Revo HTPC
2Mar/111

Linux Powered Revo Guide and Review

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For a long time everyone has asked me to do a write up on how Linux works with the Revo 1600. I am not a huge Linux fan so I went straight for Windows 7 and Windows Media Center for my Revo. However since I built a new HTPC my little Revo has just been hanging out waiting for some love, so I decided to install my age old enemy Linux and see what happens. The goal in mind was to first simply get a system installed that would play back my media and perhaps get some streaming video. There are a lot of options out there including XBMC, Boxee, and of course Hulu Desktop for streaming. I will eventually want to expand this to include Linux powered DVR, but let’s start small.

Installing Linux

WP_000079There are a lot of Linux distributions out there, however the most popular by far has to be Ubuntu. Not only is it the most popular, but it is really easy to install. You can run Ubuntu straight off a USB drive, install it side by side a Windows install, or just install it fully. I like Ubuntu for data retrieval, but this is the first time I will be using it as the OS. All you need to do is head over to the download page and download it. I selected USB stick and that I will be creating it with Windows. It will guide you through the process, but it is extremely easy. Once you have it installed you are good to go. It is important that you remember your password because every time you install something you will be prompted to enter your credentials. You will also want to install the latest NVidia drive for Linux. A nice little guide is located here.

Installing Software

I decided to give three different pieces of software a try. The first install is the easiest by far, which is Boxee, all you need to do is download the Linux .deb file and double click to install it inside of the Ubuntu Software Center. Let’s keep is simple again by installing Hulu Desktop by just selecting Ubuntu 32-bit to download the .deb file and again simply install it inside of Ubuntu Software Center. Now it is time to get all difficult and install XBMC, alright not that difficult. All you really need to do is follow the first step on their wiki page, which is to bring up the terminal and follow what they tell you.

Performance

XBMC:

WP_000080While XBMC might not have my favorite user interface in the entire world, it seems to play back content great on Linux. You can add content in tons of different ways including local content, network content (mine was on my windows home server), and even through plugins. There are a ton of plugins for XBMC including Revision 3, Grooveshark, NPR, Engadget, TWit, Trailer Addict, Youtube, Facebook photo, flicker, picasa and so much more. The plugins can all be installed straight from the user interface as well. I will say that media playback was great streaming across my network. Music, standard DVD rips, and even 720p video files played back very smooth.  The install is a bit odd, but overall I really enjoyed the experience.

Boxee:

WP_000078Boxee is great because it is an all on one solution and has great streaming potential. Boxee is also great because it automatically grabs all of the meta data for all of your music, movies, and television episodes for you. Streaming music across the network was just fine, however when it came to video it was a different story. Stand DVD quality movies played just fine but when I through 720p content at it the choppiness started right up. Even after a few minutes the video seemed to improve but just wasn’t as good as XBMC. Boxee still has a lot of plugins however. I tested out Revision 3 and Onion News and overall the quality was good and playback was pretty smooth, but XBMC still did it better. As for streaming content, what a disaster. Just like the Revo on Windows 7 with Boxee nothing worked at all. The video seemed to buffer and play but it kept to a small tiny box in the corner. Perhaps this could be fixed, but I am not sure.

Hulu Desktop:

WP_000081Oh Hulu how I love you for being able to play back the latest episodes of my favorite shows for free (some ads of course). When flash 10.1 came out it was a revolution for the Revo as Flash content finally played back smooth on the low powered Revo. Hulu Desktop worked pretty well on Windows, but on Linux it was a different story. Usually I am able to play back High quality, but it was just choppy as it could be. I tried Medium and the story was the same. If I brought it out of full screen mode then it seemed to play better. The UI was about as responsive as it was on the Windows, which isn’t saying much so overall fail for Hulu Desktop.

Netflix:

Doesn’t work at all from what I can tell.

Youtube & the Web:

I wanted to give Youtube a try on Linux since thing thing came pre-installed with Flash 10.2 & Firefox. I tried out the same video that I tested with the Revo which was the Nvidia 1080p test video and it was all over the play. 1080p completely chugged so I tried 720p and it was the same. Lowering the quality down to 480p seemed to work just fine. I tried out southparkstudios.com and after a few attempts and a lot of buffering it kind of worked… Let’s just say it had a lot of problems as did vimeo. I thought perhaps it was Firefox so I decided to give Google Chrome a try. After a short download and install I tested out the sites again. First off Chrome on Ubuntu is way better then Firefox even for browsing. It was faster and oh my goodness flash videos actually played. Southparkstudios.com was able to stream all sorts of videos even at full screen just like it should. Vimeo seemed to play back just fine as well if HD was not on, after buffering of course. HD youtube still didn’t play and I had to go down to 480p to get it streaming smooth.

Summary

Overall I am really impressed with XBMC on the Linux powered Revo. I feel as though I need to go out and get a wireless dongle for it to put it under my television in the bedroom. I still need to test out some remotes with it for it to become a true HTPC. I also plan on testing out mythbuntu for a Linux powered DVR. I still think that while the Windows Media Center interface might have been a bit slower overall it was a better HTPC compared to this setup. However if you just have a lot local files and music and don’t want to purchase Windows 7 this might be a pretty good route to go. Hey it is free, so give it a try if you want!

Video Review

14Jan/110

Amazon VOD Review on Acer Aspire Revo 1600


Last night I was checking out the Yahoo Widgets on my television, Samsung LN46B650. I saw that they had an Amazon VOD widget so I decided to check it out as I had a few rentals from Amazon's service. Even though my television is about 2 years old and the Yahoo Widgets take forever to load to my surprise streaming video directly to my television via the widget was awesome. This got me thinking, why I don't just try this on my Acer Aspire Revo? So I did and I made a video review comparing not only my Television and Revo 1600, but also my little Acer Aspire One netbook.

TV:
Streaming on my television was really really great, besides getting it started. I have to bring up Yahoo Widgets which are really slow and you have to wait for them to fully load before they are capable of doing anything. Once you get the video started it is basically flawless and looks absolutely stunning. I was really shocked how great Inception looked just streaming on my TV.

Acer Aspire One netbook:
My poor little netbook is slowly becoming out of date. It is a single core Atom processor, integrated graphics, and 2GB of RAM. I booted up the VOD service and small inside the browser it actually played back decently smooth. I was really shocked here as I didn't think it would work at all. I then put it on full screen and oh my was it choppy. You definitely can not watch it on something this lower powered, but it is nice to see it play fine when it is not in full screen mode.

Acer Aspire Revo:
It was funny to see the "small" version on the 1080p television, it was really tiny as you can see in the video. However, once you blow it up in full screen mode the video actually played very smooth. It was completely watchable with a few tears in the video, but overall I was really impressed. I would recommend the Amazon VOD service as it is really affordable for rentals and even some purchases.

Check out the video review:

15Oct/104

[Review] My Little Revo HTPC… 8 Months Later

inside the revo

It has been 8 full months since I started this little adventure to build my very first Home Theater PC. It all started after going to my friend Jesse's house and seeing his Tivo. I was rather unimpressed with the UI of the Tivo, however since he seemed to love it and I loved the idea of a DVR I knew there had to be another way. I started slow and purchase 2 USB tuners from Woot.com to try on my aging Dell Desktop (5.5 year old 3.0Ghz P4) and link it together with my Xbox 360 as an extender. To my surprise this actually seemed to work really well with Windows Media Center. I could watch and record live TV and stream all my content straight to my TV in another room. However like any true geek you always want more and more!  Not to mention I had an original Xbox 360 and it sounded like a jet engine.

I scoured the internet and found myself this super sexy little acer aspire revo. I was on a budget at the time so I decided to save myself $120 and buy the cheap AR1600 single core model and buy an extra GB of RAM later. After buying more and more to get the perfect setup everything was finally complete. Harmony Remote, 2 external hard drives, external dvd player, usb contraptions, and 3 TV tuners to top it off. This thing was sweet, but could it perform. After trail and error, and error, and error, and finally success I got my little Revo running perfect, and that is when I decided to launch this website to help other out who wanted to get started with a small form factor HTPC and who were on a budget.

So 8 months later where am I and how is my little Revo running? First I will say that I have not purchased any more accessories for my little revo since I launched the site which is great. I have impressed a lot of friends with the power of Windows Media Center 7 running on such a lower powered device, and some of them have even created their own small factor HTPC (revo or zotac) all thanks to me and this website. I know many other have as well and I am happy to know my hard efforts have paid off and helped people.

My Revo is still exactly what I need in my life for the time being and I don't see it being replaced any time soon. Not only does it still play Flash content flawless, but it also plays back all of my 1080p and 720p movies and TV shows. The amazing thing now is that all of this content isn't even located on my Revo, it has all been moved to a nice Windows Home Server (Vail) machine that I made for around $350 that has 3TB of storage. It all streams flawlessly across my gigabit network. I still have never had a recording fail, and every recording has been just about perfect unless there was a reception issue.

It sounds amazing right??? Well it is amazing, but just not perfect. The Revo to me seems to be very picky with drivers and codecs and installing the wrong one can bring down your machine (this is where my WHS comes in). Also with such low power under the hood HD silverlight content has not been great. I am hoping for an update in the future that will add hardware acceleration just like Flash has done, but that might be a ways off. I have canceled my Netflix account, however this has nothing to do with my Revo not performing, it just has to do with the streaming selection and that I have been flying in and out of the country a lot lately for work.

I will say one thing though that it still amazes me that I can leave the country for 3 weeks and when I come back my Revo and WMC has everything all ready for me and doesn't have any issues not being looked after. 8 months later there are many options on the market now for a lower powered HTPC and many competitors such as the Boxee box are on the horizon. My only hope now is that Acer steps it's game up just like Dell has done and make the Revo into a HTPC powerhouse at the same great price.

So when it is all said and done I love my Revo and I don't think I could live without it :) I want to thank everyone for their support and all of their excellent questions and I hope to continue this for a long time.

Filed under: Reviews, Revo, RevoHTPC 4 Comments
13May/102

[Review] Flash 10.1 RC4 to the Rescue?

rc4

There have been ups and downs in the Flash 10.1 betas and release candidates. My personal favorites are at the beginning of each which are Beta 1 and RC 1. Both of these seemed to be the most stable on the Revo and had great flash playback. Just after about a month of the first RC Adobe is hard at work fixing bugs and is already up to the 4th RC. I went with a different approach this time with this release and updated my Nvidia ION drivers to the latest Beta. I am not usually a fan of updating my drivers, as my general belief is if they aren't broke don't try to fix them. I made a full Image backup of my machine just incase the drivers messed up anything.

After uninstalling both my drivers and flash 10.1 RC1 I rebooted and continued on with installing the latest of each. After another restart I was ready to go. I first loaded up the brand new Hulu and playback was fantastic at 480p full screen. I then headed over to YouTbe and loaded the Iron Man 2 trailer at full 1080p in fullscreen mode. I monitored the CPU usage and found that it was only using 30 to 40% of total CPU usage which was pretty impressive. Playback was beautiful and I would say the best it has been.

I next started up Hulu Desktop and just like always it had absolutely great playback. This was never really a problem so I didn't do too much testing. With this great success I decided to test out Boxee for fun even though I knew it wouldn't work. Sure enough it didn't however this time it really looked like it wanted to play back flash content correctly, but every video was cut in half and I couldn't ever get it to work smoothly. The last test which is a bit tricky is InternetTV inside of WMC. I loaded up an episode of Undercover boss and at first it was absolutely choppy. This was a bit disappointing, but after about a minute or 2 everything seemed to smooth out. I am not sure if it was Flash or just InternetTV messing up so I decided to try out an episode of NCIS which is a pretty decent show. The intro Sprint ad played just fine which gave me better hopes for the show, and to my surprise it was actually pretty smooth. not the absolute best, but I thought it was reasonably watchable.

One last thing I decided to test out was to make sure the latest Nvidia drivers didn't break my live tv or any other content inside of WMC. Success all around as everything played just fine! So go ahead and update your drivers and Flash 10.1! You will find the links in the post below this one. Enjoy and leave your feedback.

27Apr/105

Flash 10.1 RC2… Quick Review

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Last week Adobe updated Flash 10.1 RC to RC2. On the forums people seem to have good success with the latest release, however I have a different story to tell. People have been reporting Boxee working somewhat properly with RC2, however still for me all flash video content from NBC, Hulu, Fox, and others seems to still be completely broken. Some of the applications such as MLB.tv seem to work just fine according to users in the forums. This part doesn't bother me too much since Boxee has never really worked. I decided to test InternetTV inside of Windows Media Center. I started up the latest Undercover Boss and to my surprise it was extremely choppy including the advertisements. I waited about 10 minutes to see if this was a buffer issue and then restarted the video and it was still completely choppy and unwatchable. At this point I uninstalled RC2 and installed the first RC, and attempted to watch the same episode again. Just like my last review the video was completely watchable. While not perfect, it was pretty smooth and not choppy at all. At this point I decided not to go back to RC2 and my recommendation is to stick with Beta 1, Beta 3 or RC 1. Let me know what you guys think.

*One note is that during the review I did have 1 recording going on. During the second half when I was watching InternetTV with the first RC a second recording started and the video became choppy, however with 1 recording it was just fine.

18Apr/106

[Review] Hillcrest Labs Loop Pointer + Video Review

One thing that I do not like about my Revo is when I have to use my mouse and keyboard from the couch. I have a standard 2.4 Ghz Microsoft wireless keyboard and mouse combo, which works great, however on the couch the mouse is practically useless. Hillcrest Labs has basically came up with a replacement for the mouse called The Loop Pointer. It basically works with an RF sensor just like most wireless keyboards and mice. You move the Loop Pointer in the direction you want the mouse to move and it moves and works great. It features multiple buttons on top of the remote which are your  basic left and right mouse click, and also features a scroll click wheel which is really nice to have when using the Kylo browser. There is also a hide button that when pressed till temporarily turn off the Loop Pointer until it is pressed again locking the mouse at its current position. This is really nice to have when you are watching videos and don't want to worry about the mouse moving.

The Loop Pointer runs on 2 AA batteries which to me is a bit disappointing as I would have liked to see a built in rechargeable battery, but Hillcrest Labs has the battery life rated at 80 hours which is pretty impressive. The device is extremely light and feels great when holding it. Even when using it for a prolonged period of time it didn't hurt my wrist at all which was great.

To test the usability of the Loop Pointer I let my girlfriend test it out and she gave it a thumbs up. She said she probably wouldn't use it all the time, however she much preferred it over using the wireless mouse. Overall I think that the Loop Pointer is the ultimate mouse replace for a HTPC setup. The only real downfall to the device is its price point which is $100. When compared to a Wiimote which is $40 and a Harmony remote which averages around $100, it is tough to recommend the Loop Pointer at this price point if you already had a wireless mouse and keyboard. If the Loop Pointer was to drop down in price a bit or if you really hate your wireless mouse then absolutely pick up a Loop Pointer as you will not be disappointed.

*EDIT: There is an error in my assumption of the technology. Hillcrest has informed me that it is in fact RF technology, NOT IR. This allows your HTPC to be behind cabinets, windows, etc and the Loop Pointer will still work up to 30 feet.

The Loop Pointer is currently available on Amazon for $100

For a little bit more in depth overview of the device I have a nice Video Review for you guys enjoy:

*Note: The Loop Pointer was sent to me from Hillcrest Labs (they did not ask me to review it), and after using it and writing this review I have decided to keep it.

17Apr/100

[Review] Kylo HTPC Browser

kylo

If you have struggled with browsers on your nice big 1080p television say goodbye to all of your troubles with the brand new Kylo browser made specifically for HTPCs, or so the developers would like you to believe. I will say that overall Kylo is one of the more user friendly and easy to use browsers out on the market today. Developer Hillcrest Labs has put a lot of thought and effort into crafting the Kylo browser around use on a HTPC. They have big buttons, a built in on screen keyboard, and built in zoom feature. In theory all of these thing should make a perfect browser for a HTPC, but after some issues I have a few issues with the browser.

Good Stuff:
So let's first talk about all the good things about the Kylo browser. It is built off of Mozilla, which if Firefox has been any indication is a solid code base to work off of. The best thing about this browser to me is the ease to zoom in and out with ease. I am a big Opera browser user which made it easy to zoom in and out, but in Kylo it is right in your nav bar and allows you to have an extremely large range of zoom. This is a great feature as usually websites are tiny on a nice big television. Some other features that I really enjoyed was the on screen keyboard which is great if you don't have a keyboard sitting around. This allows you to basically use the browser with just a mouse (or Loop Pointer). Lastly the browser is pretty easy on the eyes as it is a nice darker gray which is easy to look at for a long amount of time.

Alright Stuff:
There are some nice things about Kylo but just aren't perfect. One cool feature is their "Kylo Connect" website. It is presented as a big button on the browser but once selected take you to an easy to navigate with large buttons of just about every single site with videos in it. Selecting one will take you directly the the "full episode" shortcut page, or a page that reduces the button clicks to get to the good stuff. However this page isn't built into the browser itself, which means every time you launch it it has to load all the icons and overall is a bit slow on animations. Talking about speed I can definitely say this isn't the fastest browser I have used. Pages load a bit slow compared to Chrome and at times I got a bit upset that it wasn't loading faster. Lastly you get a nice area for bookmarks, but there is no speed dial feature like your standard browser, which is almost an essential for a HTPC browser.

Bad Stuff:
I already mentioned the speed of the browser, which wasn't horrible but wasn't great so I wont get into it again. One thing I really didn't like and isn't really Kylo's fault is that Hulu has completely blocked the browser. I would most likely use Hulu Desktop, but it would be nice to have an in browser option. I also didn't enjoy how tabs worked. Every time you go to a new site via bookmarks, Kylo Connect, or URL entry bar, all of your other pages are simply hidden from you even though you really wanted to open the page in the same window. Kylo requires you to select the current tabs area and manually close any tab you want. This is just confusing for no good reason. There is also no real way to manage plugins at all inside the browser (Flash 10.1 works just fine though).

Conclusion:
I would absolutely recommend giving the Kylo browser a try as I think it is one of the best HTPC browsers out there. There is a lot of room to improve, but the browser just came out and there are enough features here to outweigh the cons. If you can get over some speed issues I think you will enjoy this browser if you are trying to browse the web from the couch.

Kylo is available for free at http://www.kylo.tv

10Apr/101

Flash 10.1 RC Review

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Flash 10.betas have been the saving grace when it comes to lower power machines like the Acer Aspire Revo. I have tried out every beta that has come out and given my opinion before. Adobe has just released their release candidate for Flash 10.1 which means that it is almost ready to go into a real release. I have been a pretty impressed with the past betas and my only real issue has been with Internet TV inside of Windows Media Center and any flash videos inside of Boxee. I have addressed some issues with how Boxee processes flash video which almost makes it impossible for even the 10.1 betas for fix it, but I will give you a full rundown of how the new RC performs.

HULU: After uninstalling the old 10.1 beta 3 I went and installed the latest RC which was extremely fast and easy. I went directly to Hulu to see if there was any difference from past betas. I through the latest episode of The Office into 480p and full screen mode and just like in past releases it performed great. Video overall was smooth with only a few tears from time to time, but overall I was pleased. I also watched a few smaller clips from SNL to see if the results were the same, and I am pleased to say they were.

Online videos: One of my favorite websites to review when I am testing flash is SouthParkStudios.com which has every single episode of South Park ever. With beta 3 just about every single flash video online worked great and i can say that with RC not much has changed. I started up the latest episode of South Park in HD and in full screen mode, and it was great. Video was extremely smooth and picture quality was amazing.

Internet TV: A big issue that was almost resolved in past betas was Internet TV inside of WMC. I am not the biggest fan of Internet TV mostly because I think Hulu does a much better job, but it has improved vastly since it started. I started up a few episodes through CBS and clips from the CW and to be honest I was really impressed with the performance. I watched a full 45 minutes episode of Undercover Boss (not a great show, but interesting) and from time to time there was an occasional spot of slow down, however it seemed great. It wasn't like watching television or even shows through Hulu, but I enjoyed the experience.  Video playback was a pretty smooth experience and I might actually use Internet TV now.

Hulu Desktop: I booted up expecting great things from Hulu Desktop with the latest 10.1 and I was got just that. The Office started up right away with High quality selected and playback was very smooth. It took about 2 or 3 seconds for the buffer to catch up but after that there were no issues at all. I tested a few other videos and the results were the same.

Boxee: I decided to test Boxee just for fun. I attempted to watch content from various sources such as NBC, FOX, and Hulu, but just like past attempts video playback resulted in black screens, broken videos, choppy videos, or just nothing happening at all. Like I mentioned earlier I think this is more an issue of Boxee than flash since you can watch these videos through a browser or Hulu Desktop just fine.

Some things to note are that I fully uninstalled beta 3 before installing the RC. I am also running older Nvidia drivers which are version 196.21. I did not go through the trouble of upgrading to the latest version to see if there were any differences, however I have had no issues with the current drivers so I just kept them.

Overall I was extremely impressed with the latest Flash 10.1 RC. I don't think it is a large jump over beta 3, but bug fixes are always nice to have in there, and I am looking forward to the final release. As always your results may vary so if the RC isn't working great for you feel free to go back to beta 1 or beta 3.

Filed under: Add Ons, Reviews, Revo 1 Comment
4Mar/105

Flash 10.1 Beta 3 Review!

I have done a few reviews, but this one has video with it! So if you don't want to read then go ahead and watch my video review of Flash 10.1 Beta 3 on the Revo!

If you do like to read then go ahead and hit the jump for a full written review!

2Mar/104

Boxee & Hulu Desktop WMC Integrator Review

Boxee and Hulu are very popular, however there was no way to access them from within Windows Media Center 7. A bit back I tweeted about the Hulu & Boxee Integrators from Tekno Webworks. I decided to give them a test drive to see how they performed.

The integrators are very simple, they add a Hulu and Boxee button into the WMC start menu. When one of them is pressed it will close down WMC and open Boxee of Hulu Desktop. When you close Boxee or Hulu Desktop it will relaunch WMC. This is extremely convenient on a HTPC so you don't have to grab a mouse and you can just use your WMC remote. These integrators obviously don't work on extenders since they actually close WMC.

They look just fine inside of WMC, however I would have liked it if they weren't their own separate items and were grouped together like other items on the start menu. It would have been nice to have them under Extras or have them in their own category incase there might be any other integrators that come out. Here is what they look like:

One thing that is nice is that you can change the image that is displayed on the menu by going into your C:\Program Files\Teknowebworks LLC\BoxeeIntegration and replacing the Application.png.

I spent some time going back and forth between both of the applications and it seemed to work almost perfect. There were a few times that the Boxee switch left the Windows Taskbar as the focus so you would have to get up and click the mouse on Boxee to gain control. This didn't happen very often though and overall it was just fine. After closing Hulu or Boxee you are returned to your Desktop for about 5 to 10 seconds and you can see a command prompt which has been watching for those applications to close. After those few seconds Windows Media Center is relaunched and you are good to go again.

One other nice thing is that the integrators also put the applications into the Extras Library. This means if you want to hide them from the start menu you can. I chose to do this since I don't want to clutter up my WMC start menu. I did however find a bug inside of the Boxee Integrator that wasn't automatically adding the application to the Extras Library. I added a Registry Key to fix this. If you start up "regedit" from windows search and go to "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE->Software->Microsoft->Windows->Current Version->Media Center->Extensibility->Categories->More Programs" and add the following Key as shown in this screen shot (click for full size):

After you do this and restart WMC you will now see it inside of the Extras Library:

If you select "Manage extras" and then select "Start Menu" you can deselect Boxee and Hulu Integrator so they don't show on the start menu and are only inside of the Extras Library.

Overall these applications work great and if you are using WMC and have Hulu Desktop or Boxee installed on your computer I would recommend you install these integrators for easy access.