Reviews

Apr 09 2013

Review - Yale Real Living Electronic Touch Screen Deadbolt with Z-Wave

Yale Real Living

Even those without a Home Automation (HA) system can appreciate the value in a keyless entry option for the home, but the real value for a lock like the Yale Real Living Electronic Touch Screen Deadbolt is realized by leveraging Z-Wave to integrate it in a HA system. After doing that, it unlocks a wide array of actions that simplify home security; offering features like: conditional access, short term key codes, and automated responses to lock and other device events. Other Z-Wave locks offer the same automation features, but the YRD220-ZW full numeric touch screen and excellent build quality set it apart. The additional features demand a premium versus competing devices; let’s find out if it is worth it.

Mar 12 2013

Review - NETGEAR NeoTV MAX (NTV300SL) Media Streamer

NETGEAR NeoTV MAX

After experiencing NETGEAR’s previous generation NeoTV NTV200, with solid function, value and distinction as one of the only media streamers with HDMI CEC support it was genuinely exciting when the NeoTV MAX (NTV300SL) arrived with a dual-sided QWERTY remote, full VUDU 3D and Netflix multichannel audio with subtitle support--that NETGEAR only asks $70 (MSRP) for the device was gravy. With the NeoTV MAX also promising 24p and continuing the tradition of seamless integration into a HDMI CEC controlled ecosystem it seems likely that NETGEAR would deliver the perfect Over the Top (OTT) streamer for the most demanding users.

Jan 17 2013

Review - Ceton - My Media Center

Ceton My Media Center

Earlier today a new Windows 8 "Metro" version of Ceton's suite of applications for managing Windows Media Center joined the existing lineup of Andriod, Windows Phone and iOS companion apps priced at $4.99. As part of this effort they were rebranded from "Ceton Companion Apps" to "My Media Center". All the great functionality for browsing recordings, managing series and scheduling, and browsing the guide is still there, but this time Windows 8 tablet and desktop "Metro" users can also join the party. We had a chance to take an early spin through the updated UI, let's dig in.

Jan 02 2013

Review - Intel Core i3-3220 v. Intel Core i3-3225

Intel Core i3As interesting as the third generation of Intel Core integrated processor graphics (IPG) were when they arrived in April, as home theater PC (HTPC) enthusiasts it was disappointing that the more applicable two core/four thread models were not available. We gleaned what we could about the minor processing improvements and major changes to the graphic processing unit (GPU) from the Core i7-3770K / Core i7-3770S, but as those were overkill for this space there are still many unanswered questions around how the six execution unit (EU) HD 2500 compares to sixteen EU HD 4000 and, perhaps more importantly, how 22nm Ivy Bridge (IVB) CPUs compare against the previous generation of Sandy Bridge (SNB) IPG with similar power requirements. To achieve these goals two 3.3 GHz, 55W Core i3s were tested; with only the GPU separating them – at least on the specifications sheet – let’s dig into the Intel Core i3-3220 and Intel Core i3-3225 and find out which is the better option for your next HTPC.

Nov 29 2012

Review - Ceton Echo Windows Media Extender

Ceton EchoFor Windows 7 Media Center (WMC) users the Xbox 360 has long been the only actively produced choice to extend the experience to multiple TVs--until the Ceton Echo Extender for Windows Media Extender (MCX) hit the market. When we first saw the Echo it was a very different device, driven by an Intel Atom based system on a chip (SoC), and subsequently a larger and hungrier device than what we have today. The form factor has changed significantly as well, to a sleek device around the size of most modern home theater “streamers,” but the functionality promised (i.e. small, quiet, efficient MCX) when used with WMC has not. This is an important point to note when examining the Echo on its own, because much of the previous coverage also included mention of Ceton’s Q (a TiVo like device) which, had it survived the summer, could have provided additional capability beyond what is possible from the standard MCX experience.  With firmware releases bringing new functionality and fixes every few days it has proved difficult to nail down a definitive snapshot of the Echo’s long term capabilities; as retail availability is now upon us it is time to build on our first look and provide a current state update for the device.

Nov 26 2012

Review - Kingston Hyper-X Genesis LoVo Power Use Comparison

Kingston Hyper-XIn the quest to build the perfect low power home theater PC (HTPC) it is natural to select low voltage memory under the assumption that it will reduce consumption – lowering your power bill, and producing a greener system. To test this theory three Hyper-X Genesis LoVo memory kits from Kingston were put to the test in three different HTPC systems to determine not only what 1.35V versus 1.5V nets at the wall, but also how scaling up RAM affects consumption.

Nov 02 2012

Review - First Look - Ceton Echo Windows Media Extender

Ceton EchoThe XBOX 360 has ruled the Windows Media Center (WMC) extender market since it killed off third-party completion with the release of Windows Vista, but for many the brutish gaming console’s size, appetite for electricity, and unpleasant noise levels made it unwelcome in the A/V stack. With a lithe chassis, miserly power consumption, and a modern system-on-a-chip (SOC) offering the potential for proper HD file support the Ceton Echo could be just the thing to breathe fresh life into Microsoft’s aging platform. Our sample just arrived so it has not been run through the wringer yet, but since the hardware is set and pre-orders starting it is worth taking a look to getting a basic understanding of what the Echo has to offer. Check back later for our full review when the software is finalized.

Oct 31 2012

Review - Onkyo TX-NR818 7.2-Channel Network A/V Receiver

TX-NR818As the glue in a well-equipped home theater, the audio video receiver (AVR) is a natural hub where audio and video processing can be consolidated into a single device alongside other functions like over the top (OTT) IP services. Onkyo has embraced this ideal with the 135 watts per channel TX-NR818, which offers decoding support for all of the modern audio codecs, HQV video processing and scaling up to 4K UltraHD. More importantly when it comes to room correction, arguably the most important feature of a modern AVR, the TX-NR818 offers Audyssey‘s flagship MultEQ XT32 – an outstanding feat given its $1200 MSRP (~$800 street). With all of the features included, the TX-NR818 seems to be an incredible value, offering unmatched capability per dollar. Moving beyond the spec sheet however, nothing is without compromise – let’s dig in and discover where Onkyo’s 2012 mid-range master excels, and where it does not.

Oct 15 2012

Review - Intel DH77DF Media Series Mini ITX Motherboard and Core i7-3770S CPU

Intel DH77DFIntel’s third generation Core integrated processor graphics (IPG) chip, aka Ivy Bridge (IVB), got off to a slow start for us with a set of high-end CPUs not really intended for the home theater PC (HTPC). We still do not have one of the low power Core i3/i5 with HD4000 graphics on hand; now that they are available, H77 based Mini ITX motherboards are much more interesting since the updated platform controller hub (PCH) is required to fully utilize new features like PCIe 3.0 and DDR3-1600. There are several options to choose from, but none include the HTPC specific features like Windows Media Center infrared and HDMI CEC support via specialized headers and third-party hardware like the Intel Media Series DH77DF paired today with 65W Intel Core i7-3770S and i5-2400S IPGs. Not content to differentiate only on those features, it also offers mSATA via a Mini PCIe slot and Firewire (IEEE1394a) and addresses a traditional shortcoming in Intel’s previous Mini ITX boards – support for 95W TDP CPUs.

Oct 09 2012

Review - Pulse-Eight Internal HDMI CEC Adapter

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

Oct 03 2012

Review - Pivos XIOS DS Media Player

 

Have you ever wanted to play those games from your Android smartphone on your big screen? Pivos is relying on a significant amount of these types of users with the introduction of the Pivos XIOS DS. This is a tiny device which runs either a version of Android or Linux and is a crossbreed between being a media player and casual gaming device. With a retail price of $129 (street at the time of publishing around $99) the Pivos XIOS DS is priced higher than popular streamers such as the Roku or AppleTV, but do the extra capabilities of a fully connected Android device make it worthwhile?

Oct 01 2012

Review - Fractal Design Define R4 ATX Chassis

headerFractal Design made a great impression on us last year with the debut of the Define R3 ATX chassis and its smaller sibling, the Define Mini Micro-ATX chassis. It is hard not to love a high-quality, well-built, sleek and unobtrusive chassis and these are all qualities the Define series of chassis exhibited to us. Not content to rest on its laurels, Fractal Design went back to the drawing board to come up with several enhancements to the design of the R3 with the new Define R4 ATX chassis.

The main refinements offered by the Define R4 are larger and improved fans, a more flexible hard disk drive (HDD) cage, a wider case body for easier cable routing, additional mounting options for 2.5” SSDs, a new tool-less front fan holder, support for liquid cooling radiators, a new fan controller that is integrated with the front panel, and an additional USB 3.0 front panel port.

Sep 18 2012

Review - Mini Z-Wave Device Review

Z-WaveIn our recent review of Micasaverde’s Vera home automation (HA) controller several devices were mentioned, but not in enough detail to be useful to anyone thinking about building a Z-Wave network, or adding to an existing one. To address that a list of all the devices and a mini review is included below:

Sep 13 2012

Review - Mi Casa Verde Vera Home Automation Controller - VeraLite

Mi Casa VerdeHome automation (HA) covers a wide spectrum of capabilities and devices, spanning the gap from placing a light timer on the fish tank to a complex system that manages many of the mundane aspects of lighting, HVAC and scheduled activities in the house or business. Historically these highly integrated systems, capable of things like automatically dimming the lights when watching a movie, were constrained to high-end consumers due to hardware cost, complexity, and the locked-down dealer relationship between OEMs and custom installers (CI). While this works for both groups, it is blocking for those with a more limited budget – which is where the Mi Casa Verde Vera 3 and VeraLite come in. As a fully functional Z-Wave HA controller, it offers the same feature set and capabilities that more expensive options provide, but in DIY (do-it-yourself) friendly format where managing devices and scenes entails a quick browser session instead of a wallet thumping from your local CI.

Aug 29 2012

Review - Actiontec PWR500 - 500Mbps Powerline Network Adapter Kit

Actiontec PWR500 Powerline Networking Adpater Kit

Powerline networking has a reputation for promising capable “hardwired” networking solutions, but historically often fell short when it came to delivery. Having tried a few iterations of the alternative-to-Ethernet over power wires in the past, in my personal experience this reputation has also proved well deserved. Of course with each new generation, the technology evolves and is therefore worth another look.  To achieve that goal, Actiontec provided their newest Powerline Network Adapter kit, the PWR500. Supporting up to 500Mbps between nodes, and exposing 100Mbps Ethernet to devices, it should be more than a match for even the most demanding file streaming requirements. Combining this with a price of around $50 for two adapters, it could be the perfect way to extend your media to those hard to reach places around your house or apartment.

Aug 07 2012

Review - Skifta DLNA Controller Application for Android Devices

As more intelligent devices begin to fill the home, the desire and need to be able to centrally control your home content is an ever present one. Skifta aims to bridge that gap as an Android-based DLNA controller as well as a player for any Android based phone or tablet. In addition to supporting local browsing and playback, Skifta also can remotely control your local files across the internet.

Skifta

Jul 16 2012

Review - Green vs. Non-Green Switches

D-Link GreenAs part of a recent effort to consolidate all of our backbone networking kit into a structured wiring panel, it was necessary to add a switch to the mix. Never having played with a "Green Ethernet" device (D-Link DGS-1008G) it seemed like a good idea to pick one up and find out how green it was in comparison to two other Gigabit switches (D-Link 2208/NETGEAR GS605) already in use on my network.

Jul 08 2012

Review - Wesena ITX5

Wesena ITX5Boasting clean lines, the right look, and solid construction for Mini-ITX based systems the Wesena ITX5 all-aluminum enclosure offers capabilities very similar to the ITX7; by removing optical drive support in a slightly lower cost ($80) package. Building a name for quality takes time and attention to feedback, so it was fantastic to examine the generational differences between the two small form-factor (SFF) home theater PC (HTPC) chassis from Wesena. As a refinement on the previous iteration we hope to see the niggles around fit-and-finish addressed.

Jun 21 2012

Review - XPAND YOUniversal Electronic 3D Eyewear

We last visited the topic of universal active 3D glasses technology with our XPAND X103 review. With the introduction of the Full HD 3D Glasses standard in 2012 stereoscopic 3D products, the display and eyewear industry have matured away from the mish-mash of proprietary communication mechanisms. Standard-compliant products can utilize radio frequency (RF) and/or infrared (IR) for the communication link between displays and glasses. In theory, any vendor’s glasses complying with the standard will work with any standard-compliant display (so long as each product has the same logo, e.g. “Full HD 3D RF” or “Full HD 3D IR”).

XPAND has been a key player involved in the Full HD 3D Glasses initiative so we’re expecting great performance from their newest YOUniversal Electronic 3D Eyewear--especially considering that XPAND operates the testing center for products seeking certification. XPAND’s YOUniversal 3D eyewear seeks to improve upon their X103 offering by offering compatibility with the new Full HD 3D Glasses standard, several new fit and finish options, a rechargeable Li-ion battery, and software to allow for firmware updates and user customization. The primary selling point of XPAND’s solution is that the glasses are compatible with every major active shutter 3D display instead of operating with only a single vendor’s display technology.

Jun 04 2012

Review - LIAN LI PC-Q05 Thin Mini-ITX Chassis

When Intel introduced the Thin Mini-ITX form factor with the DH61AG board, we were impressed with the performance and potential of the platform; however, the innovative form factor lacked any accompanying chassis to take advantage of the extra thin profile. Fortunately, that situation is changing with the introduction of LIAN LI’s PC-Q05 which supports the new Thin Mini-ITX form factor.

May 13 2012

Review - Pulse-Eight Motorola NYXboard Hybrid Wireless Keyboard and IR Remote

Pulse-Eight LogoNot long ago it was easy to lean primarily on a traditional remote control – universal, of course -- relegating the keyboard and mouse to the audio & video (A/V) cabinet, closet, or other locale of last resort –dragging it out just for occasional maintenance or troubleshooting. However, as over-the-top (OTT) content providers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and YouTube have become more pervasive, the traditional remote can no longer provide enough functionality as we transition to a search, browse and consume environment. Those hesitant to make space on the coffee table for a “normal” sized wireless keyboard alongside the aging universal; or clinging fervently to the dream of a single remote to manage everything, require something small with the flexibility to control multiple heterogeneous devices. Few options meet these requirements, but the number recently increased with Pulse-Eight bringing out a new home theater PC (HTPC) remote from Motorola. Operating as a 2.4GHz wireless keyboard and providing infrared (IR) learning capabilities in a convenient one-handed form factor the NYXboard Hybrid checks the right boxes, but with the last option offering similar features found lacking it is critical to dig deeper.

Apr 23 2012

Review - Intel Core i7-3770K Ivy Bridge CPU and DZ77GA-70K Motherboard

Intel Core i7-3770K Ivy Bridge CPU and DZ77GA-70 MotherboardLast year Intel’s Sandy Bridge “TOCK” married the graphics processing unit (GPU) and CPU on the same die, making it a first class citizen in the system and introduced a true integrated processor graphics (IPG) solution. With HD audio bit steaming introduced in the previous generation, full hardware acceleration of VC-1, AVC (H.264), MPEG2 as well as 3D Blu-ray (MVC) and reasonable refresh rate accuracy already offered; Ivy Bridge’s 22nm die-shrinking “TICK” could have easily rested only on improved process technology for frequency gains or power efficiency, but instead promises a little bit of raw performance with significant reductions in consumption. Most importantly for the home theater PC (HTPC) enthusiast significant improvements to the GPU are also included - offering greater flexibility in playback software selection as well as improvements to the existing media consumption experience.

Apr 23 2012

Review - IF500 Luna 5 Encore iPhone iPod Speaker Dock

Speaker docks for iPhone and iPod devices are very common these days, with more manufacturers putting their name in the hat, vying for a place in your living room, bedroom, bathroom, or any other location you may so desire to amplify the music coming from your mobile device. Edifier manufactures numerous speaker products, ranging from studio speakers, to surround sound gaming systems, to of course, speaker docks. With the IF500 Luna 5 Encore, Edifier tries a more modern and artistic approach to the traditional iPhone/iPod speaker dock. And with a $299 MSRP, the Edifier Luna 5 is on the upper tier of docks so we will evaluate the speaker as much on sound quality as on style.

Apr 16 2012

Review - Biscotti TV Phone

 Video phones have been a staple of science fiction for decades. Most of us have come to understand that video phones will never become the norm, simply because there are far too many circumstances in which we answer the phone but would never want anyone to actually see what we look like at the moment, or where we are. That being said, the video phone has its place, and what better place than the living room. There are few better uses in the home for a video phone or teleconference system than for communicating with far-flung friends and family and the living room provides a space where the entire family can congregate and interact with the biggest screen in the house. At $199, the Biscotti TV Phone strives to be an inexpensive way of integrating video teleconferencing into the home theater. Every call on the Biscotti TV Phone is free, but is every call worth making?

Biscotti TV Phone

Apr 15 2012

Review - Apple TV

Apple TVIn our first look at the new 2012 Apple TV it was clear that the form factor and basic function was consistent with many of the other over the top (OTT) media streamers on the market, but it was the visual appealing user interface (UI) that really shines compared to similar devices which became apparent in the video walkthrough. What was not clear, given the brief time with the Apple TV, was how it performs after the first-impression sheen has worn off or how the recently upgraded 1080p iTunes content stacks up against established OTT services like Netflix and VUDU, or the current top-end option, Blu-ray. Having spent the focused energy to really get to know the device it is time to come back with answers to those questions, as well as provide a fuller picture of what is provided by Apple’s OTT streamer refresh.

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