In search of perfect media pc

We’ve been renovating our apartment thanks to the opportunity window opened by renovations done to the plumbing, electricity and antenna wiring in all the houses in this housing company. New bathroom, floor, paint on the wall, floor lists, new furniture, new electricity and ethernet wiring make this place look and feel like new one. At some time next year – when Sonera will get their gear together – we will also have 100 megabit broadband connection to our apartment. At that time we should also have a new lcd-tv and I’ve been wondering what would be the best way to use and consume media in our living room.

In my ideal situation I would have a media pc that can be used with a remote controller from a sofa and has a good usable interface, when working without mouse and keyboard. Media pc should be able to utilize media from external hard drive and from the network shares. As the future for streaming media and online purchases is undecided, it would be preferable if one could install own software ( Spotify, Videofy, last.fm, iTunes etc. ) to the machine. From hardware perspective media pc should be small and quiet, so that hissing sounds from the machine do not ruin or spoil tender moments of Titanic. It should connect to the tv with HDMI.

So far I’ve been looking at – among others – following options:

  • Apple TV
  • AsRock ION 330
  • DViCO TViX HD M-6500A
  • Asus EeeBox EB1501 Atom N330
  • Mac Mini

…but I can’t seem to make my mind as every option has also their downsides. Luckily I am not in a hurry, and can think about different options for a long time, as for now my laptop is sufficient to work also as a media pc when we want to watch movies, and iPod can be used to play music in livingroom.

So what is good and bad in each one of above options?

AppleTV

AppleTV is from usability point of view great device, except that it comes with a terrible stronghold by Apple. Possibility to run own software, including http://xbmc.org/ or Boxee would be good, but it seems that Apple is running cat & mouse -game with hackers, trying to wipe out both of them from Apple TV after any new updates to the Apple software on the device.

For almost 300 euros the verdict is: screw that.

Mac Mini

Neat’O! For 500 euros or so, you can get small form factor mac, where you can install any software you like. Core 2 Duo processors should be sufficient to process HD-movies to the screen via HDMI-connector. You can run your own software, including Boxee or Plex – and Spotify or other up and coming services. New machines are also quite eco friendly in terms of energy usage, so your carbon footprint also stays in shape. This would be ideal choice.

Except for the price. 500 euros is a lot to be paid for something that is used so little during the day. It is half of the price of Macbook, which could be used also during the day on the move for lots of things. When you spend already enough money on TV and speakers, you don’t want to drop another 500 euros to an additional computer. Or that is atleast what I think, at the moment.

AsRock ION 330 or Asus EeeBox EB1501 Atom N330

For 300 – 400 euros you could get your hands on new ION based computers running either linux or windows. And again you can run software you like, but I fear that general usability will be a bit worse compared to mac mini. Mac ecosystem has also the culture of well produced products, where also user experience has been well thought. Case example EyeTV, which has kicked ass compared to any other digital tv software I have seen.

However the tide might be turning as more people will get these as their nettops / HTPC-machines and price pressure drives machines / components cheaper. Get these below 200 or 250 euros and we have a really good competition, especially when Boxee and other opensource software packages get more mature.

DViCO TViX HD M-6500A and other embedded systems

Embedded media players range from starting point of 100 or so euros, up to 300 euros ( and even more ). Some or cheap and crappy – especially on the usability side, but it seems that there are really good ones like DVico Tvix HD M-6500A. HD M-6500A is in Finland about 250 euros, so it is definitely less than the price of competing products, and based on reviews it seems that usability is not an issue.

Is there any reason, why this shouldn’t be a clear winner?

Well most importantly there is no support what so ever for own programs, so these embedded media players cannot support Spotify or other future online services unless explicitly coded to do so. But…

I don’t know.

Maybe I’ll just wait and see where the world turns and whether prices come down. I have time.

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2 vastausta artikkeliin: In search of perfect media pc

  1. daviding sanoo:

    After years of buying name brand computers, I decided to replace the failed tower computer with Mythbuntu on it for a custom-built PC based on old architecture. My design point was for a lower power AMD processor, to reduce the heat (since we have the system unit in our bedroom).

    I found the Silent PC Review to be helpful in figuring out some of the configuration details.

    I didn’t go as far as trying to reduce the physical size of the case, and in the end, even had to change from a mini-ATX card to the full-sized brother. The fans on video cards can be huge, overhanging multiple slots. I’m thankful that I was dealing with a reputable PC builder, who exchanged parts (twice) before we got the configuration right.

  2. huima sanoo:

    I actually decided to buy Western Digital TV – embedded media player, that was below the 100 euros procepoint and had great reviewss for it on finnish forums.

    Hooked it up yesterday and worked instantly really well. Will have to get an usb drive that takes power from USB bay and move that between livingroom and study room where the computer is.

    Good point in the setup is that I don’t need to have my computers / servers etc. powered on when I or my girlfriend wants to watch movies.

Vastaa

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