Monday, December 13, 2010

Home Theater Computers (and an HDX 1000 review)

Hooking up a computer to a TV or big screen isn't a new concept, but it's not a very popular setup just yet.  I recently tried the HDX Media Jukebox and was less than impressed.  It got rave reviews and all.  But I think the implementation, specially with the torrent system is very clumsy.  My dad decided to get one because he didn't like watching videos on his computer monitor and he didn't like having a keyboard and mouse by the big screen LCD TV.  So he asked me to set it up in their house.

The HDX1000 is not a new product.  The idea is that the media jukebox is an external hard drive and can play all the media (video, music, photo) you have in it on an external display via HDMI or Component out.  Theoretically it's a nice idea.  But the network system and torrent capabilities are less than stellar.  It's not for the average person looking to replace their DVD/BluRay player for ease of use.  The menu is a bit slow and can get frustrating at times.  Image quality and HDMI audio pass thru work great.  Only if you're watching HD content.  But if you're watching just random AVI or MPEG downloads, image processing is just OK.

It's not all bad though... for techies that have a dedicated home theater room, it is a better solution for "viewing only" situations.  The remote is fairly straight forward and works like a regular DVD remote.  It offers more functionality than your average DVD/BluRay player and has way more playback capabilities.  It functions as network storage and a torrent client (but the torrent files must be downloaded using a computer then transferred to the HDX before it can start downloading the file for you) so you can leave it on the whole day to download for you instead of leaving your computer on.  Rear connectors are also standard so connecting to your LCD, plasma, projector display and your surround processor isn't a problem.  Full connections for composite, component, HDMI (w/ HDMI audio), digital coax, and regular RCA line-outs are all found at the back.

Would I personally use it?  No.  I prefer having a full blown computer.  Image processing is much better, response is faster, and it's just more functional over-all.  But you do need a mouse and keyboard to run a HTPC like this.  And hiding all the wires and adapters can become a challenge.  I ended up designing a prototype TV cabinet specific for my rig.  It houses my Mac Mini, 4TB HDD, iPod dock, iPad dock, hidden USB hubs, M-Audio Firewire interface, UPS, DSL modem, wifi router, power strips, AV receiver, center speaker, and LCD TV all in one neat cabinet.

As for my dad, I had to set everything up and write down a list of instructions on how to operate the thing depending on the video source he wants to play.  It's not quite as easy to use as the Apple TV, but it is way more flexible.  Quality playback for HD content is excellent, specially since it supports HDMI Audio so it's a one-cable setup.

What about you guys?  Do you have your computers hooked up to your LCD TVs?  Send me photos of your rig as well! :)

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