Reviews

Apr 28 2016

Review - Intel NUC Kit NUC5PGYH Braswell Mini PC

 

Like the rest of Intel Atom systems, home theater PCs (HTPC) based on the CPU have come a long way over the last few years. The Intel NUC5PGYH offers hardware accelerated video decoding up to 4K (HDMI 1.4b output) via the quad-core Intel Braswell Pentium N3700. Now add in 7.1 multi-channel audio support, Windows 10 preinstalled, RC6 CIR (consumer infrared), 2GB DDR3L RAM, 32GB eMMC, and support for 2.5” storage expansion. This particular low power system has the makings of a serious media consumption device. And when considering that you can bring one home for $250/£220 ($280 SRP), even the price sounds too good to be true.

Mar 18 2016

Review - NETGEAR Nighthawk X4S R7800 AC2600 Wireless Router

The quad stream NETGEAR AC2600 Nighthawk X4S R7800 802.11AC wireless router is the successor to last year’s AC2350 Nighthawk X4 R7500 (and R7500v2). Besides a bump in “S”, for Smart, the Nighthawk X4S also jumps to the dual-core 1.7GHz Qualcomm IPQ8065, adds 200MHz of theoretical bandwidth to the 2.4GHz radio (800Mbps + 1733Mbps = AC2600) by increasing to 4x4 in both bands, and enables 160MHz channel width for 5GHz. Priced at $270/£230 SRP ($260/£213 street) the Nighthawk X4S R7800 looks to be a solid contender for the mid-range performance 802.11AC router market, and with Wave 2 features like MU-MIMO enabled out-of-the-box (OOTB) a fair degree of future proofing.

Feb 25 2016

Review - First Look axiim Q Wireless Home Theater System

First Look axiim Q Wireless Home Theater System

Not everyone will agree, but I think there is a compelling argument to be made that audio is the most important aspect of creating an immersive home theater experience. Yes, video matters, a lot, but what really draws you into the experience? Better contrast, or when you can hear the shell casings hit the ground behind you to the right? Which raises the obvious question around why more households opt to have a large HDTV and a soundbar than a real muti-speaker audio system? There probably are many reasons, but if I had to speculate [lack of] installation convenience for a wired system would be pretty near the top. Getting a traditional wired audio video receiver (AVR) up-and-running with five speakers and a subwoofer can be very complicated; after all, if you do not already have wires in the wall that will need to get sorted, which can be costly, time consuming, and certainly involves a lot more planning than slapping a “good enough” soundbar under the TV. Wireless audio provides another approach to getting around the installation complexity problem, but until recently wireless audio was either proprietary, substandard, or both. Which is exactly why we have been covering WiSA over the past few years as it evolved from ether to product. The axiim Q Wireless Home Theater System is the first holistic example of an AVR + 5.1 (or 7.1) speaker setup using the 5GHz wireless audio technology available for purchase. It is still in BETA however, with an introductory price of $1,500 for the 5.1 ($3,143 post BETA), and $2,000 for the 7.1 ($3,741 post BETA) systems, placing it currently on the higher end of the home theater in a box (HTIB) pricing scale. But, if it can deliver the same result as a wired system, without the hassle of wires then that is certainly worth a “convenience fee”, and with the Q’s streamlined user experience, including HDMI CEC, it could end up a bargain compared to a standard HTIB. Because it is an unfinished product, this should not be viewed as a comprehensive review; that will come later. Instead, let’s have a first look at the system.

Feb 22 2016

Review - SVS Prime Tower Surround Package

SVS Prime Tower Surround Package

SVS is best known for subwoofers that provide outstanding value for money, but today we are going to look at, er… listen to their $1550/£1300 Prime Tower Surround home theater speaker package. Two Prime Towers ($1000/£819), two Prime Satellites ($270/£219), and one Prime Center ($350/£289) are included in the kit. This shaves around $120/£27 off the à la carte price. A few steps closer to a bargain and puts it off to a good start. But, none of that will matter if the kit does not sound and look, the way a mid-range speaker kit should. Let’s dig in.

Feb 17 2016

Review - ASUS Chromebit CS10 ChromeOS HDMI Dongle

 

The ASUS Chromebit CS10 is unique from other devices based on Google’s ChromeOS because unlike these Chrombooks (aka laptops) it does it from a HDMI dongle. Besides the flexibility to BYOD[isplay], the form factor’s inherent price advantage ($85/£90) also makes it a relatively cheap way to  play with ChromeOS, and test its unique approach to delivering a secure, low maintenance platform. I must admit that the browser-only apps available means that it is unlikely to replace any PCs in my stable, but as a very portable web browsing and media player it could be the perfect casual consumption device, or with its support for Google Play, Netflix, YouTube, and DIY streaming apps potentially earn a place in the travel bag.

Feb 09 2016

Review - ASUSTOR AS5002T 2-Bay Intel Bay Trail Network Attached Storage (NAS)

ASUSTOR AS5002T two-bay Intel Bay Trail NAS

The ASUSTOR AS5002T is the first Intel based network attached storage (NAS) device tested at Missing Remote. So, I was very curious to see how its dual-core 2.4GHz Celeron J1800 would stack up against the strong showing we’ve seen from ARM Cortex-A15 based systems recently. With two Gigabit network interface cards (NIC), two bays, 1GB RAM, and USB 3.0/eSATA support, on the surface the $315/£185 AS5002T aligns nicely into the same category. But, it also offers a few features that are not found on similarly priced ARM devices: most notably, virtualization, hardware assisted transcoding, and Kodi integration. Offering the potential for this SOHO NAS to also be a well featured home theater PC (HTPC).

Jan 15 2016

Review - Arq Cloud Backup for Mac and PC

Between us, I have been procrastinating. Unwilling to take the final step towards a truly comprehensive data protection plan. The first two stages (multiple copies, multiple formats) have been in place for years. Leveraging RAID1 (redundancy), multiple hard disk drives (backup), and DVD archival (format shift) but taking my important data off premises has been a sticking point because of trust, and simplicity. Frankly, I just do not have enough faith in any cloud storage provider’s security. They are all big juicy targets and the risk of a breach just seems more likely (cough, iCloud) than the type of event that would wipe away all of my home storage. Fortunately though, I recently found a solution that I am comfortable with – something that protects the data itself, and significantly reduces the risk of data leakage if there is a breach. Thank you Arq.

Dec 24 2015

Review - Tenorshare Any Data Recovery Pro

We have all done it – hitting delete with too much confidence, or forgetting to pull a file off disk before formatting. Thankfully, because of how files are stored on disk, it takes a bit to actually, truly, really delete a file, and that is where software solutions like Tenorshare Any Data Recovery Pro come in. Promising to roll back the clock and recover from these kinds of mistakes, it could provide just the thing, to ah… hypothetically, bring back a folder of mobile friendly encodes of your children’s favorite movies. 

Dec 15 2015

Review - Diamond Multimedia STREAM2TV WPCTV3000 Miracast, iPlay, & DLNA Endpoint

With the explosion in the use mobile devices for storing and playing content it is important to pick the right technology to push your media to the big screen when sharing the experience with multiple people. Whether it is photos, family videos, or Netflix choosing an endpoint which meets all your needs is essential. It is not hard to find a single device that handles Miracast or iPlay, but finding one that has both, plus DLNA, and can do digital and analog output is quite a bit more difficult. Diamond’s $90/£110 WPCTV3000 includes each of those features on its spec sheet; let’s see if it can deliver.

Dec 09 2015

Review - D-Link 802.11AC AC750 Travel Router and Charger (DIR-510L)

There are a lot of reasons to include a travel router in your kit bag when heading out for an extended excursion. The most obvious, is providing a single interface to captive Wi-Fi portals used in hotels, resorts and many cafés. This can save you some money if a per-device access charge is levied, but even when that is not the case you save setup time connecting the devices (i.e. configuring once to the router’s AP), and makes it possible to use streamers like Roku or Chromecast which do not play nice with captive portals – enabling BYOC[ontent] when on the road. With several options now available in this space, the D-Link DIR-510L stands out for two reasons: its 4000mAh battery, and 802.11AC (AC750) support. At $120/£100 SRP ($83/£72 retail) this travel router is at the higher end of the spectrum, let’s see if the feature set can justify the price tag.

Dec 03 2015

Review - NETGEAR ReadyNAS 212 Quad-core 2-bay Network Attached Storage (NAS)

NETGEAR recently introduced the ReadyNAS 2xx family of network attached storage (NAS) devices running 1.4GHz Cortex ARM A-15 SoC. Having just reviewed the ReadyNAS 202, the introduction of the 212 (and 214) bumping the spec from two to four cores, but not the price – still $330 (diskless), came as a surprise. With all of the great features of the ReadyOS 6 (rev’d to 6.4) and twice as much horsepower on tap, we should see a decent improvement in throughput, alongside NETGEAR’s hallmark add: real time 1080p->480p transcoding via Plex for mobile devices.

Nov 15 2015

Review - Select The Right Dongle

We used to bring a Roku along on our family trips, but after making the switch to Android about a year ago. The Roku has been replaced with a few different devices that allow us to use a mobile device as a gateway to viewing content on a large screen. This generally works well, but on a recent trip to a low bandwidth locale, I discovered that my supporting devices were letting me down. Leaving us at the mercy of the hotel’s captive movie portal. Ugh.

Vowing to never again be subject to poor selection and obscene prices I have cataloged three options and tested each with my collection of mobile devices. Hopefully you can learn from my lack of planning.

Sep 25 2015

Review - D-Link AC3200 Ultra Tri-Band Wi-Fi Router - DIR-890L

D-Link DIR-890L

Last January I had a chance to check out D-Link’s upcoming lineup of big-red routers (a welcome departure from the bland canister of previous years Smile), with the $290/£215 DIR-890L being the first to ship and the first to make it into “the lab”. Offering a dual-core 1GHz CPU, four Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports, and USB2.0/3.0 expansion it ticks all the boxes of a modern high-end 802.11AC Wi-Fi router. What makes the D-Link DIR-890L interesting is that it is our first look at Broadcom’s XStream platform, which pairs 1x2.4GHz (600Mbps) alongside 2x5GHz (1300Mbps) radios to earn the AC3200 moniker. With next generation “Wave 2” AC2350 802.11AC routers already on the market, the obvious question is how the Tri-band approach holds up against newer technology. Let’s find out.

Aug 26 2015

Review - Sewell Direct Ghost IR Extender

Sewell Direct Ghost IR Extender

Infrared (IR) line-of-sight (LoS) is a cruel requirement, too often ignored by A/V cabinet designers and dismissed by the main furniture decision makers who “don’t want to see” the kit that makes the picture box work. Of course, solving the control problem afterwards is usually someone else’s responsibility; and chances are that since you’re reading this – it’s you. There are a few solutions available, including universal remotes that use RF for remote-to-hub communication with hub-to-IR blasters to manage the devices, but they are more expensive and more complex than a device like the $35 Sewell Direct Ghost IR Extender. Let’s find out if this simple, battery powered extender can solve your LoS issues or if it’s best left on the shelf.

Jul 16 2015

Review - SiliconDust HDHR4-2DT Dual DVB-T/T2 HD Network Tuner

SiliconDust HDHR4-2DT Dual DVB-T/T2 HD Network Tuner

We’ve been waiting for the SiliconDust HDHR4-2DT network attached DVB-T2 tuner for a couple years now. In the meantime, anyone leveraging the UK’s digital terrestrial television networks have had to make an unwelcome choice between pretending HD content doesn’t exist, or living without the inherent flexibility of an Ethernet enabled TV tuner. With the £100 device finally hitting shelves, it is time to see if the HDHR4-2DT can deliver the same stability and capability SiliconDust’s US customers have enjoyed for several years.

Jun 23 2015

Review - NETGEAR ReadyNAS 202 2-bay Network Attached Storage Device

NETGEAR ReadyNAS 202 2-bay Network Attached Storage Device

CES 2015 introduced us to NETGEAR’s ReadyNAS 202/204, this network attached storage (NAS) was particularly interesting because by basing it around a 1.4GHz dual-core Cortex-A15, the underlying SoC should help alleviate once of the major concerns with ARM based devices – performance. With 2GB of RAM, two Gigabit Ethernet ports supporting various adapter bonding methods, easy “X-RAID2” setup, and a Btfrs file system supporting snapshots and "bit-rot" protection the ReadyNAS 202/204 family promises a solid platform for the SOHO (small office/home office) and media centric home. Adding in NETGEAR’s splash of “cloud” software and a robust feature set this $330/£230 MSRP (diskless) NAS could be the perfect companion for all your devices.

May 19 2015

Review - Inteset PC-IRS5-01 HTPC Infrared Solution

Inteset PC-IRS5-01 HTPC Infrared Solution

Control is a critical aspect of managing a home theater PC (HTPC). Without a solid solution, there is no way to confidently hand it to the rest of the family and expect it to work. For many the solution is simple; even as Windows Media Center has declined the ecosystem it created for external RC-6 infrared (IR) receivers continues to flourish. But as good as that is, there are some drawbacks including the bulky external receiver and the general inability to deal with all of a PC’s potential power states. The Inteset PC-IRS5-01 addresses both of these concerns by providing a flexible RC-6 IR compatible receiver that can be mounted inside the chassis, has a discrete external receiver option , and can wake the PC from off (S5), hibernate (S4), or standby (S3). Starting at $37, the PC-IRS5-01 won’t break the bank either – so if wake from S4/S5 and a sleeker install is a must have feature for you this could be the perfect solution.

Apr 22 2015

Review - Intel Compute Stick STCK1A32WFC HDMI Dongle HTPC

Intel Compute Stick STCK1A32WFC HDMI Dongle HTPC

The Intel Compute Stick caused quite a stir when it was announced at CES 2015, and it’s easy to see why – Intel managed to stuff an entire Atom based PC into an HDMI dongle. The STCK1A32WFC model includes an Intel Atom Z3735F processor, 2GB of DDR3L RAM, 32GB of storage, 802.11bgn Wi-Fi (Realtek RTL8723BS), and Bluetooth 4.0 built-in for around $150. This is the Windows version, so it’s spec’d a bit higher than the Linux rev (should run around $110 and sacrifices RAM and storage), but either way you won’t have to pay for the OS because includes Microsoft Windows 8.1 with Bing. Of course all of this was announced back in January, so let’s find out if this PC, err Compute Stick, has the chops to be a home theater PC (HTPC).

Apr 22 2015

Review - NETGEAR ProSAFE 8-Port Gigabit Click Switch GSS108E

NETGEAR ProSAFE 8-Port Gigabit Click Switch GSS108E

First thing, let’s get it out of the way that managed switches aren’t for everyone. The vast majority of users won’t require features, like port mirroring, VLANs, QoS, or link aggregation which are typically offered by a managed switch, but for those who do there is simply no substitute. With that said, given the $70 price, flexible “Click Switch” mounting, and included USB charging ports even if managed features aren’t on your “must” list the NETGEAR GSS108E warrants a closer look.

Mar 31 2015

Review - Intel NUC Kit NUC5i5RYK Mini PC

Intel NUC5i5RYK

When it comes to sleek small form factor (SFF) home theater PCs (HTPC) Intel pretty much perfected it with their Haswell based NUC systems--offering an excellent media experience in a chassis with built-in IR, the potential to add HDMI-CEC, and optional hard disk drive (HDD) all from a quiet, low power system. Seeking to build on this success they recently released the Intel NUC5i5RYK and NUC5i5RYH (2.5” hard drive support) mini-HTPC kits based around a Broadwell Intel Core i5-5250U with HD 6000 graphics. We’ve heard a lot about Intel’s focus on increasing graphics performance and lowering power consumption with the new CPU, so it will be interesting to thoroughly test the system and see if it can deliver on its $390 price tag and be a worthy successor to the last-generation NUC.

Mar 26 2015

Review - NETGEAR R7500 Nighthawk X4 Smart WiFi AC2350 Router

NETGEAR R7500 Nighthawk X4 Smart WiFi AC2350 Router

The pace of innovation in the 802.11AC space over the last couple years has been breathtaking. With the iteration from AC1750 -> AC1900, the main improvement was realized in 2.4GHz bandwidth, and not focused on enhancing the speed of the primary 5GHz radio. The recent release of “Wave 2” 802.11AC chipsets has changed this by adding features like Multi-user MIMO and a fourth stream; we now have 1733Mbps [theoretical] available, pushing us that much closer to what is achievable with a Cat6 wired network. Of course, these claims need to be tested so when NETGEAR offered up their new $270MSRP R7500 Nighthawk X4 AC2350 Smart Wi-Fi router, I jumped at the chance.

Mar 03 2015

Review - NETGEAR Arlo

NETGEAR arlo

Where in the past OEMs have happily sold wireless cameras, and the infrastructure to put them on the network, no one has tried to tie it all together into a consumer product that is reliable and easy to use. With the recent release of Arlo, NETGEAR has done exactly that, signaling a strong a desire to build a discrete brand leveraging its deep networking expertise to deliver a rich and approachable monitoring ecosystem. To accomplish this Arlo is the combination of up to three 2.4GHz 802.11N base stations + up to fifteen weatherproof and completely wireless cameras. This holistic approach is unique because it provides a solution instead of just the parts, but to fully scale out the system there are hardware ($350 for a two camera setup to $500 for four, $160/camera à la carte) and ongoing service costs ($10-15/month or $99-149/year). There is no denying that NETGEAR Arlo is quite intriguing, let’s dig into the details.

Feb 13 2015

Review - UPPER DESK Mobile Device Mounts

With the increasing reach of over-the-top (OTT) content on tablets and mobile phones, content consumption can follow us around the home in a way that a fixed location TV never could. Holding onto the mobile device isn’t always convenient, whether it’s because more than one person is viewing or because you’re elbow deep in cooking, carving (my father often watches how-to videos in his shop), or simply don’t want to hold it up for an extended period of time. This is where a mount comes in handy--but it needs to be portable, easy to use, and most importantly sensitive to the surfaces of the mobile device and mounting surface. Hoping to solve each of these problems UPPER DESK offers table and cabinet mounts promising convenience and flexibility; at $60 ($40 street) it’s priced well enough that if they can deliver it just might be the perfect solution.

Feb 10 2015

Review - Amazon FireTV Stick – A Dream XBMC/KODI Player

When Amazon first released their FireTV player there was not a ton of excitement for the AppleTV competitor. Sure it looked the same, provided similar features, and cost the same ($99), but for most consumers the features were too similar to create a buzz. With the release of the FireTV Stick however, Amazon has now targeted the very popular Google Chromecast price range, but added a wealth of features—and a Bluetooth remote—for $39, making it one of the lower cost media players and directly placing it in competition with the Chromecast, and Roku devices as well.

Amazon FireTV Stick

While the Amazon FireTV Stick is a more than capable media player that does exactly what it’s advertised, the true magic was discovered when I learned that the Stick could be used as an XBMC (now called Kodi) client. I have tested a number of various low cost XBMC clients over the years, and the problem has always been that the client can rarely play all of the files as my main HTPC, as anything with higher resolution or bitrate would either not play or cause stutter. With the FireTV Stick, that was not the case!

Feb 03 2015

Review - iRemocon IR Learning Remote Control

iRemocon

There is a point in scaling out a home theater where a good universal remote control becomes an essential part of the experience. Yes, you can get by with the pseudo universal that came with the AVR, but then you have to train your family, and worse the babysitter, how to use that in a productive way. They need to have input specific knowledge to understand how to make it all play. We’ve seen myriad solutions that attempt to resolve this, but so far unless you step up to the quite expensive custom integrator (CI) solutions, nothing I’ve played with can touch the [still sometimes frustrating] experience of Logitech’s Harmony remotes. iRemocon has taken on this challenge with their $180 smartphone driven IR blasting fixed location device. Offering infinite customization via their UI designer, it holds significant promise – let’s see if it can deliver.

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