Intel chipset alone falls short.

 

Sep 14 2009

Review - SIMEREC Universal IR Remote Control PC Power Switch (PCS-2)

sis-2_tape_side.jpg

SIMEREC Universal IR Remote Control IR Power Switch (PCS-2)

Simerec has created a new product to fill a niche in the HTPC world.  The IR Remote Control Power Switch allows users to turn on their HTPC with the use of any IR remote control.  Gone are the days of getting up off that comfy coutch just to turn on your HTPC.  Sure you could use S3 sleep state and a motherboard that has USB sleep power, but many HTPC users today desire to have their HTPC in an off state to save on electricity bills. The PCS-2 comes pre-assembled and and ready to enable more arm chair commanders just in time for football season.

Sep 07 2009

Review - Intel DG45ID mATX Motherboard

board1.jpg

Intel DG45ID mATX Motherboard

Intel has always been known for developing some of the most stable motherboards to accompany their processors. With the DG45ID introduction they offered a solution for HTPC enthusiasts who desired a full featured board with stability as a focus yet the special needs an HTPC motherboard needs--including small form factor, HDMI and DVI video and 7.1 LPCM audio over HDMI as well. When initially released the board was hurt by driver issues which have since been resolved, so we thought we would take an in-depth look at a board which still today looks like it could be a solid solution for your HTPC systems--and just around $100.

 

 

Sep 04 2009

Review - Harmony 700 Remote

main700press.jpg

Logitech Harmony 700 Remote Control

Logitech has been really on top of its game recently with announcements of the Harmony One and 900 remote controls featuring all sorts of features and touch screens galore for your entertainment. All those features also bring about them a fairly high retail price, so Logitech decided to invest some effort into bringing a more affordable solution to the table with still some of the nice features of the highest end. The Harmony 700 aims to bridge the gap between the basic functional remote controls and all the fancy conveniences of the high end.

 

 

Introduction and First Look

 

I've been using the Harmony 700 remote for several months now and have been impressed. Prior to obtaining this 700, I had been using the Harmony 890 for quite some time and a lot of the software side is the same as that since they share the Harmony Remote Control software. For that reason please see the Harmony 890 Review if you want to learn more about the software and configuring activities.

Har7001-thumb.jpg
Har70015-thumb.JPG
 Remote, Sync Cable and Charger
  Compared to the 890

When you look at the photos of the 700 it does not stand out nearly as much as the Harmony One line of products. The One is glossy black, and the 700 is more of a matte finish. The One has a giant touchscreen whereas the 700 has a smaller screen non-touch. When we take a closer look at the remote though, it's clear that the 700 is a solid addition to the Harmony lineup.

As you can see, the Harmony 700 includes something which neither the 8xx or the One/900 have--four pre-standard activity buttons at the very top: Listen to Music, Watch TV, Watch a Movie and More Activities. Each of these buttons are configured to launch the given activity. In case you missed it from our previous review, Harmony Activities are basically the set of commands you execute with the push of a single button on the remote. For example, "Watch TV" will turn on your television set, turn on your receiver and even set the volume if you so choose. There is a definite convenience to having the buttons always there, versus the Harmony 890 or One which utilize their larger screens to display the activities on the screen itself. Initially I was not a fan of them but after a bit of time I found myself enjoying the convenience of always knowing where the buttons are without having to look at the screen/remote.

Har70014-thumb.JPG
Har70010-thumb.jpg
Another Angle Comparison Height of the Remotes

Everything else on the screen is pretty straight forward, including the four colored buttons a quite handy page up/down button. The color buttons are there for satellite, cable and teletext users as needed, and the page up/down button is there for whatever your needs--even though Media Center can use the Channel up/down as a page button, it's nice to have a dedicated button there now.

Usage Comparison

  

As for the layout of everything I found it to be very comfortable. The buttons have a solid rubbery feel to them which took some getting used to. One of the complaints on the 890's layout had been the non-raised buttons and everything being the same height and close to each other. The 700 answers that problem with separate and raised buttons, making it much easier to find in the dark. I say dark even though the remote does behave the same way as the higher end remotes by illuminating all the buttons when it senses you have picked up the remote. It's super convenient but I'm sure contributes to the speed at which the batteries drain. 

 

Har7009-thumb.jpg
Har70017-thumb.jpg
Display Screens Comparisons
USB Cable and Plug

Luckily the remote's batteries are included and they are rechargeable NiMH AA batteries. To charge your 700, the package includes a power adapter with a USB plug, and you use the same USB cable to both sync and charge the remote. This is very handy and should help you not lose things since it's even more important. That being said, it was slightly annoying that you can NOT use the USB cable from your computer to charge the remote. Sorry folks, you have to actually plug the cable into the adapter into the wall. Not a huge deal, but would be nice for the future.

 

Har7007-thumb.JPG
Har7006-thumb.jpg
Sub-Activities Screen Devices Screen

The lack of touchscreen however is not the only feature not included in the 700 that you find in the One/900. The 700 only supports a maximum of 6 devices. So, if you own a TV, Receiver, Xbox, PS3, STB and AppleTV then you're fine. Anything more than 6 and you'll need a different remote. I think 6 is a solid number for most modestly established home theaters--my living room has a TV, Media Center PC, A/V Receiver and XBox 360. In addition to that limitation the remote also does NOT include RF Capabilities. This is not really surprising since Logitech usually only includes RF in its highest end remotes such as the 890 or 900, but still something to be aware of if that was a feature you must have.

 

Har7004-thumb.JPG
Har70011-thumb.JPG
Remote Illuminated
Bottom end height comparison

The last bit is in regards to the charging methods previously mentioned. Unlike the more expensive 890/One/900 which utilize a docking station/cradle to charge the remote, the 700 relies on a unique USB cable (why they could not use a standard mini-USB is beyond me). Not having a cradle is a minor inconvenience since the batteries do tend to last a very long time. In my testing of over 4 months of using this remote daily, I have had to charge it a whole 2 times. Quite impressive indeed.

 

Har7003-thumb.JPG
Har7002-thumb.JPG
Starting an Activity Screen
Help Button in Action

 

Conclusion

 

So that's pretty much it for the review. I wanted to cover everything our readers would consider when picking a remote and I think the biggest issue with remotes is the initial setup and the look and feel since you are using it every single day (most of us anyways). The setup is a breeze as it benefits from the years of improvements the Harmony software suite has applied to itself. It has a ridiculous preconfigured collection of hardware devices as it works online to always use the latest database, so odds are it has your electronic devices in its memory. If not, learning the codes from other remotes remains a breeze.

Overall there is a lot to like here. The MSRP for the remote is $149.99, but like most Harmony remotes these will go on sale rather quickly so you should be able to get it for a bit less. $150 on a remote is nothing to take lightly, but considering the MSRP of the wonderfully reviewed Harmony One is $249.99 you really are not giving up too much functionality for $100 in savings. I will make this part clear however, the 700 is not NEARLY as impressive or showy as the One. Pick up the One and you see its shiny glossy casing and the super size touch screen really jumps out at you. Just starting at the paint color on the 700 you can tell its not nearly as much a showoff piece, everything is much more subtle or smaller. From a functionality standpoint however, you are really just giving up the unlimited number of devices and RF capabilities from its more costly brethren.

main700press.jpg

There are a lot of remotes to choose from and the 700 is a very valid competitor. If you had some of the previously mentioned gripes or just can't see yourself spending over $200 on a remote control, then this is a fantastic remote control. You get to enjoy the benefits of the easy to use Harmony activities and software setup, and the remote really is a pleasure in your hands. I did miss the convenience of not having a charging cradle like the higher end. I had become accustomed to just always putting my 890 on the cradle at night so it was always fully charged. That being said, the batteries seem to last plenty of time so in my testing this was a very minimal complaint. 

If you are looking for a remote control for your home theater the 700 will be a fantastic addition. There's nothing I threw at it that it can't handle and I was pleasantly surprised with all the subtle touches which the crew at Logitech included on its appearance, all while maintaining the lower MSRP.

PROS:

  • Color LCD Screen
  • Rechargeable, Long Lasting Batteries
  • Uses same cable to sync/charge
  • Raised & separated buttons
  • 4 Activity Buttons
  • Sensored for backlight illumination

CONS:

  • No Charging Cradle
  • $150 is still a lot of money for a remote
  • Non-standard USB Sync/Charging Cable 
  • Non touchscreen or RF (that's why the more expensive Harmony remotes exist)

 

Thanks to Logitech for providing the Harmony 700 used in this piece. Feel free to add any questions, comments or any other testing you are curious about in our forums link below.

Sep 01 2009

Review - VIA NSD-7800 8-Bay WHS Solution

VIANSD7800big-thumb.jpg

VIA NSD-7800 8-Drive NAS Storage Solution

The popularity of Windows Home Server as a viable NAS competitor has spawned a number of solutions from HP and Acer, to name a few. Equally as popular however, has been the desire for enthusiasts to roll out and build their very own WHS Server boxes as well. The main restriction with the majority of these cases and available OEM solutions was the limit of four internal hard drives. VIA is tossing their hat into the ring with an 8-Drive bay chassis that comes as a barebones solution. With little effort this chassis can be come your new WHS box holding just under 16 terabytes in a very small form factor.

 

Specifications

If you have not seen the competition or other options available, take a look at our Battle of the Home Servers and the EX487 review to see the various options that are already out there for Windows Home Server systems, either OEM or ones you can design on your own.

I will preface the entire review by stating that this chassis is not by any means an exclusive Windows Home Server solution. It will work and includes drivers for all flavors of Windows and Linux, if you desire to use it for a different application. However, for the purposes of this review I will be solely approaching the unit as a platform for WHS as I feel it was what most our readers are interested in.

 

VIANSD22-thumb.jpg
 VIANSD34-thumb.jpg
 Product Label
 Delta Power Supply Label

Now let's move onto the specifications of the unit! Unlike the Chenbro chassis from the Battle, which was just an empty chassis with power supply, the VIA NSD-7800 is essentially complete. End users only need to throw in a hard drive and the operating system itself to get started. For comparison, I will use the HP MediaSmart Server EX487 as my baseline unit since, besides being what I own, is also arguably the leading Home Server system on the market.

DIMENSIONS

  HP EX487
VIA NSD-7800
Length
 9.8"  13.3"
Width  5.5"  5.9"
Height  9.2"  13.3"
PSU  200W  300W
Drive Bays
 4  8
Weight  12.7lbs  14.3lbs

TECHNICAL SPECS

   HP EX487  VIA NSD-7800
CPU  Intel Celeron 440 2.0Ghz 64-bit  VIA C7-D 1.5Ghz
Memory  2gb DDR2  1gb DDR2
Ethernet  10/100/1000  10/100/1000
USB
 4 (1 front, 3 rear)
 4 (rear)
eSATA  1 (rear)
 0
Drives Included
 1.5tb (2 x 750gb)
 0
MSRP
 $749  $589
     

Here's how VIA describes it:

The VIA NSD7800 addresses the growing need for a compact, user-friendly home server solution as well as NAS, iSCSI, Media Server and NVR applications to offer system integrators a superbly versatile product.

The VIA NSD7800 supports up to eight 3.5" desktop hard drives and Gigabit networking for fast, efficient file transfer speeds. Powered by a power-efficient VIA C7-D processor it offers a power-efficient, low heat system that can be relied upon in always-on server implementations.

Key Features include:

  • Desktop tower design
  • Supports eight SATA trays
  • Supports one bootable Compact Flash type I slot
  • Supports one VIA VT6130 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet and an optioanl 2nd Gigabit Ethernet port for ODM/OEM project requirements
  • Supports four USB 2.0 ports

The VIA NSD7800 supports a type-1 compact flash slot for embedded OS installations and uses PCI-Express-based Gigabit networking to handle file transfers quickly and efficiently. A mini-PCI port is also available for additional security related add-in cards such as hardware VPN or anti-virus modules.

LEDs include individual S-ATA port activity, overall hard drive activity, network activity and power. There are also custom LED control and push button backup and recovery options.

The VIA NSD7800 supports Microsoft Windows Server 2003/2007, Windows Home Server and Linux. System monitoring and management includes Wake-on-LAN, Wake-on-Alarm and Watch Dog Timer. A complete driver and SDK is available to customers.

You can see some pretty full features included with the system. Something to pay particular note is which version and where you purchase. My unit for review did not include the VGA cable, so make sure if you purchase one you get it with the VGA as it's impossible to install without one. As with most of VIA's products, this product is as much geared for OEMs as consumers, and apparently there are some nice customizations an OEM could make including dual gigabit NICs and of course the VGA port. I am not aware of any OEMs currently selling the NSD-7800 but something to keep in mind in the future.

 

Appearance

When I received the package from VIA the box was pretty large. Fortunately that is because the packaging is impressive as it was double-boxed and had some very sturdy airbags surrounding the unit enclosed in protective plastic. The contents are fairly sparse as the system comes pre-built, so you have the unit itself and then a small box accompanying it with screws for the hard drive and the power cable. 

 VIANSD08-thumb.jpg VIANSD13-thumb.jpg
 Outer Packaging
 Inside Smaller Box Contents

 

As mentioned above, the unit does require screws to connect the hard drives to their removable trays. This is slightly disappointing given how convenient and simple the HP MediaSmart's screwless design is for their caddies, but assuming you do not plan on changing drives often it was a minor inconvenience.

Immediately out of the box I was very impressed with the small size and stature of the unit. When I first received the HP MediaSmart server I was very pleased at its size, and considering this unit has double the amount of hard drive bays I was anticipating a significantly larger size. As shown in the dimensions before, this unit is just slightly larger than the HP unit, not even an inch wider and only 4 inches taller and deeper. In other words, this unit can fit anywhere the HP MediaSmart can, yet support double the drives.

VIANSD15-thumb.jpg
 VIANSD28-thumb.jpg
 Side Unit  Angled Unit Door Open

 

Always difficult to photograph, the chassis features a glossy black paint finish on its front, sides and bottom. This is a nice touch but makes it very difficult to keep clean. It's a bit unusual but the rear of the unit is not painted at all and comes in the standard metal finish you would find internally. I do not know why the back of the unit was ignored with the paint but it is a bit disappointing in my opinion.

VIANSD19-thumb.jpg
VIANSD23-thumb.jpg
 Rear of the Unit
 Available Ports

 

The front drive bays are covered by a metal door with a grill faceplate. Unlike the HP unit, the lights from the drives are directly shown via the caddies so the door and grill have no connecting cables or lights coming from it. The power and LAN buttons are present at the bottom front of the unit and include the power button, power indicator, collective hard disk activity and network activity indicator light. There is also a reset button underneath the power indicator light. The lights are an interesting piece and I could see them getting annoying to some but can be easily remedied by simply disconnecting the header cables from the motherboard. The power indicator is literally an amber light that is illuminated if there is power to the unit. The network activity indicator functions both when the unit is powered off and on. The last item on the front panel is a "Powered by VIA" logo badge on the lower left. The standard 1x1" badge seems large here due to the overall size of the chassis so I would have preferred seeing something smaller. Considering most people will have the server tucked away somewhere these are all minor qualms with the appearance.

VIANSD30-thumb.jpg
VIANSD27-thumb.jpg
 Hard Drive Caddy
 Front Panel Indicators

 

Finally we have the drive caddies themselves. A combination of steel and plastic the design seems rugged enough to handle many ejections. As mentioned earlier, the caddies do require screws to attach the hard drives into them. Installation is simple and each drive can be attached with up to 6 screws, but I normally just use 4 and have never had a problem. The hinge system is different as well, as you slide the front hinge to the right to unlock and remove. It took some practice but I do not see any difficulties with this method.

 

Setup and Installation

 

Hardware setup for this unit is as easy as you can expect. The only tricky piece was getting the VGA cable inside onto the motherboard header which could be difficult if you have larger hands. Once the monitor was connected, installing each drive was a simple task. I connected an External SATA DVD ROM drive I had available and connected it to one of the SATA ports on the system (I unplugged a SATA drive). Note that Windows Home Server is able to boot off of a USB drive provided you follow some steps online and have a large enough USB key. I went with the more traditional DVD installation since it's what I had available. I have worked with Windows Home Server for a while and know its installer does tend to be pretty picky so I was curious how it would behave here.

VIANSD31-thumb.jpg
VIANSD33-thumb.jpg
 Inside of Unit
 Closer look at Board and Cables

 

I began with placing the installation drive on the bottom caddy since I thought this would make sense. I quickly learned that there are actually two SATA controllers on the system (this is a good thing, keep reading). The top four hard drive slots are controlled by the VIA VT8251 South Bridge chipset. The bottom four however are controlled by the Marvell 88SE6145 chipset. I knew there were multiple SATA II controllers on-board but it did not occur to me what I soon discovered--Windows Home Server refused to work on the Marvell connector. No matter what driver I used during installation, the OS just would not let me continue to install it to that drive. While I could have just switched cables internally I decided to just switch the OS drive to the top connector. As expected installation from there went smoothly and succeeded quickly, just keep that in mind when you are installing.

Aside from that slight issue, installation itself was a breeze. Upon entering Windows Home Server, I was surprised to see that hot-swapping the drives was not supported. I connected a couple new drives and Windows did nothing. I needed to restart the system for them to be detected. After a bit more research it seems the hard drives were not configured to AHCI and therefore were not hot swappable; an easy remedy, but one that would require a reinstallation of the drives. I take partial responsibility for not checking the BIOS initially, but if this unit is designed for WHS it should really be coming with AHCI enabled by default.

Once up and running I installed the chipset and LAN drivers for the unit and then was able to disconnect the VGA cable and close up the unit, once I verified that remote desktop was properly working. For what it's worth, if I owned the system I would connect the VGA cable to it as a just in case. I would rather have the VGA port on the backpanel than always having to open up the unit and connect the cable when needing to troubleshoot. That being said, this is still much easier than getting VGA out on the HP MediaSmart, so not all terrible.

 

 

Power and Performance

 

Gauging performance on Home Server systems is always difficult since the Windows Home Server operating system itself is not really geared towards blazing speeds. If maximum speed is what you're after you should probably be looking at a Linux RAID setup of some sorts that will not only maximize the system but the drive speeds as well.  

The system specs tell a lot of the story here. 1gb of memory is sufficient for most people and activities, but with the inexpensive prices on a 2gb stick, I would recommend maxing out the memory if you plan on using this unit. Unfortunately the CPU is impossible to change out, a 1.5GHz C7 chip from VIA. This chip has been around a while and is a single core solution. Not a bad choice at all and it makes sense from a cooling solution but will definitely hinder your speed. I found performance to be similar and slightly more responsive than the original HP MediaSmart EX470 server, but not nearly as quick as the EX487 as expected.

 VIANSD38-thumb.jpg VIANSD00-board-thumb.jpg
 Internal 120mm Fan
 The NAS-7800 Board Used in the System

 

Cooling is handled by a single 120mm exhaust fan which does run fairly quiet, but then also a 40mm fan over the CPU heatsink. The power supply is made by Delta and is audible nearby but not with an annoying sound or high whir sound.  VIA boards in general are very low powered and generate low heat, so these touches are almost exclusively for the 8 hard drives. The CPU fan although small and could generate some noise over time was surprisingly quiet for its size.

With that said, let's move onto the most impressive part of this review, the power ratings for the system. Again using the EX487 as our baseline, which uses approximately 81 watts when fully populated with 4 drives. This is really where the VIA system shines the most. I'm using the wattage estimates from WeGotServed's review of the EX487 to compare to the unit. I used a Kill-A-Watt connected to the unit to measure the wattage and used Prime95 and HDTune during the "Load" stage to simulate the system under 100% load.

  HP EX487
 VIA NSD-7800
 0 Drives
 n/a  37 Watts
 1 Drive, Idle
 44 Watts
 40
 1 Drive, Load
 50  47
 2 Drives, Idle
 55  50
 2 Drives, Load
 60  60
 3 Drives, Idle
 65  60
 3 Drives, Load
 70  71
 4 Drives, Idle
 76  63
 4 Drives, Load
 81  74
 5 Drives, Idle
 n/a  66
 5 Drives, Load n/a
 76
 6 Drives, Idle
 n/a  74
 6 Drives, Load
 n/a  85
 7 Drives, Idle  n/a  78
 7 Drives, Load
 n/a  88
 8 Drives, Idle
 n/a  81
 8 Drives, Load  n/a  92

As you can see, the numbers do not lie and this is one SUPER low powered unit. Powering 8 drives in a Windows Home Server solution at under 95 watts is just incredible. Considering the HP system with half the drives comes in at 81, this is incredible. For the record, I was using Seagate Pipeline hard drives, which are designed to be more power efficient than Barracuda drives, but still impressive numbers. One could easily throw in the most popular drives, the WD Green 1tb and have 8 terabytes of data with similar numbers. The system definitely benefits from the super efficient VIA motherboard and CPU, which although it is slightly lower performance does have impressive power draws. My only remaining question was why VIA is using a 300 watt power supply when an efficient 200 watt could easily have done the job. That extra headroom could result in some wasted power in the long run.

 

Software and Extras

 

As with any chassis or barebones manufacturer (such as the Chenbro) the system comes with no special Windows Home Server software like the HP solution. That being said, there are so many comparable add-ins available from the community that this isn't as important as it used to be. Want to see your hard drive temperatures? There's a plugin for that. Want to schedule your server to go to sleep at a certain time? There's a plugin for that. The list is virtually endless.

VIANSDrives-thumb.jpg
VIANSDsources-thumb.jpg
 Fully Populated with 8 Drives!
 System Resources and Specs

 

Home Server Software aside, this system does include some extras that are pretty unique. For starters, the board includes support for a Compact Flash card, meaning you could install your OS solely on the flash card with no moving parts for added reliability. You would need a fairly large one to do this with Home Server, so this is probably more preferable for you Linux fans to throw a small distro on it (maybe UN-RAID?). 

Windows Home Server aside, the board (as most VIA boards) is designed for embedded application with some cool features like wake on alarm. Additionally the board includes Watch Dog Timer, which is designed to automatically reboot the system if it is caught in a hung state. This is something Windows users take for granted, but if you have a NAS solution that is frozen, you really want it rebooting sooner than later.

 

Conclusion

 

I found the VIA NSD-7800 online for under $500 ($489 to be exact) which is quite a tremendous price for what you are getting. While not the fastest system on the planet, the VIA setup is very efficient and normal users will have trouble noticing the difference between this and a similar system with faster specifications. I used the HP MediaSmart EX487 as my baseline since it's arguably the leading Windows Home Server system and expected it to blow away the lower priced VIA NSD-7800. Instead I came away pleasantly surprised as the VIA unit was capable of handling double the amount of drives and hardly using more power.

That being said, this product has a market very different to that of HP's for now. No doubt VIA's goal with this item is for OEM usage and that would be ideal since installation did take some expertise compared to the Acer or HP solutions which are good to go out of the box.

VIANSD24-thumb.jpg
 VIANSD29-thumb.jpg

However, for enthusiasts it would be hard to ask for more. The system is compact yet one of the largest storage chassis I have seen that does NOT require a rack. Most of us geeks have hard drives lying around anyways so the lack of any storage simply means you can configure the system with the drives you want right from the get-go.

The only blatant qualm I have is with the lack of a VGA port built-in. I understand the market with HP and Acer and others not including them, but in a market with so many DIY-ers who will rely on them, it is slightly bothersome. There is a port on the backpanel to add it, but I would like to see VIA be considerate of the geeks and just include the part built-in.

Overall, this is a terrific product which does everything it says it does and best of all does so while keeping your electricity draw nice and low. With the recent offerings of 2 terabyte drives from Seagate and Western Digital, you could potentially build yourself a solid Windows Home Server with this tiny chassis yet have 16 TERABYTES of Storage! That's a lot of Blu-ray...err....home movies.

Pros:

  • Low cost
  • Super low powered
  • 8 Drive bays
  • Barely larger than the HP MediaSmart
  • Compact Flash slot
  • 120mm Exhaust fan is cool and quiet
  • Solidly built chassis and caddies

Cons:

  • No VGA Port
  • No Dual Gigabit
  • Slower 1.5 GHz CPU
  • 1gb of RAM
  • 40mm CPU Fan could get loud over time

 

 

 

Jul 27 2009

Review - ASRock ION-330 Nettop SFF System

Updated on 8/8: Added section on Flash Video and Windows7 Testing

ION 330(Enlarge)-thumb.jpg

ASRock ION-330 Nettop

Today we take a closer look at the ASRock ION-330 Nettop device--a small form factor system that comes almost complete out of the box and appears to be a great match on paper to other HTPC clients. Being low powered, low cost and seemingly capable, can the ASRock ION match up to higher powered (and higher cost) systems?

Jul 13 2009

Review - Battle of the Media Center Movie Managers

Movies are the pride of many a home theater PC user. While your friends may have a wall of movies, nobody can argue with the convenience of locally (or network) stored movies, being able to view information, filter and display them all within Media Center, and play them from a single remote without ever having to leave the sofa.

moviemanagers.jpg

It's a good time for movie fans who utilize Media Center, as we have a number of competing developers who are vying for your usage of their applications. But which application is right for you? If you have been using a particular application for a while, is it worth jumping ship to the newest/latest fad program? Will this app be around for a long time or will it disappear?

For this article, I'm going to pit every Movie Manager for Media Center I can find against each other and see who (if any) wins it all. My guess before beginning was that there would not be a sole winner--instead I anticipate each application doing a few things better than competitors, and that for users the answer would be based on the particular feature they see the greatest.

Jul 07 2009

Review - Itox NP101-D16C


  

tn7itoxboardangle.jpg With the release of the Atom processor, Intel revolutionized the low-power computing industry.  These days more and more netbooks are being sold with these inexpensive, low-power chips due to their ability to handle most day to day activities well while providing a long lasting battery life.  Today I bring to you a Mini-ITX motherboard based on the Atom N270.  With a footprint this small and such a low power draw, will it be enough to handle all of your multimedia needs for your next HTPC?  Read on to find out.

 

Jul 07 2009

Review - Life With a Plugin Episode 23: mcShoutCast

Music is a natural player in a home theater PC environment, yet the idea of streaming has stayed in the shadows for quite some time. It could be that home theater users crave higher fidelity from their music, or that they already have the music they enjoy in their digital collections. That being said, I have often enjoyed the ability of streaming the latest hits from Pandora, Last.FM or a variety of sites when I have guests over with different listening tastes than mine.

mcShoutCast aims to continue what it's been developing for a while now, by bringing the vast collection of radio stations from the Shoutcast.com directory to the convenience of your remote and Media Center experience. While other players have been content with merely being players, mcShoutCast attempts to go above that and offer some unique things to make it appealing on the big screen.

mcshout-01-thumb.jpg
mcshout-06-thumb.jpg
 mcShoutCast tile on the Music Strip
 Graphical list of stations available

 

Above & Beyond

It's always refreshing reviewing an application which throws you for a loop as to what to expect with it--in this case, I expected some basic playback and playlist functionality, and found a lot more than meets the eye. Sure, we have the normal application of a streaming radio application, being able to browse and play from a number of sources. Filtering by set categories, letters, genres, etc.

mcshout-03-thumb.jpg
mcshout-04-thumb.jpg
 List of Genres
 Genre options

 

What impressed me most was with everything else. Click on a radio station, and you have the option of viewing station details, showing similar artists/albums, viewing your photos, viewing slideshow of artists playing, biography, lyrics and the list goes on! If that sounds a lot, it's because it is! Some of them are more useful than others. 

You can browse various albums of the artist, and view the track titles (the service uses Amazon for this), but there's no preview of songs or any option to download/purchase, so that's a curious inclusion. Maybe I'm just not the target. Other features though are surprisingly entertaining. I found myself testing the lyrics portion just to see how it worked, and found myself singing along with the songs!

mcshout-08-thumb.jpg mcshout-10-thumb.jpg
 Record a station  View Station Details

 

If you have company over and are ashamed of your own pictures, throwing up the artists slideshow is entertaining as well. The program will play the radio station and then show images it finds in relation to the artist being played. Even cooler when you are listening to an older band and get to see their hairstyles change for every decade.

mcshout-16-thumb.jpg mcshout-15-thumb.jpg
 View lyrics to the currently playing song (with autoscroll!)  View artist biography automatically

The last thing I'll mention is a hidden feature snuck into the configuration section--recording! Yes, you read correctly. You can schedule the application to record a specific stream at a set time. Folks new to MCE might think "of course" with this, but back when Media Center launched with FM Radio support, one of the most requested features that never came was the ability to record a station. Good to see it finally came to fruition, albeit unofficially. 

 

Falling Short

Where mcShoutcast hurts itself is exactly in their vast collection of stations available. It makes browsing through 1,000 stations quite difficult, and I did have some difficulty with search hanging up on me. The nature of the beast with streaming radio stations, is they can be taken offline at any moment--while mcShoutCast does continuously try to update itself, I still found a few stations that were unable to stream at all.

mcshout-17-thumb.jpg mcshout-14-thumb.jpg
 LauraFM - User Contributed stations, but not always reliable
 Look at tracks from albums...just the names, no playback.

The other issue I have comes with any application which does so much, and that is the time it takes to get accustomed to it. Initially the time involved is high, as there are so many stations and so many different options to play with. Once I had my set group of favorites and knew the features I would use, the app became much more efficient.

 

Grade: Approved for Everyday Use

No surprise here on the grade mcShoutCast received. Besides being free of charge, it brings a large collection of streaming music to your fingertips and also throws in some very clever features you never thought would be needed--or that would be possible.

This app throws in extras everywhere it could, with lyrics, slideshows and biographies bringing the Shoutcast music library on par with what Boxee users have been enjoying for a while now. My only wish is that mcShoutCast could tie into my own digital movie collection to leverage the online resources it has to link up artist-album information with a particular song.

mcshout-11-thumb.jpg
mcshout-12-thumb.jpg
 Photo list of artist
 Slideshow during playback

If I had one request it would be to bring on a bit more of social interaction--something to help rank stations, or help you find more popular stations easier. If my friend listens to 5 stations, and I happen to listen to 1 of them, then it could recommend me the other 4. Something like that would really help educate users on some other stations that they may not have come across otherwise.

That being said, I can't say enough great things about this app, so if you like music at all go download it and give it a go! 

 

Product Vitals

Website: http://en.mcetools.de/mcShoutCast/tabid/83/Default.aspx

Creator: MCETools

Price: Free

May 28 2009

Review - Hulu on the Desktop, Remote Friendly...Officially

When Hulu started shutting down Boxee and other addins that utilized its service for a 10' experience interface, people assumed one of the following--either the big content providers were uncomfortable blurring the line for television shows on their computers via a remote interface, or that they were working on something themselves and wanted the market to themselves. For better or worse, it appears that it was the latter.

Hulu just announced a Hulu Labs section of their site, and to kick things off have launched the Hulu Desktop application. The idea is exactly what you would imagine: to bring the Hulu content to a 10' friendly interface. If that sounds eerily familiar, it's because it is the same idea that Boxee, Secondrun, and a wealth of others had been trying to achieve...it just took them longer. 

Either way, the good news is that we now have an application that will bring Hulu to the 10', without fear of it getting shut down (we think, right?). So witout further adeu, let's take a closer look and see how Hulu does. As I have started on a few other reviews, here is a video showing the experience in whole, and the speed you can expect:

 

 

 

Syndicate content
Website design by Yammm Software
Powered by Drupal