Ceton Echo vs Microsoft Xbox 360...A Blogger's Perspective

Jun 03 2013

Since the Ceton Echo came out last November, there has been a lot of comparison and pricing justification to see if it is a better alternative than the Xbox360 or previous extenders. Through my experience with both in the last 4 months, I would like to give you my experience of the two from a consumer point of view. I myself already owned the Xbox 360 and it was O-K. I had a previous SageTV HD 200 extender and that was and still is the best extender I had ever used. My reasons for buying the Echo was to have a better user experience, to have a second extender and to have the possibility of Netflix and other streaming video apps in one device. Yes, their proposed future technology was an influence. If it worked well enough, I wanted to take my HTPC box, put it somewhere in the house that was out of sight and out of mind and have it all be ran by extenders. My set-up currently includes a gutted Acer computer sitting in an Nmedia box that has an AMD Athlon dual core 3.2 processor, 4 gigs DDR2 ram, Nvidia GT430, InfiniTV4 PCI, LG blu-ray/HD-DVD drive with a clean Windows 7 install 32 bit. Everything is wired directly to the LAN with CAT 5 or higher through a Verizon Fios Gigabite router using 50/25 gbps.

First off, my needs for a true media center extender involves TV tuner cards with DVR ability with the addition of being able to stream your movies, music, pictures and videos. Now, the reason that I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the Xbox-360 was that it can be a bit sluggish. It did not play main stream media such as VIDEO_TS, MKV’s and other similar containers.  It wouldn’t fast forward or rewind unless it is in a Windows Media format and I would have to pay $60 a year for a Live Gold membership so that I can watch YouTube, Netflix or VUDU on it.

Echo vs Xbox Size

The Ceton Echo

The Echo is attractive, has a great form factor, and it hardly uses any power. To be honest, my theory was that because the Echo is a dedicated extender that the performance would be markedly better than the Xbox and I would have a better looking unit in my living room, bedroom ect. The Echo plays live TV very well and I didn’t have any issues with the TV factor and bringing up the guide, scheduling recordings and playing my recorded TV.

Its responsiveness in regards to commands from a remote control I find to be more responsive and quicker than the Xbox 360, which is nice. I also think the overall picture quality is a little bit better in comparison to the Xbox 360 and I prefer the Echo’s picture over the Xbox 360. I feel that the picture is more vibrant and the sharpness is better compared to the Xbox, however horizontal panning is played smoother via Xbox. The customizable item menu and the option to start in a particular way, such as live TV is great, but a bit buggy. The Echo has not been flawless.

My Echo had some issues upon taking it out of the box even when immediately  updating to the most recent software and firmware version before ever using it. Most issues have been resolved through updates a little bit later. The Echo has some trouble staying connected from time to time and has aspect issues with certain video not seen on my HTPC box or the Xbox 360. Most recently it wouldn’t play some Windows media files back for one reason or another, while the Xbox plays them just fine. Its start up and connection time is slower than the Xbox (55.47-42.44 on average 13.03 seconds slower in my tests). If I set it up to start in “live TV” mode, it seems to take forever. (83.07 seconds) a problem observed more than once when starting in live TV mode. Losing the connection and then getting it back was a cause for some of the delay, hence the bugs I mentioned earlier.

Another fault is that it did not transcode non-supported video files via MyMovies or other methods of transcode 360 or other third party software. I know, I know, Ceton doesn’t support third party apps, but you know what, neither does the Xbox, but it transcoded just fine. Also, their animations aren’t as smooth as the Xbox’s, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but if you’re comparing the units this may be a quirk that is not as appealing.

Lastly, the Echo sometimes will do multiple actions when you press one button on the remote, and that is a problem that can possibly result in accidentally deleting something you have no intention of deleting(which nearly happened to me). Currently, the Echo does not have the ability to stream Netflix or any other apps and only works on Windows 7 and not on Windows 8 as of yet.

 

Now the Xbox 360

First, the Xbox 360’s primary function is a gaming console and secondary function is a media streamer/ Mediacenter extender. I got the 360 about a year and a half ago as an extender. I did not initially use it for gaming, however as of recently, my girlfriend's son does game with it occassionally, but my primary use for the Xbox is as an extender. At a price point of about $200.00 for the 4 gig version, for about $20 bucks more than the Echo, you have a gaming system, an extender and a DVD player with the ability to stream Netflix among other apps. Ok, now the keyword here is the “ability” to stream Netflix and other apps. But that is requires an Xbox Live Gold membership at cost of $60 a year. I would rather buy another Blu-ray player for a one-time cost of $60 that does all that compared to having to pay $60 every year.  

As an extender, The Xbox 360 takes a bit of time to connect, but is quicker than the Echo. Its animations are just like WMC on your HTPC and it will transcode most non-supported files through MyMovies and other 3rd party transcoders. It streams live TV, recorded TV, brings up the guide and schedules my recordings just as it should and was equal to the task of the Echo.

The picture doesn't not seem quite as good as the Echo. For my preferences, the picture doesn’t seem as crisp. I have tried adjusting the settings within the Xbox and nothing improves that aspect of it. Other settings actually made it worse and created a washed out effect with some colors, specifically the darker tones. I already calibrated my picture based from a Blu-ray player and all of my components look fine with the Xbox, but not quite as crisp.

The Xbox 360 does not allow you to customize the menu or the way it starts up the Media Center experience while the Echo does. Since having the two, the Xbox has been a bit more reliable, it has has fewer crashes or freeze ups, however it is not as responsive with remote commands, they sometimes seem to queue up and that can be very frustrating.

The Intangibles

It is my understanding that part of the problem that the Echo has -- as every other previous WMC extender has had, is that Microsoft has 3rd party extenders do something different than the Xbox 360 in regards to the software and development of their products. How that may affect the performance of the Echo compared to the Xbox I’m not sure; however Ceton can always comment if they feel the need. My question is if that is true, does it create an unfair advantage over the competition in Microsoft’s favor? Some of the video playback and file support issues are inherent of running an extender based on the WMC platform. The limited file support issues, only being able to FF or RR with Windows file formats and not being able to play a VIDEO_TS file just like you would on your HTPC box in an extender are limitations I was hoping Ceton would overcome, one way or another. Maybe that sounds unreasonable, but for the price point it really is not.

Other thoughts

I do appreciate both Microsoft and Ceton for what they have done in regards to the HTPC abilities. Microsoft gave us the ability to have premium cable on an HTPC via CableCARD with the ability to stream photos, videos, and pictures and extend that throughout the house via the Xbox 360. Ceton was the first company that gave us a reliable 4-tuner CableCARD device that also spurred other companies to develop a version of their own cable card tuners. They are currently attempting to give clients another extender option that is much smaller and noiseless. I also love their Media Center app!! They appear to have the drive to give the best Media Center experience possible, where as I’m not seeing that same drive from Microsoft anymore. I am also getting the sense that Microsoft is abandoning or phasing out Windows Media Center due to the way it is not bundled with Windows 8. I also haven’t seen any “real” development in a couple of years, since about the time SageTV was bought by Google. Coincidence? Who knows. Lack of competition for a need to develop anything new is also a possibility.

Final Analysis

The real question is, which extender option is better as of right now? Right now is not the potential. Rumored potential of what anyone’s extender may do in the future is a calculated risk which may never happen. Based on what is offered at this time, the Xbox 360 is a better value for the money at the 4 gig level for 20 bucks more because you get an extender, a gaming system and a DVD player with the ability to stream Netflix and other media alike. In addition, the overall performance is better, is less buggy, has the ability to transcode and is more reliable.

For me, the Echo has been a disappointment and a bit buggy. What did it really bring new to the WMC extender world that the Xbox 360 wasn’t providing? Ok, it did bring a more appealing form factor, a slightly better picture (which is subjective), a customizable menu and start mode, and it is quieter. But is that enough? In some house-holds, yes; and I would imagine that the form-factor and noiseless appeal is a WAF that goes through the roof---- until it starts getting buggy. All of this depends on your personal needs and preferences. For me the answer is no. I have the Xbox 360 slim and the form factor is fine and very quiet, and I can customize the menu a bit through 3rd party software. Ceton’s live TV start up has shown to take too long in my tests. What did I lose? Proper animations, a DVD player, a gaming option, ability to transcode and even play certain Windows media video files. The way I see it is that I have paid premium price for a beta product. If you got it in November, it may have been an alpha product because of the 1080i video playback issues with simple TV playback that should have been easy to see before being released. I am not getting why, since the Echo launch, some of these issues are still present. According to forums and blogs, these issues have been brought to their attention already. If you want to take or create market share for your product, it has to be better than what is already out there at a similar price or much cheaper if it has less to offer. Presently the Echo is not as good as the Xbox in performance or what other experiences it can offer, but I think if the Echo were to be priced at around the $125.00 range it may take market share as an extender.

Lastly, are people really getting what they want out of a Media Center extender whether it be the Xbox or Echo? For some yes, but for many, I don’t think so. Anyone who has ever had the SageTV extenders (HD 200 or HD300) know what they’re missing. Why should I have to transcode anything? Why should I have to buy another piece of equipment to play these files right or stream apps? Isn’t $179-$200 high enough? If not, then please price it properly and ensure it works properly. That means proper FF, RR of files and DVD/Blu-ray menus for those type of files too because that is what the SageTV extenders did.  What many people want is 1 box that does everything. So, who will be next to do this the right way? Will it be Microsoft, Ceton or another company waiting in the wings?

In closing, I hope this review will help you make the decision that is best for you. I like both companies, I really do. Perhaps the Echo is a better option for you then the Xbox 360 was for me. Tomorrow could change my opinion with new features, fixes and technology. The rumor mill of an Android platform, hoping to have DTS and how that may transpire in how the Echo performs compared to the X-box 360 or future Xbox could be huge. It may happen, but remember the Ceton “Q”? That was supposed to happen too and that has been shelved indefinitely.

Best of luck to you in finding your HTPC extender solutions!! 

Category

Echo

Xbox 360

Details

Booting up

 

X

The Xbox booted up to WMC a bit quicker in my tests.

Reliability

 

X

The Xbox had less crashes and freeze ups then the Echo. In addition, the Echo’s response from remote commands can be unreliable by performing too many functions per button press.

Performance

 

X

The Echo’s response to the remote control command is  buggy. Has some aspect issues and doesn’t play all wm video files like the Xbox. Does not have proper animations.

Video

X

 

Slight edge to the Echo. Crisper more vibrant picture than the Xbox.

Audio

 

 

Neither one of these units has implemented DTS playback in files, let alone lossless DD or DTS. Ridiculous among todays standards.

File Type support

 

X

This needs a lot of work from both units, however while not the best solution, the Xbox has the ability to transcode while the Echo does not with my unit.

DVD/Blu-ray drive

 

X

DVD drive in the Xbox. While a fading technology, something is better  than nothing.

DVD/Blu-ray file menu (non disc)

 

 

Ridiculous that neither one of these units can play back DVD or Blu-ray menus via files..

Form Factor/appeal

X

 

Small, noiseless unit with very low power consumption. This category may weigh more in many households.

Customizable

X

 

What Ceton has done here is excellent! LiveTV start a little buggy, but still an option.

Streaming apps

 

X

Ridiculous from both units considering the price of the units,but atleast Xbox offers it with a Live Gold membership.

Additional functions

 

X

Offering the most popular gaming system in the world with a Kinnect ability.Ceton offer customizable menus and start up, however is not Windows 8 compatible at this time.

 

Comments

Welcome to the team.. and great article.. Nice look at it.. Thanks

At first I started reading being like, hey maybe this will be viable replacement if my SageTV extenders ever die and then I quickly realized it's not even close yet. I really hope they make progress with support for other file formats, work out the kinks, and improve audio support.

How was the streaming support on the Echo vs the Xbox? To be honest, I have followed the Echo very closely after the initial launch reviews.

Windows 8 doesn't support third party extenders, so my centon echo is now a coster for my beer. You can use thier app to change channels, but that's lame.

Remote potato does a better job at that, you can even record something and wait a minute and play back the recording. Sort of a sling player, just free. 

The Ceton app will tune to channel, so it's only 1/2 way crippling you to run windows 8 and a echo.

"Windows 8 introduced a number of significant infrastructure changes on which extenders for Windows Media Center relied. These include changes to the RDP protocol. Because of these necessary changes, extender devices that were designed for Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7 cannot connect to Windows 8 Media Center PCs. These devices should still work with earlier versions of Windows."

I own an echo and a infity 4 pci-e and they both stink, way too many problems and I paid a premium for both.

M$ is not playing fair in opinion, I have other extenders that don't work now. Windows 8 is the turd that just won't stop stinking. The only way to fix this is to flush and return to an older version of windows but I have too much invested now and can't return.

.02

 

 

Regarding Windows 8 support...as we previously stated we are working on an Android based solution that supports Windows 8. 

Honestly, I doubt its coming.

Wonderful review!  Thank you!  The candid nature and detailed list of nuances is refreshing.

My takeaway, time to move on from WMC and look to greener pastures.  I'm currently using WMC with a couple of plugins.  However, I don't have any clients (yet).  I knew staying with WMC would be difficult but now I feel the effort would be futile. 

Curious, why are you using 32 bit Windows with 4GB of system memory?

I wanted to stick my ¢2 in.

I have a PC in the living room, 2 Ceton InfiniTV 4 PCIe cards running Windows 7. Using a program called Media Browser: http://www.mediabrowser.tv/ for TV Shows and Movies that integrates into the Media Center. I would love to use something else, maybe a Linux solution, but that may never happen.

There are no good alternatives to xBox 360s. At this point you can buy one for $180 where the Ceton Echo costs $160. To me, an xBox 360 is a much better choice.

You can make an xBox 360 go into Live TV mode on start up. Here is how:

  1. Create a command file, call it whatever you want, but extension has to be ‘.cmd’: ‘SomeName.cmd’
  2. Past this into it (no quotes): ‘%windir%\ehome\ehshell.exe /mcesuperbar://tv?live=true’
  3. Move the file to: ‘C:\Windows\System32\Repl\Import\Scripts\’
  4. Go to ‘Local users and Groups’: Right Click ‘Computer’, select ‘Manage’, pick ‘Local User and Groups’ on the left, Click into ‘Users’.
  5. Select the Media Center Extender you want. They are called ‘Mcx1-something’
  6. Right click on the name of the extender. Select ‘Properties’, select the ‘profile’ tab.
  7. In the ‘Profile’ tab, on the second box called ‘Logon Scripts’, enter the name of the file: ‘SomeName.cmd”.
  8. Apply, Exit… Done

 Once the xBox goes into Media Center, it takes about 5 seconds to load up the script and start it. It may not be as fast as you clicking “Live TV” on your remote once Media Center starts, but it does work. You can test the file ‘SomeName.cmd’ on your computer to make sure it works. One you write it, just double click on it. It should open up Media Center and go into live mode on your PC. 

Thanks for the ¢2 Cobra. This is a very good place to go on our podcast. You are right though, having 3 360's myself, I don't see myself going away from that option. It just works and it is hard to think about anything else. Media Center 3 is a great product, if I can get through some of these other items I am working on for here I can get my Media Browser 3 with Live up. I have a Ceton 6 tuner on mine, but I am using it as a secondary DVR and it is hosting the site I can watch my TV and Movies from my Android or web browser other places. I am going to play with the linux part of Media Browser options, and with Chromecast support in MediaBrowser Android it is making like it is one of the better options. Need to write a script to get my extenders to connect to my media browser server on a different machine and it would be a perfect world.

Thanks for the helpful links about going right to Live TV on the 360, it is something we have touched on in the past, and I think it would be useful for more users.

My HTPC is still running Windows 7 x64 (don't see any reason to bump that machine to Cool.  All my TVs have either Roku's or Chromecasts hooked to them.  But I'm looking to toss an extender on one.  I think the Echo is the better way for me to go, but I'm bit concered when I read stuff like "The Xbox had less crashes and freeze ups then the Echo. In addition, the Echo’s response from remote commands can be unreliable by performing too many functions per button press."  Have any firmware updates made the Echo more stable than the Xbox?  I'd prefer low noise/low power but stability is a big deal for me.

  

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