Reviews

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

  
 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Share Folders Share Folder Settings
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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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 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

 

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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. 

 

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