Reviews

Jan 06 2008

Review - Life With a Plugin, Episode 2: DVR-MS Toolbox

In case you missed the first article of the series explaining, here's a little explanation. In the first episode, we took a look at MyMovies, arguably the most popular plugin for Vista Media Center. This time up, I'm covering a different type of plugin, one that works a lot more behind the scenes, but with an equal wow factor for the crowd.

Overview

DVR-MS Toolbox is designed to be a comprehensive, one-stop solution to a multitude of tasks you could ever dream of doing with your DVR-MS files. For newcomers, DVR-MS is the file format Microsoft uses for it's recorded TV files. It's basically just a special file format for MPEG-2 files with a "wrapper" containing special program data (TV show name, actors, runtime, year, etc)...think of it like metadata for your TV shows. I must add one caveat, and that is that this program WILL NOT WORK if you are a CableCard user. It's sad, tragic, and a fact of life in a copy-protected world. However, if you use NTSC, ATSC, Clear QAM, DVB, or anything else, you should be fine!

There is a lot to cover with this plugin especially, but I'll invest the space in the most popular features: Automatic Commercial Skip & Automatic File conversion. The goal is simple, use the small application to monitor your TV files, and run the desired utility as you need it (or just have it always run its task). Feel like never having to watch a commercial again, use that profile to automatically scan shows as they record & mark where the commercial files. Note, that there's a method of this which actually doesn't touch the recording, so you don't have to worry about missing part of the show if it accidentally mis-marks it (which doesn't happen often). The beauty of this, is you can turn the feature on & off from within Media Center.

The file conversion is a bit more intense but very customizable. There's a number of file formats, from MPEG to WMV, and you can set the plugin to automatically convert your shows after they record. If you're familiar with the feature of "ShowSqueeze" from Snapstream, it's very similar in that it runs in the background & replaces the originals. This is an ideal feature if you're limited on storage space & don't mind taking the time & resources to compress your shows. 

 

 DVRMSTB_1-thumb.JPG  DVRMSTB_2-thumb.JPG
Select one of MANY Profiles
Choose a folder to monitor & process

Above & Beyond

DVR-MS Toolbox has continuously evolved, and with the assistance of other developers, have really gotten the commercial skip down to a low resource science. Previously, users had to pay for the commercial ShowAnalyzer if they wanted to have live commercial detecting (meaning you would only need to wait 15 minutes before the commercials would begin to mark), but recently the free commercial skip analyzer now can do it as well, and it's free!

In addition to continuing development (which trust me, is critical to the success long-term of any plugin), DVR-MS Toolbox has continued to listen to their users. Similar to the request of MyMovies users demanding Multi-Zone solutions, DVR-MS Toolbox now plays much nicer with remote storage locations, which is CRITICAL seeing as Media Center limits your abilities to record locally. Think of it this way, with this application, you can have multiple Media Centers around the house, but be able to have a single massive storage solution with all the converted shows that you can then stream from. Pretty neat huh :-)

Falling Short?

The only shortcoming I've ever seen with DVR-MS Toolbox, is the intimdation factor. The fact remains that this plugin is ridiculously powerful, and even I was once intimidated by its UI. There's no doubt that others have felt similarly, enough to the point where someone actually developed another plugin with just the commercial skip feature to make life easier for newbie users. If the UI could be simplified a bit, or maybe via a wizard, I think it would help the learning curve. I've often thought how great it would be to have an MCML frontend where I could tweak the simple stuff from my sofa & remote.

 DVRMSTB_3-thumb.JPG  DVRMSTB_4-thumb.JPG
Set exactly how you want to avoid commercials.
Select the profile to have run
 

Grade: Approved for Everyday Use

This is such an amazing plugin, that I actually hesitated going back from CableCard just so I could continue using it. Having to use 30 second skip is something I never used to dread, but after life with DVR-MS Toolbox, you will too. In addition to the commercial skipping, there's just so many great things you can do with your DVR-MS files to maximize space/quality, that it makes it a no brainer. And did I mention it's 100% Free?

Product Vitals

Website: Babgvant.com

Creator: Andy VT

Price: Free! 

 

Dec 31 2007

Review - Life With a Plugin, Episode 8: EmuCenter

In case you missed the first article of the series explaining, here's a little explanation. Life With a Plugin is Mike's brain child, however I will be contributing from time to time. Today I will be looking at EMUCenter. This plugin, designed as a front end for ROMS, has potential to add alot of entertainment to your HTPC setup. Especially for classic gaming fans. 

Overview

EMUCenter is designed to be a front-end for ROMS for various emulators. 

DVR-MS Toolbox is designed to be a comprehensive, one-stop solution to a multitude of tasks you could ever dream of doing with your DVR-MS files. For newcomers, DVR-MS is the file format Microsoft uses for it's recorded TV files. It's basically just a special file format for MPEG-2 files with a "wrapper" containing special program data (TV show name, actors, runtime, year, etc)...think of it like metadata for your TV shows. I must add one caveat, and that is that this program WILL NOT WORK if you are a CableCard user. It's sad, tragic, and a fact of life in a copy-protected world. However, if you use NTSC, ATSC, Clear QAM, DVB, or anything else, you should be fine!

There is a lot to cover with this plugin especially, but I'll invest the space in the most popular features: Automatic Commercial Skip & Automatic File conversion. The goal is simple, use the small application to monitor your TV files, and run the desired utility as you need it (or just have it always run its task). Feel like never having to watch a commercial again, use that profile to automatically scan shows as they record & mark where the commercial files. Note, that there's a method of this which actually doesn't touch the recording, so you don't have to worry about missing part of the show if it accidentally mis-marks it (which doesn't happen often). The beauty of this, is you can turn the feature on & off from within Media Center.

The file conversion is a bit more intense but very customizable. There's a number of file formats, from MPEG to WMV, and you can set the plugin to automatically convert your shows after they record. If you're familiar with the feature of "ShowSqueeze" from Snapstream, it's very similar in that it runs in the background & replaces the originals. This is an ideal feature if you're limited on storage space & don't mind taking the time & resources to compress your shows. 

 

 DVRMSTB_1-thumb.JPG  DVRMSTB_2-thumb.JPG
Select one of MANY Profiles
Choose a folder to monitor & process

Above & Beyond

DVR-MS Toolbox has continuously evolved, and with the assistance of other developers, have really gotten the commercial skip down to a low resource science. Previously, users had to pay for the commercial ShowAnalyzer if they wanted to have live commercial detecting (meaning you would only need to wait 15 minutes before the commercials would begin to mark), but recently the free commercial skip analyzer now can do it as well, and it's free!

In addition to continuing development (which trust me, is critical to the success long-term of any plugin), DVR-MS Toolbox has continued to listen to their users. Similar to the request of MyMovies users demanding Multi-Zone solutions, DVR-MS Toolbox now plays much nicer with remote storage locations, which is CRITICAL seeing as Media Center limits your abilities to record locally. Think of it this way, with this application, you can have multiple Media Centers around the house, but be able to have a single massive storage solution with all the converted shows that you can then stream from. Pretty neat huh :-)

Falling Short?

The only shortcoming I've ever seen with DVR-MS Toolbox, is the intimdation factor. The fact remains that this plugin is ridiculously powerful, and even I was once intimidated by its UI. There's no doubt that others have felt similarly, enough to the point where someone actually developed another plugin with just the commercial skip feature to make life easier for newbie users. If the UI could be simplified a bit, or maybe via a wizard, I think it would help the learning curve. I've often thought how great it would be to have an MCML frontend where I could tweak the simple stuff from my sofa & remote.

 DVRMSTB_3-thumb.JPG  DVRMSTB_4-thumb.JPG
Set exactly how you want to avoid commercials.
Select the profile to have run
 

Grade: Approved for Everyday Use

This is such an amazing plugin, that I actually hesitated going back from CableCard just so I could continue using it. Having to use 30 second skip is something I never used to dread, but after life with DVR-MS Toolbox, you will too. In addition to the commercial skipping, there's just so many great things you can do with your DVR-MS files to maximize space/quality, that it makes it a no brainer. And did I mention it's 100% Free?

Product Vitals

Website: Babgvant.com

Creator: Andy VT

Price: Free! 

 

Dec 20 2007

Review - Life With a Plugin, Episode 1: MyMovies

Welcome to the Life With a Plugin series! The purpose of the series will be to give quick reviews of all the numerous Vista Media Center plugins that are out there, and evaluate their usefulness. A lot of plugins are cool but rarely are needed that often, so I've decided to evaluate these for you and help in keeping your systems clean with only the necessary. In the process, you may just discover a plugin you weren't aware of that does JUST what you were looking for.

The format of the reviews will be quick & easy. I'll offer a high level information view of the plugin, explaining what it does & who's behind it. After that will be the "Above & Beyond" section, where I'll evaluate the application's performance, and see how well it does at surpassing the minimum requirements for a task. "Falling Short" will evaluate where is the application lacking. And finally, I'll give the plugin a grade:

  • Approved for Everyday Use - If an application is so fantastic & useful, that one could easily use it everyday, and helps make MCE a better all-around experience for your family
  • Once a Month is Plenty - If an application is cool & well designed, but really not something you would need to use more than once in a while
  • Once a Year - This rating is for apps that are decent, but fall short in a number of steps, but still are decent enough to recommend at least an installation to try it out.
  • Never, Ever, Ever - For applications that are just bad, clunky or all-around useless. Keep these guys off your system!!

Overview 

I'm starting the series with arguably the most used and downloaded plugin in the history of Media Center--MyMovies. In case you have been living in a shell or are new to the HTPC world, MyMovies is a free plugin designed to help you manage and showoff your movie collection, be it a DVD or High Definition disk, stored on your hard drive, or virtually any movie file format.

Movies can be displayed in a number of different ways, via title or the DVD cover-art. The best thing about MyMovies is the amazing forum of supporters behind it. Although there are backup options to download movie information, the default--and usually the most complete--method of obtaining the info is to use the User Managed database. Users actually input new or old DVDs not in the database and update it with both information as well as cover art! It's not an easy job, but the guys that love it see it as a way to give back to the developer as well as the community.

 

 mymovies1-thumb.JPG  mymovies2-thumb.JPG
   MCE Main Menu Strip    View Entire Collection via DVD Cover Art

Above & Beyond

MyMovies has always been a fantastic application which continued to evolve. In their latest version, they've answered the cries of multi-zone users, now offering MyMovies in a Server & Client version, making it even easier to configure your setup for multiple zones (other rooms with MCE PC's or Extenders). This was critical for me, as I used one machine to rip & store my movies, but my main Media Center PC is a completely different PC.

In addition to that, MyMovies includes a feature to automatically add movies to your library. So if you just ripped a movie, you don't have to manually enter that movie's data. Assuming it can find the title, it monitors the folders you specify & adds them for you.

Add to that DVD Changer & High Definition support (via a plugin with Cyberlink's PowerDVD Ultra), and you start to wonder why anyone would use MCE's built-in DVD Library anymore. And that's the key to why MyMovies is such a phenomenal plugin--it does its' job perfectly, and also manages to improve upon Microsoft designed applications as well. 

Falling Short?

If the screenshots look like you're in 2005, you're not dreaming. Although promised in a future version, at least for now, MyMovies is NOT MCML designed, making the interface just a bit clunkier than it could be. Again, the developers are pretty adament that this will be added eventually, and they have continued to innovate, so we'll be a bit lenient. The conversion to MCML should make it faster, cleaner, more attractive and reliable (current version crashes very occasionally).

Grade: Approved for Everyday Use

If you're even somewhat a movie fan...or not, and you just can't remember what that movie "Gladiator" is about, then MyMovies is for you. It's simple to use, doesn't get boring, and is an application which is able to be appriciated by geeks and housewives alike! 

 

 mymovies3-thumb.JPG  mymovies4-thumb.JPG
   Movie information    Movie database management

 

Product Vitals

Website: MyMovies.dk

Creator: Brian Binnerup

Price: Free! 

Dec 18 2007

Review - S16V Unboxing

Today is a good day for HTPC cases! Not only were we lucky enough to bring you a first look at Omaura's new case concept , we also get to bring you a little unboxing love today. OrigenAE sent me a S16V for evaluation and here are a few pictures to get you drooling. The full review including a build will be posted a later this month. Here is a studio pic to keep you drooling.

 

 s16v.jpg

 

 

 

 

This will be your typical blog unboxing; lots of pictures and very few comments. Its hard to say a lot about the case until you stuff a system in there and test it out. I am anxious to test out the VFD, its wiring management capabilities and of course the noise it creates.

 
IMG_2841_thumb.JPG

IMG_2832_thumb.JPG

Top Down shot of box

Front Of Box

The box is simple and attractive. The case came packed very well and I would not expect shipping damage to occur. Spec wise, the S16V is a full-ATX case with support for one optical drive, 4 hard drives, a VFD display and a full-ATX PSU.

 
IMG_2773_thumb.JPG
IMG_2759_thumb.JPG

Front of S16V

Front of S16V with lid off

The whole body of the chassis is one piece aluminum construction. I am amazed at how light this case is. The case itself is very solid and does not give the impression of being being flimsy and something prone to vibration. The lid is placed on noise dampening material

 
IMG_2783_thumb.JPG

IMG_2792_thumb.JPG

Card Reader and optical drive

Slightly tilted back shot.. Too much to drink? 

The card reader and front ports are standard fare. As has been tossed around in the forums, perhaps expansion ports would be better suited on the side so cords do not have to hang out the front. The 80 mm fans provide the exhaust for this unit. If chosen wisely, two 80mm fans will move alot of air while being quiet.

 
IMG_2809_thumb.JPG

IMG_2818_thumb.JPG

Interior shot

Angle shot

Hard drive is relatively easy. Simply remove the two thumb screws and install the hard drives. Having to take out hard drive cages is never a fun prospect. The last picture is an angle shot of the case showing the 92 mm intake fan that blows across the hard drives.

The tool-less approach, cable management, and aesthetics really come together on this case. This next weekend I plan on putting a few very hot parts in there to see how this case holds up. I have a hot S754 3700+ and 6800GT to test 'er out.

 

 

Nov 23 2007

Review - Omaura TF8

Omaura Logo

Omaura is a newcomer to the HTPC case market, but they have certainly started with a bang.  Today, we will be taking a look at the low-profile microATX TF8.  Curious as to how it looks on the inside?  Then read on.

Remember, you have until 12:01 PM ESTon Monday to enter our kick ass giveaway with Omaura.

Specs

Specs

  • Can accept either Micro ATX or ITX Motherboards
  • Standard 5.25" ODD compatible
  • Space for 4x 3.5" Standard Hard Disk Drive
  • Highly Expandable 4x Low Profile Expansion Cards
  • Compatible with full ATX power supplies
  • Optional Omaura OLED display kit, 100% Windows MCE compatible
  • Card reader, 2x USB, 1x Firewire/1394, Audio 3.5mm Input and Output
  • Optional Omaura IR and remote kit, 100% Windows MCE compatible
  • All aluminium outer panels
  • Premium sandblast and anodized finish
  • Slide and screw-less locking 3mm aluminum top panel
  • Included drive cage rubber vibration grommets
  • Magnetically locking ports and card reader door
  • 10mm thick extruded aluminium face plate
  • Steel base panel and drive cages with scratch resistant finish
  • Designed to look great with or without an OLED display installed
  • Included Gloves, Screwdriver and Spare screws
  • 435x401x100mm (WxDxH)

First Impressions

First Impressions

After removing the case from its well protected shipping container, the first thing that strikes you is its minimalistic front panel.  There are no gaudy manufacturer names or port labels to disfigure its otherwise clean looks.  On the left is a simple power button surrounded by a ring of acrylic that glows blue when powered on.  On the right is the spring loaded optical drive door with its eject button.

Front of the TF8
Front of the TF8

On the lower left there is a door which hides two USB ports, a firewire port, headphone and line in jacks, and a multi-card reader.  This door is held closed by an extremely strong magnet.  In fact, one gets a feeling they may damage the door hinges in the process of trying to open the door.  After a few tries, the process gets easier.  A latching door with a push-to-open mechanism would have been more user friendly.  There also is no gliding or soft-open feature on the hinges, so the door tends to drop open once it has cleared the magnets.

Hidden I/O ports
Hidden I/O ports

There are vent regions on the left and right sides of the case to promote air flow.  The right opening has two 80x15mm exhaust fans and the left has two 60x10mm incoming fans to help push the air from left to right through the case.  The openings are covered with an inserted round mesh grill rather than the efficient stamped hex pattern.  However, since the vents are on the sides, the mesh pattern is probably more in line with what other high end A/V components would use.

Side mesh grill
Side mesh grill

The back of the case is the standard fare with an opening for the motherboard I/O panel, four low-profile cards, and a standard ATX power supply.  The power supply mounting hole pattern only allows for it to be mounted in one direction.  Just above the motherboard I/O panel is a mini-jack meant for IR blasters.

Rear I/O panel and IR blaster port Rear power supply mount
Rear I/O panel and IR blaster port
Rear power supply mount

The bottom of the case has some slots routed in the steel chassis to provide cooling via convection.  The holes in the area under the power supply would probably not be enough to allow a 120mm fan to breathe properly.  One option would be to break out a dremmel and improve the situation, but not everyone is comfortable with hacking away at a new case.  Option two is to pick up a power supply that is quiet, but also does not rely on a 120mm fan for cooling.  The case is held up by four square feet of aluminum with a non-skid rubber pad on each to prevent marring the surface below.

Bottom view Bottom vent holes under power supply
Bottom view
Bottom vent holes under power supply

 

Square foot with pad
Square foot with pad

The top of the case is made of steel with two regions of vent holes.  One group is in the vicinity of the CPU heat sink and the second group is directly over the power supply.  The area over the card slots is not vented.  It is hard to know the purpose of this second set of holes as the PSU will block most of their air flow.  The holes are again round rather than hex, but in this case it is most likely due to strength issues.  Because it is difficult to know what all might be stacked on top of this case, rigidity won out over air flow.  As in other case designs, compromises have to be made.  Near the back of the top, there are two indented areas pressed into the surface.  Wonder what those are for?  Read on to find out.

Top view
Top view

Peek Inside

Peek Inside

So, how does one get inside this bad boy?  On the back there are two sliding latches on either end, and pressing in the button and sliding both down releases the top cover.  Using the two indented areas on the top for grip, the top can now slide out of the way.  Pretty slick and toolless.  Unfortunately, everything else requires that you own a screwdriver.  Fortunately, the case comes with just such a device.

Latched locked Latch open
Latch locked
Latch open

Once the top is off, the TF8 gives up its secrets on how it can cram all of these features into this small package.  First thing that is noticed are all the wires running every which way.  Usually this is an issue once all the components are installed, but it is a bad sign to see such a sight before anything has been mounted.  There are four fan cables, five cables for the various front I/O ports and multi-card reader, two cables from the IR board, and two cables linking the power button to the motherboard.  That's thirteen cables to contend with and nothing has been mounted in the case yet.  To compound the problem, most of the cables are almost twice as long as required.  Fortunately, the drive cages have been mounted on 3/4" stand-offs to give room for the various circuit boards.  This should give some room to stow any extra lengths of cable which would otherwise clutter up the case's interior.

Inside from various angles 1 Inside from various angles 2
Inside from various angles 3 Inside from various angles 4
Inside from various angles

 

IR board Multi-card reader board
IR board
Multi-card reader board

 

Front I/O board and power switch
Front I/O board and power switch

There are two hard drive cages which hold two 3.5" hard drives each.  The cages need to be removed before the drives can be mounted.  Each drive location has four rubber grommets to help dampen any noise due to vibration.  The down side of this design is the drive cannot effectively transfer its heat to the chassis.  Omaura has placed two 60x10mm fans next to the drive cages to assist in the cooling, but unfortunately the cage structure looks to block most of their air flow.

Hard drive cages Hard drive cage fans
Hard drive cages Hard drive cage fans

The optical drive cage also needs to be removed before a drive can be mounted.  It however does not benefit from noise dampening grommets.  The eject button mechanism is large enough it should work properly with most optical drives.  The drive door is also designed to help prevent mechanical hangups.

Optical drive cage
Optical drive cage

The 80x15mm fans mounted on the right side panel are positioned properly to help exhaust warm air around the CPU.  As it stands now, this case requires a motherboard with five fan headers assuming the CPU requires a fan as well.  This may be possible on some full ATX motherboards, but this certainly is not common on the microATX format.  It would be more practical to have each group of two fans combined into one common header.  True, only one fan would be reporting its RPM, but that would seem to be an acceptable compromise.

Exhaust fans
Exhaust fans

As mentioned previously, this case came with the MCE remote kit and as such includes an IR receiver and blaster.  The receiver is mounted just to the right of the I/O panel door.  It connects via a cable to the USB internal header on the motherboard.  Since it is based on a standard Philips IR chipset, driver support should be solid in MCE and Vista.

IR blaster IR board
IR blaster
IR board

 

MCE remote Lower buttons Upper buttons
MCE remote
Lower buttons
Upper buttons

Parting Words

Parting Words

Before this review is wrapped up, one last feature needs to be addressed.  Or rather, it would be addressed if the sample had arrived.  As it is, someone in customs has apparently been enjoying it a bit too much.  The topic of this discussion is Omaura's crown jewel, the OLED (organic light emitting diode) display.  Not only is the display clearer to read, but it is no longer confined to characters only.  It is essentially a 256x64 grid of pixels which can display anything from pictures to various font sizes.  Please see Omaura's website for more details.  If we ever do receive the display, we will be sure to provide a review.

Empty location for OLED display
Empty location for OLED display

Conclusion

The TF8 has a lot going for it.  A compact and clean exterior while providing for a plethora of options internally is hard to find in the HTPC case market.  Sure, there are some deficiencies such as excess cable length, an over abundance of fan connectors, and questionable air flow around the PSU, but in the end this can be remedied by careful component planning and some light mods.  Overall, this case has been a strong first showing for Omaura.  It will be exciting to see what other surprises they have planned.

Nov 06 2007

Review - Snapstream BeyondTV 4.7 Update

 

BeyondTV 4.7

Snapstream Beyond TV 4.7

On September 27, 2007 Snapstream released their latest version of Beyond TV and added a bunch of new fucntionality. Let's take a quick look at some of the fun new toys they've bundled in.

Snapstream has added some great new functionality in their latest release. Here's the official line on what's available:

Automatically Sync Recordings to iPod and iPhone (Optional Plug-In) - This is an innovative feature that uses the H.264 format to re-compress your Beyond TV recordings and sync them to your iPod, iPhone, or Apple TV. Using an iTunes podcast rss feed you can now automatically sync your television recordings to your iPod or iPhone.

Drive Pooling - If you are worried about running out of space for your recordings this feature will calm your fears. Beyond TV 4.7 lets you treat a group of hard drives as one recording folder. It will automatically manage and distribute the content you have recorded.

Firefly Mobile - Now you can use your Smartphone, iPhone, or other web device as a remote control for your Beyond TV.

Community Recordings - When enabled, this feature will automatically record the top shows each day as reported by Beyond TV Buzz.

Beyond TV Link DVD Burning (Optional Plug-In) - Just like you can burn DVDs on your Beyond TV Server you can now do the same using Beyond TV Link.

We’ve also improved some of the existing features in Beyond TV 4.7:

  • H.264 playback is included in all copies of Beyond TV 4.7
  • Extend the recording time while a job is currently being recorded by simply hitting the record button and adding the amount of time needed (up to 3 hours). So, if the football game goes into overtime, you can just lengthen the recording time and you won’t miss a thing.
  • We’ve improved the Record This Timeslot Recording option by adding Record Only on This Day as an option
  • Recover recordings that might have been interrupted due to a power outage, machine reboot, etc.
  • An Internet Explorer user? Now you can download files greater than 2GB in size without breaks.
  • We now have support for multiple USB-UIRT devices.
  • Beyond TV Link can now stream live TV for multiple days on end without stopping.

So let's take a closer look at some of these. I'll do an in depth look at the Auto-Sync, Firefly Mobile and Community Recordings on the next few pages. 

Oct 22 2007

Review - Hava Platinum HD Review: Part 1

Placeshifting is a term that has been around the Media Center enthusiast world for a while now. Although not perfected, it has certainly come along way in the past couple of years. Programs like SageTV and Orb, and hardware like Slingbox and Hava have allowed you to take your TV whereever you may roam. I am fortunate enough to take a look at the latter and will be presenting a multi-part look at the Hava HD Platinum. Roughly, the review parts will look like this: (subject to change of course)

  • First look, setup, and initial impressions with placeshifting
  • Detailed look at home network placeshifting (component input quality) and internet placeshifting
  • How the Hava integrates into MCE via two different methods
  • Small Q&A session with HAVA! Get your questions in!
    hava_player2 [320x200].jpg

Oct 10 2007

Review - Antec A/V Cooler

 

verisbox.jpg
Antec has been known for years as being a great company to provide quality cases and power supplies, which are as great for gamers as they are quiet for Media Center users. They have come to embrace the Home Theater PC audience slowly, but have developed a product line dubbed "Veris ," which they've tied together their current HTPC offerings such as their Fusion and quiet hard drive enclosure, and now, the A/V Cooler. An odd addition, honestly, as it is the only Antec product I'm aware of which was not designed specifically for a computer. But I'm a computer guy, so you know I'm going to find some way to review this for you anyways. And at an MSRP over $100, it sure better perform as advertised!

 

Oct 05 2007

Review - Auzentech X-Meridian 7.1 Soundcard

 

Front View of X-Meridian Box

Auzentech X-Meridian 7.1 Soundcard

The X-Meridian has been on the market since last fall and has developed a strong following among the HTPC audiophile market. With high quality DACs and replacable Op-Amps this sound card shows a lot of potential. Let's take a look at how it performs in an average home setup and on our audiophile test bench.

Just two and a half years ago, Auzentech released their first sound card the X-Mystique to much fanfare. It was the first sound card to offer support for encoding multi-channel audio to Dolby Digital. Prior to that the only options were the old nForce 2 MCP-T motherboards. Shortly thereafter Auzentech debuted the X-Plosion, the first sound card to offer DTS Connect technology bringing yet another option to the consumer. With the X-Meridian, Auzentech hasn't taken just another baby step forward. They've taken a giant leap. Offering all of the prior DTS and Dolby tecnologies is just the start. The X-Meridian also uses some of the highest quality DACs on the market and allows for user replacement of the Operational Amplifiers offering a whole new level of user customization of the sound card previously unavailable to consumers in this price range. I'm really excited about taking a closer look at this sound card.

  

Update from Auzentech:
Limited Edition - No Longer Available

Thank you to all the audiophiles who made the X-Meridian a success. As of June 2007, this soundcard is no longer in production due to limited chipset availability. Some retailers may have inventory on hand for a limited time.

Auzentech will continue to provide driver updates, technical support, and add-on boards for owners of the X-Meridian.

Alan: This review is loooong overdue. It was a carry over from HTPCNews that did not get the proper attention for that very reason. Thank you to Auzentech for being so patient. We highly recommend you look at their sound cards as they have been innovating since the came into the market a short time ago. Though the card is discontinued, the review is stil a good read :).

Aug 24 2007

Review - Hauppauge HVR950

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Hauppauge HVR950 ATSC/NTSC Hybrid Review

You've probably heard by now that in 2009, broadcast tv will all be changing over to digital TV transition.  Because of this, any TVs, DVRs, etc. made from this point forward must also include an ATSC tuner. For the HTPC world this means that any PC TV tuner made from this point forward must have an ATSC tuner.  Today I have the HVR950 ATSC/NTSC hybrid tuner from Hauppauge for review.  Let's find out how it compares to the competition.

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