Reviews

Oct 24 2011

Review - Netgear Universal WiFi Range Extender WN3000RP

In the last 5 - 10 years wireless has vastly changed how we connect devices to the internet in our homes. Every smartphone, laptop, tablet, media streamer, gaming console has the ability to connect to your network through your wireless access point. Along with the ability to no longer having to run an Ethernet cord everywhere you needed network connectivity, there were short comes. As almost everyone can attest to wireless is not 100% perfect, there is always a corner of your home, or an area in your back yard that your wireless can not reach.

That is where wireless repeaters or "range extenders" come into play, they allow you to extend your wireless coverage to distances greater than your access point at home can do on it's own. Lately the trend from many consumer network manufactures is bringing to market these range extenders. Today we were able to review one of the new 802.11N range extenders from Netgear, the Netgear Universal WiFi Range Extender WN3000RP.

The Netgear range extender as we get into later on in the review, allows users to bridge the gap between where your wireless network starts to fall apart and where you would like to use your wireless devices but can not.

Oct 18 2011

Review - Sewell InjectIR - IR over HDMI Remote Extender


Those of you with older television cabinets or mounted televisions know the difficulty that comes with hiding your equipment out of site while still being able to control it. Radio frequency (RF) has its benefits but requires a special remote control as well as IR blasters for each individual device you are looking to control. Sewell has developed the InjectIR device for those users who don’t want the complexity of an IR setup but still want to be able to control their hidden devices.
Sewell InjectIR

Oct 16 2011

Review - MonoPrice HDMI to Component & R/L Stereo Audio Converter

MonoPrice HDMI to Component & R/L Stereo Audio Converter For those holding on to an aging HDTV or projector which lacks HDMI support, there are few options in a world where component (YPbPr) output is slowly being stripped away.  In fact, until recently there were only two, the HDFURY II and HDFURY III; but with the lower model starting at $180, neither is a perfect option for the thrifty.  Fortunately, there is now another solution provided by a company best known for their high quality HDMI cables; the MonoPrice HDMI to Component & R/L Stereo Audio Converter (MYCH01 / Product ID: 8125).  With an asking price of $39.92, it is natural to expect some compromise; after all we often get what we pay for.

Oct 11 2011

Review - Roku 2 XS

Roku

Roku made a name for itself by providing a device that, for many, is synonymous with Netflix streaming.  The quality of that service, and other premium, IP delivered media, has increased significantly since the original box was launched, necessitating an update to modernize the lineup and provide support for HD content.  To address this, we now have the Roku 2 comprised of three models: HD, XD, and XS, spanning the range from $60 to $100.  Each of the devices is capable of 5.1 bit streaming, but the Roku 2 HD, which is limited to 720p, it is not as interesting as the other two which are capable of delivering 1080p video.  Today we take a look at high-end XS, which tops the XD by including Roku’s Bluetooth gaming remote, a USB port, and Ethernet.

Oct 05 2011

Review - SilverStone TS07 USB 3.0 External Drive Enclosure

TS07

From a recent poll regarding external storage, it is clear that a significant number of respondents are making use of external storage options using interfaces such as USB and eSATA. One of the drawbacks of USB 2.0 is its lack of speed, while eSATA is not nearly as pervasive as USB. With USB 3.0 found in more motherboards, chassis (Fractal Design Define Mini, SilverStone TJ08-E), and expansion cards (SilverStone EC01), it seems like a perfect time to take a look at SilverStone’s new USB 3.0 3.5” external drive enclosure, the TS07.

Oct 03 2011

Review - AMD Llano A8-3800 CPU and GIGABYTE A75M-UD2H microATX Motherboard

LlanoNew platforms are particularly interesting to us as home theater PC (HTPC) enthusiasts because it gives us a chance to clearly see how a generation of progress can be transformed into tangible benefits.  Not long ago, integrated graphics processors (IGP) were strictly the choice of budget-minded consumers, but the recent relocation of the graphics processing unit (GPU) from the chipset to the processor made it a “first-class” citizen and brought new life to the solution while birthing a new concept – integrated processor graphics (IPG).  AMD was not the first to release an IPG, or APU (accelerated processing unit) as they refer to it, but with the introduction of the Brazos/Zacate line earlier this year, a glimpse of Lynx/Llano’s promise became available.   As a platform aimed at the ultra-portable market, Zacate demands significant compromise for use as a dedicated HTPC.  Llano’s mainstream desktop orientation, combining a full featured GPU and capable CPU, should address those tradeoffs with enough headroom and flexibility to provide solutions along the spectrum of client and server HTPC.  As we have with Intel’s Sandy Bridge family of IPGs, we plan to evaluate each step in AMD’s lineup – starting today with the 65W 2.4 GHz A8-3800,coupled with a GIGABYTE A75M-UD2H microATX motherboard.

Sep 27 2011

Review - SilverStone EC01 USB 3.0 Internal 19-Pin Dual Port PCI Express Card

Some of our recent enclosure reviews (SilverStone TJ08-E, Fractal Design Define Mini) have featured external USB 3.0 ports requiring a connection to a 19-pin header required by the USB 3.0 specification which poses a problem for most motherboards to date. While SilverStone was kind enough to provide an internal USB 3.0 to USB 2.0 adapter with the TJ08-E, it would be ideal to take advantage of the USB 3.0 capability. Enter SilverStone’s EC01 PCI Express card providing a 19-pin internal connector capable of supporting two USB 3.0 ports.

Sep 25 2011

Review - Fractal Design Core 3000

So far, we have reviewed three chassis from Fractal Design, the Define R3 ATX, the Define Mini Micro-ATX and the Array R2 Mini-ITX, and have been impressed by their build quality and aesthetics. Today we are reviewing a chassis in their Core line which aims to provide a unique combination of design, features, cooling performance and value. The Fractal Design Core 3000 mid-tower desktop case builds off of the entry level Core 1000 by adding improved cable management, more cooling options and removable hard drive bays to allow for longer graphics cards of up to 420mm in length.

 


SPECIFICATIONS
The Fractal Design Core 3000 has a positive pressure cooling design and comes with three fans and has a total of seven fan slots. Also included is a fan control with support for three fans. The case can accommodate six hard drives of any size and has 2 5.25 bays with 1x 5,25>3,5 inch converter included. At 200x430x480mm and including support for Mini-ITX, Micro-ATX and ATX motherboards, the Core 3000 would certainly make a great Home Theater PC (HTPC) or home server case.

Sep 21 2011

Review - IOGEAR GUWIP204 Wireless USB Sharing Station

Ioger GUWIP204Over the past year we’ve reviewed a number of different wireless products that help enhance unique home theater environments, such as wireless HDMI streamers and Bluetooth speakers. For my living situation, the need to extend USB over a wireless network became relevant, and as such, I obtained the GUWIP204 4-Port Wireless USB Sharing Station from IOGEAR to achieve this objective. Things were not perfect however, as we attempted to use this product unconventionally.



SPECIFICATIONS

Before we begin and cover our experience with the GUWIP204 we should take a look at the specifications and its limitations according to IOGEAR. According to the product’s webpage:

IOGEAR's Wireless 4-Port USB Sharing Station enables any USB external hard drive, USB flash drive, USB memory card reader, USB webcam, USB speaker, or USB multi-function printer (MFP) to be shared over a Wi-Fi network among different users. It offers the flexibility to place your USB devices anywhere in the home or office as long as there is Wi-Fi coverage. You are no longer constrained by the 16’ distance limitation from your USB devices to your computers.

Sep 19 2011

Review - Fractal Design Array R2 Mini-ITX Chassis

Fractal Design Array R2In the last few weeks we have taken a look at a wide range of chassis based on feedback we’ve received from our readers in regards to what form factor is most used for their home theater PC (HTPC) as the results were mixed. But one form factor which has not been covered simply due to a lack of viable options has been the “cube” case, which I have admired for years but never saw one compact enough for my home theater space--most of the cube cases were either very large or made of the clear acrylic and flashy lights not at all suitable for a living room. Only recently coming from overseas and available in the US, the Fractal Design Array R2 chassis provides a blend of refinement with a ton of storage space options, in an all aluminum black enclosure--not exactly a cube by measurement, but of similar structure. Not being clearly a desktop nor HTPC chassis however, will this find a place in your environment?



SPECIFICATIONS

Let’s examine the cold hard facts of the features included within the Fractal Design Array R2 chassis:

Sep 14 2011

Review - IOGEAR GKM571R 2.4 GHz Multimedia Mini Keyboard

IOGEAR GKM571R 2.4 GHz Multimedia Mini KeyboardThe IOGEAR GKM571R is a palm-sized mini wireless 2.4 GHz wireless LED backlit keyboard with built-in laser trackball, mouse buttons and built-in scroll wheel.  It uses RF technology with an advertised range of 33 feet.  IOGEAR refers to the GKM57IR as “the ideal solution for the home entertainment living room and computer enthusiast looking to compliment their PC to TV solution.”  We needed to find out for ourselves, is it the ideal solution? My first impression certainty seemed so.

Sep 12 2011

Review - Wesena E5 Ultra Low Profile HTPC Chassis

Wesena Logo

When selecting the perfect chassis for your home theater PC (HTPC) it can be difficult to strike the right balance between looks and capability.  With multiple tuners increasingly becoming available in smaller and varied packages at more competitive prices, the form factor revolution in the client HTPC space made possible by no-compromise integrated processor graphics (IPG) systems is now a tangible reality for the primary HTPC as well.  Wesena has aggressively pushed into this space with chassis like the Micro-ATX/Mini-ITX compatible all-aluminum E5, which with its CE visage offers a near perfect look for the A/V stack.  There is some compromise because of the ultra-low-profile form factor but with two hard drive mounts, space for a slim optical drive and enough expansion to provide a viable enclosure for your main HTPC, it warrants a detailed look.

Sep 12 2011

Review - SoundScience Halo 6 LED Bias HDTV Backlight Kit by Antec

When Philips first introduced their Ambilight technology for their television sets they were all the rage--fantastic concept that actually works to help minimize the strain on your eyes while watching the television, but who wants to buy a brand new set just for a cool technology. Luckily the folks at Antec have got you covered...sort of. The soundscience halo 6 LED bias lighting kit is designed for monitors up to 24” in size on your desk. So what does a website focused on home theaters do, we grabbed two of these from our friends at Antec and tested them on a 50” plasma television. Let’s see how it matches up to the real deal.

Antec LED

SPECIFICATIONS

How much can be said about the specifications of a row of LED lights? Not much, but let’s look anyways.

Sep 08 2011

Review - Ceton InfiniTV 4 USB CableCARD Tuner

Ceton InfiniTV 4 USB BoxFor more than a year enthusiasts in the Home Theater PC (HTPC) community have known Ceton as the Kirkland, WA company that delivered the first true PCIe, and until recently only, Digital Cable Tuner (DCT) available on the market.  Discontent to sit out the recent, relative glut of CableCARD devices and form factors they have introduced a new external USB member to their four tuner product line with planned availability on September 19th -- aptly named “InfiniTV 4 USB.”  We recently reviewed two similarly external CableCARD tuners from Hauppauge and SiliconDust which entered the market ahead of Ceton, but time to market is only part of the equation as both devices have struggled with maturity; so the real question is if Ceton’s experience in the field can provide the same quality of experience we have come to expect from their earlier device.

Sep 08 2011

Review - Fractal Design Define Mini Micro-ATX Chassis

DM

Not too long ago, we took a look at Fractal Design’s Define R3 ATX chassis and came away impressed. Today, we’re going to examine the R3’s younger sibling, the Define Mini Micro-ATX tower chassis. The Define Mini holds a lot of promise with six 2.5”/3.5” internal and two 5.25” external bays, six fan slots, support for expansion cards up to 400mm in length, USB 3.0 port, dampened side panels and cable management features all intriguingly hidden behind a black, brushed steel door.

Sep 07 2011

Review - Hauppauge WinTV-DCR-2650 USB CableCARD Tuner

Intro

Hauppauge has had a long tradition of delivering tuners and capture solutions to the home theater PC (HTPC) market so it is only appropriate that the legacy continues in the modern era with Hauppauge’s new CableCARD offering, the WinTV-DCR-2650. Offering two tuners, a USB connection to PCs and a tantalizing low retail price in the Digital Cable Tuner (DCT) market, the WinTV-DCR-2650 is poised to find its way into many HTPC enthusiasts’ hands.

Sep 05 2011

Review - SuperTooth Disco Bluetooth Speaker

Many of us have home theater setups in a particular room in our homes fully configured and ready to integrate with all our content and devices. But what about when you want to take that entertainment to another room, outside or even to someone else’s house? That’s where the SuperTooth Disco Bluetooth Speaker comes into play as it is a fully portable and powerful speaker setup designed to let you wirelessly send audio from a variety of devices to it. With an MSRP of $149 the Disco is positioned right where other portable audio solutions are placed but with the added benefit of being connected without power or wires to your audio player.

SuperTooth Disco Bluetooth

SPECIFICATIONS

As always let’s start with the specifications and marketing speak given to us by the manufacturer of the SuperTooth Disco Bluetooth Speaker:

Your music anywhere, anytime thanks to its record-breaking battery life and its carry case. Powerful, it is the most powerful portable Bluetooth A2DP speaker on the market at the moment.

Aug 31 2011

Review - First Look: Ceton InfiniTV 4 USB CableCARD Tuner

ImageCompared to just a few weeks ago, it is a great time to be in the market for a Digital Cable Tuner (DCT).  We just took a look at devices from SiliconDust and Hauppauge and now it is Ceton's turn because their newest tuner, the $299 InfiniTV 4 USB, arrived this afternoon.  Obviously we have not had much time to test it, so there will be a full review in the next few days but in the short time it has been here we had a chance to put together a quick look at the device.

Aug 31 2011

Review - AVerMedia AVerTV USB HD DVR

AVerTV

We spend a good deal of time covering digital cable tuners (DCT) because they are popular and quite possibly the easiest way to get premium content into the home theater PC (HTPC). They do have some downsides, however. For example, if the content the DCT records is copy-protected, it can only be played back within Windows Media Center and can’t be analyzed for automated commercial skipping purposes. There is also no support for utilizing a service provider’s video on demand (VOD) offerings.

There is an answer to those two problems when using an audio-video (AV) capture solution. Today, we’ll be examining the AVerMedia AVerTV USB HD DVR which, like the Hauppauge Colossus we reviewed, is an AV capture solution that can handle both SD and HD video and can be utilized not just to work with HTPC DVR software, but also to capture any type of video for applications such as recording video gameplay, video stored on a camcorder or VHS tape, etc.

Aug 29 2011

Review - SilverStone TJ08-E Micro-ATX Chassis

TJ08-E

We learned from our recent chassis poll that a number of you are using tower or desktop style enclosures for your home theater PCs (HTPC); thus, we felt that we should expand our chassis reviews to include more products in these form factors. Today, we take a look at the SilverStone TJ08-E Micro-ATX tower chassis.

The TJ08 Evolution is an update of the original TJ08 chassis from SilverStone’s Temjin series. With the ability to house 13.25" long expansion cards and a 165mm high CPU cooler along with four 3.5" and one 2.5" internal bays, two 5.25" and one 3.5" external bays, two USB 3.0 ports, a positive pressure cooling design with a 180mm fan, the fully-painted aluminum/steel chassis can accommodate most systems. It is perhaps fairly routine sounding until examining the dimensions. At 15.16" x 8.27" x 14.72", the TJ08-E has a lot to offer for such a compact size.

Aug 24 2011

Review - SiliconDust HDHomeRun PRIME Digital Cable Tuner

HDHomeRun PRIME

As the long-time leader in network connected digital TV tuners, when SiliconDust announced the three CableCARD tuner HDHomeRun PRIME labeling it “highly-anticipated” would be an understatement.  Offering native support for Window 7 Media Center via its gigabit Ethernet port, the PRIME is also unique in what is becoming a [welcomely] crowded market for Digital Cable Tuners (DCT) not just because of its attractive price point, but also because as a standalone network device it does not require a PC host or drivers to function with other devices or software implementing the Digital Receiver Interface (DRI) specification.    Explicit network support reaps a more obvious benefit as well--providing freedom to locate the DCT and home theater PC (HTPC) in discrete, convenient locations as well as provide a full cable lineup to chassis with limited (or no) internal PCIe expansion. 

Aug 19 2011

Review - First Look: SiliconDust HDHomeRun Prime Digital Cable Tuner

HD HomeRun PrimeA few months ago there was no competition in the market for Digital Cable Tuners, now there are several form factors, OEMs and interfaces to choose from. Earlier today Aaron provided a first look at Hauppauge's WinTV-DCR-2650 Dual Digital Cable Tuner.  Now it is time to do the same for its big brother - the three tuner, $250 network enabled SiliconDust HDHomeRun Prime.

Aug 19 2011

Review - First Look: Hauppauge WinTV-DCR-2650 Dual Digital Cable Tuner

WinTV-DCR-2650Getting our hands on a new product is always exciting so we thought we would share it with you! We've been anxiously awaiting the Hauppauge WinTV-DCR-2650 ever since we first saw the prototype of the CableCARD product at CES. If you haven't heard by now, the WinTV-DCR-2650 is a dual-cable tuner that connects to a PC via USB--a great option for small form factors or a situation where there's no free PCIe slot available. It also happens to be the most inexpensive way to gain access to the entire subscription package from a cable provider on a PC with a retail price of $149. Enough about what it is, let's take a look at it after the break!

Aug 16 2011

Review - Grace Digital Audio GDI-IRD4000 Allegro Portable Wi-Fi Internet Radio

Grace Digital Allegro

The world of Internet-based streaming audio services is vast compared to traditional terrestrial (AM and FM) radio solutions. If you’ve got an old alarm clock or portable boombox, it likely is limited to terrestrial options and perhaps some physical media. Grace Digital Audio is aiming to modernize these devices with their Allegro portable Wi-Fi Internet radio, the smaller sibling of Grace Digital’s Micro Hi-Fi system we recently reviewed.

The Allegro advertises access to thousands of Internet radio streams, podcasts, popular services such as Pandora, SiriusXM, MP3Tunes, NPR, BBC, etc., audio stored on a PC or MAC, an alarm clock and “unparalleled audio quality for a portable radio” via Wi-Fi without the use of a computer. If that were not enough, Grace Digital Audio also includes an infrared (IR) remote control and offers free Android and iOS remote control apps. The Allegro’s long list of features is likely to suit many so let’s see if it deserves a spot in your home or office.

Aug 09 2011

Review - IOGEAR GUWAVKIT2 Wireless HD Computer to TV Kit

IOGEAR GUWAVKIT2

Do you sometimes find yourself in a situation where you want to show off photos, a video or some other content on your laptop on your big screen without the means to do so? You know the drill; everyone crowds awkwardly around the small screen on your laptop and feigns interest even though they are terribly uncomfortable. This is one of the situations IOGEAR hopes to resolve with the GUWAVKIT 2 Wireless HD Computer to TV Kit.

We’ve taken a look at a number of wireless video transmission solutions over the past year from brite-View, Veebeam and Warpia each offering a different performance and price point. Similar to the Warpia and Veebeam transmission kits, the IOGEAR GUWAVKIT2 uses Wireless USB technology to add a USB graphics device to a PC and transmit the screen wirelessly to a receiving device connected to a display. IOGEAR’s proposition is simple: the GUWAVKIT2 wirelessly delivers any computer content including HD video up to 720p with an in-room transmission distance of up to 30 feet while being easy to install and operate.

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